Book reviews: inside the all-encompassing world of the Eat, Pray, Love aficionados
Plus: challenging ageism, the last acceptable prejudice; and a winning voice in the popular science field
Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It
by various authors
Riverhead Books (e-book)
The music world may still lead the way in rehashing old stuff – unheard versions, expanded editions – but publishers are beginning to go one better. With the subtitle Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir, this volume of touchy-feely life-affirming essays is much more than a reboot of Eat, Pray, Love. It’s a worshipful book about that bestseller, content chosen and with an introduction by the high priestess of me, myself, I, Elizabeth Gilbert. Neglected, abused and adrift women learning to stand up for themselves – the 47 contributors are almost all female – in a lopsidedly male world isn’t a bad idea, but must the accompanying revelations be so cloying? And does Gilbert, author of the original volume, here commemorated on its 10th anniversary, really have to be deified? “Liz’s mantras are what get me through,” slobbers one acolyte. Eat was a publisher-subsidised ticket to enlightenment (with stops in Italy, India and Indonesia). Then again, it cures anorexia, depression, panic attacks and heartache, so perhaps I’m just too cynical about all this stuff. Give me Gilbert’s The Last American Man any day. Now that examination of the male identity would be worthy of articles discussing how it transformed lives.
This Chair Rocks: a Manifesto against Ageism
by Ashton Applewhite
Networked Books (e-book)
There aren’t many targets left in the social duck shoot. You can’t be sexist these days; or racist; or fattist. But it’s fine to be ageist, it seems, and so a movement has sprouted up to make this the latest bigotry to be re-engineered. Ashton Applewhite has been writing an anti-ageism blog for almost a decade and this book is the standard she raises on her marches on cities across America as she crusades for two-way understanding. And her beef isn’t just with younger generations who disdain their elders (if not necessarily betters); she has no sympathy either for those elders who haughtily believe they have nothing to learn from their juniors. Different generations spending time together might puncture the prejudice. (Ironically, isn’t that where we started out, in the bosom of the extended family?) Applewhite warns that enjoying one’s youth is practising for being old, so why not carry whatever positivity one feels into the later years? She is engaging and entertaining, which is useful because it gives her change-from-inside message the best chance of being understood. Time may be up for “the stereotype of the doddering ancient”.
by Hope Jahren
Random House Audio (audiobook)
Every so often the world of science lobs a welcome spanner into the artistic works by presenting one of its brethren as a skilled storyteller able almost seductively to educate the rest of us in the complexities of their discipline. Stephen Hawking and Oliver Sacks head that stable, but coming up fast on the rails is geobiology professor Hope Jahren. Her memoir Lab Girl, expressively self narrated, with a dreamy nostalgia for the best parts of her largely snow-bound Minnesota childhood, is sensuous in its evocation of the appearance, colours and unsuspected abilities of plants the world over (not least those we’re trying to exterminate as fast as our greed will allow). Did you know that if you listen hard enough you can hear some plants grow? This is almost a personification of plants achieved through the wonders of science as revealed to Jahren by her science-teacher father. The non-botanical sections of the story star dependable laboratory colleague Bill, tales of field trip (mis)adventures and the fulfilment occasioned by striking research gold. This is one highly decorated scientist who might just save the world without having to climb into the eco-warrior’s pulpit to do it.