I have been waiting for a good time to post a review of Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, and after recommending it to my friend last night, I decided it was time to recommend it to my blog readers.
Note: I asked for a review copy of this book, and my request was completely ignored by the publicist. I bought it myself. Those new laws about disclosing freebies and paid reviews don't scare me. I always disclose products I've been given for review, and so far no one has paid me to do a review.
I recommended this book to my friend after he kept commenting on and apologizing for his weight gain since the last time I saw him. The first few times, I told him that he didn't need to do that and that I didn't think it was good to be so hard on himself. I am not sure how much weight he gained, but he didn't look exceptionally different -- he looked like he had put on a few pounds, but nothing really remarkable in a five-year span. Then, when he said that he had maintained his weight through some unusually strict rituals (including keeping nothing but salad in the house), I finally recommended this book because his story reminded me so much of Frank Bruni's.
Frank, like me and my friend, is the product of the American melting pot: Full-blooded Italian on one side of the family, and more conventional American on the other side. Italians in this country often bring a history of hard times with them, and they express their love and show their prosperity through an abundance of food. Frank's description of a typical holiday spread put out by his mother (who was not Italian but enthusiastically took on the challenge of cooking all the traditional dishes) reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving at my grandmother's:
...the main meal itself...always included a pasta dish on top of a gigantic turkey or an enormous ham, unless the pasta dish supplemented a gigantic turkey and an enormous ham. And the amount of each kind of food was plotted with this rule of thumb in mind: If every guest decided to eat nothing but mashed potatoes, or nothing but turkey and only white meat turkey at that, there would still be enough mashed potatoes or white meat turkey to go around.Not surprisingly, Frank and his siblings all struggled with weight issues at different times in their lives, but Frank seems to have had both the largest appetite and the most trouble keeping his weight in check. His approach seems to have been all-out wanton gluttony followed by periods of extreme deprivation. When he was very young, he and his mother did the Atkins plan together, and through the years he tried extreme exercise, diets of all kinds, laxatives, amphetamines, and all kinds of other tricks. He also gives us some clues that the weight might have stood in for other troubling issues he didn't want to tackle in his life.
Frank is a great storyteller and makes it clear that his family was a funny. loving bunch and that he treasures his memories of his childhood even though they are wrapped up in the pain of feeling overweight and out of control. His weight issues continue into his adulthood, as he embarks on his first relationships and his career with the New York Times. Some of the details of his story, like his obsessive thoughts about his flaws and his fetishistic attachment to certain items of clothing that he thought disguised his bulk, hit me like a freight train.
He finally finds some balance after a friend writes him a check for two sessions with a personal trainer. He starts to feel empowered by his exercise sessions and gradually learns to moderate his eating habits. He carries those new habits to Italy, where he realizes that in the Old World, Italians eat small portions of really good food, not bottomless bowls of pasta doused in meat sauce.
I recommended this book to my friend (and recommend it to all of you) because Frank Bruni accomplishes what we would all like to accomplish: He stays fit and attractive while eating somewhat normally. Even when he becomes the restaurant critic for the Times and has to eat out seven nights a week at the city's best restaurants, he finds a way to indulge selectively and balance those dinners with more moderate fare and exercise. Even though he acknowledges that he still has trouble sometimes, he seems to have found a measure of peace and sanity.
And he looks amazing.