5 of My Favorite Books by Elizabeth Gilbert (That Aren’t Eat Pray Love)

5 of My Favorite Books by Elizabeth Gilbert (That Aren’t Eat Pray Love)

You can’t exist within the world of books and not know about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. The memoir was a phenomenon, even garnering a film adaptation starring Julia Roberts (as is true most of the time, the book is about a billion times better than the movie). Eat Pray Love became so popular that it became somewhat of a joke— just another example of a white woman on a generic journey to rediscover herself in the middle of her life. But I think that Elizabeth Gilbert is anything but generic. In fact, I think she’s brilliant. This year I did a deep dive into her work, most of which was written before Gilbert’s pilgrimage of Eat Pray Love. Needless to say, I adored every one of them. Here are 5 of my favorite books by Liz Gilbert.

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I’d wager that nearly every author of fiction that you admire has written a collection of short stories. Though not all of them end up published, and not all of them are worth publication, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Pilgrims, however, turns out to be completely wonderful. These 12 short stories are full of nature, power, relationship, sex, and truth. Each story more captivating than the last, these stories leave you aching for just a little more.

Gilbert breathes life into her characters so that they feel fully developed and fleshed out in a matter of seconds. Her powerful ability to launch you into a story in such a way that makes you feel like you’ve known these characters for many chapters instead of only a few sentences is what sets her short stories apart from so many I’ve read. The brilliance of this debut book makes it clear why Gilbert’s writing career exploded as it did.

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Stern Men

Stern Men is a fictional peek into a life and culture I’ve never read about before now. Ruth Thomas is a young native of a small fishing island off the coast of Maine, where lobstermen rule and reign over their territories with violent fervor. Ruth returns to the island as a young adult after attending boarding school. Ruth is smart, funny, and a lot more capable than she is given credit for. Though encouraged to leave the island for a college education, Ruth was raised on and by this island, and she isn’t going anywhere. She isn’t sure what she’s going to do with her life, but whatever it is, it has to be on Fort Niles.

We start to understand our heroine a little bit more as the stories of Ruth’s father, mother, and brother slowly unfold throughout the narrative like a slow rising tide. This novel feels like what you might imagine life on a lobster fishing island off the coast of Maine in the 1970s might feel like: steady, a little slow, and completely beautiful.

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The Signature of All Things

Set in the beginning of the 19th century, this The Signature of All Things follows Alma, the daughter of a shrewd botanist and businessman. She grows up with the best formal education a woman could receive, along with an extensive education in botany and plant-life. Alma goes about her days in her carefully designed routines, and she doesn’t foresee any changes. Late in her life, Alma never imagines that she will fall in love and marry— it seems that matrimony just isn’t in the cards for a strong and independent woman like her.

Alma is logical and methodical, like any good scientist. But when Alma is confronted with the divine, she dives head first into an exploration of the spiritual, a world that both delights and terrifies her. A twist of fate arrives in the form of a man— an artist and a challenge to Alma’s rigid ways. Love found and love lost, Alma’s is awakened from a monotonous sleep. Shaken from grief and loss, Alma embarks on a journey of discovery that will change her, and the world, forever. Though this novel is lengthy, I can’t imagine Gilbert leaving any of it out. Every chapter is deeply fragrant and I loved every second of breathing it in.

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The Last American Man

The only nonfiction book on this list, The Last American Man is the true life story of Gilbert’s friend Eustace Conway, a true mountain man and the perfect symbol of the capable and self-reliant American man. Eustace leaves home as a teenager to live alone in the Appalachian mountains, where he finds strength and solace. He eats what he finds and hunts, and even makes his own clothes. Eustace has a vision for a new world, a one in which men and women respect the earth, refuse unnecessary materialistic comforts, and learn to provide for themselves through the generous earth alone.

Eustace is a big dreamer, and he is sure that he can convince the entire nation to leave behind their overwhelming excess to embrace a simpler and more fulfilling life, if only they would try it. Eustace is indeed successful in influencing some, but no one seems to embrace the life of rigorous labor and absolute self-discipline. Eustace’s fierce work ethic and unrelenting standards for himself and everyone else makes him a difficult person to be in a relationship with. Though Eustace longs for a life partner, a mate, and he has relationships with many strong and capable women, not one of them sticks around long enough. Eustace’s deep longing to be known and accepted seems impossible to quench, and the wounds from a father who never accepted him colors Eustace’s life forever. The Last American Man is a beautiful and sad story of a man on a mission to teach everyone else how to live the ideal life, but never really living it himself.

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City of Girls

And finally, Elizabeth Gilbert’s most recent publication, City of Girls. Reading City of Girls sort of feels like eating ice cream, a delicious and extravagant treat. The novel follows Vivian, a wide-eyed and silly nineteen-year-old who moves to New York City in the 1940s, looking for a life of fun and excitement. Vivian moves into The Lily Playhouse, a charming though not glamorous establishment for cheap and lively musicals, owned and run by Vivian’s homely and amusing Aunt Peg. The playhouse is enchanting, and so are its inhabitants. Vivian befriends Celia, a gorgeous and leggy showgirl, and a few other alluring characters. Vivian falls into a thrilling regimen of dancing, booze, and sex. Vivian isn’t a bad girl, really, but she isn’t too worried about being good, either. Making costumes by day and partying by night, Vivian finds her place in New York and at The Lily.

But when Edna Parker Watson, a real actress, arrives, Vivian desperately wants to emulate the woman’s talent and grace. Edna’s arrival at The Lily invites the return of Peg’s ex-husband, the writer Billy Buel. Billy writes a brand new show for The Lily Playhouse, City of Girls, and with it ushers in an entirely new era for the theatre. City of Girls is the most exciting and most important show The Lily’s ever seen. Vivian falls in love with her new role as costume designer and with a new man. But when Vivian makes a costly mistake, it forces her to decide exactly what kind of person she really wants to be.

Thanks for reading about 5 books by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert. Her book on creativity, Big Magic, is another favorite of mine, but I’m saving it for another post. For more book reviews, sign up for my newsletter below.

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Disclosure (Let’s be honest)
This website contains posts with affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission if you purchase a book I’ve linked— at no extra cost to you. I’ll always be upfront with you when a post is sponsored or a book is gifted. All books I recommend are books I actually read and enjoyed.
No joke.