Note: This review is based on an advanced, uncorrected copy of the book, so if there are any major changes between now and the official publication I can’t account for them. Slight spoilers will follow, so if you want to read the book unsullied but still care what I think of it, you can skip down to the italicized text at the bottom of this article.
When I read any biography or memoir, I’m hoping to read a story so unique or interesting that the story had to be told. Failing that, a slice-of-life bio can be compelling as long as it’s well written, especially insightful, or just plain funny. Unfortunately Frank Bruni’s Born Round fails on all fronts, despite the fact that he has what many people would consider a dream job for the past few years. In fact, he doesn’t even accept the job as restaurant critic for the NY Times until page 272 of my copy (the book is just over 350 pages), not counting the introduction.
Most of the book concerns Bruni’s struggle with his weight. As someone who has struggled with his weight for his entire life, I didn’t find anything particularly perceptive about his account. By the end of the book he’s worked out a system that helps him manage his weight — in fact, he actually lost a few inches off of his waist while eating at New York’s finest restaurants every night of the week. His system: eat small portions and work out like a madman. He gets so maniacal about working out that during a part of his tenure as restaurant critic in NYC he took a train down to Washington, DC for a two-hour workout with a trainer he knew.
There are a few moments sprinkled throughout the book that I did find touching or engaging: the death of his mother, his account of the food given to the reporters covering the Bush 2000 election campaign, and his description of trying to come up with (and remember) different fake names for every restaurant he is trying to review. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between. Far too much of the book dwells on his eating habits and how this impacted his love life (hint: negatively).
I’m not really sure what I was expecting from this memoir, but I didn’t find it. I didn’t think the book would be simply a series of vignettes about his restaurant reviewing days, but I do think that it would have made for more interesting reading. I know that there are those who questioned his being appointed the NY Times food critic because he didn’t come from a food-related background (professionally, anyway — his family’s Thanksgiving dinners dwarf even my Jewish family’s holiday meals). Personally I never questioned his chops, because his reviews are generally well-written and intelligent. I only wish he’d brought the same qualities to his memoir.
All told, I’d rather read a memoir written by this restaurant critic, from “the Kids in the Hall”:
For those of you who skipped to the end: I didn’t like the book very much.