The bestselling memoirist makes an official farewell to the book that made her a star
Some successful artists know when to put it on the shelf. In the fashion of Celine Dion, Cher, and the Eagles, Elizabeth Gilbert is saying goodbye to her megahit memoir-turned-movie Eat, Pray, Love. This week, she gave her final performance at a New York Public Library event where, according to the library's promotional materials, she would "speak in public for the last time about her "Eat, Pray, Love journey." In front of a crowd made up mostly of women, Gilbert outlined her plans for indulging another bourgeois fantasy: working in her garden. Living a private life with the dashing Brazilian she picked up in Bali, whom she calls "my guardian of normalcy." And writing something she calls "slow fiction."
Gilbert's self-discovery travelogue—which spawned a Julia Roberts vehicle—dominated the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for 57 weeks, sold over four million copies, and has been translated into over 30 languages. But with the book's meteoric rise, she has "become synonymous with something very poppy and chick lit-y," as the author put it on Thursday night. Though Eat, Pray, Love (her fourth book) earned her fame and made Gilbert a brand, it didn't get accolades from the academy the way her earlier works did, like her first collection of short stories Pilgrims, which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize. Gilbert was surprised to learn that philosophers Hubert Dreyfuss and Sean Dorrance Kelly recently compared her with David Foster Wallace as an example of generational superstar writers in their new book All Things Shining: Reading Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. "I'm surprised to be taken seriously," she admitted.
About a year and a half ago, she says she'd had enough, and felt like peeling off from the Eat, Pray, Love movement. "I didn't want to do it too soon because I thought it would be rude," Gilbert said. "People love this book and they want to meet the person who wrote it. I've been the ambassador." Determined "to see the phenomenon through," she waited until the release of the film and her most recent book Committed to come out in paperback. "I wanted to be polite to this thing that had happened, but I wanted to be home, I wanted to be gardening. I wanted to be with moss and ferns."