At first Elizabeth Gilbert annoyed me no end, and Eat, Pray, Love seemed to be only inadvertently entertaining in the trainwreck sense I was able to “enjoy” Twilight. Had the book ended with Part One in Italy it would have been hard not to go full-throttle snark. Gilbert there just rubbed me the wrong way, this seeming caricature of a rich New Ager liberal New Yorker who says she “eats goat’s milk yogurt sprinkled with wheatgerm for breakfast” and reports in all seriousness that her sister’s greatest fear is that her child might grow up to be a Republican. (In the last section, she’d share how, to put it delicately, Bill Clinton was her fantasy lover. I vomited in my mouth a little.) I admit I mentally rolled my eyes hearing her plans to go to an Ashram in India to visit her “guru.” Dear Lord. She even structured the book after a “japamalu,” a kind of Hindu rosary of 108 beads. On the other hand, every once in a while she did show a sense of humor, even about herself, like when she told a child, “Uh-oh... You’re an Aquarius!” got uneasy looks and: I had a sudden horrifying image of the woman I might become if I’m not careful: Crazy Aunt Liz. The divorcee in the muumuu with the dyed orange hair who doesn’t eat dairy but smokes menthols, who’s always just coming back from her astrology cruise or breaking up with her aroma-therapist boyfriend, who reads the Tarot cards of kindergarteners and says things like, “Bring Aunty Liz another wine cooler, baby, and I’ll let you wear my mood ring...” Heh. I admit I was annoyed that the section in Italy where she was “seeking pleasure” her experience of the country was summed up by “Eat.” She spent four months in Rome and she never visited a museum other than the Museum of Pasta? Never visited the Sistine Chapel? Didn’t make a side trip to Florence to see works by Michelangelo? Instead her idea of the great gift of Italian culture is to stuff her face and gain 28 pounds? God, I admit my disdain was thick. I’m sure others might have felt, “what a waste--not what I’d done there had I had the chance she did; why that rich bitch.” There seems a thick layer of resentment (and envy) in many of the negative reviews. How dare Gilbert be rich and privileged (though also broke and without a home waiting for her by the way) in the midst of the poverty of India! I take it those particular detractors who thought her indifferent and oblivious to suffering around her never got as far as the Indonesian section, where Gilbert’s generosity to an impoverished family brought me close to tears. And cultural appropriation! How dare some Anglo try to gain wisdom from other cultures! She should stick to her own tribe! Well, I agreed with Gilbert when she said a person has “every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace with God.” Or I’d add, seeking your truth or finding your bliss. I’m not Italian, Indian or Indonesian, but if it bothers you I enjoy their food or music or writers or whatever? Bite me. I admit, “spiritual journeys” often make me allergic. I feel too often as if I’m reading a Hallmark Card and often found myself rolling my eyes at talk of “chakras” and such. Strangely though, I rather enjoyed the India section, and not in a cynical and ironic sense. But actually, I was rather curious what it was like to go to an Ashram. Not likely I’ll ever have the opportunity--or frankly really want to go myself--so it was interesting to be along for the ride and get a taste of the experience vicariously. And you know, even atheists like me have a side that can relate to what she was trying to do. Like her I’ve tried meditation and felt frustrated with the experience of trying to “clear my mind.” All of us struggle with a lot of the same questions many call “spiritual” even if we consider ourselves thoroughgoing rationalists: How can we let go of anger and get closure when the person who hurt us will never forgive? How can we go through life centered so we don’t cling like a “barnacle” to a relationship? How can we gain clarity about our messy emotions to see what we’re doing to ourselves and others? I’ve tried to figure that out and more, and we’re not that far apart in the end in our efforts to sort things out. And I haven’t ever been to Bali either, so as with her account of an Indian Ashram her picture of Balinese culture fascinated in ways her picture of the much more familiar Italy didn’t. So, one star for Part One in Italy, a three and a half stars for Part Two in India, and nearly five stars for the at times moving Part Three in Indonesia (other than the TMI Clinton sexual fantasy). So, yeah, overall 3 stars--a much higher grade than I thought this book would wind up with a third way through.