9781594202315_BornRound_JKTF_300dpi When I was in the middle of Frank Bruni’s Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, I quipped on Twitter that I thought the only eating disorder I was interested in reading about was vegetarianism. But the fact is, this book, by The New York Times reporter who was for 5 years the paper’s restaurant critic, is not about his eating disorder (I don’t know if it’s right even to call it that).  Even better, it’s not about his struggle with his weight and the morbid insecurity he felt about it, though that’s how the book is billed.

Born Round is about a complex life, boy-to-man, son, brother, boyfriend, and reporter, and in that I found it fascinating and thoroughly entertaining. While the issues about eating and weight loss, are dominant in the book, and almost have to be, given the irony of his landing the restaurant critic job, their more important function is as a framework to hang the rest of his story on. It is not an unusual story—middle-class boy with all the advantages, who’s conscientious and works hard, succeeds. Indeed, it would be a bore if Bruni weren’t such a thoughtful writer and engaging story-teller.

He describes his childhood, his family, growing up in White Plains, summers in Connecticut; working on the student newspaper in college, his route from general reporter and movie critic in Detroit to covering George W. Bush (about whom he wrote a book; and had the author photo heavily worked over to make him look less fat), to Rome Bureau chief, through the experience of reviewing restaurants for The Times as a 5’11” man who once ballooned up to 270 some pounds.

Sure, the struggle with weight, how he’d binge and purge, how he’d rationalize his behavior, and how he got and stayed thin, is just as interesting as all the other stuff. As a writer, I was most interested in his course as a writer.  And I was fascinated by his observations about the way the Italian culture of eating differed from American culture of eating, which comes down to the obvious, but can never be underscored enough, fact that they opt for quality whereas we opt for quantity.

Every now and then I felt that Bruni could veer into the the over-achiever who castigates himself for getting a B+ and not an A.  And I wondered how much more intense body image issues are for a gay man than for a straight man. Sometimes I thought, isn’t he just being a little oversensitive here?

But in the end, no.  There is one story that ends with a three-word compliment from a sister-in-law about his appearance that is so expertly set up, and delivered, I nearly teared from the triumph that it truly was.

That’s good writing.  And that’s why I loved this book.

Oh, and I listened to it (often while exercising!). I’m a memoirs-read-by-the-author junkie, and Bruni’s does a terrific reading, highly recommend this version as well as print.  (I got mine free at audible.com, via a promotion they’re doing with This American Life, the best show on radio, period. What I recommend you do is sign up at audible at http://www.audible.com/american, get Bruni’s book—you’ll be hooked on audible.com, but that’s ok—then go to thisamericanlife.org and click the “support” button and give them the cost of the book. We don’t want them going the way of Gourmet. The show is too damn good.)

Oh, and, please, I was kidding with the vegetarian remark!


16 Wonderful responses to “Born Round by Frank Bruni”

  • Carrie

    I’m also a huge TAL fan. I download the free podcast but I do cough up some funds whenever Ira feels the need to personally ask for them. I just found out recently he’s Philip Glass’ cousin – also a huge fan. Talented family!

    I read the excerpt of this book a while ago when it was posted online. I’m excited to read the whole story. I normally stick with fiction (my husband teases me about it, like fiction is somehow less wholesome entertainment than nonfiction) but I love a good biography. You can’t make up some of the stories that play out in people’s lives!

  • Kate in the NW

    You know the stuff they put on the deep space probes to tell any sentient aliens about who humans are?

    I think they should just send TAL, This I Believe, and StoryCorps archives. And David Sedaris books. Oh, and PHC. And Car Talk. Aaaah, what the heck – send all of NPR. And some music.

    And a BLT.

    (Oh yeah – Bruni’s thing looks interesting, too…)

  • NWKate

    Love TAL and NPR- whoops, I guess that defines me as not belonging to the “red” camp! I was very moved by Frank’s excerpt from his book.

  • S. Woody

    Gay fellow here, without body issues. Now.

    I mean, I used to be sensitive about being thin as a bean-pole. One-forty-five on a six-two frame is unnerving. Then, some time in my late-thirties, my metabolism shifted, I gained fifty pounds in one year, and suddenly found a whole lot more confidence in myself. But none of that had to do with my being gay. That was just about being overly skinny. (For the record, my dad went through the same weight shift at just about the same age as I did, and went through the same confidence-finding shift. It gives us another thing to talk about, I guess. That, and being in healthy, happy relationships, but I digress…)

    But, I can understand Bruni having issues with his weight/appearance. We’re all fed these lies about what we should look like, mostly by the media but also by people believing the media stereotypes. If we don’t resemble what we see in the ads and on the screen, there must be something “wrong” with us, right? Remember when you never saw a non-white face anywhere but on the streets? Same issue, really.

