recommendations

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

After reading “Shrill“, it seemed like a logical next step to read Roxane Gay’s new book “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.” Again, I wanted to dedicate one post to the book review. 

“This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across the book’s cover, with me standing in one leg of my former, fatter self’s jeans.”

That quote sums up the book pretty well. This was not a weight loss memoir. It was also a very heavy, dark book and her pain and anguish is palpable throughout the book.

 

“At my heaviest, I weighed 577 pounds at six feet, three inches tall. That is a staggering number, one I can hardly believe, but at one point that was the truth of my body.”

She considered weight loss surgery as a teen. Her dad said, “You’re not at this point yet, a little more self-control. Exercising twice a day.That’s all you need.”

Her parents, her father especially, we really wonderful. I wish she had trusted them and talked to them when she was a kid. Maybe things would have worked out differently for her…

“This book, Hunger, is a book about living in the world when you are not a few or even forty pounds overweight. This is a book about living in the world when you are three or four hundred pounds overweight.”

She talks about the terms “morbidly obese” and how the medical community treats them. “The cultural measure for obesity often seems to be anyone who appears to be larger than a size 6.”

Truth! Two years ago, before I got pregnant, I was 7 pounds over my goal weight, worked out 5 days a week, ate well and had a healthy lifestyle. Yet, according to doctors, I was overweight. Their scale for “obesity” is absurd. And doctors can be total assholes to fat people. She then shared a story about going to the doctor for strep throat and “watched as the doctor wrote in the diagnosis section first ‘morbid obesity’ and second ‘strep throat.'”

Ugh! That pissed me off so much! I could relate to it, though. There were many times when I went to the doctor for something completely unrelated and they just started criticizing my weight. Go to the doctor for pink eye and get lectured on losing weight. It makes me so angry that the medical community apparently has no compassion or bedside manner when it comes to obesity.

“I have presence, I am told. I take up space. I intimidate.  I do not want to take up space. I want to go unnoticed. I want to hide. I want to disappear until I gain control of my body.”

“I began eating to change my body. I was willful in this. Some boys had destroyed me, and I barely survived it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure another such violation, and so I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away…if I was undesirable I could keep more hurt away.”

“He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what ‘he said’ matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression, or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”

That quote above sums up the book pretty well. At 12 Roxane was gang raped in the woods. One of her attackers was someone she thought was a friend, a boy she liked. It was brutal and savage and she spent the rest of her life eating — trying to silence the pain of the event, of not speaking up, of telling herself it was all her fault.

“I do not know why I turned to food. Or I do. I was lonely and scared and food offered an immediate satisfaction. Food offered comfort when I needed to be comforted and did not know how to ask for what I needed from those who loved me. Food tasted good and made me feel better. Food was the one thing within my reach.”

“My body is a cage. My body is a cage of my own making. I am still trying to figure my way out of it. I have been trying to figure a way out of it for more than twenty years.”

“In too many ways, the past is still with me. The past is written on my body. I carry it every single day.”

Her parents were concerned about her weight and health. They tried everything they could. She even went to “fat camps.” She’d lose weight then come home and gain it all back and more. She goes on to say that she only tried to lose weight when her parents made her. Eventually she went to boarding school. The flood gates were open: she was on her own and ate herself into obesity. During the four years of high school she said she gained 120 pounds.

“I was presented with an orgy of food and I indulged in all of it. I reveled in eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted…I was swallowing my secrets and making my body expand and explode. I found ways to hide in plain sight, to keep feeding a hunger that could never be satisfied–the hunger to stop hurting. I made myself bigger. I made myself safer. I created a distinct boundary between myself and anyone who dared to approach me.”

I think this is a very common thing with sex abuse survivors. There is the aspect of getting comfort from food, as well as protecting your body from unwanted advances or attacks by just getting fat.

“In some ways, it feels like the weight just appeared on my body one day. I was a size 8 and then I was a size 16 and then I was a size 28 and then I was a size 42.”

I could so relate to that statement. I remember in my early 20’s when I was really gaining all my weight–due to emotional eating and trying to feed the sadness I was experiencing–that I didn’t think I was “that big.” And I truly did wake up one day and all of a sudden I was a size 18. It really did feel like it happened overnight.

“When you’re overweight, your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects. Your body is constantly and prominently on display. People project assumed narratives onto your body and are not at all interested in the truth of your body, whatever that truth might be. Fat, much like skin color, is something you cannot hide, no matter how dark the clothing you wear, or how diligently you avoid horizontal stripes.”

That last statement made me chuckle because it’s funny and it’s so true. I can’t tell you how much I could understand that! I used to pick my clothes with the precise desire to hide my body and how big I was. I wore a lot of black. I didn’t wear patterns or stripes. I also bought clothes that were large and rather ill-fitting because I thought it hid how big I was–wrong. It just made me look bigger.

