I’ve long admired Frank Bruni as a writer. I remember well the buzz at Zagat, where I was working in 2004, when it was announced that this unknown-in-the-food-circles would be the new restaurant reviewer for the New York Times. I remember, too, when the skepticism was abandoned and he was accepted as a knowledgable, fair, intelligent, and occasionally funny reviewer. (Of course, Sam Sifton has only raised that bar.) I remember Bruni’s public (full-page ad in the Times opposite his column) lashing by known-nut restauranteur Jeffrey Chodorow, and later rumors of his disguises for maintaining anonymity.
I recently picked up a handful of food memoirs at a used book shop, among them Bruni’s Born Round. The portions of the book covering his years as the Times reviewer are interesting to me, primarily because I was following his work at the time and am versed in the NYC restaurant scene of 2003-2008, but they are skimpy. And the reward for getting the behind-the-scene scoop is, sadly, not worth the pain and suffering the subject and reader must endure to get there.
The book came out in 2009, so I’m a little late to this dinner party, but perhaps my warning can stop someone from picking up a copy (perhaps even the one sitting out on the sidewalk in a box marked FREE somewhere in Logan Circle right now). I suppose one sign of a successful memoir is that people don’t come away thinking, I wish I didn’t know. TMI, Frank Bruni. I now know that he comes from a family of unhealthy eaters; his mother got him hooked on fad diets when he was a kid; he’s a food obsessive who has tried bulimia, laxatives, speed, starving. When I think of “Frank Bruni” now, I see of a pile chicken bones languishing on the floor of his car, the aftermath of frantic sleep-eating, shapeless coats that never come off–heat or possible sex partners be damned!–a filthy room just for binging; a man crawling across the floor like Spider-Man, negotiating every rep at the gym for every calorie consumed. I’m left wondering why, oh, why do I have to know how little sex and how few kisses Bruni had or what size his pants were at every stage of his life.
I very much wish this book didn’t exist. I liked that writing of his back in the aughts–we could have left it at that. Now when I read his piece today in the Times on the campaigning leading up to the Iowa straw poll, all I can think about is the steady tweeting he did last week about the bounty of fried food at the Iowa state fair. I hope he was okay.