Published by Grand Central Publishing (2007)
NOW IN PAPERBACK!
A Room Of Her Own is pleased to announce accomplished novelist and nonfiction writer Aimee Liu as the finalist Short Fiction judge for the Spring 2015 Orlando Prizes.
I'm delighted that the Los Angeles Review of Books has published my essay, Toward a Messy and Uncertain Grace, inspired by Meredith Hall, author of Without a Map. This essay is based on a commencement address I gave last summer to MFA graduates at Goddard College in Port Townsend, WA, where I teach creative writing. Here is the opening:
I’VE BEEN THINKING a lot about grace lately. More precisely, I’ve been thinking about it since last February, when I first met the critically acclaimed memoirist Meredith Hall.
What initially impressed me about Hall was her unusual path to literary success. She didn’t graduate from college or even begin writing until she was 44 and spurred by a painful divorce. Since then, her essays have appeared in many of this country’s finest literary journals. She’s received a Pushcart Prize and in 2004 won a $50,000 Room of Her Own Award, which gave her the freedom to write her first book, Without a Map. That memoir landed on The New York Times Best Seller list. Oh, and when not writing or teaching or winning awards, Hall — now 65 — physically builds houses alongside her sons in their family construction business. All of which should make her a source of inspiration for any serious writer … but that’s not why I keep thinking about grace — at least not directly.
Back in February, Hall and I were on a panel discussing “The Writer as Mediator in Memoir and Personal Narrative” at the 2014 Association of Writing Programs conference in Seattle. As she spoke about finding and crafting the perspective she needed to write her memoir, it became clear that this process had been emotionally grueling. The story she had to tell began in the 1960s, when she was a pregnant teenager shunned by her formerly nurturing family and small-town community and forced to give up her baby without so much as glimpsing him. Twenty-one years later she learned that this son had grown up in poverty just a few miles away, with a physically abusive adoptive father. Pain, rage, guilt, and grief dominated much of Hall’s life.
But the question before her in our discussion was: what had been her intention as she wrote this story? To punish or shame her unrepentant parents? To paint herself as the innocent victim of small-town small-mindedness — or, perhaps, as a reborn crusader for the rights of teenage mothers? To mine her own trauma for tear-jerking effect? Or just to unburden herself of an experience that was too heavy to carry alone anymore? I will admit that some of these very possibilities — some perhaps laudable, some less so — had tempted me when I was laboring with my own memoirs.
Then, as Hall proceeded to name the intentions she did not want to shape her writing, the word forgiveness came up. As a possible goal, or ethos, or governing principle, perhaps? I asked. Did she never write to achieve, grant, or express forgiveness? Or as a prerequisite; as in, you can’t write a memoir until you’ve reached a place of forgiveness?
No. She was emphatic. Some things — many things — that human beings do to each other, to the earth, to nature, and to themselves, cannot and must not be forgiven. Moreover, even though literature may contain forgiveness, such reductive responses are never what great writing ultimately is about. No.
FOR THE REST OF THE ESSAY, PLEASE GO TO:
"I've read countless books about eating disorders, but I've never seen one like this. Combining the professional wisdom of leading experts with personal experiences from women and men all over the globe, this book fills a gap on the recovery bookshelf. Anyone who has been touched by an eating disorder needs to read this."—Jenni Schaefer, author of Life without Ed
"A terrific book with a compelling interplay between the perspectives of professionals and the stories of people who have successfully recovered from eating disorders. Highly informative and a great read."—B. Timothy Walsh, MD, Columbia University Medical Center
"This book establishes new ground by walking the reader through the entire recovery process, from the initial turning points at the start of the odyssey to reclaiming one's life after an eating disorder."— Judith D. Banker, past president, Academy for Eating Disorders
Liu (Gaining: The Truth about Life After Eating Disorders) offers a compilation of letters written by an array of men and women suffering from anorexia, bulimia, binge, and other eating disorders. Liu puts each of these intimate letters into helpful contexts, so that current sufferers may learn from their peers. Contributors speak of past disorders, some lasting decades; others count an eating disorder as an ongoing struggle. With clinical notes and information on new and unique approaches, Liu's effort offers something for everyone effected by this issue, whether personally, peripherally, or professionally. About choosing a therapist, Liu urges readers to avoid adherents to current approaches that focus on diet alone, an important component to treatment, yes, but only the tip of the Eating Disorder iceberg. Liu's book isn't a guide to uncovering the psychology behind an eating disorder, but it clearly shows that relief from suffering can be found in the stories of other sufferers.
Throughout the book are informative sidebars written by leading professionals in the field, addressing essential topics such as finding the right therapist, the use of medications, exploring complementary treatments, and how family members can help.
— Publishers Weekly
Newly available, SOLITAIRE for ereaders
Publishers Weekly online
Read the review in Publishers Weekly!
As some of you know, for the past two years I've been collecting letters from all over the world for a book about recovery from eating disorders, to benefit the work of the Academy for Eating Disorders in advancing research in the fields of treatment and prevention. Hundreds of contributors have written about their experiences of the different stages of recovery, and I've been collecting advice and insights from eating disorder professionals, as well. Our goal is to let those who know recovery best trace the arc of this experience in their own true voices.
