Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Feminism
At the start of every year, I always say to myself that this is going to be the year you read more Non-Fiction. I think I’ve been saying this for the past three years now and the most I manage to read is still about 1-2 NF books. It’s not that I don’t like NF, I just have a wildly wandering mind, and the writing needs to flow like fiction in order for it to keep my attention. I honestly have nothing against NF and I honestly wish that it wasn’t so difficult for me to focus, but my mind is definitely less keen on “facts and figures” and more on using my imagination. Hunger was my first NF for 2019 and I swear, if all NF could be this immersive, I would likely never stop reading it.
From the bestselling author of Bad Feminist: a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself. In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself. With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world
“This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. They think they know the why of my body. They do not.”
Since I finished reading this, there hasn’t been a day that goes by when it doesn’t pop up in my mind–whether it’s an errant thought about it or something more poignant that Roxane Gay wrote that’s currently being reflected in my life. I don’t know how to put into words how much I loved this book. It felt as if Gay reached into my head and plucked out one thought after another, put all those thoughts on paper and turned it into this incredibly painful but beautifully bold memoir. I don’t know if any review that I write for this book will do it justice, but I will do my best to share my thoughts on it.
Trigger/Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Rape (described on page), Eating Disorders, Abuse (sexual, mental and physical)
In Hunger, Roxane Gay writes and shares a painfully raw memoir of her body. She recounts a sexual assault that happened when she was a child, and how she ultimately turned to food as a way to cope by building this barrier between herself and the world. This has resulted in the “wildly undisciplined” and “unruly” body that she lives in today. With brutal honesty, she shares her experiences with body image and her life as a “super morbidly obese” woman living in a world that values small bodies. She talks about how the bigger you are, the more your body becomes a “commodity” that everyone owns and can freely comment and give opinions on. She is unapologetic about her intimate and turbulent relationship with food and how it has become a comfort and a crutch.
“In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside. Each time I see this particular commercial, I think, I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying. And then I think about how fucked up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates.”
Although I know my own situation is in many ways not comparable to Gay’s, her struggles with body image and hunger (not just for food), is something I relate to so very much. I think that her experience with body image and societal expectations is something that so many women and men can relate to. While
I know I’m sure everyone’s experiences varies to different degrees, I think that many of us have felt the pressure and the difficulties of living up to it. What I appreciate the most about this memoir is how raw and honest Gay is about her experiences and thoughts. She really doesn’t censor anything, and while this sometimes makes what she has to say uncomfortable to read/hear, it’s also very much the truth. She doesn’t share anything with an ulterior motive, she’s not trying to squeeze any particular emotion from you and she’s not asking for your sympathy, she’s simply telling her story as it is. But she does make you think about things that you may take for granted every day — the things that you don’t think twice about, but for someone who lives in a bigger body doesn’t stop thinking about.
“To be clear, the fat acceptance movement is important, affirming, and profoundly necessary, but I also believe that part of fat acceptance is accepting that some of us struggle with body image and haven’t reached a place of peace and unconditional self-acceptance.”
If there’s anything to critique is that at a certain point the chapters got a little repetitive. I would read certain sections or chapters and realize that I had just read this, although it was worded slightly differently, in the previous chapter(s). I wondered if that was done intentionally, but I read that she essentially copy/pasted some of her Tumblr posts to formulate this book, so perhaps it was just overlooked in editing. There were also chapters in the latter half of the book that I felt were so full of anger and blame (towards society and others) and I didn’t agree with them, as they seemed a bit hypocritical. I saw them as the author releasing pent up rage and resentment, more than adding anything constructive to her narration. But again, this is her memoir and who am I to judge what she has to say about her life? That said, I didn’t find that these points detracted from my enjoyment of the book, and neither did it take any power away from her story.
I bought the paperback of Hunger while in transit at the airport, but started reading it as an Audiobook that I purchased on a whim (and I’m so glad that I did!). Following along with the audio, listening to Roxane Gay narrate her story, made me feel even more intimately connected with her, compared to if I had just read it. Listening to her speak is really like listening to a friend! Her writing is personable and moving, and she tells her story in such a straightforward, matter-of-fact way that makes it all the more powerful, in my opinion. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever made as many notes for quotes in any other book, as I did with this one. If you look at my copy, I’ve marked sticky notes on perhaps 85% of the pages; it’s honestly like a transcript of my mind!
This is a solid five star read that has undoubtedly worked its way onto my list of all-time-favorite books; I certainly won’t be forgetting it any time soon. Of course, I highly recommend this one (if it isn’t obvious yet)!
Have you read Hunger or another book by Roxane Gay? Do you plan to or is it just not for you? Let me know in the comments below and let’s chat books!