“Your body is subject to commentary when you gain weight, lose weight, or maintain your unacceptable weight.”

Yep. Yep. Yep. When you are a fat person for some reason that means that anyone–even complete strangers–are free to make comments to you about your weight, your body, whether or not you are pregnant, etc. etc. I got all sorts of nasty, rude, inappropriate comments from complete strangers that left me feeling baffled–would they have said that to their sister? No. So why was it ok to say it to me, a complete stranger??

“…food is not something I can enjoy around most people. To be seen while I am eating feels like being on trial.”

Roaxane goes on to tell a story that I could relate to, and that in the last book I read, “Shrill” that author also described in a similar way. The process of going out to a restaurant: obsessively checking restaurant websites, yelp, Google images, etc to make sure that the chairs were sturdy, that Roxane could fit into the chairs, that she could fit in the booths, could she fit walking between the tables in the restaurant?

Also like “Shrill,” she shared an airline story. I think every fat person has at least one airline horror story. 🙁 It really is an awful experience when you are fat.

Roxane talks a little bit about feminism and how it relates to obesity. She shares some stories and opinions and also comments on the diet culture:

“In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, ‘Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.’ This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside.”

She comments on celebrity women who get pregnant and how their “bodies are intensely monitored during and after–from baby bumps to post-baby bodies.” And how her body is tracked and documented until she “once again resembles the extraordinarily thin woman we once knew.”

There is SO much pressure for women to IMMEDIATELY bounce back to their pre-baby weight. Celebrity or not, it’s expected to lose the baby weight right away.

“I recognize that, despite what certain weight-loss system commercials would have me believe, I cannot eat everything and anything I want. And that is one of the cruelties of our cultural obsession with weight loss. We’re supposed to restrict our eating while indulging in the fantasy that we can, indeed, indulge. When you’re trying to lose weight, you cannot have anything you want…having anything you want is likely what contributed to your weight gain.”

The older I get, the more I struggle with weight loss, I realize now that I was lucky 10+ years ago when I was losing my weight. I was focused and determined and it worked–but I wasn’t TRULY having “anything” I wanted. I had some things I wanted, in moderation, but it was still restricted.

“I know what it means to hunger without being hungry. My father believes hunger is in the mind. I know differently. I know that hunger is in the mind and the body and the heart and the soul.”

So powerful. 🙁

“Intellectually, I do not equate thinness with happiness. I could wake up thin tomorrow and I would still carry the same baggage I have been hauling around for almost thirty years. I would still bear the scar tissue of many of those years as a fat person in a cruel world.”

“I am learning to care less what other people think. I am learning that the measure of my happiness is not weight loss but, rather, feeling more comfortable in my body.”

I compare this book to “Shrill” because it’s a similar subject matter and I read the books back to back. But that’s really where the similarities end. Same subject matter, similar stories, but with “Shrill” I finished the book and felt like the author was in a good place emotionally. She used humor to help her deal with a lot of the issues she encountered in her life and I was just left with feeling more upbeat (? if that’s the right word?) but with “Hunger”….

Damn, the entire book, I felt like a dark, sad blanket was covering me. It was difficult to read. I could relate to a lot of stuff, I can see where this book could be very triggering for some people. And when I finished the book, I didn’t have that “upbeat” feeling…I had the same feeling I had when I started the book: “poor Roxane was really, really broken.” That might sound critical, and I don’t mean it that way, it just didn’t seem like she ever healed from her tragedy. I wanted to read about some growth at the end, I wanted her to overcome the horrific thing that happened to her, and it just felt like she was still stuck back there in the woods and will probably always use food to fill that hole.

Don’t let my feelings discourage you from reading this book, though. It was very, very well-written and I loved her writing style. I want to read her other books. She’s definitely a talented writer with a story to tell that I think a LOT of women can relate to. Just go into it being prepared.

Books #15

If you want to catch up on old book reviews I’ve done, there is a page for that! Just go here!

1 ) Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp #2) by Vince Flynn

Book #2 in the series starts off with a bang! Super-bad-ass Mitch Rapp is now a “seasoned” assassin, after a year on the job, and is in Paris for what should be an easy task. Of course it goes wrong. Very wrong, and then Mitch isn’t sure who to trust. All signs point to a leak in the dark organization he’s a part of. And he definitely has an enemy who is out to get him.

The book reads super fast. I read the book in one day. The action is non-stop and the double-crossing of everyone is really good. I loved how the book ended. It was very satisfying and made me want to immediately read book #3.  I can totally see these books as movies. But knowing our luck they’d cast Tom Cruise and ruin it…like they did with my beloved Jack Reacher!! 😛

 

2 ) Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon by Kelley and Thomas French

“Our baby was born at a unique window of time, at twenty-three weeks and six days gestation. She was an averted miscarriage, not yet fully her own person with her own standing. Because the questions were so unanswerable, the decision to put her on life support and allow her a chance to live had belonged to Tom and me, not the doctors and not the state. [pg 111]”

Don’t worry, the baby lives. I don’t think they could have gotten people to read this book had they not been upfront in the description that the baby lives and is healthy. Because this is a HARD book to read. I heard an interview of Tom and Kelley on a podcast and it was such an amazing story–a miracle, really–that I had to read the book!