This is not an easy time to find a publisher for a book -- any book -- but I am delighted to announce that Trumpeter Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publishing, will publish RESTORING OUR BODIES, RECLAIMING OUR LIVES. We will launch the book, a benefit for the Academy for Eating Disorders, at the AED international conference in Miami this April.
Serendipity guided me to this publisher. Shambhala is known for books related to the practice and faith of Buddhism, but Trumpeter is a new imprint covering mindful awareness, psychology, health, literature, memoir, and personal growth. It turned out to be a perfect fit, not only for our book but also for anyone with an interest in true recovery. Current titles in the Trumpeter list include Creative Recovery, The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living, The Open-Focus Brain, Partners in Healing, Perfect Love Imperfect Relationships, and When No One Understands. Take a peek at these and other offerings at
Of course, the road to publication is almost as slow and painstaking as the road to recovery. My generous working partners on this journey are past president of the AED Dr. Judith Banker and Dr. Amanda Weishuhn. We have miles to go yet, as we finish selecting and editing the final contributions. Then, we will be sending edited copy to contributors for approval.
If you have contributed a letter for this project, I want to thank you. Even if we cannot use your letter, we are very grateful for your candor, your insights, and your support.
That's my news for now.
I wish you health, love, joy, and peace this holiday season.
“The beauty of Aimee's Liu's brilliantly researched book, GAINING: THE TRUTH ABOUT LIFE AFTER EATING DISORDERS, is right there in the title. There is life after eating disorders, and Liu writes about that life with unflinching candor, exceptional insight, and remarkable bravery. While much has been written on the devastating effects of the illness itself, Liu gives us a unique and provocative look at recovery, taking away the shame and helping us to "gain" hope and understanding. This is a ground-breaking work that's a must-read for anyone who has struggled with food or weight but didn't quite understand why.”
Author of STICK FIGURE: A DIARY OF MY FORMER SELF
Liu's book, Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, immediately grabbed our attention because it focuses on life after a person overcomes an eating disorder. It incorporates theory, evidence, and examples that are meant to provide knowledge to
individuals who may suffer from eating disorders and also help them feel that they are not alone. The families of individuals who suffer from eating disorders may also benefit [from new insight into] the psychological worlds(thoughts, fears, beliefs, worries) of their loved ones. One of the strongest contributions of this book is that clinicians may learn about the lives of individuals after they overcome their eating
Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books
Volume 52, Issue 51
What, If Anything, Do Our Clients Gain From Life
After Eating Disorders?
by Maria Karekla and Margarita Kapsou
With uninhibited truthfulness Aimee Liu reveals incidents in her own life which propelled her into anorexia... She believes the greatest asset any of us possess is our own life story and to realize the full power and dimension of this treasure, we have to be willing to tell the whole truth, and courageously, she does so...
‘Gaining’ lights the way into understanding the root causes and hidden origins of these surprisingly common eating disorders. These origins are not limited to eating disorders, in various degrees they lurk in all of us.
- JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association
Aimee Liu published “Solitaire”, the first memoir of anorexia, in 1979 after she struggled with the eating disorder as an adolescent. Although at the time she considered herself recovered, a relapse thirty years later encouraged Liu to reconsider the meaning of the word “recovery”.
Liu draws from multiple sources — her own experience, interviews with former anorexics and bulimics, research findings from leading experts in the field - as she explores the psyche of individuals who have suffered from an eating disorder. She describes how people with certain personality characteristics or tendencies are not only more prone to developing eating disorders, but that these characteristics can remain problematic throughout one’s life. Perfectionism, avoidance, social isolation, alexithymia, fear of intimacy, and disconnection from one’s self can continue to haunt people and destroy lives for years after they have “recovered”. Although no longer meeting DSM criteria, the characteristics that make an individual vulnerable to developing an eating disorder in the first place can continue to restrict one’s capacity to fully live life. If these tendencies are not addressed, they can also set the stage for relapse years later, particularly during times of stress. Liu encourages the question: Once someone no longer meets criteria for an eating disorder, what work still remains to be done?
“Gaining” is an engaging and incredibly insightful book. Those who have suffered from an eating disorder will see themselves on every page. Liu’s brutally honest approach in retelling her story will hopefully encourage readers to examine their own lives and consider making changes that will contribute to their long-term health. The book is also extremely thought-provoking, and will encourage researchers and clinicians to continue to question what is meant by “recovery” and how it can best be achieved.
-Renee Rienecke Hoste, PhD
The University of Chicago Hospitals
Reviewing for Academy for Eating Disorders
With heart-wrenching interviews from more than 40 men and women, Liu's book lobbies for cultivating self awareness (as well as getting a doctor's help) and for realizing that change, in life and in our bodies, is natural. Says Liu:
By unlocking ourselves, we unleash our power to change the world. This ultimate message of Gaining applies to us all.
Brave and timely, Gaining isn't just a good book, it's an important one.