The Man Who Couldn't Eat

( 19 )

Overview

“I’m a glutton in a greyhound’s body, a walking contradiction, in the grip of the one thing I can’t have—food.”

Food is not just sustenance. It is memories, a lobster roll on the beach in Maine; heritage, hot pastrami club with a half-sour pickle; guilty pleasures, a chocolate rum-soaked Bundt cake; identity, vegetarian or carnivore. Food is the sensuality of a ripe strawberry or a pork chop sizzling on the grill. But what if the very thing ...

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The Man Who Couldn't Eat

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Overview

“I’m a glutton in a greyhound’s body, a walking contradiction, in the grip of the one thing I can’t have—food.”

Food is not just sustenance. It is memories, a lobster roll on the beach in Maine; heritage, hot pastrami club with a half-sour pickle; guilty pleasures, a chocolate rum-soaked Bundt cake; identity, vegetarian or carnivore. Food is the sensuality of a ripe strawberry or a pork chop sizzling on the grill. But what if the very thing that keeps you alive, that bonds us together and marks occasions in our lives, became a toxic substance, an inflammatory invader? In this beautifully written memoir, both gut-wrenching and inspiring, award-winning writer Jon Reiner explores our complex and often contradictory relationship with food as he tells the story of his agonizing battle with Crohn’s disease—and the extraordinary places his hunger and obsession with food took him.
The Man Who Couldn’t Eat is an unvarnished account of a marriage in crisis, children faced with grown-up fears, a man at a life-and-death crossroads sifting through his past and his present. And it shows us a tough, courageous climb out of despair and hopelessness. Aided by the loving kindness of family, friends, and strangers and by a new approach to food, Reiner began a process of healing in body and mind. Most of all, he chose life—and a renewed appetite, any way he could manage it, for the things that truly matter most.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this engrossing and candid memoir, James Beard Award–winning writer Reiner tells of his doctor's orders following a diagnosis of a torn intestine: eat nothing. Reiner, who at age 46 had a history of Crohn's disease, gets even more bad news when emergency surgery results in a severely infected abdomen, among other complications, that force him to get his nutrition intravenously. The bulk of the book is given over to the singular experience of not eating at all and the graphic details of his treatment, while chronicling its impact on the author, his wife, and his two young sons. He endures a feverish dream of food-related memories from his childhood in the Caribbean and his adulthood in New York. Questions of mortality and even suicide arise, and while the immediate ability to taste does not return, the narrator's capacity for eating solid food eventually does, though swinging at times between extremes of hunger and appetite. Reiner's use of detail amid the haze of sickness sometimes tests the suspension of disbelief, but as a piece of writing it's fearless and singular. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“An inspiring, incredible tale.” Starred Kirkus Reviews

“In this engrossing and candid memoir, James Beard Award–winning writer Reiner tells of his doctor's orders following a diagnosis of a torn intestine: eat nothing. Reiner, who at age 46 had a history of Crohn's disease, gets even more bad news when emergency surgery results in a severely infected abdomen, among other complications, that force him to get his nutrition intravenously. The bulk of the book is given over to the singular experience of not eating at all and the graphic details of his treatment, while chronicling its impact on the author, his wife, and his two young sons. He endures a feverish dream of food-related memories from his childhood in the Caribbean and his adulthood in New York. Questions of mortality and even suicide arise, and while the immediate ability to taste does not return, the narrator's capacity for eating solid food eventually does, though swinging at times between extremes of hunger and appetite. Reiner's use of detail amid the haze of sickness sometimes tests the suspension of disbelief, but as a piece of writing it's fearless and singular.” Publishers Weekly

"Jon Reiner has thrown the door to the mysterious world of chronic illness wide open in The Man Who Couldn't Eat, a memoir of an experience that is as illuminating to read about as it was horrifying to live. This wholly enthralling book will make you appreciate every breath you take—and every bite you eat." —Terry Teachout, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal and author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstorng

"Reiner has the moxie and the courage not only to tell the harrowingly real story of his fight to stay alive, but to do so with detachment and a crazy sense of irony. His memoir about food, hunger, and a near-death experience is a food lover’s nightmare and—with his food memories as the focal point—a necessary read." —Jonathan Waxman, author of Italian, My Way

