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Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater Hardcover – August 20, 2009
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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Amazon Best of the Month, August 2009: How a man with a lifelong battle of the bulge landed the job as the restaurant critic for the New York Times, the most influential job in the food world, is only half the story (more like a third, really) in Frank Bruni's brave, brutally honest, often hilarious, and truly endearing memoir, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater.
Bruni struggled with over-eating since he was a boy growing up in a food-focused family in White Plains, NY. From adolescence through adulthood, Bruni was on the losing side of maintaining a healthy relationship with food, and eventually his inability to control his hunger--manifested in bulimia, convenience store binges, and bouts of sleep eating--defined his life. There aren't many books out there dealing with what it's like to be a man with an eating disorder. While Bruni's story is peppered with humor, his disgust at himself as he yo-yo's up to size 42 khakis at the Gap and endures years-long patches of celibacy leaves the reader aching in empathy.
Self-doubt about his appearance causes him to sabotage any chances at happiness as he makes lame excuses to postpone dates in the hopes that he'll drop those few extra pounds before he might have to reveal himself. And throughout the book he's banking on being slimmer in the future--whether it's a few days, weeks, or months--and sacrifices truly appreciating the present, even when he's holding prestigious jobs at Newsweek and the New York Times.
"I was in retreat, my weight a reason not to reach out or take risks. I'd deal with my love life once I got thinner.... Fatness simplified life and lessened the stakes. It put life on hiatus, making the present a larded limbo between a past normalcy and a future one. It argued against bold initiatives.... But while I wasn't trying to make things happen, they nonetheless happened to me."
There's a very funny account of how he worked with a photographer friend to digitally manipulate his author photo for Ambling into History in an attempt "to transform the round into the oblong, chubby into chiseled, gone-to-seed to come-to-Papa." When he saw the results of the final photo (the one that would be taped behind the reservation stand of many New York restaurants) his friend wondered: "When was the last time anyone at the publishing house saw you?"
And when he gets the tap to become restaurant critic and leaves his gig as the Times's Rome bureau chief, he begins a preparatory world-tour of eating research before entering an exhausting career of eating out seven nights a week, juggling multiple dining identities (with matching AmEx cards), and becoming one of "the most loved and hated tastemakers in New York." --Brad Thomas Parsons
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Outgoing New York Times restaurant critic Bruni admits he was even a baby bulimic in his extraordinary memoir about a lifelong battle with weight problems. To his Southern Italian paternal grandmother, food equaled love. Cooking and parenting from Old World traditions, she passed these maternal and culinary principles on to her WASP daughter-in-law, whose own weight struggles her son eventually inherited. Through adolescence, puberty and into college, Bruni oscillated from gluttonous binges to adult bulimia, including laxative abuse. Vocationally, journalism called, first through the college paper, then a progression of internships and staff positions in Detroit and New York, including his stints as a Bush campaign reporter in 2000 and as the Times Rome correspondent. In tandem, Bruni's powerlessness over his appetite developed from cafeteria meals to Chinese delivery binges to sleep eating. While Bruni includes such entertaining bits as the campaign trail seen through Weight Watcher lens and ample meals from his years as the Times restaurant critic, in the end, his is a powerful, honest book about desire, shame, identity and self-image. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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The best part of this book, both the most lovingly written and the funniest, is all the vivid description of Bruni's family; in particular the two women - mother and grandmother - who he loved so fiercely and whose obsessive cooking habits surely influenced his obsessive eating habits.
The hardest part of this book to read was the constant, sometimes dismaying, drumbeat of his lifelong eating disorder (which he never quite names as such). I appreciated his candor, and felt overwhelmed at moments with sympathy; but there were times when his self-destructive behavior just forced me to put the book down. It's so hard to read about such a nice guy messing up his life so badly over food.
But do read this book. It is full of heart and humor good writing. It made me like Bruni even more than his courageous newspaper writing already has. It also made me wish he'd gone for some therapy in college and maybe saved himself some pain in his life. But, all in all, he's not to be pitied, and this memoir of struggling with food has lessons for all of us.
Of course, for someone like Bruni who'd struggled with a serious weight problem and related eating disorders throughout his adult life, the job had obvious drawbacks. And, therein lies the fascination in learning about his life and how he balanced this enviable career against his personal battles.
Bruni is extremely-at times brutally-honest in this engaging memoir. He has an easy writing style that drew me in right away, as he interweaves his path as an adult with his childhood and family background. In fact, his detailed description of that background (he was raised in a close-knit, rambunctious, food-loving Italian-American family in New York) is what I enjoyed most about this book. A close second would be his vivid descriptions of food, which were literally mouth watering; I felt like I was gaining weight just reading the book. I also liked the details he provided about the lengths restaurant critics go to in order to remain undetected while doing their work; this is a world I had absolutely no insight into before reading this book, and it was really interesting.
The author's honesty about his struggles with body size, body image, bulimia and weight gain is impressive. I would think the lengths to which he went to keep his weight under control while dining every day on extravagant food in upscale restaurants would be inspiring for anyone who has issues around food.
This book includes quite a few personal photos, and I always enjoy that in a memoir or biography; I think it makes the story more real. Also, for awhile during his career, the author worked as a reporter covering George W. Bush's presidential campaign. The quantity and types of food he was exposed to during that stint are unbelievable; it makes his subsequent ability to take control of his food issues all the more impressive.
All in all, I found this book to be an entertaining, fast read. (I read the Kindle edition and found the editing to be good, and the photos quite viewable.)