Grateful readers tell why Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir became such a phenomenal success.
After Eat Pray Love was published in 2006, the author was overwhelmed by readers who told her that the book had changed their lives—but she didn’t know quite how. “It was only seeing the incredible range of submissions that came pouring in for this anthology that I finally got it,” she writes in the introduction. Most of the contributors repeated the same story: the book made them realize, “my life doesn’t have to look like this anymore.” That is the theme of the nearly 50 short essays—most by women—in a collection that is both inspiring and, for Gilbert, self-congratulatory. Many entries end by thanking “Liz,” as the writers often call her, for waking them up and convincing them that they “are allowed to change” and “to assert agency over the direction you go next.” Many writers were depressed, and all were feeling stuck and unsatisfied with their lives. Some were sick with HIV, cancer, anorexia, and other illnesses. Some were mired in bad marriages, many were bored, and others were fearful. “I learned to forgive myself for being scared and imperfect, for making mistakes,” one woman writes. “I stopped allowing myself to use those mistakes as an excuse to not try new things.” Self-affirmation is a recurrent theme: “Liz showed me that we cannot heal without loving our whole selves,” wrote a woman who had suffered debilitating back pain that made her feel “trapped” in her body. “Eat Pray Love gave me the chutzpah to jump into the ultimate unknowing,” said a woman suffering from late-stage Lyme disease, referring to her decision to enroll in an experimental stem cell treatment program in India. For some, the ultimate unknowing meant ending a marriage, setting out on travel, or, for one woman, signing up for six weeks of burlesque classes.
A new treat for Gilbert’s many fans.