on May 25, 2003
More pragmatic than Kathryn Harrison, more emotional and romantic than Naomi Wolf, Caroline Knapp had the rare ability to lay bare her most elemental struggles as a woman of her generation, expanding the personal to a breadth of understanding that encompasses us all. I read her earlier book, "Drinking: A Love Story" years ago--largely in an effort to understand my own mother's alcohol addiction; confronted with issues of my own, I recently sought out this volume again, and was surprised and shocked to learn that Ms. Knapp had died, just after completing "Appetites". It came, however, as no surprise to me that she would have turned her attention to a broader scope of hunger and addiction, as I myself--and every woman in my immediate family--has battled both disordered drinking AND eating patterns. I devoured most of the book within 2 or 3 days--then spent over 2 weeks navigating the final chapters, as I was reduced to tears at the close of almost every paragraph. I found myself spilling copious quantities of ink both underlining and adding margin notes, so familiar was the language, the experiences she chronicled. I was particularly moved and impressed by the fashion in which she used intensely personal material as a starting place for a more scholarly investigation of the subject matter at hand; the book, which reads like a memoir, is nonetheless exhaustively researched and supported with extensive footnotes. I recommend it passionately to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by choice, exhausted by freedom, shamed by a hunger that seems insatiable.
on October 18, 2004
The book Appetites: Why Women Want, written by the late author Caroline Knapp, is an antidote to our culture's obsession with beauty and women's body-image. It is hard to believe that such a book, published in 2003 has only recently been written. The book contains simple but necessary ideas concerning women and the obsessions we are prone to face: material possessions, relationships, and eating disorders. Though the book definitely has an intended audience of women, it cannot be categorized as a feministic book. There is no lecture. Knapp speaks to her audience simply and slowly, allowing her ideas to get across thoroughly to the reader.
The memoir recalls of Knapp's childhood, growing up a perfectionist who got straight A's and her difficult relationship with her parents which all lead to her eventual eating disorder, anorexia, that she formed in college. Knapp watched her mother be an ideal late-fifties housewife-"she did all the grocery shopping, all the laundry, all the cleaning and cooking", yet "at the same time, she was one of the most intelligent and well-informed women I've ever known". Then, later on in life, she talks of her father having an affair, her own affair with a teacher, and then watching her boyfriend move across the country. It is a common and realistic story in people's lives, a story any reader can relate to in one form or the other. The fact that this is all true allows the reader, the woman, to find their story. Caroline Knapp says things without really explaining them, referring to examples that allow the reader to apply the book to their life more easily-"Obsessions-even mild ones, even the run-of-the-mill, mundane daily obsessions that can pepper a woman's thoughts (Do these jeans make my butt look too big? Should I go to the gym?)-have such extraordinary deflective power." Knapp explores familiar people in her life--"the woman who insisted that weight is `not really an issue', for instance, also noted that she only allows herself to eat dessert, or second helpings at dinner, if she's gone to the gym that day." These are women that any reader can share with, and what Knapp is pointing out is the complete bombardment with self-image, with weight, with pleasure, with denying-"What liberates a person enough to indulge appetite, to take pleasure in the world, to enjoy being alive? Within that question lies the true holy grail, the heart of a woman's hunger."
The book is important and special because the idea Knapp talks of pertains to every woman's life. As a female, we all have friends or mothers or siblings who think they are too fat or too skinny or are too promiscuous or constantly compare themselves to others. Our culture and media is saturated with the ideal body type, a body type which hardly any women can relate to. Knapp is getting to the heart of this situation-why we must do so or be so-always wanting to be someone else or achieve something "better". In a world filled with fashion magazines and diet books, Appetites: What Women Want is brilliant and revolutionary.
on December 14, 2003
Plenty has been written about WHAT women want; movies have even been titled as such. But this book by Caroline Knapp isn't about WHAT; it's about WHY. Knapp's 1996 book, Drinking: A Love Story, chronicled her battle with alcoholism, whereas Appetites, a much more ambitious book, examines her early battle with anorexia, a condition which was referred to only peripherally in her previous book. According to Knapp's self-awareness revelations, the denial of food is a metaphor that explores the difficulties women have even acknowledging their deepest desires - desires for sex, love, freedom, professional recognition... just life. The message behind Appetites is made more poignant by the fact that Knapp died last year of lung cancer at age 42. Her book is full of wit and wisdom - and we can hope that before death, she came to appreciate those 2 qualities within herself.
on June 11, 2003
Oh, Caroline Knapp will be missed.
"Appetites" is a powerful and profound exploration of her battle with anorexia in her twenties. She weaves the stories of other female bulemics and anorexics throughout her own-and also of other women with deep obsessions and cravings that lead to such behaviors as promiscuity, alcoholism, spending wildly, and shop lifting. What are they really hunger for, she asks. Love, acceptance, security? She writes with grace and force. The reader confronts these issues with her, but she eases them into the debate. And then he or she is engaged.
Knapp explores the emotional, psychological, and cultural reasons that drive American women to such behaviors. She has a softer, gentler voice than most feminists and she does not indict men for the most part. But she does blame society. It's interesting-most pop psychologists would diagnose some of the behaviors she describes as examples of an "obsessive compulsive disorder" (anorexia is a manifestation of it in many cases). Yet she doesn't use that term once in the book-in many ways, she digs even deeper for the causes than simply a diagnosis. She analyzes what triggers the disease.
