Thursday, March 15, 2012

Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
Little, Brown & Company; Copyright 2005
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316044271

Julie Powell recounts how she conquered every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and saved her soul. Julie Powell is 30 years old, living in a tiny apartment in Queens and working at a soul-sucking secretarial job that's going nowhere. She needs something to break the monotony of her life, and she invents a deranged assignment. She will take her mother's worn, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she will cook all 524 recipes - in the span of one year. At first she thinks it will be easy. But as she moves from the simple Potage Parmentier (potato soup) into the more complicated realm of aspics and crepes, she realizes there's more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. And somewhere along the line she realizes she has turned her outer-borough kitchen into a miracle of creation and cuisine. She has eclipsed her life's ordinariness through spectacular humor, hysteria, and perseverance.

My Thoughts:

Certainly most readers have heard of the book and the movie based on Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia. There was a huge buzz over both movie and book. The basic premise is that Julie Powell decided to take a year to make every recipe found in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and blog about her experiences.

While the book wasn't particularly bad, it certainly wasn't as wonderful as I expected. Part of my problem with the book was a problem with Julie Powell. Her misadventures, triumphs, mishaps, and successes in her culinary quest were interesting. Reading her constant whining about her every day experiences, like moving again or her job or her not cleaning, wasn't very interesting or compelling - even while she attempted to make it humorous. I enjoyed the parts in the kitchen when she was actually trying to make all the recipes. The little asides, constant complaints, and extra stories took away from the book for me. Also, based on the movie, I thought there would be more of a parallel story with Julia Child but apparently that material was added from another book in order to make the movie.

In the end I'd recommend the book for sheer entertainment, but pick up a used copy (in the clearance section of the local used book store like I did) or look for it at the library. Someday I'll watch the movie because I think this is one of those strange cases when the movie might actually be better than the book... 


The next morning I lingered at my parents' kitchen table long after they'd both left for work, wrapped up in a well-worn gray flannel robe I'd forgotten I had, sipping coffee. I'd finished the Times crossword and all the sections except for Business and Circuits, but didn't yet have enough caffeine in my system to contemplate getting dressed. (I'd overindulged in margaritas the night before, not at all an unusual occurrence when visiting the folks in Austin.) The pantry door stood ajar, and my aimless gaze rested on the bookshelves inside, the familiar ranks of spines lined up there. When I got up to fill my cup one last time, I made a detour and took one of the books - Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1. , my mom's old 1967 edition, a book that had known my family's kitchen longer than I had. I sat back down at the table at which I'd eaten a thousand childhood afternoon snacks and began flipping through, just for the hell of it.
When I was a kid, I used to look at MtAoFC quite a lot. Partly it was just my obsession with anything between two covers, but there was something else, too. Because this book has the power to shock. MtAoFC is still capable of striking deep if obscure zones of discomfort. Find the most pale, pierced and kohl-eyed, proudly pervy hipster you can and ask her to cook Pâté de Canard en Crote, aided only by the helpful illustrations on pages 571 through 575. pg. 13

"If I wanted to learn to cook, I'd just cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
It was an odd sort of statement to make drip with sarcasm, but I managed it anyway. Eric just sat there.
"Not that it would do me any good, of course. Can't get a job out of that."
"At least we'd eat good for a while." pg. 20-21

"Okay," I said, taking another sip as Eric sat down beside me. "Tell me again about this blog thing?"
And so, late that evening, a tiny line dropped into the endless sea of cyberspace, the slenderest of lures in the blackest of waters.
The Book
Mastering the Art of French Cooking. First edition, 1961. Louisette Bertholle. Simone Beck. And, of course, Julia Child, the woman who taught America to cook, and to eat....
The Contender
Government drone by day, renegade foodie by night. Too old for theater, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else, Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. And in the Julie/Julia Project she found it. Risking her marriage, her job, and her cats' well-being, she has signed on for a deranged assignment. 365 days. 524 recipes. One girl and a crappy outerborough kitchen.  pg. 22-23


Jeanne said...

I read the book around the time I saw the movie, and think you may be right--this may be one of those cases where the movie is better. Or at least quicker, which means that if you're not a fast reader, the hour and a half of watching the movie may be enough.

Lori L said...

I have yet to see the movie but I really think this may be the case with Julie and Julia.