I wasn’t looking forward to reading Frank Bruni’s memoir “Born Round.” My friend Collin had recommended it profusely: “No, really, David, you have to read ‘Born Round.’ It’s really good. Frank Bruni used to be the restaurant critic for The New York Times, and it’s his history with weight and dieting. You’ll love it.”
“OK, I’ll check it out,” I said to Collin, forcing a smile, while thinking: Oh great. All I do all day long is think about my own weight and what and when I’ll be eating next, and now I gotta read a whole book that’s dedicated to the same topic? And one that’s written by a guy that’s probably a much better writer than me?
But I trust Collin, so I headed to the library and picked up a copy:
I’m so glad I did. Let’s start with what was glaringly obvious one chapter in: Frank Bruni is an amazing writer (and my suspicions were confirmed: he’s a much better writer than I am). In telling his life story, Bruni shares stories and moments that range in tone from gleeful to difficult, and no matter if he’s talking about an amazing meal he had at one of the nation’s best restaurants or his mother’s passing, it’s written in a way that seems completely and utterly effortless. The details are abundant and thoughtful. The descriptions (of food, of clothing, of places, of everything) are efficient yet thorough, and engage all your senses. Bruni has an ability to articulate his feelings and emotions, both good and bad, in a way that that, depending on the chapter, made me want to slap him or cheer him on. Mostly, though, I wanted to hug him, because the realization I had, over and over and over again, is that I probably won’t ever read another memoir that I’ll relate to as much as I related to “Born Round.”
Turns out Frank Bruni and I have a lot in common. We’re both gay men. We’re both products of the suburbs (he grew up outside New York City; I grew up outside Detroit). We both come from European families that showed love through food (his grandmother’s meals were overflowing with Italian dishes; my grandmother covered the table with Spanish fare). We both grew up swimming competitively (although Bruni was actually pretty good at it). Most importantly, we’ve both struggled our entire lives with all things weight-related. Bruni went on his first diet when he was eight. I can’t recall when I first attempted to diet, but I do remember that my weight was already a topic of discussion by the time I was around that age.
So many of the things that Bruni writes about brought back specific memories in my own head. In this passage, Bruni writes about the one of the injustices of swimming, even when it did result in some weight loss:
“It felt in some ways like a mean little joke: I’d lost some of my flab only to put what remained on more prominent display, in a bathing suit. I wished I’d tripped across a talent for fencing, and been able to tent my body in one of the beekeeper-style suits. But instead I had to squeeze into those tiny, tight Speedos, which pinched my waist so that the extra flesh there protruded all the more conspicuously.”
When Bruni recounts, in Chapter Five, his time as a bulemic in college, I found that all of his justifications where pretty much the same things I would tell myself when I was binging and purging as a teenager:
“Consider the benefits. My willpower could waver, I could gobble down more than I had meant to, and I wouldn’t have to go to bed haunted by the looming toll on my waistline, or wake up the next morning owing the gods of weight management even more of a sacrifice than I had owed them the day before. Throwing up was my safety valve. My mulligan.”
One of my favorite descriptions in the book is Bruni’s description of his stomach. I’ve read and heard, again and again, that your stomach is roughly the same size as your fist, and I can’t help but think that my stomach is much, much bigger than that, and Bruni’s comparison of his stomach to other stomachs made me laugh out loud:
“My stomach was nothing but space, a McMansion of stomach, with laundry rooms and powder rooms and walk-in closets and in-law suites that other stomachs didn’t have.”
What I found most inspiring and truthful about “Born Round”is that it’s clear that Bruni is, and forever will be, a work in progress. This isn’t a book that starts with Bruni being fat and ends with him spilling his secrets on how he lost the excess weight and kept it off. It chronicles all the ups-and-downs (and there are a lot of them). The end of the book is hopeful, but not quite triumphant. Bruni acknowledges that he’s learned a lot about eating, exercise, and himself, but it’s his attitude and his thought processes that will make the biggest difference moving forward. Here he writes about binges, which he’s been prone to his entire life:
“There had always been something in me that sparked to the sheer act of shoveling food into my mouth until my stomach was full to bursting: I got a high from it, like the rush of a drug. And my brain hadn’t been rewired by the better habits I’d honed. But what had changed was my reaction to a binge. I accepted it as a quirk of that wiring – of my nature – and I recognized that one night of bingeing could do only so much harm. There wasn’t a flood of guilt or shame afterward. And there wasn’t an anxious vow of penance that gave way, that same night or the next, to more bingeing before the penance began.”
I’m not there yet with my own reactions – as you all know from my posts where I flip out after gaining a pound – but I’m working on it. It’s hard. But I’ll get there.
As soon as I finished the last page and closed “Born Round,” I thought about my initial reaction when Collin recommended this book, and I laughed. I was so foolish to presume I wouldn’t learn anything from someone dealing with the same issues that I deal with. I’m grateful I trusted Collin, because in reading this book, I gained insight and understanding about my own complicated relationship with food, and I laughed and sighed and reflected and connected and I might have even shed a tear or two.
There’s one more thing that happened while I read this book: I developed a teensy-weensy itty-bitty giant enormous crush on Frank Bruni. My crush escalated when I watched clips of his interviews (like this one and this one) on YouTube. Seriously. I feel like a schoolgirl. What’s not to like? He’s incredibly handsome, ridiculously intelligent, and, as his book showed again and again, he’s honest, has integrity, and is loyal and loving to his family and friends. So Frank Bruni, if you happen to read this, drop me a line! At the very minimum, I’d like to thank you for sharing your story, and wish you continued success and happiness. Keep it up, Frank! And…
…Keep it up, David!
PS – This is only the second ever Keep It Up, David book recommendation. For more fascinating reading, check out “At Home.”