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.

4 responses

  1. The psychology behind the liberation to explore themselves that people feel in an unfamiliar place is very interesting. On the one hand, you go to “Mexico” to “party” because no one you know will find out about the terrible, stupid things you did. On the other hand, you take all your friends with you so later you can share the memories and nostalgia.

    As for epiphany, “we might find that in fiction as easily as Indonesia,” but that would require reading, and who does that?

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    • “On the one hand, you go to “Mexico” to “party” because no one you know will find out about the terrible, stupid things you did. On the other hand, you take all your friends with you so later you can share the memories and nostalgia”

      Ah, but you see, the friends you take with you are likely to be implicated in the same debauchery as you, so you are able to hold each other’s reputations hostage. Unlike staying home and running into your mom’s best friend as you sprint naked across Main Street wearing a sombrero and throwing down jello shots.

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  2. From Emerson’s Self-Reliance:

    It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

    I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

    Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

    3. But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever they have flourished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model. It was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought, and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him, considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

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