Book Review: Hunger by Roxane Gay (4/5)

18 Feb

Of course, I’d heard of Roxane Gay. She’s very vocal about woman’s rights and each of her books has been well received. But I hadn’t read anything of her’s yet. Maybe a memoir isn’t the best place to start, but it was still a great pick. I’m very far ahead of my book club reads now so it was a delight to dive into this one with time to spare. I also knew my training has given me a lot of listening time on the bike trainer so I’d get through it faster than planned. I finished it in four days.

Cover image via Goodreads

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:

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 becomes.

More than anything, this book made me think. As an athlete, I tend to have a smaller body. I’m not model-thin in size 00 pants, but the last time someone else called me fat was middle school. As Gay described some of the ways people reacted to her body, I realized I was guilty of reacting in that way from time to time. The embarrassment that others have subjected Gay to because of her size is unacceptable. Seeing her side of it and how small things, unintentionally cruel comments, could be so hurtful made me really conscious of how I spoke to everyone this past week. I hope I continue to be like that going forward. More than food, Gay hungered for love and that’s a universal hunger. She dealt with a terrible trauma when she was young and her way of coping with it and finding a way to continue in the world may not have been the best choice, but it’s helped her be an incredible writer and a very successful person. Who’s to say it’s wrong?

Gay portrayed herself in a very realistic way. She was very open about her past and the hardships she’s had to endure in her life. She doesn’t talk a lot about others because they’re not the focus of her book. We hear a little about her family and some of her past partners, but it’s mostly about her and her challenges. I appreciated her honesty because I can’t imagine it’s easy to bare so much of your past pain to the world and to let them judge you. I don’t think I’m that strong.

Gay’s struggles to recognize love were relatable to me. I had a high school boyfriend whose ideas of ‘love’ were spending as much time together as possible and not talking to other males. Where he got this idea (movies, his parents, friends, etc.) I’m not sure but it began to influence my understanding of love as well. You learn to see love through the eyes of someone you think you love. For a while after that, even into dating my now-husband, I thought this was love. When we weren’t together, I felt alone, abandoned, and unloved. It took time for me to see love expressed in other ways and recognize that blowing off friends and family to be with someone wasn’t love, it was an unhealthy obsession. Gay had to have her view of love recalibrated in a very different way, but I understood why she struggled with this and how she went through a long process to change her perception.

Roxane Gay
Image via St. Louis American

Maybe this is a bias, but it felt like Gay started to find her own voice and strength during her PhD program at Michigan Technological University (aka Michigan Tech). I’m going to assume most of you have never been to Houghton, MI and for good reasons. It’s very isolated from any major city because of its geographic location. From where I live in Detroit, it’s 10+ hours away, mostly through fields and hills with moose crossing signs on the side of the road. We drove through when we were on vacation a few years back just to see the town with one of the best engineering programs in the state and the Midwest was located. It’s very isolating and I was able to imagine it well from her description. Picturing her there, at one of the northernmost points in the continental US, I could see how she would find her strength.

I love to travel. It made it hard for me to hear about Gay’s struggles to travel because of her size. She has problems with airplanes and when going to unknown places. It made me really think about how the world is built for the majority and how those outside that box may have problems. The extremely large, tall, and small are going to view the world in a different way than someone who’s of a standard stature. I would never have thought about how difficult getting through life and getting around can be for someone like Roxane. That was very eye-opening.

Gay narrated the audiobook herself. She has a slight lisp but I was able to get over it really fast and it didn’t detract from the book in any way. It was great to have her read it, though I have to think it would have been a very emotional experience. She talks about things that upset her and times she was abused and degraded. Reliving that and writing about it would be hard, but reading those words again would be even harder. I applaud her performance. I hope she narrates her future books as well.

The way Gay punctuates her title places emphasis on her point. Many people feel like they have some kind of ownership or opinion on her body because of her size. Doctors think they can ‘cure’ her and strangers feel entitled to give an opinion or offer advice or say a snide comment. People wouldn’t do the same thing to others who stand out for other reasons, but her size seems to make people feel like they have that right. And we honestly don’t. I have no idea what has happened in a stranger’s past to turn them into the person they are. And I shouldn’t make assumptions about how they feel about themselves; ever.

Writer’s Takeaway: One of the biggest stylistic choices in this book is the extremely short chapter lengths. Some people like this but I don’t. I felt the book switched focuses too quickly and it kept me from engaging too much with any of Gay’s points. I wish she’d grouped the book together a bit more and connected her points.

I liked this book though it was a challenging read. I’m glad I read it and I think we’ll have a great discussion next month.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
“Hunger: A Memoir of My Body” by Roxane Gay | The Book Hole
REVIEW: ‘Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body’ by Roxane Gay | mayowa_reads
A Review of Roxane Gay’s Book, Hunger | Women’s Center

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8 Responses to “Book Review: Hunger by Roxane Gay (4/5)”

  1. Denise @ Life With No Plot February 19, 2019 at 9:53 AM #

    Great review. I don’t read enough memoirs, but this one sounds like something I could relate to in a lot of ways.

    Like

    • Sam February 19, 2019 at 12:51 PM #

      I hope you can enjoy it soon. She’s very raw and honest. Happy reading!

      Like

  2. whatcathyreadnext February 20, 2019 at 6:19 AM #

    A very insightful and thoughtful review. I especially liked how you relate elements of the book to your own experiences and your thoughts on the relevance of the location of Michigan Tech were fascinating. I’ll be interested to hear what your other book club members made of it.

    Like

    • Sam February 20, 2019 at 11:42 AM #

      I’m so excited to talk about it. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. lifewithallthebooks February 20, 2019 at 5:54 PM #

    Great review 😊 I listened to this on audiobook last year and I think it’s one of the most honest books I’ve ever read. It made me think about so many things too – I wish everyone would read this before judging anyone else based on the size or look of their body.

    Like

    • Sam February 20, 2019 at 8:34 PM #

      Thank you! I keep this in mind a lot as I go through my day. I’m so excited to discuss. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Challenge Update, January 2019 | Taking on a World of Words - March 4, 2019

    […] Grayson, Will Grayson // John Green and David Levithan (4/5) Kiss Carlo // Adriana Trigiani (3/5) Hunger // Roxane Gay (4/5) The Valley of Amazement // Amy Tan (3/5) Minutes Before Sunset // Shannon A. […]

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  2. Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words - April 9, 2019

    […] notice but he clearly does. I read this right after finishing Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger and she talks about being stared at because of her size. Her sentiments were the same in regards to […]

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