A Memoir of
Anorexia and Bulimia
(Harper)Marya Hornbacher started throwing up when she was nine. Not because she was sick, but because she didn't want to become fat. She continued with this self-abuse, bulimia --- and, later, its cousin, anorexia --- until she was twenty-three. Why she did this, what the pay-off was for her, is not made very clear in Wasted.
There are plenty of words here, but in truth, describing such self-damage is a little like describing passionate love (which it somewhat resembles). You can write and write about it --- come up with, in this case, 298 pages --- but the part of her psyche that made her abuse herself, at one point getting down to fifty-five pounds (and days away from death) still remains unexplained, probably unexplainable.
The Milan psychiatrist, Mara Selvi Palazzoli, famous for her work with such cases, says that anorectics are nothing but little tyrants who want to make the whole family dance in their miserable movies. Indeed, considering the monies Hornbacher's family spent on her (hospitals, doctors, psychiatrists), she certainly led them a merry chase --- making damn sure that their lives were nearly destroyed by her abominable abdominal antics.
For those of us who are concerned with somewhat greater issues --- ecological destruction, the New Violence of America, disease and famine in the Other Half of the world --- a girl's rather Pollyanna self-destruct, her delighted description of the process (from refrigerator to vomitoriumand then back to refrigerator again) tends to make us a bit impatient. The truth is that Hornbach probably needed nothing more than a couple of whacks on the fanny, as she admits, implicitly, in her description of Lowe House, where she was locked up for awhile:
In Lowe House, something happened, I've been trying to figure out exactly what it was. A looney bin is a fairly low-action place to be, not a lot going on, a whole bloody lot of time to sit and think. What I know is this: I went in with no emotions, no will to live, no particular interest in anything than starving to death. I came out eating. Almost normally.She can't figure out "what it was," but it's as plain as the nose on her face (or the plate on her table). One who is treated with self-indulgence, by herself, by her parents, will, as always, test the limits --- even if the limits get close to suicide. Most children use temper tantrums or sulks to be heard. The more tyrannical children will use what goes in (and what comes out) of their mouths to boss everyone around.
Hornbacher has written a book that pretends to be revelatory about the ins and outs of anorexia and bulimia but, in truth, what we have here is a juvenile who is yelling, "I did it; boy! did I ever do it!" And her implicit question: "Aren't you impressed at what I went through to get my message across?"
The answer is --- in a word --- no.
Go to two case histories on anorexia
Go to another case history on anorexia
Go to Conversations with Anorexics
Go to correspondence about this review
Go back to RALPH's Top Pop Hits
Benjamin Shield &
Well, they got the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa and Matthew Fox and Tich Nhat Hanh to contribute to this "Handbook for the Spirit," along with twenty others. And it's filled with just the sort of nonsense you'd expect, like
"Ultimately, to me, an intimate relationship is one of the most powerful pathways to God because it's the path of the heart."
It's stuff like that makes us want to go back to the ancient Jewish stricture on references to God: namely, that one never ever utters the name of God ("Yahweh") out of sheer respect for the massive, overwhelming, enormity of dinky us trying to talk about the unnameable. Tell that to those noisy television preachers, prancing around the stage, demanding our money, as if they've got Gawd safely in their back pockets.
In any event, most of For the Love of God isn't worth writing about --- or writing home about --- but there are a couple of exceptions. Andrew Harvey calls on us to do prayer, meditation, and service, which "can engender the divine life if they are pursued with humility, reverence, and simplicity of heart." He says Americans live in a "concentration camp of reason," which comes about
"because culture has tremendous powers of bitter and banal persuasion, we've allowed ourselves to be intimidated out of our profound relationship with God..."
Wayne Dyer speaks of "the spiraling lights" of kundalini yoga (on the beach!); Riane Eisler sees the Virgin Mary as the "Great Goddess, the mother who gives life to all of us..." Hugh Prather says his desire to come to God is like a "homesickness."
But it's Thich Nhat Hanh --- in the most fetching essay of them all --- who wins our heart. He suggests that to love God, we be nice to our big toes:
Next time you take a shower or a bath, I suggest you hold your big toes in mindfulness. We pay attention to everything except our toes. When we hold our toes in mindfulness and smile at them, we will find that our bodies have been very kind to us. We know that any cell in our toes can turn cancerous, but our toes have been behaving very well, avoiding that kind of problem. Yet we have not been nice to them at all.
(Joyce & Co.)
We turn pale when we open the mail and there is this fat, baby elephant there, in the guise of A New Novel. So we turn it over to Jane, who eats novels like they were sushi, drinks them like they were hot saki. This is what she says, in her sweet, terse fashion, about The Vintage:
the reason this book is 885 pages long is the guy is so boring it takes him 69 pages to describe a very boring date. i can't read anymore. he uses short, clipped sentences, too. UGH!...don't send me any more of these turkeys, you goose!
about this review.
Edited by Jack Grapes
Well, we went off for our ham sandwich today, and when we came back, they had decided that poetry was anything you put end-stops to. Which means that the most boring, tedious, dumb prose can be called "poetry" if you stick enough spaces in there.
For instance Mifanwy Kaiser (I don't believe the name either), writes
I am in Washington.
