Eat, Pray, Love and the misery of the literary agent

Literary agents are flooded with pitches for the next Eat, Pray, Love. Fortunately, one of the few things I haven’t done wrong in searching for an agent is pitching the next Eat, Pray, Love, which probably isn’t a surprise since I read about 15 pages of the first one, thought it was dumb, and gave it back to the woman who had a copy (without my observation on its literary merit). To me, the oddest thing about the book is that it states or implies that going to exotic countries allows to discover yourself, or whatever. But to my mind, you can eat good food here (I try to and usually succeed), pray wherever, and love… well, that’s around too. Less common in the suburbs, I suppose, but still.

Mostly I’m reminded of friends in college who were like, “We’re going to MEXCIO for spring break to get drunk and hook up!!!” (Sometimes the destination would be Europe, the Caribbean, etc., and usually they’d say “party” as a euphemism for “get drunk and hook up.”) To which I would usually respond, “Can’t you do that sort of thing at home?” Usually they’d look at me strangely, like I’d suggested they consider eating a tarantula. It’s the same look I get when I suggest that You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area.

I wonder if people implicitly believe that traveling changes the rules and social norms to which they’re accustomed, creating a Midsummer Night’s Dream-style scenario. If so, couldn’t they change the rules where they live through deciding, “I’m not going to play by the standard one rules anyway?” After all, Western culture has a rich tradition of this kind of thing: think of the Transcendentalists, Herman Hesse, Gay Talese, and Baywatch (Okay, that last one is a test of who’s paying attention). The epiphany is a regular occurrence in Joyce, especially The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. If we need to be “transformed by an experience that allowed us to step outside ourselves,” we might find that in fiction as easily as Indonesia. Katie Roiphe says that the TV show Mad Men offers “The Allure of Messy Lives.” We can make a mess and find self-fulfillment at home as easily as elsewhere!

Still, the Slate article says Gilbert is a good writer overall, and I read the book long enough ago not to keep slagging that part of it. To me, the setup sounds like the silliest part, but the money shot of the article comes at the end: “So be warned. If your proposal mentions a book that’s been on the bestseller list for more than 180 weeks, it may be a sign that your book isn’t worth writing.”

If your idea for life fulfillment comes from a book that’s been the bestseller list for more than 180 weeks, it may be a sign that you’re seeking fulfillment from the wrong place.

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