” . . . that is of course what the humanities are
for . . . the great arts should do that; they
should elevate you; they should inspire you.
They should make you want to be more creative;
make you want to be more bold. And they should
make you want to see the world differently.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel, Signature of All Things. It was amazing. And it was the perfect book to get me through the cold snap here in Austin because it was delightfully long (about 500 pages). On all those nights of relentless 28- or 30-degree weather, I made tea, built fires, and curled up in a blanket, soaking in the adventures of Gilbert’s heroine, Alma Whitaker. Which, for a woman who studied moss and never left her family’s estate until after she was 50 years old, actually lead a remarkably interesting life.
* * *
I often feel lost when I finish a really good book. It’s sort of the same feeling I have when a road trip with really good friends is over. I’ve enjoyed the journey so much, that when it’s over, I get sort of bummed out. And last night I came home and started wandering through my apartment, kind of aimlessly. Then I realized what the problem was: I din’t have another good book to read.
Last week, a good friend of mine sent me this link to watch an interview of Elizabeth Gilbert about Signature of All Things. In the interview, Gilbert said the best contemporary book she’s read is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. She sounded indebted to Mantel for writing this novel. Then in her talk during the WSJ book club, Gilbert mentioned that a pivotal scene (which was one of my favorites in Signature of All Things) had been inspired by one of Mantel’s pivotal scenes in Wolf Hall. So I realized, that’s it! This is obviously going to be what I need to read next.
Oh . . . and by the way, even though the book club has already aired, you can go back and watch it here! The best part is at the end when Elizabeth Gilbert explains why she’s read this 600-page novel four times:
“It never does me harm to read this book again.
It makes me smarter; it makes me more ambitious
as a writer; it makes me want to bring my game up;
it makes me look at contemporary politics differently;
it makes me look at history differently; it does me
no disservice ever to read this book. And that is of
course what the humanities are for . . . the great arts
should do that; they should elevate you; they should
inspire you. They should make you want to be more
creative; make you want to be more bold. And they
should make you want to see the world differently.
And Wolf Hall has done that for me for years. And
I expect it will do that for me for all time.”
* * *
Ok, there’s a ton more I could say about what Elizabeth Gilbert said in the WSJ book club, like how Mantel is a ruthless scholar who understands the violence of history and has her “head in a book but her boots in the mud.” But the truth is, is that you should just watch it too!
So this is it! I’m ordering the book today and I can’t wait to start it. My own book club doesn’t meet again until the end of March . . . so I’m filling in the gap with this pick!
What are you reading? I’m always looking for good recommendations!
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