Book Review: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

I must preface this by saying that I know very little when it comes to cooking, never mind French cooking. I know enough to prepare something with very simple instructions, but for the most part my partner does the majority of any cooking that involves more than boil water, add noodles, wait until noodles are tender and cover with sauce. In addition to my lack of culinary expertise, I also knew very little about Julia Child when starting this book, so one could assume that this would not be a book that I would be interested in, if not having to force myself through. However, I surprisingly took to this book very well because you don’t have to know pretty much anything about cooking, French cooking or Julia Child to enjoy the humor and biting cynicism of Julie Powell and her ability to bring you on the journey, the upheaval, the frustrations and the victories that became her life.

Julie Powell was just a temp secretary working at a government office full of Republicans in a post-9/11 era where, among other things like filing, she answered phone calls about people’s ideas for the September 11th memorial that had not yet been placed where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Living with her husband, three cats and what one could assume to be a minor drinking and chain-smoking problem, she worked a thankless job and lived a mundane life in a crappy apartment. She lived the life so many people are currently and will continue to live–getting by without doing much of significance.

But that’s where we get Julie Powell’s life all wrong. Of course she did not mean to do something of so much significance, but she did strive to do something. While being told she had a condition that would make it difficult to impossible to have a child after the age of thirty, and being twenty-nine, she set out on a mission to restore her ambition, change her life and save her soul… by cooking all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.

As she details her way through dish after dish, through long and excruciatingly-detailed pages on the insides of marrow bones and how to really go about stealing the lives of lobsters before turning them into delectable French cuisine, Julie & Julia is the kind of book you pick up on a rainy day when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, so you don’t and allow yourself to relax the morning and early-afternoon away in bed with a good book.

A memoir was the perfect thing for Julie Powell to write, being an honest and often self-deprecating woman who bears it all and isn’t ashamed of it. However, on this same note she did write in the author’s note that throughout the book she did just make things up but of course, does not touch on what is made up and what is true-to-life. That did not necessarily have a negative impact on my overall enjoyment of this book because as I found myself laughing during certain passages and then wondering if that had really happened or not, I realized that if it had, well, that would have been hilarious and if not, then Julie Powell is equipped with a great and witty imagination–And she is.

Her blog that inspired the book, the Julie/Julia Project gained a great deal of media attention towards the ending months of her project. She prepared dinner for newspaper columnists she had admired and even missed the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to do it. Her blog garnered a great deal of attention from people whom she called bleeders that cheered her on and also pleaded with her not to make aspic-and-anything ever again.

More-so than the art of French cooking, I was more intrigued by Julie Powell the woman. I enjoyed her anecdotes and expletive-filled tangents about her boring and thankless job, her varied and equally satisfying and satisfied friends and of course, a husband in which she portrays to be the textbook definition of perfect. While I had seen the trailer for the movie before picking up the book, I was actually quite thrilled to see that the real Julie Powell was not as wholesome as Amy Adams portrays on the silver screen.

Julie & Julia is a satisfying journey of discovery full of laugh-out-loud tales and lists of foods I am certain I will never let grace my dinner plate.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell”

  1. I wanted to comment on the movie Julie and Julia not the book first, I thought the movie was sort of cute – but that’s where I stop with the flattery. Overall – I found the Julia Child part of the movie cute but the Julie Powell part of the movie annoying.

    I guess I am very disappointed that all someone has to do is blog, facebook, twitter etc. and they become famous. There used to be a time when book publishing came from extremely hard work and talent. As noted in the case of Julia Childs – Julie Powell will never know such talent.

    Oh, and by the way – there is no way that each and every french dish Ms. Powell prepared came out as spectacular as she would have us believe in the movie – I am a cook and there are many kitchen failings in a 365 day period – not just one.

    On a more serious note – Computer technology is ruining mankind – in that we are a narcissistic and overly self-indulgent society. Not everything that comes out of our pen or out of our mouths should be exposed for the entire world to see.

    Remember, when Julia Child was trying to fill her time – she wasn’t on the internet, thinking everything she said was witty and clever or important – she had dignity and class and was private. Not enough healthy barriers in this world as far as I’m concerned.

  2. It sounds like she endured a tough project, though I think I give credit more to Julia Childs for creating the actual dishes than some woman who just tried preparing the recipes Childs had created.

    Missing Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a big loss in most people’s eyes.

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