Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Well, happy January everyone! Can you believe we’re almost a month past Christmas? I can’t. I keep watching DVR’d shows with Christmas commercials and feeling sad about the whole situation we now find ourselves in. I’m going to blame my nostalgia on the fact that I’m still recovering from the PLAGUE sickness that has haunted me since the middle of December. #blech

(Side note: did you know that if you are sick for a long period of time, everyone in your life suddenly becomes a doctor? And it’s amazing. NOT.)

Ahem. Moving on because, apparently, time is going to whether I want it to or not…

BIG MAGICOur book club pick for this month was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I, of course, was drawn in by the subtitle. After all, who needs creative living beyond fear more than me? (Don’t answer that. I may be self-aware, but I already have a complex.)

I was excited to pick this book up, because:

(A) The cover. Yes, please.

(B) The promise of inspiration.

(C) Seeing the book everywhere. No, really. I’m serious.

A quick summary from Goodreads for you:

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity.

With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

Now, I should say that this is my first Elizabeth Gilbert book, so I have not been “drawing inspiration and empowerment from her for years”. In fact, what I know about her mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love did not endear her to me in any way*. But the subject matter of creativity did pull me in. I wanted to feel inspired. I wanted an author to put words to feelings I have that I don’t know how to express and put it in a context that would propel me forward with new zeal. I wanted to discover fresh approaches to every day problems like feeling restless or just plain tapped out.

I finished the book yesterday for our discussion today (no time like the present, amiright??) and realized that the reading experience with this book was a bit different for me. I usually have one of three responses to a book: I really dislike the book and can’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would read it, much less love it; I read a book that I don’t love, but can see its virtues and don’t consider the time reading it to be a waste at all; I fall head-over-heels for a book and cannot recommend it fast or vehemently enough…to the point where people start avoiding me because I’m that girl. #marketing

This book is a departure from any of those responses. Here’s the truth: The entire time I was reading it, I felt as though I was reading a book that was not written for me. Although Elizabeth Gilbert and/or her publicist might disagree with me, I don’t think that this book is meant to be a widely appealing, accessible read. I think it was written for a niche audience that desperately needs a shot in the arm. She wrote it to bolster the artist…people who create beauty from nothing and who want to be validated in their passions. She wrote it to encourage these readers to continue to dream and not to give up their art even against the harsh backdrop and challenges of real life in the world we occupy.

And here’s what I learned. I am not an artist. I have creativity within me, sure, but it’s more of a logical creativity. Even my craft projects are essentially problem solving (I have all of these tools/materials and I want to make it look like such-and-such). I do not live (nor do I like living) in a world of intangibles and ethereal concepts. I DO like lists and structure. This probably also explains why I enjoy baking more than cooking. Also, I do not have a dream in my heart. I have goals and I’m always working towards something, but I think there’s a subtle difference between the two. Maybe this makes me a deficient human being but this is what we’re dealing with, folks.

I didn’t hate the book – in fact, there were a few things I took away from it…concepts that transcend or can be applied more broadly if interpreted into a different context. Here are a few of those:

“…when I refer to ‘creative living’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” – (From An Amplified Existence, p. 9)

“As the saying goes: ‘Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.'” (From Defending Your Weakness, p. 18)

“Bravery means doing something scary. Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word scary means.” (From The Fear You Need and the Fear You Don’t, p. 22)

“She smiled sweetly at everyone and always acted like a total cooperator–but then she shaped her own world exactly to her liking while nobody was looking.” (From Remove the Suggestion Box, p. 85)

“Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.” (From Originality vs. Authenticity, p. 98)

“You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.” (From Done Is Better Than Good, p. 176-177)

“Onward ever, backward never.” (From Elk Talk, p. 191)

I’d definitely recommend this for the artist friends in my life – I think they’d find a lot of belonging in its pages. Since I’m not one of them, I’m thankful to have gleaned what I did while reading it. I just wish it had fulfilled what I wanted from the book when I picked it up, that’s all.



*I just don’t think Elizabeth Gilbert and I would be friends. She’d think me terribly prudish for sticking to my principles. At one point in the book, she talks about how she takes her vow of writing more seriously than her vow of marriage. I just can’t get down with that. #sorrynotsorry




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