Nonfiction: “Big Magic”

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert big magic

The wonderful thing about reading a book of nonfiction written by Elizabeth Gilbert is that you feel like you are sitting in a room with her, conversing about your heart’s desires. This was true of her wildly successful Eat, Pray, Love, but I’ve also felt the same thing with Committed and her latest book, Big Magic.

Gilbert is good at telling us the things we know–at least deep down–the things we’d rather not recognize. But as we read and confess to ourselves that she is right (that we are right if we’d only listen to ourselves), we also get a good dose of the positive part of this reality. Creativity is more important than passion, and if you don’t attend to your creative self, you are pretty much wrecking your life. At the same time, Gilbert warns the reader not to quit her day job. She makes a good point that creativity shouldn’t have to pay the bills for you–you need to pay the bills so that you can continue to freely practice the thing you love without worrying about where your next meal is coming from. If you put that kind of pressure on your creativity, it may desert you.

In discussing creative ideas as ‘big magic,’ Gilbert insists that ideas are, if not living beings, at least animate. They roam the universe looking for a body to inhabit, someone who will bring them to life. Sometimes, if the chosen person doesn’t get this done quickly enough, the idea will flee, looking for a better person to get the job done. She has a wild story about this happening in her own life. She had a great idea for a novel, but because of unforeseen circumstances, she couldn’t get it done. As I read this, I thought, ‘Oh, I know where that idea went!’ because I had read a very similar novel. And then, a few paragraphs later, Gilbert mentions that very novel and explains how the idea left her and inhabited the other novelist–in a kiss between them. This sounds crazy, but when you see how closely related the two novels are, you have to ask yourself: what’s a better explanation? And you have none. So–big magic.

Apparently, Gilbert has been tweeting some wonderfully inspirational quotes from Big Magic. My favorite inspirational passage is too long to be tweeted. An important idea of the book is that you can never be fearless (unless you are a sociopath), but that you have to be driven by your creativity rather than your fear. Gilbert uses the metaphor of a road trip–you, creativity and fear are all together for the ride. Fear can yammer away, but it has to sit in the back seat while you and creativity are making the decisions. In no case is fear allowed to drive.

If you haven’t have the pleasure of sitting down for this conversation with Gilbert, do it now.
High school housekeeping: Although I thoroughly enjoyed Gilbert’s previous two works of nonfiction, I wasn’t sure about the appeal for teens. I did review Eat, Pray, Love because it addresses choosing the right life for oneself. I didn’t review Committed because I didn’t think teens were at a place in their lives to get what she’s talking about. But in Big Magic, Gilbert is addressing something vital for teens, something that matters right now. Choosing not to allow fear to be the driving force in one’s life is essential not just to the moments of happiness, but to a general sense of contentment. The earlier someone understands and acts on this, the better the life that s/he will lead. So you, too, should read the book now.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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