January 28

Committed (book)

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury, 2010)

The blurb: At the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who’d been living in Indonesia when they met. Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married. But providence intervened one day in the form of the United States government, which gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. 

Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is.

Those who have read and enjoyed Gilbert’s ubiquitous memoir Eat, Pray, Love will probably also enjoy this next chapter of her life—but not as much.

While there’s travel, emotional upheaval and a cast of interesting side characters that Gilbert meets along the way, Committed is a far more intellectually involved book containing a good balance of history, informal interviews that say more than the questions ask, and a dash of politics under the unfolding drama of Gilbert’s personal experience whereas Eat, Pray, Love sat heavily on Gilbert’s physical and emotional journey.

For my part, I found this to be a superior book that ‘spoke to me’ more clearly. Gilbert’s breezy tone is deceptively clever. She imparts humour and intimacy with ease and her anecdotes and emotions are well wrought. If anything, she is a better writer in this memoir than in the preceding crisis story: being more or less focused on the subject of marriage, the chapters work to convey certain elements of the ritual to make a whole, which satisfies long after closing the book.

She is also a master of pacing. Just as you think she’s going to let the tearaway narrative have its way, she reins back the informational and emotional avalanche so I finished each section with a sense of bonding with the text that went beyond the words on the page.

Although Gilbert rightfully claims to know very little about marriage compared to the many scholars she lists in her appendix, the book’s accessible style was the key reason I enjoyed Committed far more than its predecessor. And, let’s admit it, I probably liked it because I am also a marriage sceptic.

While I read Gilbert’s personal experience with interest and absorbed some of the wisdom she relays from the people she interviews about marriage, the chapter that secured my loyalty was ‘Marriage and History’. My own feelings about marriage were changed by some of the facts revealed in this section, how marriage not only pre-dates but transcends religion, politics and the law, and the alternative view of marriage as a form of rebellion.

This chapter is pivotal to the book. Gilbert’s own scepticism comes from a messy divorce but through her research she discovers that marriage is not the institution she thought it was. Reviewing marriage through the lens of her research, her experience and the experience of others she meets, Gilbert discernibly comes around—and I wouldn’t be surprised if many a reader came with her.

This is the book for you if you are a fan of Gilbert’s writing, a marriage sceptic, or need some good arguments for why excluding certain people from the institution of marriage is wrong.

Book rating: 9/10 – a convincing, accessible memoir written with panache
Enjoyment rating: 8/10 – marriage-sceptic reader makes peace with marriage

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May 17

#30: Your favourite book of all time

I’d like to pretend I dallied and drew this meme out to coincide with the opening night of the Sydney Writers’ Festival but I’m too honest and the truth is that I’ve been hella busy this last week or so and therefore rather neglectful of my digital life.

The book I am about to mention comes laden with baggage. Which is to say my boyfriend bags out anyone who can categorically say that something is their ‘favourite’ anything.

This meme and I have gone through our ups (favourites for various reasons) and downs (hates and overratedness) and have skirted around naming the one book to rule them all (and in the bookmaker’s workshop, bind them).

I’ve mentioned the book, of course. But will the favourite book of my favourite author prevail over the favourite book of my favourite series? Will childhood triumph over my favourite book turned into a movie? Well none of this matters because the book I most consistently name my favourite is Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which I mentioned back on Day #2 as a book I’ve read more than three times.

Just so you know, I don’t have a permanent favourite, but Catch 22 regularly turns up in my top 3 list more often than any other book, albeit not always at the top, so it’s my ersatz pick. For the others that often rotate in that top 3—have you been reading this meme?

Anyway, I like it because it’s different every time I read it. No matter how many times I read it, and no matter how often I think I ‘know’ it, it never gets old. Heller never came close with his other writing, but that’s almost part of what makes Catch 22 as brilliant as it is—he put all his mojo into this.

“[Yossarian] had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.”

I’d like to thank Sarah Jansen for her tweet about this, as well as The Literary Gothamite and Confessions of a Book Lush for the good idea.

May 14

#29: A book everyone hated but you liked

I mentioned William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in passing on Day 9 and it’s the first one that comes to mind for this topic.

I can think of plenty the other way around, ie ‘a book everyone liked but you hated’ (Jane Austen books come to mind…), but this topic is a difficult one seeing as I generally buy and read books that come via recommendations, therefore ‘a book everyone hated’ is too narrow considering the field from which I have to choose.

A lot of my friends detested the books in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I quite liked them, despite their flaws, but to say everyone hated them is wrong because I know a number of other people enjoyed them.

Hard one to answer! Tomorrow’s will be even harder!

Day 30 – Your favourite book of all time

I’d like to thank Sarah Jansen for her tweet about this, as well as The Literary Gothamite and Confessions of a Book Lush for the good idea.

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