Favourite books of Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

"When and where do you like to read?" When I am awake, and wherever I happen to be. If I could read while I was driving, showering, socializing or sleeping, I would do it. "Are you a fiction or a nonfiction person? What’s your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?" I enjoy both, although I unfairly hold fiction to a far higher standard. With nonfiction, I figure I can glean something educational or interesting out of the book even if the writing is weak. But if the first chapter of a novel doesn’t feel perfect and accurate to me, I simply can’t read on; it’s too painful. Meanwhile, my (very) guilty pleasure is tabloid journalism. I hate to say it, but I know the names of all the celebrities’ babies."
Liz Gilbert, about reading

Elizabeth M. Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which as of December 2010 has spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.

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Favorite books of Elisabeth Gilbert:

The book I loved was Harley Loco by (full disclosure) my dear friend Rayya Elias. It's a wild true tale of migration, Detroit, drugs, hair-cutting, the Lower East Side, jail, sex and the post-punk music and art scene in the 1980s and 1990s. I've known Rayya for years and I've been begging her forever to tell her story. Finally she did, and the results are searing and amazing.

When she was seven, Rayya Elias and her family fled the political conflict in their native Syria, settling in Detroit. Bullied in school and caught between the world of her traditional family and her tough American classmates, she rebelled early. Elias moved to New York City to become a musician and kept herself afloat with an uncommon talent for cutting hair. At the height of the punk movement, life on the Lower East Side was full of adventure, creative inspiration, and temptation. Eventually, Elias's passionate affairs with lovers of both sexes went awry, her (more than) occasional drug use turned to addiction, and she found herself living on the streets between her visits to jail. It is my honor to introduce these pagesso gravelly, so straggly, so hopeful, bright, and true. Elizabeth Gilbert When she was seven, Rayya Elias and her family fled the political conflict in their native Syria, settling in Detroit. Bullied in school and caught between the world of her traditional family and her tough American classmates, she rebelled early. Elias moved to New York City to become a musician and kept herself afloat with an uncommon talent for cutting hair. At the height of the punk movement, life on the Lower East Side was full of adventure, creative inspiration, and temptation. Eventually, Eliass passionate affairs with lovers of both sexes went awry, her (more than) occasional drug use turned to addiction, and she found herself living on the streetsbetween her visits to jail. This debut memoir charts four decades of a life lived in the moment, a path from harrowing loss and darkness to a place of peace and redemption. Eliass wit and lack of self-pity in the face of her extreme highs and lows make Harley Loco a powerful read thats sure to appeal to fans of Patti Smith, Augusten Burroughs, and Eleanor Henderson.

The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends The Little Locksmith

The book I've been buying for everyone lately is called The Little Locksmith -- a reprint of a little-known 1940s memoir by a remarkable woman named Katherine Butler Hathaway. As a child in the 1920s, Hathaway suffered from spinal tuberculous and spent most of her child pinned down to a board so her spine would grow straight. What could be a tale of horror and loneliness instead is a clear-eyed and brilliant narrative of resilience, creativity and wonder. I wan everyone to read it.

The Little Locksmith, Katharine Butler Hathaway's luminous memoir of disability, faith, and transformation, is a critically acclaimed but largely forgotten literary classic brought back into print for the first time in thirty years. The Little Locksmith begins in 1895 when a specialist straps five-year-old Katharine, then suffering from spinal tuberculosis, to a board with halters and pulleys in a failed attempt to prevent her being a "hunchback." Her mother says that she should be thankful that her parents are able to have her cared for by a famous surgeon; otherwise, she would grow up to be like the "little locksmith," who does jobs at their home; he has a "strange, awful peak in his back." Forced to endure "a horizontal life of night and day," Katharine remains immobile until age fifteen, only to find that she, too, has a hunched back and is "no larger than a ten-year-old child." The Little Locksmith charts Katharine's struggle to transcend physical limitations and embrace her life, her body and herself in the face of debilitating bouts of frustration and shame. Her spirit and courage prevail, and she succeeds in expanding her world far beyond the boundaries prescribed by her family and society: she attends Radcliffe College, forms deep friendships, begins to write, and in 1921, purchases a house of her own in Castine, Maine. There she creates her home, room by room, fashioning it as a space for guests, lovers, and artists. The Little Locksmith stands as a testimony to Katharine's aspirations and desires-for independence, for love, and for the pursuit of her art.

