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Review: Eat, Pray, Love (the book)

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert has been on my list of books to read for ages – probably since I saw the movie a couple years ago and learned it was based on a book.

When I picked it up from the library, though, I was surprised at how small it is. How could a movie that inspired many people and even a major motion picture be only 18,805 words? (For some reason the word count is on the back cover.)

But Gilbert is an experienced and skilled writer, and she didn’t need a long book to tell her story.

She tells it in four parts: she gives the background of being in her early thirties and suddenly realizing she was unhappy in the life she was living, which naturally caused some grief and chaos for herself and her husband. She divides the rest of the book into her year of travelling after her divorce: four months in Italy indulging in pleasure, four in India pursuing devotion, and the final four in Indonesia searching for balance.

The book is interesting of its own accord: I enjoy reading about other people’s journeys. Gilbert knows how to give just enough detail for the imagination to do the rest. But she also talks about some huge and heavy topics, including love and depression. She talks about depression and loneliness as people who follow her home.

I identified with her description of depression:

“When you’re lost in those woods, you sometimes don’t realize at first that you are lost. For the longest time, you can tell yourself that you will find the path again any moment now. Then night comes again and again, and you have to accept that you are so far off the path that you don’t even know where the sun is anymore.”

Along with the heavier topics, she also talks about lighter things: language, food, and friends. She eats amazing pizza in Naples – “I love my pizza so much that I have started to believe my pizza might actually love me back.” She meets a friend who nicknames her Groceries because she eats so much. She finds a beautiful place to stay in Bali with a simple, habitual lifestyle. She helps another friend find a home.

Full of little insights, Eat, Pray, Love likely has something for almost every reader. Not every part of the book spoke to me, nor did I agree with all of Gilbert’s conclusions about life. But story meanders along in a way that invites you in, and draws you to the end, without being pushy or in-your-face.

One idea I really enjoyed was the idea of identifying your city’s word.

“He explained that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn its word. That there is one word for every city, and for most of the people who live there. And if your word doesn’t match the word of the city, you don’t really belong there.”

Perhaps identifying your city’s word is easier if your city is ancient like Rome (the city in question here). But I love the idea of learning the identity of a city. Does anyone have a word for their city?

And now, I’m off to rewatch the movie.


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Review: Better Than Before

Well, Gretchen Rubin has done it again. Better Than Before is definitely joining the ranks of Rubin’s books that I’ll be reading over and over again.

Yes, I’m a little slow (Better Than Before was published in 2015), but seriously, if you’re interested in habit formation or even just knowing yourself better, do yourself a favour and add it to your list.

Written in the same easy-to-read manner as The Happiness ProjectRubin’s habit book also combines anecdotes and research in an accessible, hands-on way. However, it wasn’t the habit-forming strategies and tips in this book that changed my life.

In Chapter 1, she introduces her Four Tendencies, a framework she identified in her research on how people form habits – and why some habits and behaviours are easier for certain people. There are four ways people respond to expectations, with a distinction between internal and external expectations. I read her description of an Obliger (someone who meets external expectations but struggles with inner expectations) and felt several important puzzle pieces collide into place.

It would seem I’m someone who needs to build external expectations into everything. Setting goals for myself might not be good enough, if there’s nothing outside of me keeping an eye out.

I’d started to grasp this – doing creative challenges with my sister or hunting out gym partners (privately raging when they turned out to be unreliable). I was figuring it out, to some extent. But who knows how long it would have taken me to realize that this applies to all expectations – all my personal creative projects, all my health-related habits. It also made me feel a lot better. My lifelong struggle to meet my own expectations isn’t due to my own laziness or procrastination (although there is some of those); my struggle is because I have a hard time making myself do anything on my own (!!!). All I have to do is build in external accountability to everything.

Life-changing information aside, Rubin’s book is divided into five logical sections: self-knowledge; pillars of habits; the best time to begin; desire, ease, and excuses; and unique, just like everyone else.

This structure takes the reader through learning more about what makes them tick, before learning some of the major habit strategies, then how to begin. The fourth section goes into a little more depth with habit strategies, before the book finishes with a reminder to be yourself, and a word on habit-building in relation to other people.

If you want to learn a little more about yourself, read this book. If you want to learn a little more about the people around you, read this book. If you’d like to learn how to build a new habit – or get some strategies for ditching a current habit – read this book.

In short, Gretchen Rubin does not disappoint with her earnest dive into the science of habits. She draws you into the science and the research and you can’t help but catch some of her enthusiasm, even while you learn about yourself.

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Review: Lean In

Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 Lean In felt very timely for me.

Although I’ve been vaguely intending to read it for some time now, it just hadn’t happened. Then I happened to hear a radio interview with Sheryl promoting her second book; the subject matter of resilience sounded very important and Sheryl herself was a very likeable person.

I have a thing about consuming in order, so I got Lean In and have her second book, Plan B, requested from the library.

If I’d read Lean In when it came out, I don’t know whether it would have had the same impact for me. Now was the perfect time for me to read it – although I’ve been in the workforce for years, I’m now working in my chosen field. I’m not as shy or timid as I was years ago, and am struggling with my ambition and goals and career path.

Lean In examines the difficulty women have in advancing their careers. She looks at why: both internal and external factors. Citing many papers, studies, and other sources, Sandberg paints a compelling picture of how tough it is for women to thrive and reach top positions in the workplace. She also talks about the challenge of being a mother and continuing to work, and how success makes women less likeable – to both women and men. All in all, a pretty sobering picture.

However, despite the research and the personal anecdotes, Sandberg balances hope. She provides suggestions for women to take their careers into their own hands (lean into your career, how to negotiate despite gender bias) and gives examples of how small changes can make a huge difference. I was struck by her sensitivity toward mothers, and she goes out of her way to insist that not everyone wants to continue a career after becoming a parent and that’s okay – the goal is to have that choice. Similarly, she wants men to be able to choose stay-at-home parenting and receive the same respect as if they were in a career.

If I were to sum up the book in one sentence, it would be: We have a long way to go for gender equality, but we can get there.

Her thoughtful and sensitive approach to the challenges women (and men) face in addressing and working toward gender balance, combined with her optimism that yes, things can change, make this a great read. (Lean In hit number one on both the Amazon and New York Times bestseller lists, so clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks so.)

[Note: It feels like a while since I’ve done much writing. I want to get this published, but I feel out of practice. Thanks for your patience as I get back to my skillz.]