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Publisher's Summary

An editor at This American Life reveals the searing story of the secret binge-eating that dominated her adolescence and shapes her still.

“A smart, brave gift to the world. Bravo!” (Mary Karr, author of The Art of Memoir and The Liar’s Club

For almost 30 years, Susan Burton has hidden her obsession with food and the secret life of compulsive eating and starving that dominated her adolescence. This is the relentlessly honest, fiercely intelligent story of living with both anorexia and binge-eating disorder, moving past her shame, and learning to tell her secret. 

When Burton was 13, her stable life in suburban Michigan was turned upside down by her parents' abrupt divorce, and she moved to Colorado with her mother and sister. She seized on this move west as an adventure and an opportunity to reinvent herself from middle-school nerd to popular teenage girl. But she hadn't escaped unscathed, and in the fallout from her parents' breakup, an inherited fixation on thinness went from "peculiarity to pathology". 

Susan entered into a painful cycle of anorexia and binge eating that formed a subterranean layer to her sunny life. She went from success to success - she went to Yale, scored a dream job at a magazine right out of college, and married her college boyfriend. But in college the compulsive eating got worse - she'd binge, swear it would be the last time, and then, hours later, do it again - and after she graduated she descended into anorexia, her attempt to "quit food". 

Binge eating is more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia, but there is less research and little storytelling to help us understand it. In tart, soulful prose Susan Burton strikes a blow for the importance of this kind of narrative and tells an exhilarating story of longing, compulsion, and hard-earned self-revelation.

©2020 Susan Burton (P)2020 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Empty

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Pick another book

I selected this book because I like memoirs and had read good reviews. In listening to the book, I found the author to be self absorbed, selfish and unlikeable. I felt drowned in detail and unsatisfied at the end of the book which didn’t provide any kind of remorse or awakening but rather a catharsis for the author in telling her story. Good for her and the message to own and tell our stories but I wish I hadn’t spent 9+ hours giving her the attention and entitlement it seems that’s she’s had her whole life without any sort of reciprocity to others.

8 people found this helpful

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Author Admits She Suffers From an Eating Disorder

I bought this to hear how someone overcame binge eating disorder. Instead, at the end of the book the author admits this book is about claiming the disorder and admitting she has the disorder. Well-written but disappointing.

6 people found this helpful

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I felt hurt and disappointed reading this book

The writer is a talented storyteller but to listen to the whole book without her even once addressing the privilege she had as a young white woman at Yale who seemed to have endless amounts of money to buy food - well, I just found myself wanting to cry... If even once she had addressed her privilege, and how she understands that not everyone has enough money to buy endless amounts of food for binging... If only once she had shown she understands her privilege, I would have felt she was someone I wanted to listen to. I kept listening to the book, hoping this maturity would occur. It does not. We get to the end of the book, she is in her 40s, and still, she fails to show she understands the privilege of her life. I think the book should come with a warning: this is a book about a very privileged woman. Be clear about it. Otherwise, be warned: you may end up feeling invisible, angry, and hurt if you read this book. I was very disappointed that this talented author couldn't have told her story with more awareness of her privilege.

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Interesting memoir; poor narration

The audible tendency to have books read by their author is often a mistake. Writing an excellent book is a different skill then performing one. This is an interesting, brave work, dully and flatly told. I would have preferred to read the book.

2 people found this helpful

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Absolutely beautiful writing

This author’s writing is beautiful beyond measure. It’s been a few years since I read prose as gorgeous as this. She’s very talented. My only criticism is the vocal fry in her voice. Very hard to listen to.

1 person found this helpful

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A detailed glimpse into life with anorexia/bulimia

This is obviously a very personal work, and parts seemed to provide a detailed glimpse into what life is like for someone with an eating disorder. Other parts of the book seemed obsessively repetitious. The story ended when the author was a young adult, with little about how her eating disorder affected being a wife and mother. Other than finding an empathic analyst, it's not clear to me what an effective treatment of eating disorders involves.

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A Reader's Comments

This is a phenomenal memoir. Susan Burton's story is inspiring for those that have an eating disorder. By the end of the book it had me wanting to learn about eating disorders in men. As someone who struggles with eating healthy, this memoir has inspired me to get the help I need.

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Excellent book and narration!!

I heard Susan Burton on NPR’s This American Life and I had to get her book. Empty is an excellent memoir! The writing is incredible and the narration is raw and real. This isn’t a how to or a self help book. It’s about the author’s journey through life with multiple eating disorders. As someone who had an eating disorder in adolescence and has always used food to cope Empty really resonated with me. I highly recommend this book.

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True, so honest.

For anyone who has struggled with ED, or who knows someone, or who works with ED, this look at the inside- of what is truly happening- is so helpful. Thank you, Susan, for just telling your truth as it is now, for it resonates deeply.

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“I’m glad I have thin grandchildren.”

I’ve been listening to Susan Burton on This American Life for 20 years. She’s always been a standout producer, her writing is top notch, and I find her precise, nuanced style of speech compelling.

I didn’t know she’d written a book until she guest hosted the 2/19/21 episode of This American Life, Secrets — I bought and devoured it immediately.

Empty is a personal history of Burton’s (and also our) complicated and sometimes destructive relationship with food. And it documents the nature and long term consequences of keeping secrets in a way I so relate to. The story has momentum, and is impeccably edited, like her radio pieces.

Empty is an emotional and moving book, yes, but it’s also filled with wry observations and dark humor. I loved it. 10/10.