On the Stairmaster today, I finished Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, the sequel to the mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In EPL (which will be a movie with Julia Roberts), the author describes the one-year voyage she took after a bitter divorce in which she went to Italy and partook of the pleasures of the body (“eat”), to Indonesia to partake of the pleasures of the soul (“pray”), and to Bali to experience both (“love”). At the end of EPL, she fell in love with Felipe, an Australian citizen born in Brazil who lived in Bali. They plan to live together, traveling between Brazil, America, and wherever else the spirit moves them, in unwedded bliss forever after.
In Committed, the author describes how she and Felipe were detained at an airport Texas when they tried to re-enter the US, and were told by the Department of Homeland Security that in order for Felipe to enter the country, they would have to get married. Both Liz and Felipe are skeptics about the institution of marriage, both having been through painful divorces. The couple spends the next year traveling in Southeast Asia, waiting for the US government to complete the paperwork that would allow them to return to the US and get married. Liz uses this year to research the institution of marriage and come to grips with matrimony in her own life.
It’s hard to write a sequel to a huge best seller. In the introduction to the book, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses how difficult this is. How can you write without being self-conscious, when you know that the book will be scrutinized by so many millions of people? If you do something similar to the previous book, people might say you are a one-note wonder (or that you didn’t do as well with the second as the first); if you do something different, they might say you should have stayed with what worked the first time. In the end, she says she wrote the book that she had to write.
I’m not going to compare Committed to Eat, Pray, Love; it’s a different book. The author’s voice is engaging. She is honest and insightful. She taught me stuff about marriage that I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the theory from the ancient Greeks that humans were created with two heads, four arms, and four legs, and that (according to ancient legend) we were cleft in two, with the result that each of us spends our destiny searching for our missing half. I didn’t know that 25% of seagulls (birds who have the reputation of mating for life) split up– and that apparently most of their “second marriages” are successful. And if the ending isn’t a surprise, that’s OK– there are other reasons to read a book than to find out whether or not the couple gets married in the end.
And I just realized– both Eat, Pray, Love and Committed are examples of Method Journalism, the genre in which the author spends a year exploring a particular project. A la Julie and Julia, a la Happiness Project. A la Survivor to Survivor (S2S).