Book Review: Born Round

Warm, funny and always engaging, Frank Bruni's memoir traces his circuitous (one might even say round) route from baby glutton to New York Times restaurant critic with a realistic but never falsely self-deprecating view of his own weaknesses and a generous helping of irony.

Bruni was born into a large and affectionate extended Italian family (though his mother was a reserved WASP, she quickly adapted to the Bruni style) who showed their love--indeed, all their emotions--with food, carefully and abundantly prepared. Not that young Frank needed much coaching--as a youngster he regularly out-ate his two brothers and could keep pace with many adults as well. Bruni's relationship to food was primal and passionate seemingly from the womb. In one of the book's funniest anecdotes, Bruni relates that, at 18 months, he developed a sort of "baby bulimia," vomiting on demand when his mother refused to give him a third hamburger or a fourth cookie. Such lust for food resulted inevitably in excess weight, something Bruni would struggle to control his entire life. In elementary school, Bruni's initials became an acronym for "Fat Boy" and even his excellent performance on the swim team couldn't help him from having to shop in the husky section.
Bruni's mother often corralled him into trying new diets with her and so he learned bad habits early, from fasting to no-carb, protein shakes to purging. This last method followed Bruni to college, where he became truly bulimic, bingeing and purging until fear for his health and the disgust of some close friends forced him to stop. But the yo-yo dieting, overeating and subsequent weight gain continued into his adulthood and resulted in loneliness and persistent self-loathing despite his burgeoning career in journalism. Not surprisingly, portion control and a rigorous exercise program became Bruni's ultimate Holy Grail, finally allowing him a trim figure and a positive self-image. Ironically, of course, this transformation occurred only after Bruni took the job as restaurant critic, necessitating that he literally eat for a living.
There is so much to recommend in Born Round that it is difficult to précis even the highlights, although the love and humor with which Bruni suffuses his pitch-perfect descriptions of his family and their delicious meals is certainly among them. So too are his hilarious and involving anecdotes of his life as a journalist; from joining then-Governor George W. Bush on the campaign trail to going undercover in New York City's upscale restaurants. It's an unusual story, and Bruni tells it with great style, wit, warmth and flavor.--Debra Ginsberg
Shelf Talker: An excellent addition to the food and foodie memoir genre that explores familiar themes in an entirely fresh manner by the (now ex) restaurant critic for the New York Times.


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