10/03/2013 10:43 am ET Updated Jun 24, 2014

A Brief Interview With Elizabeth Gilbert


Brief Interviews is a new series in which writers discuss language, literature, and a handful of Proustian personality questions.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a novelist and essayist, and is best known for her memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love," which was adapted into a film of the same name. Her first book, a collection of short stories titled "Pilgrims," won the Pushcart Prize. Her latest novel, "The Signature of All Things" [Viking, $28.95], released earlier this week.

What is your most prized possession?

My peace of mind. I spent a lot of years without it, so I'm well aware of how dreadful life can be when you're sinking or spinning. Sometimes I still lose track of it, to be sure, but when peace stays with me (which is more and more as I get older and less stupid) everything seems to work out fine. Everything is manageable from the vantage point of an easeful mind.

Where do you like to read?

Anywhere. Everywhere. As a kid, I used to walk home from school along the side of the highway, reading "Nancy Drew" and drifting dangerously into traffic. I will read in bathtubs, in moving vehicles, in the near-dark of transatlantic airplanes at night, on horseback, in a cave, at Denny's, during a State Dinner — anywhere.

What's your favorite word?

LG - It's a tie between "fuck" and "wonderful." I don't know what that says about me, but seriously — both of those words are fucking wonderful. Maybe because they are, respectively, the perfect representatives of the Dionysian and Apollonian ideals? Or maybe I'm just a lazy talker.

Which word do you hate?

Two words, when put together: "cotton panel." Gives me the shudders.

If you could have any 5 dinner guests, dead or alive, who would they be?

Just to keep things easier, language and culture-wise, I'm going to choose a bunch of Americans for this dinner. And just because the dead are terrible conversationalists, I'll pick living ones. And just for kicks, let's make them all women. Here goes: Dolly Parton, Lena Dunham, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton and Mary Roach.

What word or phrase do you overuse?

"That's the most amazing thing I've ever seen/heard/read/eaten/done!" And each time I say it, I really believe it's true. So essentially, I have no credibility when it comes to amazement.

What is the first book you remember reading?

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar." I had it memorized as a toddler, long before I mastered reading, and I would perform it for guests. I liked to think I was faking them out — that they totally thought I was some miniature, world-class reader. But looking back on it, I think they probably knew all along I was just a hustler.

Do you have a favorite sentence from a book? What is it?

From the poem "A Brief for the Defense" by Jack Gilbert: "We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world."

This line is my guiding star, my core truth, my divine reminder. If I weren't getting too old for tattoos, I would get it tattooed somewhere on my torso. If I were dead, I would want this quote to be carved on my gravestone. But I don't want to be dead, because then nobody would invite me to their dinner parties.

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