Sunday 23 October 2016

Shameless tales of the inner journeys we take

Gorge My 300-Pound Journey Up ­Kilimanjaro By Kara Richardson Whitely Seal Press (2015) €17.99 HHHHI

A trek up a mountain is never a journey to be taken lightly, much less one up Kilimanjaro. The African mountain looms 5,895 metres over Tanzania, and whilst it's no Everest, and the incline is fairly gradual, it's still no joke.

Every year, an average of 10 people die on the ascent, and thousands need assistance getting back down again. So, when former newspaper journalist Kara Richardson Whitely attempts the climb for a third time, and is carrying almost 22 stone in weight, you have to wonder: can she actually make it?

This memoir is not just about the ascent, but also about the writer's life-long descent into self-loathing due to her size. Having begun to comfort eat at the age of nine in reaction to her parent's imminent divorce, Richardson Whitely catalogues a life lived at the mercy of her food addiction.

This is the story of a monumental struggle, day to day, with her yearnings and desires, her needs and feelings of worthlessness told with, at times, breathtaking candour.

At six foot, Richardson Whitely is unmissable. One of the most heartbreaking accounts is her awareness that, every time she gets on a plane, there's a seemingly endless array of potentially embarrassing moments, from asking for the seat belt extender to being unable to keep her tray table flat because of her girth - not to mention the disgust on the faces of her fellow passengers, and the fear that shows on their faces, that she's going to be sitting beside them. This extends to the guides who are in charge of her trek, which includes three friends, all raising money for charity.

As the climb begins, the recounting of each day's journey to the peak is interspersed with autobiographical material that are metaphorical steps along the journey. While the author is expecting to lose weight during this outing - and it is certainly an extreme way to lose a few stone - she is also dropping the toxic connections to her past, to former abusers, to her absent father, to bullies.

Her journey to reclaim the mountain is laid out in terse, sometimes repetitive prose; this seems to point stylistically to her career as a news reporter. Some of the anecdotes are bare, whilst some are stripped to the emotional bone, and the latter make for a more rewarding read.

It's certainly raw at times, and all kudos to the author for daring to be so honest. The pay off is worth the wait, but whether or not is was worth the weight is only for the author to decide.

Perhaps one of the most important things that Richardson Whitely expressed is that she may be fat, but she is strong, and she has the courage of her convictions. With so much fat-shaming going on in society, it took perhaps even more strength of will to publish this story than it did to climb that mountain. You've got to respect that.


By Kim Kardashian Universe (2015) €17.99 HIIII

And then you've got this, an utterly shameless object of self-promotion. Curated by herself, for herself and her fans, Kardashian has compiled a book full of selfies.

They capture her over the years, pointing her camera phone at herself, occasionally cropping out her child. If this is not surely the first sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is.

Can 30 million Twitter followers be wrong? Is a personal fortune of $65m enough to knock me off my high horse? Nope.

One star for sheer brass neck.

Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar

By Candy Darling Open Road Media (2015) €13.76 eBook HHIII

She died before she could properly pen her experience, but as a figurehead for a community, transgender people couldn't do better than Candy Darling.

A fixture in Andy Warhol's Factory scene, she was not only a significant cog in its great wheel, she was also enabled to 'be' herself because of it; that is, she made it happen as much as she was made to happen because of the atmosphere of openness and exploration.

Having said all that, this doesn't quite provide the kind of insight that those unfamiliar with her story would require.

A collection of journal excerpts and random ramblings, these are notable for possessing heart and honesty, and equally notable for their lack of cohesion and context.

It's the best that could be done, perhaps, to give her the opportunity to have her represent herself, in her own words, but one hopes for a better, more organised effort in future.

A Passion for Paris

Romantic and ­Romance in the City of Light By David Downie St Martin's Press (2015) €11.50 HHHII

Here, we have almost an embarrassment of context: Downie takes us on a journey through Paris via the lives, loves and escapades of the Romantics of the 19th century.

Charles Beaudelaire, George Sand, Eugene Delacroix, Alexandre Dumas, and Emile Zola are among them. We are immersed in history and educated via the lifestyles of his subjects, taken to the places they lived, and nstructed in architecture, literature and politics.

I found Downie's tone to be straining too hard to mimic that of the era, and while he displays an impressive grasp of his subject, I didn't find it to be as passionate a tome as was promised.

Audrey and Bill

A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn and ­William Holden By Edward Z Epstein Perseus Books Group (2015) €25.50 HIIII

This is one of the most oddly written books I've ever read. It takes on an excessively portentous and serious tone right from the start, which fails to produce any romantic atmosphere.

The information is presented as if the author doesn't want to be accused of gossiping; and overall, the feeling is that the author is slightly judgey, even while extolling the two lovers clandestine affair on the set of 1954's Sabrina.

That the affair was extremely short-lived seems to matter ­little, and the author builds rather an idealised world in which the paths of the two ­continue to cross. I love Audrey, and was seriously disappointed here.

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