I've come to Schooner's Beach,
and created a nest for a week.
On a bench seat by the window
in the living room
I watch the ocean, the trees, the birds.
To check if it was true poetry, we took out all the end-stops, and this is what we came up with (you judge):
I am in Washington. I've come to Schooner's Beach, and created a nest for a week. On a bench seat by the window in the living room I watch the ocean, the trees, the birds.
Or this, from Jan Ruckert,
From my white couchO my, o me:
I see the rusted pipes in the atrium.
They're covered with red primer to prevent corrosion.
They're ready for paint they say will last five years.
I love the clean look that promises new surfaces.
From my white couch I see the rusted pipes in the atrium. They're covered with red primer to prevent corrosion. They're ready for paint they say will last five years. I love the clean look that promises new surfaces.
If you think this is a commercial for red paint primer (and atriums) you may be right. It sure ain't what we used to call "poetry."
Poetry? You want some real poetics. Try this one by D. H. Lawrence. It's from "The Ship of Death." We put in his end-stops, because he knew what he was doing. If you have to take them out to prove exactly what we are saying --- don't tell us about it; it would break our heart:
Now it's autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one's own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.
The Big Book
Charles W. G. Smith
We all know that old song "I talk to the trees." Some of us have even made it through The Secret Life of Plants. But, according to Charles Smith, trees actually converse with each other:
When an insect begins to feed on a leaf, the tree responds by increasing the leaf's concentration of acids and other substances distasteful to most bugs. This in itself is astonishing, but an even bigger surprise is that the tree also increases the concentrations of these chemicals in all its other leaves. So as soon as a bug starts getting chewing anywhere on the plant, it gets only a mandible full of distasteful leaf. Furthermore, the defensive response goes beyond this one tree. Soon the foliage of every tree in the grove has higher levels of these nasty tasting substances, and the concentrations on other trees increase before any insect has even taken so much as a nibble.
We like this, because it means that those of us who loathe getting out in the yard for any reason more than picking up the morning paper can depend on our plants to take care of themselves. Indeed, many of us are of the Darwin School of gardening. We go to Home Depot, pick up whatever looks interesting (and cheap), bring it home, dig a hole, stick it in the ground --- and cool our heels. If it survives, we consider ourselves gardeners. If it dies, we blame it on luck, or the moon, or the gods --- and then we go back to Home Depot to buy another tree or flower bush to plant atop the still-warm body of the decedent.
Obviously, Smith is the other school: he plants his trees and flowers to survive, and we half expect to see him out in the back yard of a morning, exhorting the laggards to get the hell to work and growor he's going to damn well know the reason why.
This is obviously a book for organic gardeners. The directions on making compost is as complicated as any Julia Child recipe. Good healthy rich compost depends on water, an appropriate mix, and "wonderful worms" --- and its vitality and robustness is a matter of age, bouquet, and, obviously, the energy and responsibility of the gardener. There's more here than you would ever want to know about growing seasons, seed size, pruning, and plants with wonderful names like Squill, Siberian Peashrub, Milbert's Tortoiseshell --- and the droll Neem plant.
Egypt produces excellent beer and decent wine; Syria has its licorice-flavored liquor, "Arak;" Indonesian beer is modeled on a good Dutch brew; and many a good Spanish wine is to be had in Morocco.
Sterling (or his spies) have been everywhere in the world, apparently, and tells you how and where you can (1) find eat and drink with which you are most familiar; (2) find eat and drink most appropriate to the country you are visiting; and (3) find eat and drink you would never try in your lifetime. The quotes are not only his own --- he draws comments from other travelers and travel writers. For example, Margo True, of Gourmet says:
When sampling crispy Mexican grasshoppers, I choose the smallest size. That way, I can focus on how they taste instead of how they look.
In fact, the best tidbits are the little boxes here and there, such as this one from Mark Cannon:
When traveling in Southern China, keep an eye out for an item translated on menus as super deer. You may think this moniker refers to a premium grade of venison, but actually refers to a plate of rat.
The Fearless Diner --- subtitled "Travel Tips and Wisdom for Eating Around the World" --- is divided into ten parts, including Manners and Mores, Drink and Be Merry, Staying Healthy and Fit, and "The Holy Trinity of Cusine." This last claims that the great cooking styles in the world come from China, India, and Europe. Chinese food is dominated by fermented sauces --- soy, fish, oyster. India gives us the masala which is a mix of sweet and piquant spices. The European school of food is cooked with wine (or vinegar --- fermented wine); herbs like onion, garlic, bay, mustard, tarragon, dill, and "animal products" (cream, cheese, lard, bones, organ meats.)
This is a fun book, not the least for the fact that the author knows of what he speaks, and is a good tale-spinner. Telling of a meal in Laos he least wanted to eat but couldn't refuse --- after it was prepared espcially for him --- he says,
I always knew that someday I would face this moment, but I never relished it...I who have supped on soup made of ant larvae, quaffed bowls of blood, dined on dogs and chewed thorugh the guts of animals unknown.
And what was it that he didn't want to consume? Chicken feet.
Gamely, he went through with it, and gamely he tells us not only that its better than the Colonel's, and then says, "After gnawing on tasty chicken feet, use the toenails to pick your teeth."
--- R. R. Doister