Book Love: I Love Eat, Pray

While I was in Italy, I listened to a few audiobooks, but due to my aforementioned rubbishness, my thoughts never quite made it onto the blog.  After the disaster that was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I tried Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, who also narrates the audiobook version – a nice touch, I thought.

I had listened to a couple of other audiobooks (A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Stephen Fry’s autobiography), and the national treasure that is Stephen Fry had convinced me with his wonderful narration that the audiobook format wasn’t my problem.  I just really didn’t like that book.  So by the time I got to Eat, Pray, Love, my optimism had returned and I had high expectations.

Happily, I wasn’t disappointed.  Or not at first anyway.  For anyone who managed to escape the mass-media publicity when the film came out, the book is a memoir of a 30-something American woman who heads off to travel around the world and get her life (and head) back together after her messy divorce.  It’s in three sections, as Liz travels to Italy, India and Indonesia, corresponding to the Eat, Pray, Love malarky.  Clever stuff.

Now, this was a bit of a strange choice of book for me, given a good third of it (probably more) is dedicated almost entirely to God and spirituality.  I’ve talked about my feelings on religion before when I read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, but essentially I’m a very convinced atheist, happy to let everyone believe what they want, but curious about why they do.  I have a tendency to find books about people “finding God” and “going on a spiritual journey” frustrating, because I can rarely understand what is motivating them in this, or why they believe what they do.

I did not have this problem at all with Liz Gilbert.  She explained beautifully her view of God and why she felt reassured by feeling close to him.  There is no way I could possibly report her views as eloquently as she writes about them, but I will say that reading this book was one of the times I felt jealous of true, honest, 100% believers.  I was jealous of Liz’s faith, and the calmness and happiness she managed to find in her search for God.  Sometimes I wish I was capable of that kind of belief, but then I accept that my logic simply won’t let me and determine to find my own peace and happiness.  In Liz’s words:

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort.

I agree with this woman in so many ways.  Her determination to be confident and at peace really resonated with me.  I also really related to her metaphysical crisis at age 10 – wanting the world to just stop so she could get her head around the concept of time and its passing.  I feel like this so often, especially when I’m happy with my life.  I want to freeze my favourite moments forever, and am almost sad knowing that my happiness will be over soon.

In fact, I related so much to Liz Gilbert’s ideas, and found them so relevant to me and my life (despite being a 21 year old single university student, not a 30-something divorcee journalist), that I’ve re-listened to this book while I’ve been travelling in Central America.  Or some of the book, anyway.

I mentioned that I wasn’t disappointed by Eat, Pray, Love at first.  I adored the first two sections in Italy and India.  Unfortunately, the section in Bali when Liz finally finds love just (dare I say it?) bored me a little.  It wasn’t the greatest slog to get to the end of the book, but on my second time round I cut off after India.  After all, what’s the point wasting time on something you don’t love?

Despite this, I can’t help but recommend this book, and I get the feeling it’s going to be one I keep coming back to when I need a little pick-me-up and someone to put life into perspective.  The tone is not remotely self-pitying and I found it very motivational to keep trying to improve myself.  Well worth the read.

Book Love: Zen and the Art of Talking Rubbish

This my first audiobook review (fanfare please)!  It’s the start of a bit of an audiobook theme, as I somehow managed to get five for free in a very short space of time – thank you to The Guardian and their “inspiring self-help audiobooks”, and free downloads from whatever Amazon’s audiobook thing is called.

Compared to my last mammoth of a post, this one should be short and sweet, mainly because I didn’t like the book, so have pushed most of it out of my memory.

My first (unfortunate) audiobook experience was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, read by Michael Kramer.  I’ve been feeling quite contemplative recently, so I started this book with an open mind, genuinely expecting to get something out of it.  But instead I thought that, for the most part, the narrator was speaking either common sense or complete rubbish.  I found myself zoning out a lot and forcing myself to tune back in to what he was saying.

I didn’t really look forward to the next installment either.  I listened to this on my commute to and from work each day and forced myself to carry on with it – I don’t like to criticise something unless I’ve heard it out first, and have at least some understanding of it.  So I finished the book, constantly willing it to grow on me, but it never did.

I’m wondering whether all this is just because it’s an audiobook.  Maybe I find them more difficult to concentrate on, no matter what the content.  Well there are more to come, so all will soon be revealed…

I think a big problem was that I really didn’t like the main guy.  He sounded like a bit of an idiot and a crappy father, pretty full of himself and condescending.  I find it hard to relate to the philosophies of someone like that.  The only parts I did find vaguely interesting were the parts discussing what education should be, probably because it relates to my stage of life.  I get the feeling that I interpreted it wrong though – I was probably supposed to put it into a broader context and apply it to the universe (blah blah blah…).  Needless to say, I took it at face value instead.

I kind of respected Phaedrus (even if I didn’t necessarily like or agree with him), but he was painted as the villain, so that was a bust.

And apart from anything else, the narrator’s voice kept reminding me of Skipper from The Penguins of Madagascar.  (This is my new favourite cartoon, I’m a bit obsessed.  If you haven’t seen either the film Madagascar or the spin of TV series, you should – it brings back the glory days of kids cartoons.)

I definitely feel like I was missing something with this book, and a bit of me wants to read it in written form at a slower pace to see whether I can find whatever I missed.  But then the rest of me cannot put myself through that again.  With so many great books on my to-read list, it seems like a waste of time.  Maybe I could fully appreciate it if I properly studied it, but unfortunately I can’t see that happening.

Hmm, maybe that wasn’t quite as short as I hoped.  Or sweet.  To try and make up for that I leave you with this, simply because it gave me an excuse to spend an hour on YouTube watching Penguins of Madagascar videos.   I hope it cheers you up as much as it did me after a pretty bleak review!