Her most recent book is the #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," about the year she spent traveling the world alone after a difficult divorce. Anne Lamott called Eat, Pray, Love "wise, jaunty, human, ethereal, heartbreaking." The book has been a worldwide success, now published in over thirty languages with over 7 million copies in print. It was named by The New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2006, and chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best ten nonfiction books of the year. In 2008, Elizabeth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, by Time Magazine.
In addition to writing books, Elizabeth has worked steadily as a journalist. Throughout much of the 1990’s she was on staff at SPIN Magazine, where – with humor and pathos – she chronicled diverse individuals and subcultures, covering everything from rodeo's Buckle Bunnies (reprinted in The KGB Bar Reader) to China’s headlong construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In 1999, Elizabeth began working for GQ magazine, where her profiles of extraordinary men – from singers Hank Williams III and Tom Waits (reprinted in The Tom Waits Reader) to quadriplegic athlete Jim Maclaren – earned her three National Magazine Award Nominations, as well as repeated appearances in the “Best American” magazine writing anthologies. She has also written for such publications as The New York Times Magazine, Real Simple, Allure, Travel and Leisure and O, the Oprah Magazine (where her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" was excerpted in March, 2006.) She has been a contributor to the Public Radio show "This American Life", and -- perhaps most proudly -- has several times shown up at John Hodgman's Little Gray Book Lecture Series, most notably during Lecture Four on the subject "Hints for Public Singing."
Question: Is Eat, Pray, Love a self-help book?Elizabeth Gilbert: I’m not really insulted when people call it a self-help book because I don’t know what else you would call a book about somebody helping themselves. Although, I guess, a self-help book, by definition, is a book that sort of teaches; its intention is to set out, to create a path and say, these are the steps that you have to take. And certainly, I wouldn’t do that because I don’t know what the steps are.
But I definitely used the book as a way to salvage and rescue and recreate my own life, by hand. It was kind of like a girl scout project. Like, there were materials. With these materials in your own house, you too can build; kind of the feeling that I wanted it to have of a certain kind of self-resourcefulness. I say that also with a grain of salt because I think it’s important.
We kind of demean the therapeutic abundance that’s going on in America right now. And I think we have to do that very carefully because some of the stuff is really important. And so, that stuff really works.
And if you go to cultures where people don’t have access to those sorts of outlets, you can see how they might be served by them. And as much as we kind of criticize the Oprah-ness of modern life, there’s something to be argued for it as well
There’s a lot more communication today in a really open way between men and women; within groups of men and women about what they’re feeling, and what they’re sad about. And that hasn’t always been the case.
And it’s not the case in every culture on earth. And when you go see cultures where people are still really buttoned down, you can see where there’s a lot of pain that’s intrinsic in that.
And I, myself, as much as I like to call it a sort of self-help book, I didn’t set out on that journey until after I had been through two years of therapy on the Upper West Side. And six months to a year, I can’t remember now, but a period of time of antidepressants that I was really ambivalent about but still consider a necessary bridge to get me through the last awful months of my divorce. I probably could’ve done it without it, but it made it a lot less anguishing for me.
But that too was, I guess, even so, seeking out help from a professional. Look, I took whatever was available; religion, psychotherapy, friendship, companionship, exercise, drinking eight glasses of water a day. Whatever was on hand, I was using it because I was in a lot of trouble.
And the last step of it was going off on this journey. I certainly wouldn’t have been physically or mentally able to do that, even a year before, because I was in such a bad place. So I would caution people against sort of leaping off a cliff in some sort of grandiose gesture of self-reclamation if they’re not actually, somewhat, mentally or psychology stable enough to handle it.
Recorded on: April 29, 2009.