Journalist and former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni has always been proficient in the language of eating. As a toddler he’d plow through two hamburgers, leaving his mouth covered in meat and his stomach craving more. The title of his memoir, Born Round (Penguin, 353 pages, $16), and its cover photo of him as a chubby kid, point to the same focus: Bruni’s constant battle between his voracious appetite and his equally powerful desire to ward off fatness.
Initially, there’s a disparity between Bruni’s voice as an adult writing about a lifelong eating issue and the photos in the book showing him as a normal, albeit slightly pudgy, kid. He ate a lot, but he’s hardly obese in his youth. It’s after high school that his weight problem, marked by his expanding waistline, becomes evident.
Bruni’s career ascent in journalism after graduate school at Columbia, from a desk reporter position with the Detroit Free Press to covering George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign (when Bruni reached his heaviest, at 268 pounds), is chronicled in relation to his overeating, and the measures he takes to curtail its effect. His clear language, honesty and tantalizing descriptions of food lead us to empathize with him. Even when he goes through a chicken phase in Detroit, bingeing with fierce abandon and creating a pile of chicken bones he refers to as “the graveyard” in his car, we’re not disgusted. “It had a thick, fatty layer of skin that had been marinated with some sort of vaguely sweet sauce.” Of course he gorged, how could he not?
With age, Bruni’s relationship with food becomes a mature one. He learns to savor what he eats, a skill he acquired while living in Italy as a news correspondent. By the time he becomes a food critic and has control of his weight, he is appreciative of his struggle with food. Not because he reined in his addiction, no, but because it earned him “more hugs from Grandma,” who loved to see her grandkids eat her food, and created a “pact with Mom” because they often dieted together. And so it goes—he is grateful for his food-loving, and so are we. Bruni’s self-investigation could have gone deeper, but Born Round is a page-turner, ripe with powerful, straightforward prose.
SEE IT: Bruni reads from Born Round at 7:30 pm Thursday, July 22 at Powells City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. Free.