Friday, July 31, 2009

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

Summary: How one girl risked her marriage, her job, and her sanity to master the art of living.

On a visit to her childhood home in Texas, Julie Powell pulls her mother's battered copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the bookshelf. And the book calls out to her. Pushing thirty, living in a run-down apartment in Queens, and working at a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell is stuck. Is she in danger of becoming just another version of the house-wife-in-a-rut? Her only hope lies in a dramatic self-rescue mission. And so she invents a deranged assignment: in the space of one year, she will cook every recipe in the Julia Child classic, all 524 of them. No skips, no substitutions. She will track down every obscure ingredient, learn every arcane cooking technique, and cook her way through sixty pounds of butter. And if it doesn't help her make sense of her life, at least she'll eat really, really well. How hard could it be?
But as Julie moves from the smooth sailing of Potage Parmentier into the culinary backwaters of aspics and calves' brains, she realizes there's more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. For every triumphant Bifteck Saute au Beurre there is a disastrously soupy Creme Brulee. For every heavenly meal, an obscenity-laced nervous breakdown lurks on the horizon. But with Julia's stern warble steady in her ear, Julie carries on. She battles sauces that separate and she haunts the city's butchers, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. Her husband endures the crying jags and midnight dinners. Together they discover how to mold the perfect orange Bavarian cream, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the illicit thrills of eating liver. With fierceness, irreverence, and unbreakable resolve, Julie Powell learns Julia Child's most important lesson: the art of living with gusto.

My review: I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, especially once I saw the preview for the movie that is releasing soon. I expected to read a humorous, chaotic story about learning to find oneself while cooking some hard-to-pronounce French cuisine. I was also thoroughly looking forward to all the food descriptions and various kitchen catastrophes that would undoubtedly ensue—so I waited my turn in the local library reserve line and then got started.

It didn’t take very long before my excitement for this culinary adventure dimmed, flickered, and then went out all together. Usually I can slide right by the odd profanity now and then (desensitized heathen that I am), but this book was so obscenity–laden, that it was hard not to just stop in the middle of the page and stare at the words. Seriously, you’re going to say that word HOW many times in a sentence!?!? Really? If this were a movie script, it would have exceeded the Rating Commissions standards for a PG-13 rating by page 8 (I’m not exaggerating).

Julie Powell, as written, is rarely likeable. While some reviews out in cyber-la-la-land have called her refreshing and honest, I found her style of writing to be hardly more than crude and insensitive. Among other things, Julie mocks the events of 9/11, encourages her friend to sleep with married men, swears unapologetically, and frequently engages in the kind of conversation more likely to take place in a men’s locker room than on the pages of a book about cooking. While others might find this entertaining, I found it distracted so thoroughly from the heart of the story (the Julie/Julia connection and the cooking) that I couldn’t get into the book.

Even the Julia moments, a hope that I was sincerely clinging to by the time they arrived, are few and far between—more afterthoughts or transitions than a cohesive part of the book.

Despite my high hopes for Julie & Julia, I quit reading at page 143 (lest you think I am basing this review on pages 1-7) and felt that I had given this book enough of my time. Ultimately, the author’s excessive profanity and vulgarity made it completely impossible to fully appreciate the parts of the book that were worth appreciating. If material like that doesn’t bother you, then you might like this book a whole lot more than I did. If you manage to make it through the whole thing, please let me know. We’d love to have your review.

I still have high hopes for the movie and I’m sure that I will like it much more than the book.

POST-EDIT: I finally saw the movie and it is INFINITELY better than the book. It is exactly what I hoped the book would be.

SIDE NOTE: If you just had your hopes dashed into a million little pieces by this review, I strongly recommend The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. It is everything a good food lit book should be and it’s DELICIOUS without being crude and offensive.

My rating: 2 Stars and only because I'm being kind and assuming that other people might not find this a complete waste of time.

To sum it up: A disappointing and offensive book --not at all the humorous, emotional journey I expected.


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

You nailed it. I couldn't finish this book either, but I think I stopped sooner than you did. I highly recommend, My Life in France, by Julia Child -- I loved it.

MindySue said...

What can I say? I'm long suffering....

treen said...

Ditto, also. I read about the first half of the book, and then skipped to the end and read the last 20 pages or so. Such a crude, unlikeable person as presented in the book, and the Julia snippets made no sense to me at all. I was really glad that it was just a library book and I didn't actually buy the darn thing.

Jillian said...

So, the movie looked really good. I haven't read the book. Do you plan on watching the movie to see if the dramatization is any better?

Danae said...

That's too bad. I had put this book on my request list at the library, but have since taken it off. I hope the movie is better than the book.


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