Laura Freeman’s The Reading Cure – How Books Restored My Appetite is not a book about anorexia, but one about recovery. And more specifically, about how a love of reading helped her to love life again, and recovery from a decade long battle with anorexia. Reading accounts of how her favourite characters enjoyed food and with it enjoyed life, she stoked up her bravery and started to join them.
A ‘haystack of buttered toast’ as in Great Expectations, Graves’ eve of battle mince pies, rich full milk like Hardy’s Tess, Virginia Woolf’s hot tea and currant teacakes, the ‘stuff of life’ bubble and squeak from The Wind in the Willows – these were all experiences lost to Laura when she was ill. They were ones that her favourite authors wrote about with ‘giddy extended encomium’ but that anorexia wouldn’t allow her.
Until, slowly, the shackles of anorexia loosened, Laura’s strength was rebuilt, and she managed, like her mother told her, to eat enough to keep ‘body and soul together.’
A far more voracious reader than she ever was eater, it was words that proved to be Laura’s saviour. Anorexia manifested itself for Laura as an illusion of control. Reading was escape from the confines.
She both lost herself in them when the anorexic voices got too loud, and found her own voice in them as they strengthened her.
The book does describe the wonderous and marvellous meals that Laura and the characters in the novels devour. But it’s more about the experiences that those novels are part of that matter. About the friendships, evenings with family, holidays, long walks and relaxed evenings that food is such a part of, and a starved body and miserable mind can never have.
Laura is a detailed writer, and whilst not overtly triggering, some of the accounts of how her illness manifested itself could prove tricky to read. She’s honest. She still struggles and has to maintain her weight and food above that tricky spot where the voices – which she calls a ‘Jabberwock’ – take over her mind and body.
But the book is hopeful. It’s a reminder to keep on fighting. Because there’s a whole library of reasons to live.