Frank Bruni, restaurant critic for The New York Times, loves food. But he also hates food, as it represents the root of his lifelong struggle with weight. And therein lies the dilemma. The delightfully funny and provocative memoir Born Round chronicles Bruni's relationship with food from infancy to adulthood, when he scored the renowned position at the Times. Born into an Italian family where eating was a major and constant event, Bruni can't recall a time when he wasn't worried about his appearance. From embarking on the Atkins diet with his mother at age 8 so he wouldn't be the chubby kid at school, to trying his hand at bulimia and the abuse of Ex-lax and Metamucil in college, Bruni recounts the numerous years of yo-yo dieting with absolute clarity and intimate detail.
Anyone who's ever had a few (or more) pounds to lose can relate to Bruni the author, but even more so because his voice as the narrator is so familiar. You feel as if a good friend is telling you his story and you're dying to hear more. Bruni's memoir is so honest and bare, it's hard to imagine anyone else narrating it. When Bruni recalls Thanksgiving memories with his family or his grandmother's favorite quote "Born round, you don't die square." his tone paints the picture of warmth and love.
No detail is too intimate, as Bruni illustrates his trials with dating (in one instance he keeps putting off a first date with a man he is very interested in, because he needs at least a week to lose five pounds before he is presentable), but his sense of humor keeps the narrative from being too heavy or depressing. Is Bruni the confident, aggressive, take-no-prisoners journalist that you would picture the infamous restaurant critic of The New York Times to be? No. He's a self-deprecating, insecure, sometimes-chubby-sometimes-not guy. And you love him all the more for it. Colleen Oakley
Frank Bruni was born round, round as in stout, chubby, and hungry, always and endlessly hungry. He grew up in a big, loud Italian family in White Plains, New York, where meals were epic, outsize affairs. At those meals, he demonstrated one of his foremost qualifications for his future career: an epic, outsize love of food. But Bruni's relationship with eating was tricky, and his difficulties with managing it began early. When Bruni was named the restaurant critic for The New York Times in 2004, he knew enough to be nervous.
The restaurant critic at the Times performs one of the most closely watched tasks in the epicurean universe; a bumpy ride was certain, especially for someone who had never written about food, someone who for years had been busy writing about politics, presidential campaigns, and the pope. What qualified him to be one of the most loved and hated tastemakers in the New York food world? Did his decades-long obsession with food suffice?
Food was his friend and enemy both, something he craved but feared, and his new-job jitters focused primarily on whether he'd finally made some sense of that relationship .In this coveted job, he'd face down his enemy at meal after indulgent meal. As his grandmother often put it, "Born round, you don't die square." Would he fall back into his old habits or could he establish a truce with the food on his plate?
Born Round traces the highly unusual path Bruni traveled to become a restaurant critic; it is the captivating account of an unpredictable journalistic ride from an intern's desk at Newsweek to a dream job at The New York Times, as well as the brutally honest story of Bruni's lifelong, often painful, struggle with food.
©2009 Frank Bruni; (P)2009 Penguin
People who have any experience w/ addiction are sure to enjoy and draw valuable lessons from this book, even if they don't love food. But for a food addict like myself, this seems to have it all: food virtually brought to life (food porn in words, which can be just as good as the real thing w/o the calories), dead-on descriptions of the rationalizing that precedes the binges and the guilt, regrets and dejection that follow, the sometimes unpredictable relapses, etc. I plan to go back to this book every time I can feel one of these last looming.
The book wasn't simply instructive or drool-inducing, though. It's worth a read (or listen) based on the merit of its prose alone. I also enjoyed the other parts even if their focus was not on food, such as the loving descriptions of the author's family, esp. of the two most important people (women) in his life, and his interesting "run-in" with one of America's most influential restauranteurs. Many parts had me in stitches, and passers-by who failed to notice my earphones must have thought me crazy.
The narration was just as good as that by professional readers and less nasal/annoying/exaggerated than some very popular ones. It was also unabridged, which seems to become more and more of a rarity w/ books narrated by authors (Ted Sorensen's autobiography was almost alone in this category until Born Round came along).
I am an educated Southerner, plowing through books at the speed of light. I love good stories, good coffee, and good conversation.
If you are not a foodie -- I mean like, serious foodie -- only the first half of the book will impress you. I was ready for Mr. Bruni to wrap it up, but my player said there were still 2 hours left! Could have done without some of the information, both food related and personal.
This is clearly an unusual take on someone who has an unhealthy relationship with food but makes the choice to confront this behavior in a professional context. However, more telling is the degree of rationalization to justify self-destructive habits to the detriment of self-esteem and personal relationships. Clearly, a high level of intelligence is no match for an addiction which cuts to the emotional core. I applaud his journey and became involved in his struggle. At the same time ego (not meant in a derogatory way) probably kept him away from the professional psychological support that may have brought some self-awareness to this life-long process. I'm pulling for him.
I submit this review as a warning to other readers so they won't be surprised as I was, having had no idea from the description provided by Audible, of what I was getting into when I downloaded this book. I thought it was going to be more focused on the professional aspects of being a restaurant critic, and the concomitant adventures thereof; ---something along the lines of Anthony Bourdain. What I was very surprised to find instead, was the autobiography of a gay man focused on his neurotic obsession over his weight and appearance.
The book begins by telling a beautiful family story about his privileged upbringing, in a fully-functional family unit, with two whole parents providing for a robust childhood, complete with an elite education and ongoing good relations with immediate and extended family. Rare and wonderful so far, until the part about his being gay slips out of the closet after several chapters.
While that was an unhappy surprise for me, it has yet to be fatal. He has not, so far, gotten preachy or gross (I'm not quite halfway through, so I'll say not yet) or ground any political axes on that account, but there's just enough gay love story going on already, that I am not sure if I can get through this or not. His endless occupation with food and it's effect on his appearance, like the most annoying girlfriend you've ever had, for chapter after chapter, is grating, though he seasons his telling with just enough family goings-on and the occasional mention of his profession, to stave off despair.
So, since I've "read" this far, I haven't given up yet, because the book is well written and at least fractionally interesting, though (another correction here to the audible description) not the least bit "hilarious". The author also seems like a nice enough guy that you want to give him a chance. There's also the hope that in the rest of the book, he might yet forget himself, stop wallowing in his bittersweet personal life, and move on to his profession
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