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Born Round

Former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni writes movingly of his love-hate relationship with food.

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Frank Bruni’s memoir is all about food – and yet not in the way most readers would expect. Bruni, who just left his post as restaurant critic for The New York Times, does devote a small slice of Born Round to the glamorous attractions of the critic’s life.

He delivers some restrained dish on the territory immortalized by another former Times critic, Ruth Reichl – the credit cards issued under false names and the wig he wore for one review, the crab consommé and the potato-crusted cod.The book’s unflinching focus, though, is on Bruni’s lifelong love-hate battle with overeating. The meat of the story, rather than luxe dinners, is his bingeing journey through bulimia, speed, Metamucil, crash diets, and other ways he fought to control his weight from childhood onward. Food is also the heart of the book’s candid and loving account of his family life, an Italian grandmother who saw food as “a currency and a communicator like no other,” a mother who made turkey sandwiches as a shorthand message that “she was rooting for, and watching over, me.”

Bruni is entrapped in a “tropism toward calories,” and every life event is a thread in that web. The 2000 presidential campaign, which he covered for the New York Times, is a siren song of overwhelming stress and bad food, a hotel buffet giving off “the heady, greasy, piggy perfume of an unhealthy breakfast for the taking.” He writes a book, and feels compelled to digitally distort his author’s photo to appear thinner. He takes on a new posting in San Francisco, in part, in hopes it will catalyze him to exercise.

By the time Bruni explains to a friend that he is declining a date because he can’t delay it long enough to lose a few pounds, we welcome her bemused response: “You do know, by the way, that the company medical insurance provides partial reimbursement for therapy?”

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