Relevant, engrossing and sure to help liberate those in the throes of a weight battle or lifestyle crisis.

THE MINISTRY OF THIN

HOW THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION GOT OUT OF CONTROL

A thorough analysis of our weight-obsessed culture.

“Disliking one’s body and wanting to be thinner is the new normal,” writes British newspaper columnist and BBC TV presenter Woolf (An Apple a Day: A Memoir of Love and Recovery from Anorexia, 2013) in her colloquial scrutiny of contemporary society’s fixation on weight, appearance and the desire for outward perfection. She knows this slippery terrain well: Her bracing memoir chronicling a decadelong physical and psychological preoccupation with food is well-referenced here in chapters tackling the many facets of mild to major body dysmorphia. As her great niece, the author quotes Virginia Woolf casually throughout well-researched sections (“ministries”) exploring the social connotations and demonizations of food, tedious diets (“the triumph of hope over experience”), fitness, sex and the concept of aging gracefully without the trendiest plastic surgeries. Along the way, she shares her personal indulgences (baked beans and frozen yogurt) and a marked disenchantment with increasing societal (and media) pressures placed on women to look, act, eat and feel a way that is often at odds with their goal of happiness and healthfulness. Less appealing are mildly catty approaches to celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Kate Middleton, Liz Hurley and others; Woolf’s angle may prove nettlesome to readers eager for less judgment and more confidence boosting. Of particular interest is the author’s presentation of a groundbreaking 1940s food deprivation study, the findings of which offered dramatic insights as to how starvation alters the body and the mind simultaneously. Vividly rendered and creatively explored, Woolf’s text encourages nonconformity and individuality on many fronts, even as her burning query remains, “if being thin is the answer, what’s the question?”

Relevant, engrossing and sure to help liberate those in the throes of a weight battle or lifestyle crisis.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61902-329-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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