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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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Lightening review: My Side of the Mountain

It’s always a pleasure to revisit an old favourite, and this is exactly what I did when I reread My Side of the Mountain by Jean George. It was one of my favourites as a kid; I read it many times, so it was nice to go back.

The story follows Sam, young teen from New York City, who has decided he will run away from home and live off the land. He makes his way to his great-grandfather’s land in the Catskill Mountains, determined to survive free of dependence on electricity and machines. Throughout the book he comes a long way from the first night – when he can’t get a fire started and is convinced he will freeze and starve – to making a home for himself, finding a plethora of food sources, and even making new clothes.

My Side of the Mountain is an interesting examination of survival and solitude. It was a fairly short read (I finished it in less than a day) but it’s well-crafted, interesting, and different from what I’ve been reading lately. Still holds up, all these years after publication (1959). Recommended for all from children to adults.

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Lightening review: The Kid

This 242-page read really took me for a ride.

I can’t tell you The Kid is an enjoyable read, but it is an important one. In it, Kevin Lewis tells about the first 30 years of his life. He endured horrific abuse from his parents, was failed by the child welfare system, and became a criminal as a young adult to avoid falling into the same poverty his family had been in.

While it’s a difficult read emotionally, Lewis tells his story well. For the first entire half (and more), as he details the abuse meted out to him by his parents throughout his childhood, I felt such rage toward anyone who could harm an innocent kid.

I asked myself why I was reading something that hurt so much to read, and the answer that came to me was: to understand. Lewis originally wrote the book as a way of explaining  his past to his wife, but his hope for it grew:

I wanted her to understand who I am and what has happened to me … I decided to publish it in the hope that others would understand what it’s like for a child to have no hope … give a little more insight into why some kids so badly wrong, so that we can find ways to help them feel less frightened, abandoned and alone in the world.

And I realized this isn’t a book to read for my own enjoyment.

This story has been repeated way too many times, in way too many families. Maybe if enough of us are willing to face the uncomfortable truth long enough to hear these stories, we can begin to see the warning signs. Maybe we can start to understand the root causes for a family as dysfunctional as Lewis’s was.

And maybe, just maybe, we can start working toward change.