Hunger by Roxane Gay
Best for: Those who enjoy amazing writing, searing honesty, and vulnerability.
In a nutshell: Roxane Gay shares a memoir of her life, framed through her relationship with her body.
Line that sticks with me: There are too many to include all of them. But here’s one: “But the pain of a tattoo is something to which you have to surrender because once you’ve started, you cannot really go back or you’ll be left with something not only permanent but unfinished. I enjoy the irrevocability of that circumstance.” (p 186)
Why I chose it: It’s Roxane Gay. Come on.
Review: I was so anxious to read this that instead of visiting my regular bookstore I stopped at chain store in the middle of the work day in a town I happened to be passing through because I wanted to be able to start reading it at the first possible opportunity. Which turned out to be waiting in line at a coffee shop before a meeting. A meeting I was nearly late to because the writing and story are so compelling that I did not want to put it down.
Dr. Gay (Professor Gay? She has a PhD, so I want to acknowledge that properly) has written a memoir that is unlike any other I’ve read. It feels almost like poetry, as the 300 pages are split into nearly 90 chapters. Some chapters are but a paragraph long; others span multiple pages. The subject matter is challenging, but Prof. Gay’s language is not. As she provides some detail of her rape at a young age, the rape that she describes as a turning point that caused her to build up a physical distance between herself and others through weight gain, she manages to use language that is extremely uncomfortable and horrifying yet possible to read through.
The book focuses on her relationship with her body and what it is like to be in this world that does not value fat people, but it isn’t a laundry list of the challenges she faces. Yes, there are chapters about the frustrations she deals with when traveling, but Prof. Gay finds a way to discuss it that simultaneously points out all the ways people unintentionally — and intentionally — shun, punish, or otherwise seek to harm fat bodies AND remind us all that this is her experience. She isn’t a headless fat person on the evening news; she is a person who lives in this body, who deserves to be seen and respected. And we as a society — and individuals — fail at this. Hard. And often.
And people suffer because of it.
As Prof. Gay points out in the beginning, this is not a ‘before’ and ‘after’ story in the sense that you’ll see her holding up her old clothes and her new, skinny body. She is still a very fat woman. And she is still valuable, and worth love, respect, and basic human decency. She won’t be more of a person if she weighs less.
This is a book you should read. We live in a world where it is so easy to deny the humanity of those who are not like us. Even some of the progressive folks I know, who would never dare mock someone who is a different race, religion, or sexual orientation than themselves, still make shitty comments about fat people. Still used fat as an insult. Still take joy in seeing other people gain weight. And that’s really fucking shitty.
I hope you read this book.