Elizabeth Gilbert, who—SPOILER ALERT!—married the guy she met at the end of Eat, Pray, Love, just published a new book about said marriage. But all she really wants is to be taken seriously as a smart person.
It must have been tough for Gilbert, who had previously written three well-received if not bestselling books (Pilgrims, a book of short stories, which a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist; the novel Stern Men; and The Last American Man, which told the story of a man who moved to the Appalachian Mountains at 17 to live off the grid) to reconcile her lofty literary ambitions with the runaway commercial success Eat, Pray, Love, which has become a kind of middlebrow bible of self-discovery, so much so that she will be played by Julia Roberts in the film version.
So it's not surprising, then, that she wants her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, which came out on Tuesday, to be the anti-Eat, Pray, Love—at least in the sense that she doesn't want those millions of middlebrow fans to come calling again, expecting more of the same, as she told Newsweek: "If anything, I'm afraid it will be too academic, or that people will miss the carefree voice of Eat, Pray, Love."
That word: academic. It's one she's invoked in several interviews on her press tour this week—while subtly distancing herself from her previous book. She told the Houston Chronicle, about a previous draft of Committed, "When I look back at that first manuscript, it is saturated with a desire to entertain and to please. It's a sort of desperate tap-dance. It felt very strained and inauthentic. What I really wanted was to write the book I wish someone had handed to me when I was in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and learned I had to get married. I had to give myself permission to write the book that I would like to read. It was challenging and a lot more academic."
She told ABC News, "It's been my experience in the past that the more I learn about something, the less frightening it is. You know, an academic mindset — terrorism can be defeated through information and knowledge."
(Right, just like marriage.)
Unfortunately, critics haven't been overly kind to Gilbert's attempt at inserting herself into the intellectual firmament. In the Washington Post, author Carolyn See took issue with Gilbert's attempt at doing research about marriage in Southeast Asia: "All this material is amusing, but I think an anthropologist would faint from mortification: Gilbert seems to have made no effort to build a rapport with her "informants," no effort to ask questions that might come from inside their culture instead of hers." And Time wrote that Gilbert "seems self-conscious about the need to remain everyone's best friend, littering her prose with chirpy asides ("Listen, I want to make it clear here that I am not intrinsically against passion. Mercy, no!") and cutesy interjections ("Just a little free advice there, from your Auntie Liz")."
Of course, from a purely commercial perspective, none of this probably matters. The book is already number six on the Amazon bestseller list, and Gilbert's publisher, Viking, reportedly ordered a print run of 1 million copies.