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

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

At the age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. She had seized the one aspect of her life that she seemed able to control, and struck different foods from her diet one by one until she was starving. But even at her lowest point, the one appetite she never lost was her love of reading.

As Laura battled her anorexia, she gradually re-discovered how to enjoy food - and life more broadly - through literature. Plum puddings and pottles of fruit in Dickens gave her courage to try new dishes; the wounded Robert Graves' appreciation of a pair of greengages changed the way she thought about plenty and choice; Virginia Woolf's painterly descriptions of bread, blackberries and biscuits were infinitely tempting. Book by book, meal by meal, Laura developed an appetite and discovered an entire library of reasons to live.

The Reading Cure is a beautiful, inspiring account of hunger and happiness, about addiction, obsession and recovery, and about the way literature and food can restore appetite and renew hope

My Thoughts:

Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of fourteen. But this is not a book about her diagnosis and illness. It is instead a story about how books helped her recover her love of food, and that makes it both refreshing and powerful.


It began with her decision to read the entire collection of novels by Charles Dickens. She was struck with the immense pleasure many of his characters take in the consumption of food.


‘While I was reading Dickens something changed. I didn’t want to be on the outside, looking at pictures, tasting recipes at one remove, seeing the last muffin go to someone else. I began to want to want food. To share it, savour it, to have it without guilt,’ she writes.


Gradually Laura began to eat again. As she grew stronger she searched out books that would help her more. She read a collection of memoirs about World War I, an interesting and unexpected choice, and also the diary of Virginia Woolf, who was most likely anorexic herself.


‘While Woolf has been the most extraordinary consolation—and no other writer has so helped me make sense of my own mind, nor offered such a rubric for how I might mend it—she is also a writer who frightens me. For long periods she succeeded in reigning in and stabling her galloping horses, tied them, kept them in hay. For years, she managed it. And this from her 1935 diary, January, when she was fifty-two: “I wish I could find some way of composing my mind—It's absurd to let it be ravaged by scenes...On the contrary, it is better to pull on my galoshes & go through the gale to lunch off scrambled eggs & sausages.”


That is the remedy to: “I can't fight any longer.” That is what I hold tight from Virginia Woolf. Galoshes. Courage. On.’


A more obvious choice was returning to childhood classics such as The Secret Garden (a book that always makes me hungry!), and Wind in the Willows and Harry Potter (which is, of course, brimming over with delightful food-loving scenes.)


I absolutely loved this book. The writing is deft, razor-sharp, and brave, and I added a great many titles to my own to-be-read list.


‘What I have found in reading isn’t a dictionary of foodstuffs - A is for apple amber, B is for beautiful soup, C is for cheese on toast - but a whole library of reasons to eat, share, live, to want to be well.’


You may also love my review of Butterfly On A Pin by Alannah Hill:


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Kate Forsyth
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