Feature

Best books...chosen by Jami Attenberg

In Jami Attenberg’s third novel, The Middlesteins, a Jewish family in Chicago is torn apart by the overeating of their 350-pound matriarch. Here, Attenberg recommends six novels made memorable by overweight protagonists.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, $15). To me, this collection of linked stories about a difficult but loving woman and her neighbors in small-town coastal Maine is perfect—precisely written, emotionally correct, and a dream to read. Strout writes about obesity with immaculate wisdom: “The appetites of the body were private battles.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (Riverhead, $16). This novel rocked me when it came out. Oscar is an overweight Dominican kid from Paterson, N.J., who is obsessed with comic books and science fiction. Though he lives a life of the mind initially, he ends up leading an epic adventure. This book is about being a hero.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (Washington Square, $15). My mother sent me this book in the mail when it came out and attached a note to it that said, “Because it reminds me of you.” I remarked to a friend, “Do you think she’s trying to tell me I’m fat?” (At the time, I was.) But Cannie Shapiro, in addition to being overweight, is also smart and feisty and hilarious, so in the end, I mostly took the note as a compliment. Also: free book.

Blubber by Judy Blume (Yearling, $7). Does everything in this life begin and end with Judy Blume? Perhaps. Young adult novels don’t shy away from the discussion of weight issues, and Blubber, the tale of an overweight, not-so-sympathetic fifth-grader bullied by her peers,is a refreshing take.

Heft by Liz Moore (Norton, $16). There is so much humanity and honesty in this novel about a 550-pound man, housebound for a decade, now reconnecting with a woman from his past. I also love a character with an appreciation for food: It’s fun to walk away from a book a little hungry.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (Grove, $15). The eccentric, infuriating, hilarious Ignatius J. Reilly eats his way through New Orleans, ostensibly in search of a job. In his introduction to the book, Walker Percy describes Ignatius as “a fat Don Quixote.” I like the idea of a character tilting at windmills made of hot dogs.

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