Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book is that rarest of rare things, a super exciting new release that actually lives up to my inflated expectations of it. I’m crotchety about books, and I hate the feeling of even not completely disapproving of trendy things. That’s why I waited so long to read all the Harry Potter books, more fool me. That’s why I never bought Crocs or knock-off Ugg boots. That’s why I didn’t get a cell phone until texting was already a thing. Fortunately, I let go of defining myself by stuff I didn’t want, and that’s part of why I was ready for Big Magic. I hope everyone is always ready for Big Magic.
I listened to the author reading the audiobook. Not everyone is equally good at this, and not everyone will take the time to do it; Stephen King is a great narrator, for instance, but usually a voice actor reads his work. Gilbert is gifted. I listened to her at 1x speed, if that tells you anything. I was spellbound.
Big Magic belongs on the shelf next to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It’s a tutorial from one insider to another. Both books also openly acknowledge a mystical, preternatural or even supernatural element to creative inspiration and the art of writing. I may change my mind one day, but right now, I’m of the belief that certain things can be learned but not taught. That means the message will make sense to certain people who are of the disposition to receive it, but will not make sense to those who lack the ability to pick up the transmission. I checked for one-star reviews of Pressfield’s book (“bullying,” “crap,” “mess… ridiculous,” “garbage”) because I knew they would be there, just as I’m checking Gilbert’s single stars (“crap,” “who is the audience for this book – everyone, it seems,” “self-indulgent,” “this is written for girls,” “This is the worst book I’ve read in recent memory,” “Completely not worth it.”), because I knew these bad reviews would be there, and they would be hilarious. I can only hope that one day I, too, will get reviews like this. Whenever I absolutely swoon over a book, it appears there is a disgruntled hordette of people who loathe it and can’t believe it got published. I can think of several of my personal friends who probably won’t like it, either. It’s really up to you to figure out which camp you are in.
NB: You don’t have to finish reading books that don’t engage you. According to my LibraryThing, I have only ever given out a one-star review seven times out of over 4000 entries, once to a parrot training manual that included physical abuse, and the last time I used a one-star rating was 2009. As I look these books over, I wonder why I ever bothered choosing, finishing, or reviewing a piece of not-for-me genre fiction in my catalog. I think I picked it up on impulse before a road trip and then got stuck with nothing else to listen to. Even that seems funny to me now. Obviously this was before podcasts! I have a smartphone. There is never again going to be an occasion when I have “no choice” but to do something I find boring or irrelevant to my interests.
That is part of how magic works. We have to make ourselves ready for it, and we have to let it in. We have to discard the notion that we are obligated or duty-bound to do anything beyond the requirements of physical survival and basic human decency. It seems that the natural, mainstream human reaction is to regard this idea with ridicule, disgust, or annoyance. None of those feelings will ever get anyone anywhere, with the possible exception of avoiding a case of food poisoning. Skepticism and the critical faculty are necessary when it comes to pseudoscience, politics, and pickpockets, but they don’t make much in the way of art. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is going to be read and re-read and discussed in book clubs and writers’ groups. Not everyone is going to get it or like it, but those who do are going to love it to bits and wear the cover off.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.