Frank Bruni, who recently stepped down from what is quite possibly the world's best job---the New York Times' restaurant critic---was in town Tuesday night to discuss his new memoir, "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater."
And as if he didn't already provide enough star power to pack out Politics & Prose (the independent bookstore hosting his appearance), he was joined by a famous local friend, NYT columnist Maureen Dowd. Although she called herself a "Popeyes Chicken girl" and said she hates fancy restaurants, she had fond memories of dining out often with Bruni on assignment. (He typically dined in groups of four to get a broader sense of the menu, he said, and visited places at least three times before reviewing them.)
The two quipped and quibbled like the best of talk-show hosts, bantering about everything from presidential appetites to Sarah Jessica Parker's hatred for parsley, but there were some serious moments as well. After all, the book is not only about how Bruni fell in love with food, it's also about his lifelong struggle with various eating disorders: bulimia, laxatives, binging and fasting, fad diets, self-punishing bouts of intense exercise, amphetamines...he's tried it all to get or stay thinner.
He's tried living on bread alone ("until I started to feel dizzy"); living on protein alone (which proved unsustainable in the face of Grandma's fried dough); and living on pre-cooked supermarket chicken (his car became "a little chicken graveyard" of bones and shinkwrap, to the horror of coworkers who rode with him). He's even cooked and eaten entire meals while sleepwalking! His exploits included "sleep-toasting, sleep-slicing, sleep-chopping, and sleep-broiling," he writes, but "never branched out to sleep-cleaning," which is the only reason he figured out this bizarre behavior was happening in the night.
I made my way through the first several chapters of the book just waiting for the event to begin (they arrived late, Dowd explained in a choked-up voice, because she'd been finishing an emotional column about her late colleague, William Safire). Bruni's writing is certainly frank; the vivid descriptions of his bulimic tactics make me grimace. Overall, though, his wry, likeable voice makes up for the "ick" factor in the book. Anyone who has ever struggled with their own body image can certainly relate on some level---in other words, about 99 percent of us.
Politico has pictures of the event.