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Wasted (1998)

by Marya Hornbacher

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1,655368,255 (4.04)20
Why would a talented young woman enter into a torrid affair with hunger, drugs, sex, and death? Through five lengthy hospital stays, endless therapy, and the loss of family, friends, jobs, and all sense of what it means to be "normal," Marya Hornbacher lovingly embraced her anorexia and bulimia -- until a particularly horrifying bout with the disease in college put the romance of wasting away to rest forever. A vivid, honest, and emotionally wrenching memoir, Wasted is the story of one woman's travels to reality's darker side -- and her decision to find her way back on her own terms.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
This was an incredibly difficult book to read.

On the surface, that seems obvious. Reading the experience of a woman living with bulima, anorexia, and a plethora of other mental health issues, is going to be a difficult read. But that's not what I mean.

Hornbacher wrote this memior at age 23. She ends the book (I did not read the modern reprint with her "updated" ending) rather solemnly, admitting that she is not cured, there is no answer, and essentially she cannot give an ending. She wrote this only 4 years after her nearth-death experience, and only 3 years after her suicide attempt. This memoir was written by someone still deeply in the grip of the things that had led her to that point in her life.

So the uncomfortableness comes from the outsiders perspective. She insists, over and again, that she had a "normal", "good" childhood and that her eating disorder just appeared out of the blue from no where.

She then goes on to detail a childhood filled with emotional trauma, surrounded by family members with mental health and food issues of their own, and as the reader we find ourselves frustratingly yelling, "it's there! it's all there! I can see it happening to you as you're writing it but you cannot see it!" Near the end of the book she still refers to her family has relatively normal, just "messy". It feels like a kick in the gut.

I have not read Hornbacher's other books. I feel almost honor-bound to do so now, to not always have my memory of this author entrenched in her view of herself at 23-years-old. None of us deserve that. ( )
  sublunarie | Dec 12, 2021 |
I read this well over ten years ago but I still remember it like yesterday, especially the mixed feelings I had as sympathy battled with revulsion. As with another book I read related to eating disorders (Steven Levenkron's The Best Little Girl In The World) I felt _Wasted_ to be a bit sensationalistic.

But the more I read and the more I learned about Marya Hornbacher, the more I realized no matter how much it might seem like she was writing it for publication rather than healing or to help others, she truly was suffering, had suffered and might always be a little haunted by her battles with bulimia.

Unlike Levenkron's misstep of a novel (which still remains a bad memory in my mind), _Wasted_ has the potential to change lives for the better and not just end up as some manual for pro-anorexia website.

Just my two cents... ( )
  booksandcats4ever | Jul 30, 2018 |
Hard to put down. Very well written.
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
This book continues to fascinate me long after I first read it. It is a curious mixture of bits and pieces. But what stands out to me is what a hugely anorexic book it is. It's focus is wholly on weight loss and accounts, pound by pound, the descent. The prose runs over the physical decline, the bones pushing out, the hair falling in the shower, the coldness, the numbness, the trembling bird like hands, the tiny limbs you can fit your thumb and finger round and on and on. But in between these periods of weight loss she must have, occaisionally, had periods of weight gain. These are mentioned really only in passing, the focus is on weight _loss_ and how _that_ feels. This misses key points of the experience of eating disorders, which is if you survive it, chances are you have to gain weight, you have to sit there and accept it. Hornbacher acknowledges that she gains weight but the epilogue is anorexia's last word - she is still skipping meals, exercising through the pain, passing out.

The book's narrative returns again and again to just how much she gets done. I felt at times I was reading a book written by anorexia itself - here I am winning scholarships, leaving home, swanning in and out of the doctor's office, nothing they can do, winning awards, going to a prestigious university, getting a great job, all on virtually no calories, no sleep and no slowing down. It is not of course that these things didn't happen, but that a memoir is a highly selective version of events, and this memoir shows a teenage girl winning it all - winning at school, winning awards, winning at anorexia. And anorexia being a disease that creates the desire for pain and depicting that pain, she's winning at that too, describing more than once the heart troubles, the bone deterioation. And of course, writing a book about it. She is now fixed in everyone's mind at 52 pounds.

It is a punchy and graphic memoir and there is good writing in there. Hornbacher knows how to write a cool sentence, to create some vivid imagery. But there is a holding back built into it, a restraint, an intellectual distance. When it seems to throw open the door and show you all the gory details, it still holds back, not just on weight gain, but on the boring side of eating disorders, the things you miss cause youre bingeing or you have binged and cant face it, or you feel too ill, youre too tired and hungry and feel too awful. The easy fun you miss, because your whole world is seen through a lens of "what have i eaten, how thin do i look?" The guilt. This memoir swings between mouthy descriptions of her life, of dashing about with her bones poking through, getting so much done, smart-arsed sex, drugs and literature; and bursts of analysis on the meaning of the anorexic body, why someone might play with death. But I was left still cold, not really knowing who Marya was, what she was like to hang out with, what she wanted (other than "thin" and "success", which are superficial desires), her best qualities and her worst. This memoir made the same mistake that bad therapists make - they make it all about food and weight. ( )
  Edvard | Jun 15, 2016 |
I would strongly recommend that parents NOT give this book to their loved ones.

Parents need to know that this book is considered a "bible" by many sufferers. Due to the nature of eating disorders, reading about the experiences of others can be harmful. Narratives like this one, that lack the context of modern evidence about eating disorders, tell us a lot about her experience from inside the illness but not necessarily about the illness or treatment.

Parents should also be warned that this book takes a stance about the cause of eating disorders as well as the role of parents that is not supported by the current professional training and literature about eating disorders.

Hornbacher's 2nd memoir should also be considered: it re-frames the experiences in Wasted as relating to her later diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. ( )
  LauraCLM | May 6, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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The awakened and knowing say: body I am entirely, and nothing else; and soul is a word for something about the body. - Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra
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It was a landmark event: We were having lunch.
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"Physical contact has not come naturally to me. It seemed and seems, laden with significance, so laden that one might avoid it all together."
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Why would a talented young woman enter into a torrid affair with hunger, drugs, sex, and death? Through five lengthy hospital stays, endless therapy, and the loss of family, friends, jobs, and all sense of what it means to be "normal," Marya Hornbacher lovingly embraced her anorexia and bulimia -- until a particularly horrifying bout with the disease in college put the romance of wasting away to rest forever. A vivid, honest, and emotionally wrenching memoir, Wasted is the story of one woman's travels to reality's darker side -- and her decision to find her way back on her own terms.

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