Elizabeth Gilbert seems great, and I really liked her Big Magic podcast. I hoped that the book that preceded the podcast would be in a similar vein, and in some ways it was. But overall, this book really failed to deliver.
It’s pretty unclear if this is a self-help book, a lyrical exploration of creativity as a driving force in life, or a memoir of Gilbert’s own experiences with, and opinions of, the creative process. It fails to live up to any of these genres, sadly.
Sadly, because throughout it all Gilbert seems great. She seems to value and advocate for creativity being an important element of a good life, and she shares personal and sweet anecdotes of her own journey to live a creative life. She speaks kindly of old flames and fellow authors alike, and seems like someone you’d happily sit next to at a dinner party.
But Big Magic is untethered, unstructured, and speaks sweepingly of the wrong ways to be creative (including: seeking achievement, going to college, or failing to appropriately dedicate yourself to the abstract Idea the Universe has granted you) from only her own opinions and background. Her anecdotes are long-winded, personal without being relatable, and (although generally kind in tone) they come across dismissive of all other processes, reactions or attitudes to creative work. She is both kind and smug. Directive and vague. Abstract and particular. It is a useless and frustrating combination and left me completely incapable and unwilling to finish the book.
Worthy of note is that Big Magic includes a long and impassioned portrayal of what she calls Magical Thinking – Gilbert advocates for the Universe containing abstract Ideas which seek to be borne to life by creative human endeavour. From my background in medicine, magical thinking is pathologically associated with Schizophrenia and schizotypal personalities. Gilbert’s descriptions of having a responsibility to Ideas to bring them to life are sweet, but veer closer to pathological as she describes a book idea that she failed to complete and believes left her to be written by another author. Harmless enough, but I found it grating and, frankly, crazy nonsense.
Overall, the Big Magic podcast (which features interactions with everyday people seeking to cultivate creativity in their life, with Gilbert offering a mix of cheerleading and advice for their pursuits) is leagues ahead of its namesake book. 3 stars, and I didn’t even finish it.