    Or how about being bald, or having a receeding hairline? Hair Club for Men is making a fortune… but Jason Statham is HOT! (Same hairline on Alton Brown is… well, I’m not sure what it is, but at least he isn’t pretending to be something he isn’t.)

    I don’t mean that weight cannot be a health issue, but that’s not the same thing as a body-image issue, and those can be just as unhealthy as the health thing. And those issues can hit anybody, gay or straight.

    So, is it a gay thing? I don’t think so.

    (Bows politely, and steps down from his soapbox.)

  • ruhlman

    S. Woody,

    you guys are so sensitive!


    i’ve always sensed, from observing, not asking, that gay guys cared more about their appearance than straight guys, as a rule, and am curious about it. But I didn’t mean to make any careless generalizations. Just curious.

  • George

    Saw your brief blurb at the end of this post re: the shuttering of Gourmet. You had contributed to the magazine from time to time.
    The choosing to continue bon appetit rather than Gourmet seems, in my opinion a play to compete on the level of the more basic magazines and those of the food tv personalities.
    I will mourn the loss of Gourmet and welcome your encouragement to support worthy media.
    You had contributed to Gourmet from time to time did you not? Aside from Saveur, do you see a magazine that would offer what Gourmet provided? (granted no magazine out there has the legacy that Gourmet had.)

  • homeopathie

    Thank you very much for sharing information about Frank Bruni’s.Now I am also interested to read this book.I want to know more about Italian culture of eating.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am also a very big reader of Biographies. I am anxious to read this because Frank sounds like a fascinating man who has had a fascinating life. With this review I am out the door to get a copy.

  • Rhonda

    I am looking forward to getting this book.

    As I am safely tucked up in Canada, I was aware, in a passing manner, who Mr. Bruni was and what power he held. None of it affected me directly but I like his writing and tried to keep up.

    Then, I seen him being interviewed on “Charlie Rose”. He didn’t look like the mean old curmudgeon that I expected but a young, handsome, fit, intelligent and thoughtful man. He looked and sounded like many of my friends — Not the scary scary man who will shut down your restaurant.

    After learning about his past disfunctional relationship with food and the hurdles he has encountered, my respect grows.

    I have always grappled with the necessity of Food critics. Some are good and do a great job and some are well — assholes without portfolio.

    Mr.Bruni, I wish your book the best of success and I look forward to reading it.

  • Rhonda

    Oh, one more thing…

    Ruhlman, you are a tornado of bullshit (you know where I stole that from)

    You do, and did mean what you said about vegetarians. You hate them, they are a pain in the ass to cook for and they always have a fucking cold or some other malaise.

    Or, was that just me?

    There, I said it.

    I love my vegetarian friends but I really don’t want to cook for you.

  • Lyn Reid

    Thanks for your review of Frank Bruni’s book, Born Round. Downloading it now from audible.com. I’ve been a member of audible for a long time. Don’t have much time to read so I listen while I work.

  • Michael Booth

    Always grateful for tips about good food memoirs, so thanks for that. It is one of journalism’s great ironies, I have found, that so many good restaurant critics have a slightly troubled relationship to food and their bodies, AA Gill of the Sunday Times is a good example. Many of them don’t even seem to enjoy food, although Bruni is a happy exception.

  • cybercita

    i thought you might enjoy knowing that one of the reasons i stopped eating meat was your description of thomas keller killing rabbits.

  • Margo

    I heard Frank Bruni speak near the beginning of his book tour. I hadn’t seen any pictures of him, and I’m pretty sure I was expecting him to look like James Beard. I was so surprised that he was fit and extremely attractive, since I knew that the book was about his issues with food. It was sad to hear him say (and he quite clearly meant it) that he was still unhappy with what he saw in the mirror. I did like that he eventually came to some pretty reasonable conclusions about food, though – no crazy diets or pills, just exercise and don’t eat lots of anything.

  • paris221966

    I’m sure it’s a great book.

    I’ll have to read it some time.

    Writing a memoire seems to be easy and popular.

    Maybe I can become famous by writing mine. Italian American, alcoholism in the family, eating disorders, suicide attempts, murder, abortions, divorce, mental illness, pregnancy-adoption.

    Oh that’s right, I’m not a writer.

    So, when are you going to do another show with Tony Bourdain? Vegas was real funny.