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Interesting, But Too Chatty
on January 11, 2010
I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert and loved Eat, Pray, Love as well as her talk on creativity at the TED conference circulating on YouTube. Her blend of factual information, anecdote and creative interpretation is illuminating and entertaining. And Committed has its share of humor and aha! moments.
In her preface to Committed, Gilbert says she originally wrote a 500-page version of this book, then discarded it. She implies it was too pedantic, so the second time she wrote it imagining only an audience of close women friends. I believe this gives the book a talky, chatty quality that does not translate well to the written page. There are too many "anyways", redundancies and extraneous phrases. If she were speaking this text to us, we could experience her gestures and facial expressions, inflection and dramatic pauses; the audiovisuals of conversation would keep us interested. But on the two-dimensional page, I found myself growing impatient and wishing she had thinned the verbiage by 30 per cent.
I also felt uncomfortable with the amount of very personal information she revealed about her husband and her parents. A confessional approach to one's own life by a memoirist is one thing; to expose and discuss other peoples' intimate feelings and issues seems exploitative.
Another problem was the lack of sourcing for her valuable factual data, particularly, her fascinating material on the evolution of marriage. This information could be very useful to call out the "ancient tradition" excuse for social repression. But without sources, it's much less useful. She did list about 20 authors in one sentence in her acknowledgements but this doesn't help much. Gilbert has one explanatory footnote in her book and says with seeming pride that it is "the only footnote in the book". Again, I think she went overboard on veering away from pedantry.
The idea for this book and much of its information is interesting and valuable. I wish Gilbert had imagined a wider, less personally familiar audience so that her writing might have been more pithy and vivid. I believe this book packed a punch but it became buried and invisible in the rambling, chatty delivery.