A close friend started reading Eat, Pray, Love -- one of the most engaging books I've read in years -- and couldn't make it past page 87. His chief complaint: the author had secured a book deal before setting forth on her journey of self-discovery.
"After reading that, everything felt manipulated and controlled and fake. This wasn’t a personal, see-where-the-wind-takes-me journey. This was a planned-out literary event hashed out beforehand in New York," he writes in his highly entertaining blog.
I was stunned.
Every trip I've ever taken has been planned to one degree or another, and yet my experiences have always been unique, spontaneous, and real. Or so it seemed.
Why begrudge Elizabeth Gilbert her book deal? How else was she going to get to Italy, India, and Indonesia?
How did Richard Goodman find the wherewithal to write French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France? He doesn't say. Great book, though.
The problem with such books, I suppose, is that they are all a bit self-conscious. Of course that's also their greatest strength. Gilbert's strength is that she watches herself and others very closely.
Anthropologists tell us that the mere act of observing changes the thing you're observing. I gather that's even true in particle physics, where particles behave differently when you train a high-speed camera on them. (See What the Bleep!? Down the Rabbit Hole.)
If that's the case, then everything we read or say or observe has to be considered a bit unreal.
Just enjoy it, I say.