Two winters ago, I was on a ski trip with my best friend. He'd recently graduated law school, hated his job, and was consumed by a fear that he'd failed in life and that it was too late to start over, even though we were both 28. All weekend long, he dwelled on his depression, bringing it up on the chairlift, at dinner, in the sauna. He talked about his medications, his therapist and the fear that he'd never be happy.
I wanted to help. So I gave him my recently finished copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Gilbert, a successful writer, drags herself out of the depths of depression following a bitter divorce. She finds bliss in Italy, India and Indonesia by surrendering to food, God and romance. It's a quick read, filled with self-deprecating humor and a colorful cast of characters. I sure felt uplifted after reading it. Maybe my friend would, too. Uh-unh.
Instead, he threw the book at me after reading a dozen pages. "This is the stupidest book I've ever read! What part of this chick-lit crap did you think I'd like?"
It's not easy to be a fan of Eat, Pray, Love if you're a man. It is a scented candle of new age wisdom. Eat, Pray, Love wasn't simply an Oprah book pick; it was the focus of two entire episodes of her show. They might as well have printed the thing in pink ink. It's pure literary estrogen.
The book's haters are many. Gilbert's memoir is often dismissed as a beach read for unhappy housewives: a shallow tome that says all of life's problems can be fixed with Neapolitan pizza, a yoga retreat, and a good shtupp with a wealthy foreigner. They're missing the point.
Most transformative memoirs involve a protagonist overcoming unimaginable adversity: the poor kid who pulls himself out of the ghetto to attend the Ivy League; the war refugee who survives against terrible odds; the junkie returned from the depths of heroin's grasp. Inspiring, yes, but hardly relatable.
Gilbert is suffering from shattered confidence. Who hasn't been there? Who hasn't cried on a bathroom floor, sure that our life is over at 32? Gilbert's beauty is that she isn't exceptional; she's just an ordinary gal with a broken heart and gift for writing.
I passed Eat, Pray, Love along to my friend that weekend, because it was the most believable comeback story I'd ever read. A few months later, he was on the mend. He got a better job, began a new romance, and found inner peace after a solo surf trip to Costa Rica. I didn't tell him, but it was a page right out of the Eat, Pray, Love playbook. You go, boy!
David Sax is the author of Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen.
"My Guilty Pleasure" is edited and produced by Ellen Silva