"I will never take eating for granted again. Wow! What a roller coaster. All I kept thinking was, You cannot be serious! But he was." —John McEnroe, author of You Cannot Be Serious

“I have spent years of my life obsessing about my weight, feeling guilt over every mouthful. Jon Reiner's magnificent and devastating memoir, The Man Who Couldn't Eat, accomplished the impossible. It made me shut up and enjoy my food.” —Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road

“Reiner is such a vivid writer that this first-person account of a food lover’s descent into hell is, at turns, gripping, horrifying, excruciating and, ultimately, redeeming.” —Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, James Beard Award-winning authors of The Flavor Bible and The Food Lover's Guide to Wine

“Reiner writes a horrendously funny account of his condition in which food is his mortal enemy. He is the Olympian of a modern truth—our daily bread has it in for us—and his book hits the mark.” —Lore Segal, author of Her First American and Shakespeare's Kitchen

Kirkus Reviews

A gifted food writer details his battle with Crohn's disease.

Winner of the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Feature Essay, Reiner expands his gripping article that first appeared inEsquirein 2009. With the spirit and edge of a seasoned sports announcer calling a fight, the author graphically depicts both the cumulative effects of two decades of living at the mercy of chronic illness and the staggering play-by-play of a recent life-threatening episode when his guts literally exploded. This self-described "glutton in a greyhound's body" first experienced Crohn's disease—a crippling autoimmune disorder typically causing severe intestinal inflammation—at a young age, when gorging on a bag of dried apricots brought on an attack of diarrhea that proved the harbinger of later flare-ups as an adult, culminating in the memoir's springboard, a small bowel obstruction that ruptured his ileum and spilled bacteria into his gut, causing mind-numbing pain and peritonitis. The resulting surgery left Reiner with an internal wound that wouldn't heal, forcing physicians to recommend he be NPO (nil per os, or absolutely "nothing by mouth") for three months. In an age when you-are-what's-eating-you memoirs line the shelves, Reiner's self-pitiless account stands out for the irony of a foodie being unable to eat, the sheer magnitude of the torment endured, the courage to stare down unrelenting pain, the honest introspection into how suffering made the author insufferable and rocked his family and, above all, his refreshingly snide attitude toward his disease. Reiner's heart-wrenching description of coveting even the smallest bit of food when he could not eat is as memorable as his behavioral observations when sick and in recovery: "After the patient's recovery, sympathy is as welcome as genital warts. It sounds like pity, and pity is the last thing you want to hear. Pity is a reminder that you were sick, and a sorry confirmation that people still think of you as sick."

An inspiring, incredible tale.

Library Journal
Reiner, who won the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Magazine Feature Writing with Recipes for the collaborative Esquire article "How Men Eat," has written a memoir about a medical crisis that forced him to refrain from eating in order to give his digestive system a break. During his days of being fed intravenously, Reiner, with support from family and friends, came to understand more fully the connection among food, community, society, and memory. VERDICT Dan John Miller (who appeared in Walk the Line and who has earned several nominations and awards for his narration) does a fine job of relaying the author's vulnerability. Recommended for libraries with large audio collections and medical libraries. ["This is a blood-and-guts memoir, plain and simple, for those who find solace in the 'misery memoir,'" read the review of the Gallery: S. & S. hc, 6/16/11 BookSmack!—Ed.]—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439192467
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 9/6/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 738,916
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

JON REINER won the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Magazine Feature Writing with Recipes for the collaborative Esquire article “How Men Eat.” His memoir, The Man Who Couldn’t Eat, is based on an acclaimed article of the same name that he wrote for Esquire in 2009. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 30, 2011

    Live To Read

    The memoir opens with Reiner telling the reader a little bit of background about himself. He is a glutton in a greyhound's body. He has to live in a self-imposed exile from many of the foods he enjoys eating. He lets the reader in on the pain he experiences due to Crohn's. His own kids must eat healthy due to his fear of passing on the disease to his children compounded by the fact that his wife has diabetes in her family. He goes on to tell the reality of living with Crohn's disease. The reader will be taken through a very detailed account, he holds nothing back.