I would recommend this book for most women, even if you haven't had an eating disorder. We all have appetites. I wouldn't recommend it for most men, except those who like women issue books or know someone who is anorexic.
on April 20, 2003
An amazing, amazing book that not only opens a woman's eyes but acts as a support and reassurance that the never ending sorrowful hunger pains many woman feel are felt by so many and are something we need to embrace and nourish as a society. Caroline Knapp is an exsquisite writer who can touch and change lives dramatically just by sharing her story and wisdom through her perfectly written words.
on November 13, 2006
Alice Walker once wrote, "Art unfailingly reflects its creator's heart. Art . . . comes from a heart open to all the possible paths there might be to a healthier tomorrow." Caroline Knapp's artistry was in writing and publishing her internal dialogues. This book appears to reveal her heart, a heart that was open to considering new and different possible paths to a healthier tomorrow. She may not have had all the solutions to the issues she raised in her excellent book, but I admire her tremendous courage to express her frustrations clearly and to think aloud to try and understand the motivations and causes for her behaviors. She expressed her best estimates of how she might improve her circumstances. This book is an excellent look at one [...] woman's cognitive thought processes about why she thought she was the way she was, and how she thought she might overcome her perceived problems. Whether you agree with her or not as to the causes of her issues and their possible solutions, if you read this book, you will learn something very valuable about the strong, and sometimes controlling, reasoning processes that likely flow through many women.
Throughout this book (and her books 'Pack of Two' and 'The Merry Recluse') she discusses her difficulties with communicating with her mother, her father, her significant others, professors and people in general. She discusses how she did not believe that her parents communicated well with each other in key areas. She watched her mother silently accept roles that she was not certain her mother should accept. She saw her mother accept treatment from her father that she thought her mother should have responded to differently.
When a woman chooses to attach her soul to another person's soul, and also agrees to "be silent to" or condone parts of the other person's philosophies or actions she believes to be in error - that prolonged, and potentially neverending, acquiescence can negatively effect her psyche. That degree of unceasing internal mental contradiction in major areas may manifest itself in either serious mental dysfunctions or physical ailments.
It is more healthy for a woman to express her objections, even if those objections are not addressed and remain outstanding, than to be silent. Women must overcome any discouragement they receive from their family, friends, and significant others, discouraging them from expressing the ideas they think may lead to possible solutions. They should not always defer to the people closest to them because women often have the best access to the most accurate information about themselves. And even when their suggested solutions may not be better than the current course, when they raise their objections, it gives their community notice of issues that likely deserve alternate responses and further reconsideration.
Thank you Ms. Knapp, not because you had all the right answers, but because you set a great example of a woman fighting resiliently to help herself and others, even when that self-examination was revealing and sometimes humbling. Even when she could not find sufficient motivations for herself, she worked toward and wanted other women to pursue their fulfilments and desires, and to become satiated. She wanted to stop the cycle of mothers unknowingly passing on negative patterns to their daughters. Caroline's voice was heard and I will always remember it.
on April 18, 2006
This book is amazing. I go to a large State College and see this sort of thing everyday. Girls spending money the don't have to buy an identity; girls giving themselves up to men just to feel wanted, girls starving themselves simply because they are so lost. This book says everything; very honestly. I think any female can relate to it. I couldn't put it down. I stayed up and read the whole thing in two days. I particularly rec this book if you are about college age from my generation.
on December 14, 2004
Knapp does an excellent job of weaving in her personal struggles with research and social commentary. She is not willing to simply say, "I wanted control, so I was anorexic." She realizes that there are many pieces to this puzzle, a puzzle that must be put together if our young women are to flourish.
She excels at digging into the myths of our society and the conditions that create an atmosphere ripe for addictions of appetite.
One thing this book lacks is solutions, but at least she was willing to ask the questions.
on January 8, 2004
By any scale, I've been a fortunate and successful woman. I deeply enjoy my work, have the opportunity to think deeply, have good health, loving family and children.
This book was originally a recommendation from a friend, one of those 'think you might like it' things, that sat on the table. Why would I be interested?
Opening it, reading it and being stuck almost motionless by recognition of deep truths has changed that attitude. I'm ordering 5 copies. Young, middle-aged and older women need to read this book and think about it. Both to appreciate the stresses and strains that our mothers experienced, and to realize the residual effect on our lives. Share this book, pass it along to others, it is important.
on May 14, 2013
I first read this book about 10 years ago. At the time, it was mind-blowing to me (and I've never had an eating disorder). I recommended it to every woman I knew and a few men besides. Every woman I lent it to came back to me saying, as I had thought, "It was like reading my own thoughts." A few had to go out and buy their own copies so that they could underline and highlight the passages that resonated best with them.
Every time I come back to this book, I get something new out of it. Caroline Knapp was an amazing writer and in this book, she articulated so much of the modern American female experience that I would be surprised to find an American woman who was able to read the entire book without having at least one moment of illumination and understanding. I recommend this to people as the best book I ever read.