Microviews Vol. 4: Some Books I Swore I'd Never Read

on Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Two books in and I'm beginning to regret choosing this theme for February. I could spew bile here, but what the heck... I'll let these reviews speak for themselves. As promised, I've done brief summaries in haiku. If nothing else, that was fun!

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
No written form speaks so honestly to me as the fable. It is the chosen vehicle of many of the great writers of olden times, and the backbone of my favourite single body of literature, Yiddish. I therefore approached Coelho's blockbuster debut with a certain degree of hope. Perhaps he would turn out to be a throwback in the best possible sense, and I had been unnecessarily pigheaded about not reading him. For the first few pages I was ready to fall on my sword and admit that arrogance had triumphed over sense. But then it all went awry. It is not hard to see why this has remained so popular since its publication. Hiding behind the facade of classical storytelling is a grab-bag of borrowed religious concepts that most likely affirmed beliefs already held by the book's countless readers, combined with a few 'mystical' new age concepts for the suckers in the audience. To be fair, it is a perfectly pleasant read (aside from the times I found myself swallowing the chunks of vomit that had crept up my gullet). However, if you are one of the three people left in the world who hasn't read this, let me give you some time saving advice. Pick up your copy of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and spend a few minutes listening to "All You Need Is Love". At the end of each chorus line scream out "And Jesus!!!", and you will have pretty much experienced, in thematic terms, The Alchemist. No need to thank me.

The Review in Haiku: Boy rides on donkey/ Affirms pre-existing faith/ Now who's the donkey?

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ok so I get that I don't exactly fall within Elizabeth Gilbert's target demographic but I really tried to approach this book with an open mind. Lest you think there was never any chance I might succumb to Gilbertmania, I'm even willing to admit at the outset that I have, at times, enjoyed some of the chick-lit foisted upon me by sadistic editors. But right now I am positively furious and not just because I will never get back the few hours I spent on this steaming pile of bourgeoise self-indulgence. No, I am furious because Gilbert is nothing more than a yuppie snake oil saleswoman and the world has bought it by the gallon. Eat Pray Love is essentially a recovery memoir, where the affliction is not depression or drug addiction, but simple middle class ennui. From a position of exceptional privilege, Gilbert offers a most innovative cure: escape your shitty life by dropping everything and whizzing off on a whirlwind tour of Italy and exotic South East Asia where enlightenment is surely awaiting you. It is an amazingly arrogant act of preaching. Most people don't have the luxury of just putting their lives on hold and running away from their problems. Most don't have the advantage of a massive book advance that allows them to do that sort of thing (a detail Gilbert disingenuously fails to mention). Indeed, the closest most of her readers will ever come is sitting in front of the television with a tub of Neopolitan ice cream while watching the National Geographic or Discovery Channel (assuming, of course, that they can even afford cable). Eat Pray Love is also a rather embarrassing testament to American insularity. Gilbert is constantly amazed by all the exotic wonders the world has to offer, be it pizza in Naples, an Ashram in India or the touching simplicity of Balinese life. Slap after slap after patronising slap in the face. And to think, Americans worship at the Gilbert shrine. Speaking of which, there is a constant barrage of hack philosophising on religion and God here, particularly of the Christian kind. Like with The Alchemist, it is camouflaged amongst grabs from new age mumbo jumbo crap and some typical middle-American kowtowing to all things Yogic but it still shines through in all its dogmatic glory. Hopefully the world will soon tire of Elizabeth Gilbert so we can fold her into a little package, stuff her in a suitcase and leave her at the back of a cupboard somewhere. At least then her yoga training won't have been totally pointless!

The Review in Haiku: Problems can be solved/ With extra mozzarella/ Oprah will love this


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