Buy Big Magic
Did you know that Elizabeth Gilbert is a fiction writer? Many readers don’t. Such was the success of 2006’s Eat, Pray, Love that her novels and short stories have been totally eclipsed by her hold on the self-development-memoir market, which she more or less created.
Now she’s back with another non-fiction tour de force—the saccharinely entitled (yet nevertheless intriguing) Big Magic. The premise is very simple: Gilbert thinks we should create. The creative life is—in her view and that of the many experts she draws upon—a surefire way to achieve a richer, varied and more fulfilling existence.
Through tales of her own experience as a novelist, snapshots of her friends’ endeavours, plus her expertly-retold research, she certainly presents the argument very persuasively. Whether you’ve dabbled in pottery, like a bit of ballroom dancing or are partial to the odd sonnet… chances are you’ll be rushing out to cultivate your art as soon as you’ve turned the last page.
Eat, Pray, Love was certainly a divisive tome—some loved its thoughtfulness, others found it woefully self-absorbed—but no one could deny that Gilbert’s manner of writing in engaging. Her tone is conversational, friendly and didactic in the cleverest sense because she teaches without ever claiming to know more than you.
The impact of Big Magic is that it’s essentially an exploratory chat about the purpose and experience of human existence, but such is Gilbert’s skill that it feels like you’re merely having a particularly interesting chat with a friend over cocktails. The topic is grandiose but the writing purposefully isn’t, which means the words almost float off the page as you race through.
It’s understandable that many (British) folk are deterred by the tiniest hint of “self-help”. If that applies to you, there are some parts of the book that might jar. In parts Gilbert talks about creativity as if it were an entirely separate entity, visiting those working at their craft in the manner of a house elf. She also argues that we need to make ourselves attractive to inspiration… and although presented humorously, the idea that if you shave your legs you might just create a Booker Prize-winning novel is a bit spurious.
These moments are handled deftly, however, and are balanced by the fact that overall stance of Big Magic is pragmatic, rational and wholly convincing. She advises against spending thousands on creative schools (fair enough), warns that the pressure of expecting an income can kill creativity (absolutely) and says that whatever your fix, some days it’ll just come easier than others (undeniable).
The 'Big Magic' of the title is that exhilarating feeling you get while totally in the zone, indulging your passion and forgetting about life’s other niggles. It doesn’t happen frequently—but when it does it’s the best sort of high you can achieve.
Another of Gilbert’s arguments is that art and creativity is fundamentally unessential, yet we can’t do without it. In a bizarrely metaphysical way, that’s exactly what she’s achieved with Big Magic. Your life will tick along fine if you don’t read it but, if you do, you might just realise you’ve been missing something all along.
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