This month I read:
I’m looking at interrogating my own writing about my experiences of cancer, and there was a lot of interesting material in this book. I read more deeply the first half, reading somewhat faster the second half. Conway covers a huge number of writers who are writing about various/chronic illnesses (including cancer) and the struggles that it takes to describe something that is rather indescribable – and the way that eg cancer has moved from being something shameful/hidden, to something that now requires a triumphal ending and a finding of meaning in the experience…. whereas it’s not always that straightforward.
I was in two minds about how to review this book – in one way its rather like a long blog post rather than a book, so not a huge amount of nuance – However – a lot has been packed into a small space and a lot of now familiar arguments about the balance between mental/physical health, the obsession with ‘obesity’ (when this seems to be tied as a problem to many of the ‘solutions’ aka diets). Very easy to read.
There’s plenty to chew on in this book – yes a lot of the material is drawn from newspaper articles but there’s a significant sprinkling of academic paperwork in there too – and it’s designed as a conversational starting point rather than an academic treatise – it does raise a lot of questions about how everything is built around ‘the default man’ and how many ways women (and men) lose out because of this … and there’s a rant around pockets too. The assumption that something is ‘normal’ is highlighted well – things that seem ‘objective’ are built on years of normalising something that doesn’t seem to be so. Very readable.
A pretty straightforward enjoyable read – and particularly interesting in an age of ‘body positivity’ re reclaiming ‘the fat movement’ which originally started in the 1960s. Some gentle comedy, some much grittier stuff, and lots of the really helpful stuff about how health is more than physical – the mental health side of weight-focus and how much damage it can do … well worth a read.
I found this quite a hard book to read, though I did end up re-reading it in one sitting a couple of weeks after the film (where there’s not that much obvious overlap to be honest). Bits of the book were quite dry/technical – but there were flashes where the story came to life and we got to see the women involved and understand the contribution that made to both the American space race and the desegregation of the USA (albeit that it’s never gone away).
I really enjoyed this book – reading it in an evening …. I’ve seen a few of Jess’s bits of content online (TBH was disappointed re comment want to stay size 10 & eat cake – but the book points out just how much that comes from the culture we’re entrenched in – and there’s a lot more speaking out against it. I’ve got (female) friends who are in the frame as potential MPs, and some who are not sure how much they want to take the crap that comes of being a woman with a strong voice … I liked the honesty and humanity of Jess.
I first came across the idea of the anti diet movement 10 years ago, and reading this book is a good reminder of how far I’ve come since first reading Beyond Chocolate…. which this sits v well alongside of. Big reminders here that seeking to lose weight long term in the way that diet culture wants you to constantly demonstrates that this fails – this is more about self care/compassion and learning to ‘let go’ of all the expectations we (particularly as women) have on ourselves and our behaviours/looks. Particularly liked the emphasis on rest and the dangers of constantly being in a high stress state (often leads to emotional eating aside from anything else)… and the reminder that one can expect to feel hungry because human beings eat.
Plenty to think about
As someone with incurable cancer – the question why can arise a lot (although why not just as much). The notion of a big God pointing out people on who to heap suffering is not a comfortable one, and the rabbi gives helpful insights into the notion of suffering on earth and an emphasis on how much we are made for community with each other and can help each other out in the difficult times.
I met Taryn when she bought the documentary to the UK
– and enjoyed the buzz and the storyline there. There’s more in this book than I expected from the previous media coverage/film, and it was a swift read – and a very open one – watching Taryn give up other aspects of her life to get the message out that health is as much mental as physical and that there are things we can do to nourish ourselves rather than the stick that is diets.
I’ve had this book on my desk for over a year, as I’m planning on writing an auto ethnographic piece on having cancer in a digital age – and this book gives a really helpful – dare I say – introduction as to how to undertake this in a way that is less ‘self-indulgent description’ and more an ability to be able to give a critique of social conditions in academically and methodologically solid work.
I always enjoy a Lesley P book …. they draw you in with a great saga, a mix of difficult tangled lives – sometimes you wonder at the way they fall into place at the ends but enjoyable reading!