Saturday, February 06, 2021

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman


The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite / Laura Freeman
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, c2018.
260 p.

I recently gave a class on Bibliotherapy for my library, and in my research I came across this book. It looked so good, I immediately requested it via Interlibrary Loan. I've just finished reading it, and I wholeheartedly recommend it as an excellent bookish memoir, but more, as a story of how literature helped the author (and still does) through her experience of anorexia starting at age 13. 

Freeman is a fantastic writer. Her evocation of her life experience and how and why reading came to be a salve to her is so honestly and harrowingly done. She's clear about the terrible affliction of anorexia, and how it is a mind disorder that she still has to fight with -- and she also powerfully engages with classic British literature to find her appetite again. She's a British writer, and one educated traditionally, so the books she reads are older and canon, for the most part. But she can make Dickens sound so exotic and colourful, and Virginia Woolf so terribly fragile and yet strong. She recoils from the vulgar appetites and indulgences of books like Gargantua & Pantagruel, but is encouraged by the homely love of boiled eggs and tea in Sassoon's Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man

It's not that she read a book and then rushed to recreate meals and suddenly eat with no issues, it's that the books showed her that enjoying food, anticipating meals, eating communally, can be a reasonable and healthy appetite to have. That food often meant comfort and community, and that it was alright to want to eat. 

Books also gave her sustenance in other ways: her habit of extreme walks was reflected in Virginia Woolf and in Dickens, but for both of them, a walk was preceded or concluded by a hot bit of food -- so she realized it was best to walk when fortified. And in one of the most moving parts, for me, she reads T.H. White's The Once & Future King, & finds her key to surviving the vicissitudes of her condition.

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then -- to learn. Learn why the world works and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."

I imagine this works for a certain kind of bookish person, of whom the author is one. It resonates with me as well. 

If you love reading about the deep experience of books and reading in another's life, and want to engage with a writer examining English novels, memoirs, children's books, food writers and more, this is a wonderful choice. Beautifully written, full of passion for the enchantment of books, and for life, I highly recommend it. 


  1. All the bookish books I've read and heard about, this sounds like a particularly good one- and completely new to me. Thanks for adding it to my list.

    1. It was new to me as well, and well worth reading!


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