This is my origin story. I feel like most people are either a Dorothy or an Alice; I'm a Dorothy. I grew up with well-worn copies of these books — books that had been handed down through my family for several generations, complete with the stunning Art Deco illustrations. The Oz stories were tales of a farm girl (which I was) who went on otherworldly adventures (which I always wanted to do) and who was incredibly brave (which I still want to be). I always credit these books with making me into a traveler and a writer. If you have an especially dreamy little girl in your house, forget about Disney videos; just get her a box set of these books — with the original, magical illustrations. The complete “Wizard of Oz” series, by L. Frank Baum. Over the course of those 14 books, stalwart Dorothy Gale triumphs, step by step, through precisely what Joseph Campbell would later call “the hero’s journey.” I think Dorothy may be the only little Midwestern girl you could ever put in the same archetypal category as Odysseus or Siddhartha. She was absolutely totemic for me. -- In nytimes.com

One of the true classics of American literature, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stirred the imagination of young and old alike for over four generations. Originally published in 1900, it was the first truly American fairy tale, as Baum crafted a wonderful out of such familiar items as a cornfield scarecrow, a mechanical woodman, and a humbug wizard who used old-fashioned hokum to express that universal theme, "There's no place like home." Follow the adventures of young Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, as their Kansas house is swept away by a cyclone and they find themselves in a strange land called Oz. Here she meets the Munchkins and joins the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion on an unforgettable journey to the Emerald City, where lives the all-powered Wizard of Oz. The first fourteen written by L. Frank Baum. The series was continued by Ruth Plumly Thompson and other authors.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Meditations

I am never very far from a copy of this book. I find something incredibly soothing about the notion of a long-dead Roman emperor worrying about the same stuff I worry about — namely, how are we to be? What makes a good person? What is honor? What is duty? How do we endure disappointment? How do we endure contradiction and suffering? How do we find comfort despite chaos and impermanence? He does not necessarily always have the answers, but the eternity of the questions themselves always calms me down.

Written in Greek by an intellectual Roman emperor without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offer a wide range of fascinating spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the leader struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. Spanning from doubt and despair to conviction and exaltation, they cover such diverse topics as the question of virtue, human rationality, the nature of the gods and the values of leadership. But while the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation, in developing his beliefs Marcus also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a series of wise and practical aphorisms that have been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and ordinary readers for almost two thousand years. To provide a full understanding of Aurelius's seminal work, this edition includes explanatory notes, a general index, an index of quotations, an index of names, and an introduction by Diskin Clay putting the work in its biographical, historical, and literary context, a chronology of Marcus Aurelius's life and career.

The funniest, most touching, most winningly ridiculous of graphic memoirs. I bought this book in bulk in 2013 and basically stood on street corners for several months, handing it out to strangers. I desperately want everyone to read this.

Touching, absurd, and darkly comic, Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half showcases her unique voice, leaping wit, and her ability to capture complex emotions with deceptively simple illustrations. Every time Allie Brosh posts something new on her hugely popular blog Hyperbole and a Half the internet rejoices. This full-color, beautifully illustrated edition features more than fifty percent new content, with ten never-before-seen essays and one wholly revised and expanded piece as well as classics from the website like, “The God of Cake,” “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving,” and her astonishing, “Adventures in Depression,” and “Depression Part Two,” which have been hailed as some of the most insightful meditations on the disease ever written. Brosh’s debut marks the launch of a major new American humorist who will surely make even the biggest scrooge or snob laugh. We dare you not to.

I discovered this book two years ago and it's become supremely important to me. Jennings is both a psychotherapist and a Buddhist practitioner. As someone with a foot in both camps, she writes intelligently about the merits and pitfalls of both Western and Eastern philosophy. Western thought, for instance, teaches us that the path to happiness involves strengthening up the Self, while Eastern practices suggest that we would be far better off discarding the Self altogether — so what is a confused Self to do? Jennings unthreads both paths with remarkable, compassionate (and always fair) perspective.

Mixing Minds explores the interpersonal relationships between psychoanalysts and their patients, and Buddhist teachers and their students. Through the author's own personal journey in both traditions, she sheds light on how these contrasting approaches to wellness affect our most intimate relationships. These dynamic relationships provide us with keen insight into the emotional ups and downs of our lives - from fear and anxiety to love, compassion, and equanimity. Mixing Minds delves into the most intimate of relationships and shows us how these relationships are the key to the realization of our true selves.

Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Refusing Heaven

Jack Gilbert (no relation to me, sadly) was a beautiful man and a grand poet who could have been one of the great literary rock stars of our age, except that he didn't care a bit about fame, fortune or reputation. All he cared about was writing exquisite poems and living the most private, unencumbered and uncompromising creative life imaginable. This collection is his grand, twilight-of-life rumination on what he always referred to as 'the mysteries': death, passion and beauty. It includes a line that I strive to live by: 'We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.'

More than a decade after Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires, this highly anticipated new collection shows the continued development of a poet who has remained fierce in his avoidance of the beaten path. In Refusing Heaven, Gilbert writes compellingly about the commingled passion, loneliness, and sometimes surprising happiness of a life spent in luminous understanding of his own blessings and shortcomings: “The days and nights wasted . . . Long hot afternoons / watching ants while the cicadas railed / in the Chinese elm about the brevity of life.” Time slows down in these poems, as Gilbert creates an aura of curiosity and wonder at the fact of existence itself. Despite powerful intermittent griefs–over the women he has parted from or the one lost to cancer (an experience he captures with intimate precision)–Gilbert’s choice in this volume is to “refuse heaven.” He prefers this life, with its struggle and alienation and delight, to any paradise. His work is both a rebellious assertion of the call to clarity and a profound affirmation of the world in all its aspects. It braces the reader in its humanity and heart.

Want Not by Jonathan Miles

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Want Not

Every generation or so, an American novel appears that holds up a mirror to our lives and shows us exactly who we are right at this very moment. Want Not is that book right now — a searing but compassionate look at modern Americans and their stuff. A book about garbage and consumption and accumulation and disposal, but most of all about humanity in all its stubborn, flawed glory.

A compulsively readable, deeply human novel that examines our most basic and unquenchable emotion: want. With his critically acclaimed first novel, Jonathan Miles was widely praised as a comic genius “after something bigger” (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times) whose fiction was “not just philosophically but emotionally rewarding” (Richard Russo, New York Times Book Review, front cover). Now, in his much anticipated second novel, Want Not, Miles takes a giant leap forward with this highly inventive and corrosively funny story of our times, a three-pronged tale of human excess that sifts through the detritus of several disparate lives—lost loves, blown chances, countless words and deeds misdirected or misunderstood—all conjoined in their come-hell-or-high-water search for fulfillment.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Wolf Hall

They didn't give her the Booker Prize (twice!) for nothing, people. This is the best contemporary novel about 16th-century political intrigue you'll ever read, with the most powerful and compelling antihero (Thomas Cromwell) of recent memory. I've read it three times — not only for pleasure, but for a supreme education in mad writing chops. It's like literary Breaking Bad. I can't stay away from it.

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Bring Up the Bodies

"What was the last truly great book you read?" Nothing in the last few years has dazzled me more than Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” which blew the top of my head straight off. I’ve read it three times, and I’m still trying to figure out how she put that magnificent thing together. Now I’m on to its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies,” which is nicely satisfying my need for more Thomas Cromwell.

The sequel to Hilary Mantel's 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice. At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne's head?

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends David Copperfield

I divided my six favorite books into six genres, to make the choosing somewhat tidier. So we shall begin with fiction—and my favorite novel. David Copperfield was Dickens’ own favorite among his novels—no better recommendation than that!

David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy and impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr. Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; and the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations. In David Copperfield—the novel he described as his “favorite child”—Dickens drew revealingly on his own experiences to create one of his most exuberant and enduringly popular works, filled with tragedy and comedy in equal measure.

This is a masterpiece of compassion—the fascinating true story of a Hmong immigrant family with an epileptic daughter, struggling through the American health-care system. In nonfiction, it’s the book I most deeply admire.

Lia Lee was born in 1981 to a family of recent Hmong immigrants, and soon developed symptoms of epilepsy. By 1988 she was living at home but was brain dead after a tragic cycle of misunderstanding, overmedication, and culture clash: "What the doctors viewed as clinical efficiency the Hmong viewed as frosty arrogance." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, written with the deepest of human feeling. Sherwin Nuland said of the account, "There are no villains in Fadiman's tale, just as there are no heroes. People are presented as she saw them, in their humility and their frailty--and their nobility."

Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Three Dog Life

The best American memoir of late. With frank simplicity, Thomas remembers her husband, whose sudden debilitating brain injury left her with a man who was both there and not there. Neither maudlin nor shallowly “triumphant,” Thomas’ writing shines with honest intelligence.

When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­dent: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.

The only book I have ever bought by the crate-load. I give copies of this sumptuous masterpiece to everyone I care about. I could try to describe it further, but … it would be more efficient if you just read it yourself. (Watch Maira Kalman’s TED Talk, “The illustrated woman.”)

Maira Kalman paints her highly personal worldview in this inimitable combination of image and text. An irresistible invitation to experience life through a beloved artist?s psyche, The Principles of Uncertainty is a compilation of Maira Kalman?s New York Times columns. Part personal narrative, part documentary, part travelogue, part chapbook, and all Kalman, these brilliant, whimsical paintings, ideas, and images?which initially appear random?ultimately form an intricately interconnected worldview, an idiosyncratic inner monologue.

I just finished writing a novel about 18th- and 19th-century scientific exploration, and this engaging book was a real touchstone for me during my research. It’s a thrilling portrait of the greatest scientists of the romantic era. Action-adventure science! It makes you want to buy a microscope, build a balloon, discover a planet...

The Age of Wonder is a colorful and utterly absorbing history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science. When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes's thrilling evocation of the second scientific revolution. Through the lives of William Herschel and his sister Caroline, who forever changed the public conception of the solar system; of Humphry Davy, whose near-suicidal gas experiments revolutionized chemistry; and of the great Romantic writers, from Mary Shelley to Coleridge and Keats, who were inspired by the scientific breakthroughs of their day, Holmes brings to life the era in which we first realized both the awe-inspiring and the frightening possibilities of science—an era whose consequences are with us still.

In a world of grim news, this book is a beacon of light. Brockman asked more than 150 big thinkers to each write a short essay on what they authentically feel good about in the world, looking into the future. It is not always easy to find optimism that is also intelligent, but this book has it. It will make you feel better, trust me. source: http://blog.ted.com/2014/06/12/your-summer-reading-list-2014/

The nightly news and conventional wisdom tell us that things are bad and getting worse. Yet despite dire predictions, scientists see many good things on the horizon. John Brockman, publisher of Edge (www.edge.org), the influential online salon, recently asked more than 150 high-powered scientific thinkers to answer a vital question for our frequently pessimistic times: "What are you optimistic about?" Spanning a wide range of topics—from string theory to education, from population growth to medicine, and even from global warming to the end of world—What Are You Optimistic About? is an impressive array of what world-class minds (including Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, New York Times bestselling authors, and Harvard professors, among others) have weighed in to offer carefully considered optimistic visions of tomorrow. Their provocative and controversial ideas may rouse skepticism, but they might possibly change our perceptions of humanity's future.

The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends The Rings of Saturn

The late Sebald’s writing was some kind of gorgeous combination of elegy, poetry, contemplation, fiction, diary. Nobody in the world ever wrote, or thought, or even felt quite like him. Every word is important, compassionate and resonant—like notes played on a distant cello. We lost this author too soon; he was one of the great ones.”

The Rings of Saturn (German: Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt - An English Pilgrimage) is a 1995 novel by the German writer W. G. Sebald. Its first-person narrative arc is the account by a nameless narrator (who resembles the author in typical Sebaldian fashion) on a walking tour of Suffolk. In addition to describing the places he sees and people he encounters, including translator Michael Hamburger, Sebald discusses various episodes of history and literature, including the introduction of silkworm cultivation to Europe and the writings of Thomas Browne, which attach in some way to the larger text. The book was published in English in 1998. A film, Patience (After Sebald), directed by Grant Gee and released in 2012, is based on this book.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Elizabeth Gilbert recommends Invisible Cities

“This unusual book is a series of fictional conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Each page brings a new description of an imagined city within the Great Khan’s empire—as described by Marco Polo. It is a magical, delightful, outrageously inventive. Just fall into these pages and let your imagination do the rest.”

Imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, conjure up cities of magical times. “Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant” (Gore Vidal). Translated by William Weaver. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book.

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