14 September 2021

The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite by Laura Freeman

 Laura Freeman has been a guest on a couple of the podcasts I listened to recently and I enjoyed her essay Brain Work in In the Kitchen by Daunt Publishing.  Having similar tastes in reading material and the world of just about all things having to do with Bloomsbury, my tbr pile was shoved aside so I could finish it by its due date.  Library books are wonderful but looming due dates can be such a menace...and I work there!  

Authors who devote luxurious paragraphs of writing to the description of the contents of a picnic hamper, pantry cupboard or breakfast table are among my favourite.  Diagnosed with anorexia at fourteen years of age, Freeman navigated her way through her illness with the help of her family, doctors and therapists with varying degrees of success.  While spending periods of time in bed another avenue of therapy came from reading about the lavish, and not so lavish, meals found in the writings of Charles Dickens.  

When a planned supper at Davey Copperfield's lodging goes awry (his cook, Mrs Crupp, is taken ill while frying the soles), it is Micawber to the rescue.  Mr Micawber's Mustard Mutton would not disgrace the menu in any cookhouse.

By page twenty-six I was adding the ingredients for a beef stew to my grocery list.  From hearty chophouse meals to the trenches of The Great War, it was the simple pleasure of soft-boiled eggs that sustained Siegfried Sassoon during moments of a hurried meal.  Suddenly nothing is more necessary than joining along from the distance of more than a hundred years.  And I must read A Month in the Country by J L Carr again because the bounty of food offered to Birkin while working in the church has completely slipped from my memory.  My only explanation is that I must have been so taken by this book as a whole that the food quietly slipped into the background.  I digress....

Freeman read her way through all five volumes of Virginia Woolf's diaries, recognizing certain aspects corelating weight with mental well-being.  Reading about Leonard's attempts to make sure his wife was properly nourished resonated with Freeman in the extreme patience shown by her mother at mealtimes.  I laughed at the descriptions of structured eating so popular today and yes, Freeman is right...Virginia Woolf, as cautious as she was regarding her weight...never ate a goji berry.  

As someone who was once referred to a psychiatrist because of OCD, I smiled at our mutual understanding of therapy and when it can become something of a hindrance...  

After a certain point, therapy and its talking made me feel trapped.  I need to find something that would take me out of my thoughts, not that asked me to return to them time and again.

Therapy made my issue worse as I went from scrubbing corners with toothbrushes to fine-tuning it by using cotton buds.  People who have Type-A tendencies can become consumed with being the best at something, even if it is the thing you're in therapy for.  I questioned where the line was between personality and syndrome, and who has the authority to define normal behaviour, anyway?  I decided to out myself for the traits that were particularly mine and felt better for it.  My friends laugh at the fact that it makes me happy to iron pyjamas and that I might be caught out washing the kitchen cupboards at work on my break, but we laugh together.  

Finally, Laura Freeman is also spot on in knowing that distraction plays such an important role in the process of coping and/or healing.

Learn something.  It is the best medicine.  It is the only thing that never fails.  In my case that has meant reading, most of all.  Galleries and church-haunting, too.  But it needn't be book-learning, it might be a language, an instrument, the names of wildflowers, the calls of town-garden birds, fifty years of county cricket scores, or how to make bread, mix watercolours, thread a needle, anything that takes you out of yourself.

A brave memoir that shines a positive light on the many paths to healing of all kinds.  And next week I'm trying mushrooms on toast!

 La tasse de chocolate by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 - 1919)
(circa 1912)


  1. I read some of the media reviews of this book an wasn't sure it was for me, but your review has interested me. Especially the Virginia Woolf references. I want to read it now!

    1. Definitely a feast for readers and foodies, Nicola. And there was something very appealing about the comfort food at this time of year with the temperature dipping a bit.
      Have a lovely day!