    The memoir is told from Jon's point of view, it really adds to the book. The opinions of his children, wife, and friends are less subtle, but the are in the book and help the reader to form his/her own opinion on Crohn's from different viewpoints. The events range from excruciatingly painful (when he is having an attack) to mildly painful (when he attempts to eat light and follows an extremely restrictive diet). The idea of Crohn's disease is awful to those of us who never experience it, but it is rare to receive a first-hand account; Crohn's will become much more real to the reader. This memoir is recommended to readers who enjoy nonfiction, reality, diet books.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Read it and eat!

    I have been a vegetarian since the age of 10 and have never, until reading "The Man Who Couldn't Eat" craved hot pastrami on rye. Now I can't get the image out of my head. Jon Reiner writes about pastrami (and dried apricots and french fries) with such detailed reverence that I had to snack throughout the entire read. But, beyond food, about which he writes with such exquisitely luscious detail (I swear I packed on a couple of pounds during my "can't put the book down" session), this is a book about the truly big things in life that feed us. This is a book about strangers, friends and family, about New York City, history and memories, about children, about wise women and about Crohn's disease. Ultimately, "The Man Who Couldn't Eat" is a strange and delicious recipe that will remind you of the really important ingredients in life. I was definitely inspired and will count calories in an entirely different manner from this point forward.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    A Must Read Journey to Recovery

    I couldn't put this down. Reiner has an extraordinary writing style that takes the reader through a horrific experience, masterfully told with deep human insight, poignancy and laugh out loud humor. Reiner's descriptions of his (and maybe your own) favorite foods will make you long for their glorious tastes. His ability to connect food with our social existence is both clever and original. You'll be aghast and compelled to see what happens next, all the while rooting for the physical and psychological recovery of Reiner and his precious family.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Page turner- a MUST-READ for all!

    I absolutely love reading a good memoir and this book was by far one of the most intriguing, captivating, well-written, laugh out loud funny, heartfelt, heartbreaking books (memoir or otherwise) I've read all year. I found myself so engrossed in the story of THE MAN WHO COULDN'T EAT - and it's so much more than a food memoir. It's also about marriage, health, survival, family, parenting, wellness, illness, life, tragedy, recovery, desire - desire for more, for food, for life. I absolutely adored Jon Reiner's writing style and cannot believe this is his first book - he's a seasoned writer, a captivating, witty and genius storyteller. This is THE must-read memoir of the year, THE must-read book of the year and you will not be disappointed - readers of all types (men, women, fiction, non-fiction) will devour this gem and still have an appetite for more. Well worth your time to get lost in this hard to believe, impossible to put down book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2011

    Interesting...

    A very interesting story - I would recommend for those who can relate to having chronic medical problems. It didnt keep me on the edge of my chair - but a very well-written book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 11, 2011

    A Fabulous Story of Hope

    I highly recommend this book. Jon Reiner is an amazing story teller. He takes something that most of us would consider impossible - going without food or water for a full 3 months to help cure a gastro-intestinal medical emergency - and makes it come to life in his page-turning memoir. He openly discusses his medical condition, and how his doctors (all leaders in their field) were often stymied by his case. No one has a magic cure for his problem, and much of what they prescribe is a best guess. He needs to find meaning in his experience, and fortunately he does. Despite the dire frustration he shares, and the crazy things he does in his deepest moments, he is able to instill humor and humanity to his experience which makes this book widely appealing. For anyone who has been at the depths of a serious illness, or who has known anyone at the depths of a serious illness, this is the ultimate story of hope.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2011

    Kritters Ramblings

    What an interesting read. After reading the book, I am still asking myself questions. How often does my day center around food? How many times a week do I schedule visits with friends and family where food is the main decision?

    The reader meets Jon Reiner, a husband and father of two young boys who has been battling Crohn's disease for more than 20 years. With Crohn's disease being an illness that does not have a cure, but with changing a lifestyle you can live with the disease, I would still call it a terminal illness. As we meet him, he has been struck down by the disease and is fighting for his life. I appreciated where he started this book, so right from the start you are in the heart of his story and are enveloped into his world.

