Born Round

Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni is best known for the five years he spent as restaurant critic for The New York Times, but while this memoir is very food-focused, only a sliver of it is about his tenure in that position and funny stories of his challenges in dining incognito. Though he opens with the first phone call he received about the job, he quickly contextualizes the significance for him in considering the position by relating another phone call with a colleague who asks him bluntly, “Are you sure that you’re willing to sacrifice the good shape you’ve gotten into?” After a lifelong struggle with overeating and discomfort with his body size, Bruni had only recently found some balance while working as the Times’ bureau chief in Rome. He grew up in an Italian family that equated food with love, and family dinners were competitive in the vast scope of food served. Even from a very young age, he seemed obsessed with eating; as a toddler, he would have tantrums and throw up if his mother refused to feed him more. His first attempt at dieting came when he was only eight years old, and in college he developed a more purposeful form of bulimia.

Despite a career in which he also covered the Persian Gulf War and followed George W. Bush during his candidacy, it’s unfortunate yet also somehow unsurprising Bruni’s strongest life story is centered around conflicts of his body image — culturally it makes sense but emotionally it feels kind of wrong. Often people with bodies outside of accepted norms find it can be a distraction from their achievements, if only in their own self-esteem. As Bruni feels that he has mostly conquered his struggle by learning to be honest with himself about his habits, his perspective may be very encouraging to those seeking their own acceptance. In that way he challenges his grandmother’s saying and the source of the book’s title: “Born round, you don’t die square.”