The story begins with a little background into Tom and Kelley’s relationship and how they met, the rocky road that tore them apart a few times, their eventual marriage and the struggle to get pregnant. They ended up getting an egg donor (from a friend) and everything seemed to be going well until…little Juniper was born early. Way too early.

“Babies born this young almost always exceeded $1 million in medical expenses. If she lived, there would be deductibles, therapies, maybe even long-term care. Ability to pay did not determine who got treatment and who did not. Most of the babies ended up on Medicaid. [pg 114]”

“The card on the foot of her incubator said, simply, ‘French, Baby Girl’ and gave her birth weight: 570 grams. I’ve eaten burritos at Chipotle bigger than that. [pg 115]”

Each chapter is told from either Tom or Kelley’s point of view and I really enjoyed that. You got a different perspective on the entire thing with each chapter.

It was very, very touch and go for Juniper from the start. The 190+ days or so she was in the NICU were not easy ones and it was a roller-coaster of horrific ailments and then recovery and growth. Kelley was pumping at home and bringing milk in for her every day, even though should couldn’t really drink it.

If you’re squeamish, don’t worry–while the book is very descriptive, they do a really excellent job describing what’s happening medically without going over your head, bogging down the story with medical jargon, or being gross.

“None of our friends knew what kind of card to send. Were we celebrating or grieving? Even we didn’t know. [pg 116]”

Tom and Kelley basically live in the very special wing of the NICU for micro-premies. Juniper has so many procedures and surgeries done in the beginning of her life…and what helped them all were the amazing doctors and nurses who became like family for them. It was really heart-warming to read.

“Even if she died, trying to save her had been the right decision. We’d gotten to know her. We’d let her hear our voices, and hear music, and feel our hands on her. Some of the greatest moments of my life had been tucked inside this misery. Memorizing her face. Holding her hand. Feeling her warm and weightless form on my chest. Reading her a story. [pg 185]”

During Juniper’s stay in the NICU, Tom read her the Harry Potter series. Kelley read Winnie the Pooh.

“‘A story is a promise,’ Tom had told me, ‘It’s a promise that the end is worth waiting for.’ [pg 199]”

And the ending is worth it. I cried many times during this book. The story is amazing, terrifying, heart-breaking, heart-warming and in the end, wonderful. I hope you read this book!

 

3 ) The Nature of The Beast (Gamache #11) by Louise Penny

I went into this book a little skeptical. In the last book Chief Inspector Gamache has retired and moved to Three Pines with his wife. I wasn’t sure how the books could continue with him retired. It wasn’t quite the same BUT it was still pretty good because Armand gets sucked into a new mystery in Three Pines. The usual characters are still present, with a few new ones, and it’s a satisfying read but not the best book in the series. The story was a bit confusing at times but the author wrapped it up at the end.

 

4 ) The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

The sort-of memoir by Carrie Fisher is a fast read, a short book, and very open. She talks about her time filming Star Wars as a 19 year old girl who wasn’t sure she wanted to be an actress. The role defined her life in big ways.

“I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. [pg 31]”

“The hairstyle that was chosen would impact how everyone–every filmgoing human–would envision me for the rest of my life. (And probably even beyond–it’s hard to imagine any TV obituary not using a photo of that cute little round-faced girl with goofy buns on either side of her inexperienced head.) [pg 34]”

It was interesting how she looked back at that role fondly, and I think with a little resentment. She made peace with the fact that that was who she would always be to people–Princess Leia.

In the book she also reveals that she had a short-lived affair with Harrison Ford. At first it was a little off-putting to me. Harrison Ford was 35, she was 19, and he was married with kids. Apparently his marriage was failing, but…still…it made me look at him a little differently.

Carrie started the story about Harrison with talking about how she’d never thought she’d be the other woman. Especially after seeing what it did to her mother–she briefly discusses what it was like when her father left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor. Yet at 19 Carrie does become the other woman, at least for one summer in London on the movie set.

“We have no feeling for one another. We lie buried together during the night and haunt each other by day. Acting out something that we don’t feel and seeing through something that doesn’t deserve any focus. [pg 114]”

She tried to make it seem like the affair wasn’t that big of a deal and they both moved on…but…she was very much in love with Harrison Ford and a bit obsessed. In the middle of the book she included excerpts from her diary during that time and it was what you’d think–the sad, longing, obsessing thoughts of a teenager in love, who can’t move on.

