I love living in Portland. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly well-traveled, but of the places I’ve seen or heard about, there’s no place I’d rather be living right now. One of the things I love most about this town is Powell’s Books. Few bookstores in the world can match the depth, breadth, and sheer volume of this place! They claim to be the largest bookstore in the world, though who knows if that’s true. All I know is that it’s a treasure, and that I’m happy to live near it. Having Powell’s here means that it’s pretty much guaranteed that if an author is on tour and they are coming to the West Coast, they will have a reading here. So I was thrilled but not surprised when I heard that Jon Reiner would be in town.
Jon Reiner’s latest book, The Man Who Couldn’t Eat, is of particular interest to folks of a Crohn’s persuasion. It tells the story of his experience recovering from a particularly vicious Crohn’s flare. For 3 months during this recovery, he was to take nothing by mouth. No food, no beverage. Not even water. For 3 months. All his nutritional needs were provided a by a food pump, to which he was tethered for 18 hours a day. It trickled a steady stream of nutrients into an IV, directly into his bloodstream. Not surprisingly, this had far-reaching impacts not only on his daily activities, but also on his relationships. Relationships with his wife, his family, his own body, his health.
Let’s be clear. This book is not about Crohn’s disease. This book is about a man’s brush with death and the difficult recovery therefrom. This book is about unexpected ways in which an absence of food can affect a life.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see Mr. Reiner at Powell’s and hear him speak. I was struck at his lighthearted presentation of the whole affair. Clearly, the man likes to make people laugh, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this comes across in his book. Listening to him, I got the impression that to some degree, writing this book, and saying in it the things that he does, was an act of contrition. A confession of culpability to those close to him, that had to suffer along with him, and that, willingly or otherwise, helped to shoulder the burden of his recovery. He stressed more than once that he was a difficult patient and that those around him were impacted by this difficulty. He also made it clear that, as difficult as it was for him to live through 3 months of this, there are many people in the world for him this is a permanent condition, going so far as to describe his friendship with Roger Ebert, who lives with a similar kind of food pump, but without end.
Jon is clearly a man who likes food, with all the gusto one expects from one that grew up haunting the Jewish delis of New York. He read a passage from the book in which he describes an experience as a child, when his parents took him to the fabled Katz’s Deli. His description of the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of the place make it clear… this was one of the touchstones of culinary experience for him. The description took on a whole new dimension, however, when he began to describe the sights and smells of foods that were denied him. We all chuckled at the irony of friends and families bringing over food, because that’s what you do when a family is in distress.
I was fortunate enough to have a couple of minutes to chat with him at the signing table afterwards, and was struck with his approachability and humility. I told him that I was flattered that he’d left a comment on my blog, and he invited me to write a review of the book. And so I will. Stay tuned, dear readers, and when I have completed it, I’ll give you my impressions. In the meantime, thank you Jon, for telling your story.