"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, February 12, 2010

Julie & Julia - 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

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Summary: An underemployed woman named Julie attempts to cook Julia Childs' food and blogs about it. 

Julie Powell is not the first person to compare sex and food, and thankfully, she won’t be the last. In this self-absorbed blog-turned-book, Julie Powell, a self-described government drone, needs a project to make her life a little more interesting and give it some (or any) meaning – she’s really not sure. (Someone asked George Mallory "Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?" to which he famously replied, "Because it is there." Same philosophy here.)

Julie sets out to cook all or most of the recipes in Julia Child’s iconic cook book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Small New York apartment, challenging recipes, supportive beleaguered husband, a hunt for rare or unusual ingredients interspersed with fictional glimpses of Julia Child’s life – you can see why the Julie/Julia Project would seem intriguing to readers. An exciting premise certainly, but a poorly-written book. Perhaps that’s why Julie and Julia is now a movie starring Amy Adams. Hollywood certainly will improve on the book – tightening up the pointless details, the endless segues and making us care about Powell and her project more.

Powell’s not a good writer, just as many bloggers are not. (There are so many better memoirs out there I wondered how this even got published.) The inane minutia of her childhood and life leave readers exhausted and hoping she’ll get to the point – or any point, really. And the constant pop culture references? Yawn. Okay, already – we know you grew up in the 70s; you watched a lot of TV; you have a crush on Jason Bateman. I kept waiting for the Teen Wolf reference. Powell’s like that friend who only wants to tell you about everything that’s going wrong in her life and needs you as a friend only so she has someone to complain to. Sigh.

The book does have some bright spots. When Powell talks about her friends, you can feel the love and affection she has for them – that’s also when the strongest writing comes out. Her co-worker’s IM trysts with a married man are hysterical as is the co-worker’s ultimate reason for breaking up with him. And while I personally wouldn’t compare liver to sensational sex as Powell does, it made a giggling discussion for my book club as we picked a food that compared to sex with our husbands.

Powell’s blog readers – or “bleaders” – express many of the feelings that readers of this book will have: “Enough already” (referring to aspics) or “Don’t give up,” (referring to lobsters).

Powell also changes the cooking rules recommended by Julia Child when it suits her – substituting tomato paste for seeded, diced, crushed tomatoes when she feels like it but spending hours making mayonnaise. There was no explanation of why she had to follow exactly some of Child’s recommendations for ingredients or why she “cheated” with other ingredients – and don’t forget that Powell explains everything.

If you like reading blogs instead of books, and know a little about cooking but don’t really care, you will likely enjoy this book. 

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