For critics who thought her best-selling travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love was a collection of self-indulgent ramblings from an overly privileged woman, Elizabeth Gilbert came prepared to live up to their worst expectations Saturday night.
She began her talk at the packed Temple Israel in Miami by bluntly begging the audience to immediately buy many copies of her new book about marriage, Committed. Buy it now, she urged, this week. Then she swore, with a sly grin, that her motivation was unselfish.
"It would mean more to me than I could possibly express if we could knock Sarah Palin off the best seller list," she said.
The roar of applause that followed set the tone for the evening, as Gilbert was clearly surrounded by adoring fans. They would have cheered if she stood on the podium and did a few downward dogs. But instead, she charmed them with the wit and self-deprecating humor that's helped her become an international star.
After reading from the opening chapter of Committed -- in which she discovers that she must marry her boyfriend, despite her gut-wrenching aversion to matrimony, because otherwise he will be deported -- she answered questions from people struggling with their own marital distress.
One man reported that he and his gay partner would both face deportation after they married in Boston, because their union isn't legal in Florida. She sympathized, offered words of encouragement, and then apologized for belonging "to the country club of the heterosexual."
Someone else asked if Gilbert still meditates daily, since she was so devoted to the practice during her stay at an ashram in India. The author replied that yes, she takes "silence baths," which involve lying down in bed with her cat for 20 minutes every day.
Of course, she added, "There are purists who would call that napping."
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And finally, a member of the audience wondered, in awe-inspired tones, how Gilbert managed to write with such an easy, conversational tone. Do the sentences just tumble out perfectly? he asked. Do you have to revise anything?
"Just comes out perfect," she dead-panned.
She explained how she'd struggled so much with the pressure to produce a follow-up to the wildly popular Eat, Pray, Love that she'd written an entire 500-page draft of her new book, then scrapped it and started over.
"I've been writing daily since I was 13," she said. "I dedicated my life to it completely. Yeah, it's work."