Book/Author and Year Published: Hunger by Roxane Gay (2017)
Preferred Reading Environment: Where you feel most comfortable
Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite snack. Bonus points if it’s healthy
Content Notes: Rape, Fat-phobia, Racism
In April, Roxane Gay spoke in Spokane as part of the Get Lit Festival, a literary event hosted by Eastern Washington University where authors, publishers, and others in the book industry participate in events revolving around literature. Spokane is within a day’s drive of me, and as soon as I found out about the event, I purchased tickets. I follow Gay on Twitter and have read many of her essays in various publications, including her collection of essays titled Bad Feminist. About this time, I purchased an ebook copy of Hunger while it was on sale, with the intent to read it after I’d heard her speak. Then life happened, and here we are, months later. My friend Deana recently listened to the audiobook version of Hunger on a road trip, and I really wanted to be able to discuss it with her while it was fresh, so I hunted down my appreciated-but-underused Kindle and got to reading.
Hunger is a memoir centering around Roxane Gay’s body. Gay is a 6”3’ black woman who, at one point, weighed 517 pounds. Of course, any memoir is going to tell you more about a person’s life than just their body. Gay recounts her experiences at various universities, including Yale, Norwich University, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has been a voracious reader and writer since childhood, and her career consists largely of writing and teaching jobs.
At the beginning of the book, Gay shares the story of when she was raped at the age of 12, and how afterwards, she used food as solace. She then outlines her relationship with food and exercise throughout her life, as well as the daily experiences that comes with being a woman of her size. Some of her experiences revolve around aches and pains. Others are focused on how the world treats large bodies. She shares the hassle and indignities of flying while fat, as well as many other scenarios where people make it clear that she is not welcome or valued because of her body. She shares the assumptions that have been made about her because of her body, and points out how media perpetuates fat hate.
In Bad Feminist, Gay talks about things she enjoys despite knowing how they contribute to sexist norms. In Hunger, Gay shares her thoughts on her body and how they may differ from the thoughts of other fat people. She is body positive, in that she knows she has value regardless of her body type, but she does believe her life would be improved if she lost some weight (and not only because of society’s treatment of her). As mentioned above, she is in near-constant pain. Her thighs are perpetually bruised from chair arms, and she once fell and broke her ankle, the surgery for which had complications because of her weight. However, in outlining how she feels about her body, she affirms people who view their bodies differently. She believes that our society should be more accessible for all bodies, and she works to be vocal about the changes she’d like to see. She also speaks about how her experiences being unable to access certain spaces have opened her eyes to ways spaces are inaccessible to other people.
Roxane Gay is extremely smart, as well as hilarious. She makes it clear when she’s speaking from emotion and when she’s relaying facts. This is a very serious book, but it’s not devoid of light moments.
If you’re a fan of Roxane Gay, you should definitely check out Hunger. Whether you’re interested in learning about her life specifically, or in the topics she covers (fatphobia, sexual assault, coping with trauma, The Barefoot Contessa), you’ll find a lot here. She doesn’t write in order to make you think she’s awesome, or to incite pity or hero-worship. She writes to share information, and she has a lot to share. Though I read the e-book, I’d recommend the audiobook version since she narrates it. I’ve heard her read her stories in person and believe that’s the best way to experience them.
Who’s your favorite famous author to follow on social media? Mine’s a toss up between Roxane Gay and Shannon Hale. Share yours in the comments!