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BOOK REVIEW: FASTING GIRLS: The History of Anorexia Nervosa by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


THE BLURB:

Winner of four major awards, this updated edition of Joan Jacobs Brumberg's Fasting Girls, presents a history of women's food-refusal dating back as far as the sixteenth century. 

Here is a tableau of female self-denial: medieval martyrs who used starvation to demonstrate religious devotion, "wonders of science" whose families capitalized on their ability to survive on flower petals and air, silent screen stars whose strict "slimming" regimens inspired a generation. 

Here, too, is a fascinating look at how the cultural ramifications of the Industrial Revolution produced a disorder that continues to render privileged young women helpless.

Incisive, compassionate, illuminating, Fasting Girls offers real understanding to victims and their families, clinicians, and all women who are interested in the origins and future of this complex, modern and characteristically female disease.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

Many people think of anorexia nervosa as a modern-day problem, but as Dr Brumberg shows in this biography of the disease, young women have been starving themselves to death from at least the 13th century onwards.

The reasons that drive such an obsession change from century to century, but the tragic results are the same. FASTING GIRLS looks at cases from medieval martyrs to contemporary celebrities, always searching to illuminate the complex reasons that led to such self-destructive behaviour. 

Although Dr Brumberg is a historian, she draws upon medical and psychiatric studies of the times in her research, to create a truly illuminating look at the emotional disorder that has destroyed so many lives. 

AN INTERESTING SUBJECT, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS BOOK?

REVIEW: SMALL ACTS OF DISAPPEARANCE: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

THE BLURB:

Small Acts of Disappearance is a collection of ten essays that describes the author’s affliction with an eating disorder which begins in high school, and escalates into life-threatening anorexia over the next ten years.

Fiona Wright is a highly regarded poet and critic, and her account of her illness is informed by a keen sense of its contradictions and deceptions, and by an awareness of the empowering effects of hunger, which is unsparing in its consideration of the author’s own actions and motivations. 

The essays offer perspectives on the eating disorder at different stages in Wright’s life, at university, where she finds herself in a radically different social world to the one she grew up in, in Sri Lanka as a fledgling journalist, in Germany as a young writer, in her hospital treatments back in Sydney.

They combine research, travel writing, memoir, and literary discussions of how writers like Christina Stead, Carmel Bird, Tim Winton, John Berryman and Louise Glück deal with anorexia and addiction; together with accounts of family life, and detailed and humorous views of hunger-induced situations of the kind that are so compelling in Wright’s poetry.

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK:

SMALL ACTS OF DISAPPEARANCE is a series of interlinked essays inspired by the author’s struggle with an eating disorder. Fiona Wright is an award-winning poet currently undertaking a doctorate in writing at University of Western Sydney. 

Each essay on its own is superbly crafted and exquisitely written. Some are deeply personal and gut-wrenchingly emotional, while others take her obsession with not eating as a springboard to explore other territories, such as issues of anorexia in Australian literature.  Together they create an utterly extraordinary collection – intelligent, fierce and deeply informative. 

I WOULD LOVE TO GET YOUR FEEDBACK ON THIS COLLECTION OF ESSAYS 

REVIEW: WHAT WE SEE WHEN WE READ by Peter Mendelsund

Wednesday, December 16, 2015




THE BLURB

A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading-how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL.


What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? 


The collection of fragmented images on a page - a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so - and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved - or reviled - literary figures.


In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf's Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature - he thinks of himself first, and foremost, as a reader - into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.



MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK:


A strange, fascinating and totally original book about the relationship between the words on the page and the images seen in the mind’s eye, this is a book to be thought about and re-read again and again. Peter Mendelsund is the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf, and spends his days designing book covers and illustrations. Many of the pages in this book have few or no words on them. Instead, they are full of images – photographs, drawings, pop graphics, and scribbles. In a way, it reminded me of the astonishingly beautiful books created by Brian Selznick, in which his intricate black-and-white drawings replace sentences and scenes. Except that What We See When We Read is not creating a narrative – it is instead a meditation on the relationship between the writer’s and the reader’s imagination, partly informed by scientific investigation, but mostly by a certain type of literary criticism. The book is marred by its literary pretentiousness – lots of references to Tolstoy, Flaubert, Melville, Nabokov, and other dead white males, for example. Virginia Woolf was one of the few female authors to get a mention, and Barthes was quoted quite a few times (something that always sets my alarm bells ringing). However, if you can forgive him for thinking the only writers worth examining are white, male, middle-class and no longer breathing, then the book offers a lot to think about – and some of the passages have their own exquisite and mysterious beauty.



I WOULD LOVE TO GET YOUR FEEDBACK ON THIS BOOK

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