“I wish you would love me more so that I could love you less. [pg 118]”

I think every woman could relate to that!

She also discussed aging and how that effected her life, her identity and her career. I found this quote particularly wonderful:

“I didn’t like my face when I should have and now that it’s melted, I look back on that face fondly. [pg 241]”

I feel the same way, when I look back at old pictures and think “I looked great!” and yet at the time I didn’t appreciate it and I was very critical of myself.

I liked this book. Sometimes Carrie’s writing style was a little difficult for me to read. She would often ramble in stream of consciousness run-on-sentences. But I did like the book. She came across as very open and vulnerable and shared a lot!

 

5 ) Venomous by Christie Wilcox

If you get the creepy-crawlies easily, this book may not be for you. She discusses a lot of venomous creatures–from the platypus (who knew they were venomous?!) to spiders and snakes and sea creatures, bees and zombie wasps and bullet ants.

There was even a chapter about mosquitoes. Why not just get rid of ALL the mosquitoes on the planet? Well, the author kind of maps out what could happen if we didn’t have mosquitoes. One example:

“In the arctic, mosquito populations can be so dense that caribou herds will alter their migration course just to avoid them…even small alteration by such a large herd have dramatic effect on the land they trample…[pg 36]”

Bummer. I’d love it if the mosquitoes were wiped from the planet.

The stories about bullet ant stings, and the horrific initiation rites of the Satere-Mawe people of Brazil that include the ants…are just cringe-worthy.

“Bullet ant stings are so insanely painful because unlike snakes or spiders, which use their toxins to capture or digest prey, the little ant has one goal: defense. [pg 68]”

The book sometimes gets a little too technical and there were definitely medical and scientific things that went over my head, but that didn’t impede me from reading and enjoying the book and I learned a LOT.

The author also did a good job describing what these venomous creatures can do, what the toxins feel like, and she shared anecdotal and personal stories that were very interesting.

“You feel dizzy, nauseous, lightheaded. There’s a coppery taste in your mouth, like you’re rolling pennies around on your tongue. Then it’s like a truck has hit you–massive bruises appear throughout your body…massive internal hemorrhaging…you’ve just had a close encounter with a Lonomia moth caterpillar, one of the most venomous insects in the world. [pg 96]”

There were a lot of near-death stories in this book. I did a LOT of googling of creatures that she described to see pictures of these things. YIKES.

When you think about venom, your first thought is probably snakes. And she does talk a lot about snakes! Rattlesnake bites are common in the US but rarely lead to death. But in other parts of the world, especially poor parts, vipers that are even more venomous are often fatal because the victims don’t have access to doctors or anti-venom. She goes into great deal about snakebite necrosis–I will spare you the description here, but it was gross and fascinating at the same time.

I have a very hard time with spiders. Seeing them, reading about them, YUCK! But I was able to read about them in this book. I found this interesting:

“30% of people who thought they had spider bites actually had the potentially deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA. [pg 129]”

(MRSA scares the shit out of me, so that was very scary to read!)

The book also covers a LOT of sea life, and talks a lot about things found off Hawaii! That scared me to death! Apparently there are cute little blue-ringed octopuses off Australia that are just as deadly as pufferfishes:

“Tetrodotixin is among the deadliest compounds known to man. It’s more potent than arsenic, cyanide or even anthrax. It’s 120,000 times as deadly as cocaine and 40,000 times as deadly as meth. [pg 137]”

The book ends with a chapter talking about how different venoms are being tested for medical cures. That sounded really interesting to me and there were a few stories about that I won’t share here (too long) but are fascinating if they are true!

It’s a good book! Definitely recommend it.

 

6 ) Eleanor & Park by by Rainbow Rowell

Oh man! Loved this book! It takes place in the 80’s and it was a walk down memory lane…the music, making mixed tapes and sharing your favorite songs with friends, endlessly talking about bands like The Cure and The Smiths…be still my heart! Great nostalgia!

The story is absolutely sweet and heart breaking and romantic and lovely at the same time. The writer really wrote Eleanor’s story well–the horrible home life, the awful stepdad…I felt every emotion of anger and fear that Eleanor felt.

“Richie had been drinking all day again, so he was all kinds of festive at dinner–laughing too much and too loud. But you couldn’t enjoy the fact that he was in a good mood, because it was the kind of good mood that was just on the edge of a bad one. They were all waiting for him to cross over… [pg 198]”

The bullying that Eleanor experienced at school–the horrors or riding the bus, the misery of gym class…Very well written.

The love story was great.

“Thinking about going out with Park, in public, was kind of like thinking about taking your helmet off in space. [pg 173]”

I also loved Park’s parents. They were wonderful and, no spoilers, the ending where his parents step up and help them is so good. I was not a huge fan of how the book ended but at the same time, it kind of worked.

Happy reading!

These posts have Amazon affiliate links.