    The part of the story that struck me the most was seeing the impact that his disease and health have and had on both his wife and two boys. Sometimes I don't think we realize that our status can absolutely affect those around us both in positive and negative ways.

    A book that takes you behind the scenes of a family that as a whole must overcome this disease and learn to live a life without food as a center.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2011

    A story about hunger you will savor like a box of Belgian chocolates.

    Whether you are like the author, a Crohn's disease survivor, or have never even heard of this rotten autoimmune disorder.... Reiner's story will take you on a journey you will be swept up into, and deeply moved by. This book could have been unbearably depressing, but instead, it is sharp & hilarious. (Meaning, you will enjoy many out-loud laughs, in between gasps & tears.) This book came to me when I too, was trapped at home, too ill to work, and I savored the pages like sips of a fine wine.
    But this story moves way beyond the tale of a critically ill man, it deals head-on with the complicated way that illness affects the rest of the people involved when disease takes over. In his reflections of his terrifying acute medical episode, Reiner is able to step outside of his own fear & misery, and write also about the effect that that time had on his wife, children, friends & community of neighbors.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    Funny, smart, and leaving you with a strong desire for NYC deli!

    The Man Who Couldn't Eat is a really fabulous memoir. Jon Reiner is funny, informative, and smart - causing the reader to mull over important issues ranging from healthcare to Western medicine to marriage and kids. This book is a real page-turner, and in the end, the reader will either want to head to NYC for some great deli, or learn to make miso soup!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    Anyone familiar with food restrictions should read this book!

    I have an eight year-old son who has multiple anaphylactic food allergies and since his diagnosis seven years ago, my entire family of four has been challenged by his restricted diet. Each of us thinks differently about food, family, love celebrations and rituals. Jon Reiner brilliantly describes the universal problems of a restricted diet. I was compelled by Jon Reiner's narration of the shared stresses of his health condition and his candid descriptions of his son's reaction to his agonizing and absolute food abstinence. The Man Who Couldn't Eat book is now "shelved" in my head as one that my son might read when he is older. There is nothing better than learning through a well-told story. In The Man Who couldn't eat I learned about Crohn's Disease in the best way possible - firsthand and from an author who teaches yet more about food, health and happiness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2011

    Everyone should read this book!!

    Love food? Been sick or thought you've been through a tough time? Have you been to New York, Maine, even Indiana? Please read this book. The journey Reiner endured is tough - but he survived. Learn how and you may even do a little less complaining yourself. Towards the end of the book Reiner touched on big pharma and healthcare in the United States...topics that need more exposure - hopefully he will take us there.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2011

    Must Read For Those Who Can Eat!

    Reiner writes a candid and courageous memoir about personal and family crises during his near death experience, which placed him on NPO (nothing by mouth) for three months. His poignant memoir reminds us food is not only about sustenance, it is about our relationships, dreams, culture, memories and hope. Like the author's family, my family sits down to a home cooked dinner together almost daily. Over the warmth of a braised pot roast or the tangy citrus smell of chicken piccata, we share our stories. In fact, my 8 year old will provide unsolicited tales of friends, school and his dreams - which I'm sure he would not volunteer otherwise. To be isolated from this, as Reiner was, is devastating. Reiner's vivid accounts of his isolation juxtaposed with his memories of food intertwined with family remind us that what and with whom we eat (and cook) will mold our memories forever. For me, the smell of cutting into a juicy orange brings me right back to my grandmother's kitchen when I was five - - I remember the smell and her love as if it was yesterday, but can hardly recall my grandmother's face. After reading Reiner's book, you will never forget the power of food nor will you ever take it for granted. Well done, Mr. Reiner.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2011

    My Darling, My Hamburger

    Disease. Deprivation. Desire. Disconsolation.
    Downer? Defiantly not.

    The Man Who Couldn't Eat chronicles Jon Reiner's sudden descent into (and faltering emergence from) a near-fatal and complication-fraught episode of Crohn's disease, for which the optimal treatment is a form of starvation called NPO - no oral intake of solids or liquids for three months. In the inverted reality he comes to inhabit - and which inhabits him - normal nourishment is the enemy.

