I know this isn’t the best way to introduce myself to an audience of readers, but I really want to complain. It’s no secret that I love to travel. Anytime a friend wants to run away and plan a trip, I’m the first one they reach out to. I’ll dispense advice and talk dreamily of good food, good times, and, well, great flings , so when the novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love started to make the circuit, everyone, even strangers who only knew that I love to travel, would come up to me and exclaim excitedly, “You’ll love this book!”.
- Soundtrack of the report
- La Vie en Rose
- Edith Piaf
I confess, I love reading. I’m a regular literary dork, so if I’m recommended a good book, I’ll almost always give it a try. Flash forward to the line “I wish Giovanni would kiss me,” the opening line for chapter one of Gilbert’s book, and I couldn’t help but think, “Oh shit, I just got tricked into reading chick lit.” I wanted to give Gilbert a chance, so I continued…until I had to stop. I made myself finish the first chapter, giving her the chance to entice me with beautiful words or at the very least, a reason to care.
I thought perhaps she was employing the writing trick of showing a character’s development through a progression in writing style as the character explores, discovers, and grows, so I flipped through the rest of the chapters looking for said progression. Finding none, I put the book down and realized my soul would not be stunted in growth if I never touched that book again. I understand that sometimes it’s fun to read a novel for nothing more than mindless enjoyment, but there was no joy in forcing myself to continue.
All was well in my world until Hollywood decided the world needed a movie version of Eat, Pray, Love, and out of the woodwork, my traveler friends started to complain about the book as well. Glad to realize I wasn’t crazy for not falling for such a “cultural phenomenon,” I started to wonder why so many lady travel friends have reacted just as negatively to this book as I have.
“She goes through the book talking about how independent she is, how awesome she is for leaving her marriage and traveling alone, but in the end, what does she do? She gets into another relationship and basically gets back into the same situation.”
“My biggest complaint is that her novel attempts to hide this antiquated idea of needing to fall in love to be fulfilled in a book that’s promoted as an amazing soul searching journey, so for all us adventure seeking women who think we’re getting to read about an experience that relates to our own desires, we instead get a romance novel. It made me feel cheated.”
Those are just a few of the complaints I’ve heard, and, not to put all the blame on Elizabeth Gilbert, it is exactly this stereotype that the mainstream publishing world looks for when publishing female travel literature. To be fair, there are women who travel with the hope to find the hunky foreign man of their dreams, but read through the posts of actual travel blogs written by women and you’ll find just as many women who enjoy, and look for, nothing more than the travel fling. We’ve come to expect a male travel writer to be published for their “dramatic descriptions of otherworldly landscapes and poignant moments,” or even for their “raunchous cross continental exploration of the female form,” but the reality of it is, both sexes travel for the same variety of reasons. Not all women are adverse to taking part in “collecting flags” and sampling fleeting moments, and not all men are forever road warrior bachelors.
It’s time we stop perpetuating these myths and really explore what it means to be in a relationship, be on the prowl, or fall for serendipitous joy while traveling. Stick with me, kid. I’m about to take you on the trip of a lifetime.