Book Review: Big Magic

th (2)Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Nonfiction, Self-Help
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: September 22, 2015
Pages: 288 pages
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library’s Cloud Library App
Date finished reading:  February 5, 2019

Goodreads Description: 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.

My Review: I listen to the By the Book podcast. In this podcast, the two hosts live by a self-help book. This week, they are living by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, so I decided I wanted to read this book with them (not necessarily live by the book) but at least familiarize myself with it, as I am a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s previous book, Eat, Pray, Love.

The problem with me reading self-help books is that I get too critical of them. I want them to cater to my needs or expectations. Big Magic definitely did not do that. My expectation (or hope really) when starting this book was that it would not just encourage the reader to be more creative or to embrace his/her creativity, but that it would show the reader different ways to be creative and how to fit creativity into busy lives. Unfortunately, I do not feel that this book met my expectations.

I had a hard time not being turned off of this book at the very beginning when Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story of an older woman who decided to start ice skating again, which is something she enjoyed doing as a young person. I think this is a wonderful thing to do, but then the author stated that children who are passionate about things like ice skating as kids should not give them up. I, myself, grew up dancing (mainly ballet and tap). I invested 16 years into that art and loved it. However, there came a time in my life when I realized that I needed to start planning for my future. Dancing would not be my future, and I knew that. I needed to focus on my studies and work toward something that would be a career. Even now, I would like to be more creative in my life, but working hard at my job is my priority. I do not have the financial luxury to stop working or to cut back on working to explore a more creative side. I just couldn’t help but feeling like the author was speaking to the more privilege members of our society.

The second thing that rubbed me the wrong way was her attitude. Yes, if fear is stopping your creativity, then it is important to try to overcome fear. However, I felt that Elizabeth Gilbert was belittling those fears a bit. She is not a trained psychologist and can not just tell the reader to get over his/her fears.

I felt uncomfortable with the section where she talks about an idea she had for a story but hadn’t invested the time in that story. Years later, writer Ann Patchett would write that story. I understand that Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert are friends, but I could not help but find this section a bit like Elizabeth Gilbert was taking credit for Ann Patchett’s work. The point was clear: if you have an idea, run with it, don’t hesitate, or someone else will come up with that idea. I just felt awkward with her personal anecdote that demonstrated this.

The final thing that Elizabeth Gilbert states in Big Magic that rubbed me the wrong way was when she was talking about creative endeavors being solely for yourself. I do agree with that. At one point in the book, it is stated that if someone is embarking on a creative venture that is not making that person happy, they should cease that venture and move onto something else creative that will make them more happy. However, Elizabeth Gilbert says that she writes for herself and only for herself, that none of her books are for anyone else. My immediate thought was, “then why am I reading this.” By definition, self-help books are written for other people. That an author takes their own knowledge and experience to try to help others.

Overall, I felt that this book might be more useful to those who are already pretty creative in their lives and are just trying to progress in that area (not me). There are some good points that I picked up:

  • The creative process can be magical.
  • Do what you want.
  • Put your ego in check.
  • Open one mental channel by dabbling in a different one.

The conclusion of her book is the best part and very inspirational:

“Creativity is sacred and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone and are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul and I promise you can make anything..”

My Rating: ♦ ♦

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Big Magic

  1. What a great review! I definitely can see why you had an issue with this book… it’s been sitting on my shelf for ages, but I just wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it… I love the quote from the end of the book though!

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