    How does he manage an existence defined by absence and abstinence? Reiner responds to his forced anorexia with insatiable longings and a lifetime's worth of deliriously detailed, rapid-fire, food-centric acid-flashbacks that prompt him to examine what it is to be alive while prohibited from that most essential social and self-sustaining act of eating. His first hot pastrami, dried apricots, New England lobster rolls. Reiner wrings improbable pleasure and poignancy even from the memory of inedible Thanksgiving chestnuts.

    Proust and his petites madeleines have nothing on The Man Who Couldn't Eat.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2014

    A book that hit home.

    I read this book shortly after getting diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. After having a medical team that was nothing but vague about my newfound condition, this first hand account very much gave me someone to sympathize with and a peek inside the life of someone who had been dealing with this illness for longer than iI've been alive. Any time someone asks me what living with IBD is like, I just hand them this book. And any time I feel like giving in to this Crohn's monster...I reread Reiner's words and remember that I am not alone and you are only as weak as you let yourself be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2012

    Billi billiewaynegentry@yahoo.com Crohn's Survivor

    I was diagnosed w/chronic Crohn's in '91 @age 20. I've been in remission almost 5yrs in toto in that time period. In '93 I was diagnosed w/Ulcerative Colitis & last Friday w/stress related Diverticulitis & also am being sent to a specialist for the diagnosis (I've all the symptoms) of ankylosing spondylitis which is a degenerative back disease secondary to Crohn's. At this time I'm on Prednisone therapy which has brought my weight up to 90pds from 68pds. I was admitted to the hospital in March where they found my heart rate 2b 196bpm which was brought under control via Lopresor. Now I'll be seeing a cardiologist to assess the damgage, if any, to my heart, obviously the many drastic weight losses I've had have put me @risk of a heart attack, similar to people who suffer w/Anorexia &/or Bulemia. I have prayed for death. I have lain in bed & suffered so badly for 24hrs a day for months @a time & have been angry that I wasnt dying fast enough. My last remission was 8yrs ago in 2004, I missed most of my 30's due to the severe pain, debilitating nausea, the fact that I lived in the little girls room, & the extreme weakness due from not being able to retain my food plus my lack of appetite. I so applaud the author & fellow IBD sufferer & will 4ever keep him in my prayers. I've only been able to read the B&N sample of 'The Man Who Couldn't Eat' due to lack of funds, funny how businesses wont hire a bathroom/bedroom riden person ya know? Meanwhile this book is @the TOP of my wishlist & I'm pretty sure I'll have to wait 'til my next disability check in November but believe you me it will be the 1st thing I purchase because I'm so very excited to read about how a Crohn's patient who is as unfortunate as he & I are in regards to flare-ups that can & does affect not only our everday lives but also has it's own dwelling place in our minds & our subconcious too so that even if we are having a few hours/days of relief it's still there lurking, making us look around every corner wondering when it's gonna rear its ugly head. I'm so happy, yet so jealous of ppl who have jobs, social lives, plans they can make & keep & friends & family that can count on them not to 'flake out' on the important things or even the mundane things in their lives. I pray that 1 day we both will be able to enjoy food & not have to think about what we put in our mouths or what the outcome will be. I too miss food & not just as nourishment but as a way to celebrate things, ppl, friends & family. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be my involuntary sounding board & I apologize if I offended anyone by doing so. Meanwhile I'll be counting down the days 'til November so I can finally read something I can relate to. Again thanks to the author & everyone whose 'ear' I so rudely bent. God bless, Billie Wayne.






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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2012

    Entertaining journey through the struggles.

    I also have Crohn's and i found this book to be inspiring despite the hardships.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    Thank you for the courage to share

    Crohn's disease isn't talked about nearly enough. Who honestly wants to talk about out an out of control digestive system on a war path? If you know anyone with Crohn's this book is a must read. Thank you for the courage to share.

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  • Posted October 15, 2011

    Okay

    Interesting insight into chronic illness and the effect on the personal, professional and daily life. A bit exhausting verbose in length and endless description of illness, but this added to the sense person experiencing disease process has of "will this ever end?"

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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