Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Review: Born Round

Some months ago I bought a Kindle, the electronic book reader sold by Amazon. The Kindle makes reading (and buying) books so easy, that lately I have been plowing through a good number of books, especially since I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, which allows me to read my books when I'm stuck in traffic in Beijing (not a rare thing) or otherwise have a few moments to spare. In recent weeks I have read a bunch of food-related books, spurred by our having watched "Julie and Juia" on the flight from Beijing to the US in November. So first I read the book "Julie/Julia", and then Julia Child's memoir, "My Life in France", followed by David Lebovitz's "The Sweet Life in Paris", which is a combination memoir/cookbook, as was the next book I read, Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life".

More or less keeping to the food theme, my latest book was the one that spoke to me most deeply. Frank Bruni, the former NY Times restaurant reviewer, came out with a memoir this year called "Born Round" that chronicles his life within his Italian-American family and his development as a leading light at the Times, while also covering his struggles with his weight that plagued him throughout his life. According to his book, Frank had a difficult time with food and controlling his urge to binge from a young age, toying with bulimia, amphetamines and diet pills, overdoses of laxatives and other extreme methods of controlling his tendency to gain weight, while also struggling with other demons in his life.

Without really realizing it, Frank went from being a champion swimmer in high school (a sport her pursued largely as a means of burning the extra calories that he could not help himself from consuming) to being a 268 pound fat guy who went to such extremes as having his book jacket photo Photoshopped beyond recognition in order not to let his old friends and family see how much he had let himself go to seed. The end of this cycle finally came when Maureen Dowd signed Frank up for two sessions with her personal trainer in DC, who forced Frank to exercise regularly and eat more sensibly, leading him to shed the excess weight surprisingly quickly and then providing the additional scrutiny he needed to keep from backsliding. Then, just in the middle of this major change, he got moved to Italy, a place where the food-obsessed could easily fall back into bad habits. Fortunately, Frank had reached the point where his fear of losing his new-won fitness (and the concomitant love life it opened up for him) outweighed his desire to eat all the things that were within easy reach. And then, as though to offer even more temptation, he won a job that would require him to eat out daily at the best restaurants that New York has to offer. However, his will power remained strong and he made through the stint as svelte as when he started.

As someone who also had struggles with weight (though I freely admit that my "problem" was nowhere near as bad as Frank's, though my own body image was probably just as bad as his) this spoke very loudly to me. Looking at old photos of myself now I can hardly believe I let myself get so out of shape, and I thank my friend here in Beijing who signed me up for my first personal trainer session, leading to the transformation that I am still in the middle of. Like Frank, though, my new gig as a restaurant reviewer came tinged with fear that I would revert to my old ways, so I am even more determined to keep to my rowing and training routine (with Pilates thrown in occasionally), and so far, it has been successful.

This was one of the better books I have read recently, and if you're at all interested in food criticism, body transformation or the lives of Italian-Americans, it is a book I would highly recommend.