Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book 57: Committed

I'll probably lose my Pajiba membership after this one, but I actually liked Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.  Italy and food, what's not to like?  Gilbert even addresses that book in her prologue.  She wasn't expecting it to be the success it became, and says that if anything she was worried about her usual readership not enjoying the book when she wrote it.  As easy as it is to judge her for running away from her problems and traveling, she actually approached it in a smart way: she sold it as a book to her publishers, and then went on the trip.  If I could get someone to pay for me to travel and live abroad for over a year, I would absolutely do it.  It's not like she quit her job: she was a writer, and she had also traveled for work before.  Obviously, the Oprah-fication of the book is a whole different phenomenon, but I think people's reaction to the book and the book itself can be viewed separately.
Gilbert uses Committed to explore her feelings about love, marriage and committment.  After her partner Felipe is detained and prevented from entering the States (he'd been using too many temporary visas), the only way for them to live together in the United States is marriage.  For the next year, they live out of the country waiting for the immigration process to give Felipe a fiance visa so they can return to Philadelphia and get married.  Given her bad divorce, she uses that year to explore the history of marriage, and her fears.
The best parts of the book are when she discusses the history of marriage and the expectations people have when getting married.  While marriage has a long tradition in the world, it is a history that is rather fluid - nothing about the institution is really that set in stone: the early church was rather against marriage, and it wasn't until the medieval period that the church began to get actively involved in the institution.  White weddings can be traced back to Queen Victoria, and it is only rather recently that love became the main determination in marriage partners.  Given this whole idea of love, it seems that people sometimes maybe expect too much of their marriages which is why they can often fail.  Much of this is common sense, but just because it is common sense, doesn't mean that everyone necessarily thinks of it that way until it's actually pointed out to them.
Mostly, however, the book focuses on the personal: her past, his past, her family background, their year long wait.  Most of this fits in well with the book, though I think she could have cut a few pages, or shown more of the history.  Since she is traveling in southeast Asia for part of this, she also uses this as an opportunity to speak to some of the locals about their marriage traditions.  I'm not sure if those scenes necessarily needed to be in the book - they come very close to crossing that line of glamorizing "the noble savage."
Overall, it was a fun, light read, and she made a few points that I definitely agreed with.  She does draw things out a bit much in some sections, and in others, she definitely goes a bit off topic, but it didn't hurt the book too much.  She chose to make it more personal, though I think I would have enjoyed it more if there are had been more facts.  She mentions some of the books and authors she used for her research, but a recommended further reading list would have been a great addition to the book as well.

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