Saturday, November 2, 2013

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

By: Julie Powell

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Cooking

Julie Powell is a twenty-nine year old secretary in New York. She is married to her high school sweetheart, working at a job she hates, and being urged by her doctors to get pregnant as soon as possible. But Julie isn’t sure she’s ready for parenthood, in fact, she’s not sure what she wants at all; only knowing that she is not happy where she is. Then, one day, while visiting her parents in Texas, she discovers her mother’s copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and embarks on a yearlong blog project where she will cook every single recipe in the book. With the help of her husband, friends and “bleaders” she works her way through the novel one or two recipes at a time.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’ve seen previews for the movie and swore to myself that I would read the book first. Well, now I have, and I hope the film adaptation has more to offer than the book does.

My biggest issue with the book is the writing style. Powell doesn’t seem to understand writing in a chronological order. I often found myself confused as she had jumped from talking about one thing to some anecdote from her past that somehow relates to it – and sometimes there was no spacing in between these to indicate that the subject is changing. For instance, in the chapter where she is discussing lobsters, she is in the middle of talking about the lobster recipes and then the chapter turns into her holiday vacation with her family. It eventually wraps back around to her cooking the lobsters in her apartment, but it takes a while. Also, I found many of her anecdotes unnecessary.

I found it strange how she would gloss over the more important details that happen dealing with her blog, in favor of telling the readers about her friends and family. She barely gives any details about being interviewed for newspapers, magazines and television news, but tells us all about the sexual antics of her friends. I don’t care about your friends’ sex lives¸ or that one friend is leaving her husband for a man she met on the internet¸ I want to know about how your blog became so successful. I want to read about how you gained recognition – what it was like to be interviewed, to have not just the attention of a few devoted readers, but also the attention of news media. You gained what many bloggers dream about, lady! We want to hear about your success!

Powell also passes over in-depth discussion of the recipes in favor of talking about her life overall. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to reading about the cooking aspect, but it does play a major role in the blog and got her name out there, so it seems like it would be important. Usually when the food is discussed, it is done so through Julie’s anxieties and frustrations with recipes. She will tell us the name of a recipe, but often not what it actually is. So, you’re making Oeufs a la Bourguignonne? Great! What is that?

Julie, herself, gets on my nerves a lot. She got off to a bad start with me when she condescendingly referred to the homeless woman in the subway as a “loon” and rushed away from her. The woman did seem to have a mental illness, yes, a lot of homeless people suffer from one form or another, but she is more than just some “loon” on the street, she’s a person too, Julie. She is constantly putting down the Republican Party, and even though I don’t support the conservative belief system, that got irritating too. Her jibes had no basis and there were many of them littered throughout the book. I don’t understand what the Republican Party has to do with cooking blogs. I get it that she works for a government agency with republicans, but they aren’t important to the progress of this memoir, are they?

I didn’t feel like I could relate well to Julie at all. The most we have in common is our love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I think I may be a bigger fan than she is. She drinks a lot, smokes regularly, and envies the sex lives of her friends. There are times where she puts down her husband, Eric, even though he’s been nothing but supportive and even gave her the idea to start the blog in the first place. She encourages her friend to get involved with a married man, which is terrible advice. She also allows cooking to take over her life to the point where she doesn’t clean up properly and discovers maggots growing under her dish strainer. How can someone let that happen?
Lastly, she complains all the time about her crappy job, crappy apartment, and the lack of support from her family and friends – even though many followed her blog and would take part in the dinners she cooked. 
They were supportive, but they also worried about her because she became so obsessed.

The only parts of the book that I really liked were the parts based on Julia Child. We learn about her relationship with her husband and how she got into cooking. Her parts are styled in italics and often short, but she seemed like a much more interesting woman – strong, witty, and intelligent, she captures Paul’s love and follows him to Paris where she discovers her true passion in the art of cooking. I can see why she inspires Julie, I just wish Julie were a bit more inspiring.

Overall, this was an okay read at best. I wasn’t a fan of Julie or her writing style, and I felt there could have been more on the blog, Julie’s success/interviews, the actual recipes, and Julia Child, herself.


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