水曜日, 12月 15, 2004

Two more completely unrelated books

    In the mood to read about other people's problems, I recently read Marya Hornbacher's memoir of bulemia and anorexia, Wasted. Let me assure you that I don't have an eating disorder myself--in fact, I think the whole idea of dieting is really stupid. I never talk about my weight or weigh myself, except maybe once a year at the gym. However, I find reading about problems like this to be interesting from a psychology/women's studies standpoint, and in the past I've enjoyed reading anorexia classics such as Starving For Attention, The Best Little Girl in the World, and Joan Brumberg's excellent history Fasting Girls : The History of Anorexia Nervosa. I learned that once people start starving themselves, starvation becomes a physical addiction. This was certainly the case with Marya Hornbacher. In times past, this phenomenon occurred when people fasted for religious reasons, and now the reasons for deciding to fast are more secular, but it's not truly a "brand-new" disease.
    Anorexia and bulemia are just a couple of the horribly destructive things this woman did to her body from a young age. She was also picking up strangers at the mall to have sex and shoot heroin with at the age of 13, but clearly what she thinks is important to talk about is her eating disorders. There are some shocking episodes here too, for example one weekend when her parents were away and she did nothing but stuff herself with food and purge for three days straight. Later, she stopped eating almost completely, 100 calories or less a day, until you could see her teeth through the skin of her face and her doctors gave her a week to live. Even in a state of starvation, she did things like eating a box of laxatives every day or drinking a whole bottle of ipecac on an empty stomach (Why?! It hurt to read it). What impressed me was that she still remained so intellectual until the very end of her careening course to self-destruction. Because of the importance the brain-body connection, I was expecting her to lose her mental abilities far quicker than she did. After months of neither eating or sleeping more than tiny amounts, and looking like a skeleton, she could still "write a very good paper on Dostoyevsky". I have no respect for what she did to herself, but it made me realize that I tend to be perhaps a little paranoid about the slightest little discomfort of my body affecting my mental condition. If I inhale secondhand smoke in the elevator today, or get 6 hours of sleep instead of 8, or drink alcohol, or don't exercise, or don't eat 3 square meals a day, I'm afraid I won't remember my kanji as well the next day. I tend to take care of my body because I want to be an intellectual, and I want my brain to have every advantage to memory and concentration. Therefore, it was sickly fascinating to me that Marya continued her rather intellectual pursuits while still cruelly abusing her body. The anorexics I read about before weren't intellectuals. Marya was a poet, journalist and voracious reader and her writing style is fairly erudite, despite the fact that at the very worst part of her disease, she could no longer read words on a page. It's interesting how well she regained her mental abilities after her brush with death. Of course, she paid other prices for her recklessness - a shortened lifespan, a heart condition, and an appearance that looks much older than her chronological age.
    Reading the comments on this book on amazon today, I saw a new one from a reader who bought it in order to get tips on how to starve herself. Yuck. Don't do it, people.
    Marya had two things in common with me, in purely superficial ways: we were born in the same year, and we both took a trip to Japan in high school. The fact that she was my same age in each year made it interesting to read how differently she spent her life.
    Incidentally, I've seen a bulemic in Japan. I mean, I didn't actually see her throw up. But what she was doing was pretty weird. My friends and I were at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Umeda, Osaka. The woman ahead of me in line (a Japanese woman about my same age, neither fat nor thin but just medium) was intent on piling as much food as possible on her plate. She made a mountain of food and pressed down on it to pack it together, all around the edges of the plate. She did the same thing with the other plate on her tray. She was alone. She ate the food expressionlessly, then went back for more. The other women in line were kind of staring and gesturing at her behind her back. I rejoined my friends and mentioned her, and my friend said, "Yes, I always see her here. She does that every day."
    I know nothing about the prevalence of eating disorders in Japan, but I think she must go somewhere to throw up after her lunch--no other explanation makes sense.
    I think it's a good idea to alternate reading English books with Japanese books. If I read too many Japanese books, my work performance suffers, and I can no longer express myself well in English, but if I read too many English books, as I've done lately, I can't express myself well in Japanese. So alternating my reading material seems like a good compromise. Anyway, I started one that looks promising because it is EASY TO READ:

西の魔女が死んだ (The Witch of the West is Dead)  by 梨木香歩 (Nashiki Kaho)

    I'll tell you more when I finish it. I bought it because it came 1st in a "reader's favorites" poll by the publishing company 新潮文庫. こころ was number 5.