No one reads Eat, Pray, Love for the itinerary. Liz Gilbert could have spent her post-divorce year in Milwaukee, Dortmund, and Birmingham instead of Rome, India, and Indonesia, and the book would have been just as riveting. Why? Because we read Eat, Pray, Love to feel.
What does it feel like to go through divorce? What does it feel like to be lost? And to find yourself? Invent yourself? Maybe we already know some of these feelings. Maybe we don’t. Either way, we want to stew in a can of emotional romance soup, and boy, does Gilbert deliver. Naturally, we’ll learn something along the way – but that’s not why we came. Not really, anyway. At least if we’re being honest. The same applies to Hamlet, The Da Vinci Code, and Ready Player One.
They dynamic of “we read to feel” seems to be obvious and well-accepted when it comes to fiction titles, but for non-fiction? Not so much. I wonder why. How could one set of books have such a different societal standing than another when all books are written with feeling? As an author, it’s impossible to do anything else.
Reading non-fiction solely for information is like reading fiction only on Wikipedia: You get the plot but not the story, the map but not the adventure – a body without a soul.
Essentialism is not about asking a few smart questions for better productivity. It is about feeling at peace with your work. That’s not something a book summary can teach you, but a few quiet hours with Greg McKeown at your own leisure just might.
The next time a book’s idea or summary speaks to you, ask why. Does it emit the kind of feeling you seem to need right now? If so, pick up a copy. You may not land on Mars, but you’ll still emerge with much more than you expected – just like Liz Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.