biography

Book Review: Alice in The Looking Glass – A Mother and Daughter’s Experience of Anorexia

I’m probably more obsessed with ED books than is healthy, but it’s so reassuring to read other people’s experiences that are similar to my own. This book was absolutely fantastic – not only did it help me see that I’m not alone or abnormal, but I was also able to read a mother’s point of view on the experience. I understand now how awful it must have been for my own mother during my inpatient hospital stay and the initial battle of getting a diagnosis.
I found it interesting that they gave Jo (the mother)’s perspective first, instead of Alice herself. We learn about what she witnesses before we find out exactly what Alice was actually thinking and feeling.

They don’t include weights or numbers in this, which is tremendously helpful. Like Jo says, this is a competitive illness, and even parents seem to want to compete in having the “most poorly” child. But it’s so triggering for other people to read about how much weight someone lost, and it’s not really relevant. Weight loss is just a side affect of the illness, and not the main issue itself.

The reality is addressed so honestly in this book, all the feelings and experiences that we may be ashamed to admit are written in black and white. It made me feel a lot less guilty about things that I’ve felt, knowing other people have felt the same way, too. And the recovery aspect was not unrealistically easy or happy; Alice is not completely recovered even at the end of the book, but is managing her illness. That is how most of us will live for a long time, if not for the rest of our lives. But Alice expresses how she is so much happier “managing” her anorexia than she was when she was suffering years ago. It gives hope – even if you don’t fully recover, life can be good. 

I really loved this book. I’d urge anyone with a loved one who is suffering from an eating disorder (or has one themselves) to read this, as it would really help seeing both perspectives on the journey. 5 stars.

Book Review: Touching the Void

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Touching the Void by Joe Simpson – Paperback, 224 pages – Published January 27th 1998 by Vintage Books

At school a little while ago we looked at an extract from this book, and I decided I may as well read the rest of the book too.

If you don’t already know, Joe Simpson suffered a serious leg injury while climbing a previously unreached summit in the Peruvian Andes, 1985. His partner, Simon Yates, had a life-changing decision to make that would determine who would live and who would not.

Joe tells his story in excruciating detail, with snippets from his partner’s point of view, too. He uses a lot of technical language as would be expected, which can sometimes go straight over the reader’s head. He describes his emotions, his physical pain after the injury, and the setting that he found himself in.

Things go well at first, but during the descent there is serious trouble. Joe and Simon work together to lower Joe with his disformed leg, and it works for some time. But eventually, Simon has to decide whether to cut the rope or not.

After his first injury, Joe manages to survive an unbelievably long fall. But now he’s stuck in the crevasse, alone, with no hopes of returning to camp alive. Meanwhile, Simon is having to overcome his guilt and travel alone, with several frostbitten fingers and no food or water. The journey that both men must take is truly amazing and although you know the general outcome, you find yourself reading on and on to see what happens next.

Although it seems like a pretty short book, it took me slightly longer than expected to finish it. The technicalities meant nothing to me most of the time, making it slightly hard to visualise the scene in detail. But I was still able to appreciate the difficulties and obstacles that the climbers had to overcome, and I am amazed at how they did it.

The photos included throughout the book (below) were really helpful for scene-setting, and show how stunning the views were over the mountain range.

I don’t read biographies that often, so I knew it wouldn’t be my favourite book. But it was good, and if you like this sort of thing then I would definitely recommend it. 3.5 stars I think.

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Book Review: Unbearable Lightness

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Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi – Paperback, 309 pages – Published July 2011 by Simon & Schuster UK

Oh. My. God.

This was such an amazing book. I may have to buy myself a copy to read over and over and over again.

I’ve never really known much about Portia de Rossi. I knew she was the wife of Ellen DeGeneres, who I absolutely love, but that’s about it. Never would I have known how much I could relate with her and her life struggles.

This book is so truthful, and so inspirational. Portia tells us the details of her childhood issues with weight and eating, and how her habits developed into bulimia and a serious case of anorexia. She talks about every little thought and habit, her reaction to everything that was said to her. For anyone dealing with similar issues, it is wonderful to read someone else’s experience and know that you are not alone. I’ve always felt ashamed about certain details of my eating disorder, but I now know that Portia seems to have had very similar thoughts, emotions and habits.

Portia is also struggling to accept her homosexuality, and to feel accepted by those around her. She feels like she has to fit into everything – the sample sizes of clothing on set, society’s idea of beauty, even a certain category of lesbianism. But eventually she realises that it isn’t important to be what others expect you to be. It’s only important to be happy and healthy and just enjoy life.

The epilogue of this novel nearly brought me to tears. Portia knows things are not perfect – they probably never will be. But things have certainly changed for the better. She’s married Ellen and she’s come to terms with how to eat normally and maintain a healthy weight without obsessing over her appearance. She’s managed to find links between her childhood, her sexuality and her desires to be thin. She knows why she binged, she knows why she starved herself. And she knows why she wants to get rid of anorexia once and for all and live her life properly.

This is most definitely one of my favourite books ever. It made me rethink my life – I’m going through a tough patch with my anorexia right now, and Portia’s story has made me think twice about the road I’m going down. She doesn’t hide the ugly truth, she embraces it and brings attention to every detail. She is truly an inspirational woman. 5 stars for certain.

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Book Review: Breakfast with Tiffany

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Breakfast With Tiffany: An Uncle’s Memoir by Edwin John Wintle – Paperback, 310 pages – Published May 1st 2006 by Pocket Books

My teacher gave me a small stack of books to read upon hearing how much I love reading, and claimed that this was her all-time favourite. Honestly, the title is what really appealed to me – clearly, it wasn’t anything to do with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I appreciated the reference.

This novel, this memoir, is a truthful, brutally honest book about life. I can’t say I know what it’s like to be in the author’s place – I’m not a man, I’m not gay, I am not the guardian of my niece and I don’t even live in America – but the little things are just so real.

Tiffany’s home life isn’t great, and one day her uncle volunteers to take her in. Never did he anticipate so much drama and pain from such a small girl. She’s thirteen when she first moves in with her Uncle Eddy, and despite being a nice girl she is known to hang around with the wrong crowd. No matter how hard he tries, Eddy cannot prevent her from finding similar friends at her new school.

The pair really go through their ups and downs, and Ed himself talks a lot about personal thoughts and issues. He’d tested HIV-positive many years ago, and was also an unsuccessful actor. He broke up with his boyfriend relatively recently, and suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. Basically, life just has not turned out the way he’d planned.

Living with a teenager teaches him a lot of things. He is reminded of his own youth, and has to get on with his life all while keeping Tiffany going too. It’s not easy. Things do get rough, and he does find himself wondering why he ever got himself into this. But in the end their relationship is good, and they have a lot of fun together.

I did find this book great. It has hints of humour, conveys the bitter truth, and even gave me a taste of what it’s like to be a guardian of a teenage girl. There are definitely references I would have appreciated more had I been older than sixteen, and many of Ed’s problems, thoughts or situations may have been more interesting or important to an older generation.

That being said, I actually kind of loved this book. It isn’t quite in my favourites – but who knows, maybe in thirty years time it will be. I think I can easily give Breakfast with Tiffany: An Uncle’s Memoir 4.5 stars out of the full five.

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