Read, Regret, Review

This is rapidly becoming TR’s book review blog, but what the heck—y’all were probably sick of hearing me brag about my kids anyway.  There’s a new project percolating in my brain, so I’m in preparatory reading mode.  And you know, you can drag preparatory reading out indefinitely and never get around to the actual work of the project.  That’s the beauty and the danger of research for the procrastinationally inclined.  (No, “procrastinationally” is not a real word, and if you wrote it I would call you on it.)


Today’s book: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She also wrote the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love.  I never read that one.  If you did, feel free to chime in with your impressions of it.


Traumatized by an ugly divorce, Gilbert promptly falls in love with a similarly relationally tweaked man from another country. Though happy together, they vow never to marry.


The he gets deported.


So they have to get married. 


Now, the problem with people who write autobiographical books that top the charts is that they become convinced that people really care about the minutiae of their lives, when in fact the readers were responding to their humor or some angle that speaks to the moment. Such writers’ second books often lack the charm of the first but contain every bit of the frank narcissism.  So it is with Committed.


For nearly 300 pages, Gilbert engages in a hyperactive, panicky survey of marriage through history and around the world, laced with more-than-you-wanted-to-know about herself and the boyfriend.  Nothing that she learns is comforting.  Marriage seems to work best when it has nothing to do with such nebulous matters as love, but is arranged to protect property and inheritance or to forge tribal alliances.  With no expectations of “happiness” or “fulfillment,” such couples go about their lives in relative contentment.  This modern system of choosing a life partner on the basis of often fleeting emotional states leads only to disappointment and divorce. 


(Oddly, a similar sentiment is expressed by the bad guy in The King in the Window, which Little Bit and I read for our mother/daughter book club.  In his view, longing and desire are qualities that only serve to make us miserable.  So he steals people’s souls to protect them from all that uncomfortable wanting.  I can see the point.  Without the longing to read a good story, I would’ve been less disappointed by that one.)


Then there’s the mountain of evidence showing that marriage is beneficial to men but the opposite for women.  Single women enjoy better health, greater prosperity, less depression, etc.  Or so Gilbert says.  She never actually cites her sources, making this book useless for research purposes.     


The only thing that saves the boyfriend from getting pitched out the back of the moving train is the fact he doesn’t want to have children with her.  At least I think that’s what saved him.  I was flipping pages pretty fast towards the end. 


Since the title says she makes peace with marriage, it is not a spoiler to tell you that they end up married.  After a book-length freak-out, Gilbert manages to convince herself, in an unconvincing finale, that getting married is actually an act of subversion.  Never mind that it looks, acts, and feels like that ultimate act of conformity.  Whatever, Elizabeth.  I’m sure there will be a book about your first year, coming soon to a bookstore near you.


What did this have to do with the seed of a project I’m planting, which deals with matters of family, work, and gender?  Very little, it turns out.  But the next book on my list looks much more promising. 




15 thoughts on “Read, Regret, Review

  1. I can’t say I just crossed this book off my list as there was virtually no chance of my picking it up in the first place.  When I want to read narcissistic details about other people’s lives, I log onto Xanga.  I prefer to get my autobiography in very small chunks.  Family, work and gender.  Excellent.  Meanwhile I’m still plugging away at education.  It turns out that education is a nearly endless topic with nearly endless variety in points of view.  Just my kind of research project!

  2. I never read Eat, Pray, Love.  I could tell it would annoy me, so I didn’t bother.  But I did read Committed because, although I had an Oprah-induced aversion to the author, a fellow xangan (of all people) convinced me that Committed deserved a chance and actually sent me her copy.  Very sweet!  I enjoyed Committed, for the most part, although, yes, I was hoping for more of a scholarly (or at least analytical) treatise on “marriage-around-the-world” or something like that… alas, no footnotes and always back to Felipe, the greatest guy in the world!  ha.   In the end, I thought Gilbert made some interesting observations, and asked some interesting questions, but I basically left with the same feeling I had going in:  that someone who got married for international legal reasons, and had been married such a short time, could not possibly tell me anything meaningful about the state of the relationship…

  3. Have you read any Octavia Butler?  Sci fi with race/gender as central themes (as you might expect from a black woman writing in a field dominated by sweaty white men).  The whole family/work/gender discussion is much more enjoyable when set in southern ca post apocalypse.

  4. I liked Eat, Pray, Love.  I think mostly because I think meditation is very very interesting and she did a lot of that in there. I actually really liked the book and have recommended it to several people.  I do think Gilbert is kind of a spaz about relationships, but that is some people for you.  I like her project in the first book.  I also think I don’t like Octavia Butler, but I think I might be confusing her with a different author so that’s no help.I am interested on these assertions that single women are better off than married women? Really?  From personal experience and anecdotal evidence (which I admit is not evidence at all), I am not sure if I would agree with that assertion.I like your book reviews! But you can always go back to bragging about your children. That’s what they are there for. (-:

  5. Eat, Pray, Love nearly drove me nuts; there is no way I could stomach any more of her “wisdom.” She is arrogant: Marriage is generally not a good thing for women, but for *us* it’s different – *we* are more evolved than most people. Gag.

  6. You and Little Bit have a book club?  Is it the same as Tigger’s book club?  Have I fallen a book club behind?  I have no intention of reading that ghastly book, nor does anyone else.  When you have children that are brag-worthy, you are obligated to brag.  I’m pretty sure that’s the law.  Look it up.

  7. @transvestite_rabbit – I’ve only ever read the Parable of the Sower which only touches on marriage and family tangentially.Maybe a better sci-fi recommendation would be Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness if you haven’t read it already.  Explores an alien race where gender is malleable and the impact on structure of society.

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