Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (Review)

Depressed and pushing thirty with a biological clock ticking away and a "syndrome" (if ever explained, I missed it) that might prevent having babies, Julie Powell is dissatisfied with life and her dead-end secretarial job and decides that cooking, over the course of one year, every single one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it will make her life complete. It nearly drives her and her husband and her friends and family least before she somehow, magically, becomes famous for her frantic French cooking and suddenly has reporters and news shows begging to interview her, offers to make her blog into a book, and a movie deal following the book.

So....I read this little "gem" for the Summer Semi-Challenged reading challenge [read a book by a blogger]. I can remember watching Julia Child's cooking show The French Chef occasionally back in the 70s and thought this one might be my best bet of the blogger books that came up on a search. Sidenote: If I hadn't already read the latest India Black book by Carol K. Carr, I totally would have read that instead....and enjoyed myself a heck of lot more. Because you see, I have a love/hate relationship with Powell's book. I loved it enough that I gleaned some nifty quotes from it. But I hated how she treats her very supportive husband about 90% of the time. I hated her whiny, poor-me-I'm a lowly secretary complaints. And, quite frankly, after the descriptions of her kitchen, I wouldn't want to eat a single dish that she prepared--I don't care if it tasted like heaven on earth. Hordes of flies? Maggots in the sink? Cat hair stuck everywhere? Dead mice for your python? Seriously?

I was expecting some serious--but seriously funny as well--descriptions of the food. Because that's what this is about, yes? Cooking the hundreds of recipes. But, honestly, there's very little time spent on the food--what it tasted it like, how it looked when prepared, preparation in general. Long, in-depth description about killing lobsters. Big, emotional melt-downs when things aren't going perfectly. A bit of time spent on eggs (because she hated them before). Very little in-depth about the whole cooking like Julia experience.  LOTS of complaining about working as a secretary and how delightful it was when she played hooky. Makes a major big deal over the hunt for a marrow bone. Lots of detail about discovery of her dad's Joy of Sex book and how she somehow transferred that experience into thinking how sexual the whole food experience was.  In fact--I come away from this book believing that Julie thinks WAY more about sex than about food. She's constantly telling us who her friend's latest "boy" is and how amazing (or not) the friend's sexual encounters are. She envies her friends who are footloose and fancy free. She even envies the one who got divorced and took up with the British punk rocker. She fantasizes about cheating on her long-suffering, devoted husband while telling us how common it is to cheat on one's spouse/partner/whatever. And, of course, her favorite word in the universe is the f-bomb. Because sex.

The longer I think about this review and the more I write the more I realize I didn't enjoy this book even as much as I thought I did. I enjoyed small doses of her sarcastic wit and I enjoyed the brief vignettes with Julia, so I was prepared to round up to three stars....but actually, I'm sticking a ★★  fork in it and calling it done. Two stars for the concept and all the quotes I've grabbed along the way.

But, hey, here are some quotes that I've gathered as a bonus:

...hard-bitten cynicism leaves one feeling peevish, and too much of it can do lasting damage to your heart. (p. 63)

[about blogging]
Nowadays anyone with a crap laptop and Internet access can sound their barbaric yelp, whatever it may be. But the surprise is that for every person who's got something to say, it seems there are at least a few people who are interested. Some of them aren't even related. (p. 96)

Sam Pepys threw dinner parties as a young man--he enjoyed food as much as he enjoyed impressing people, so he was a natural....And besides, there just were not as many things to freak out about, foodwise, in Restoration England. Life could be pretty treacherous, what with the plague and the bladder stone surgery sans anesthesia and the occasional violent overthrow of the kingdom, so food wasn't all that high on the list of people's anxieties. (p. 101)

...I realized that, for this night at least, I didn't much care if anyone was the marrying kind or not--not even me. Who could tell? We none of us knew for sure what kind we were exactly, but as long as we were the kind that could sit around eating together and having a lovely time, that was enough. (p. 115)

My husband cooed as he dug into his plate of delicous flambéed crepes. If there's a sexier sound on the planet than the person you're in love with cooing over the crepes you made for him, I don't know what it is. (p. 223)

Around the country, a small scattering of people who had never been to the city, who had never met me, who had never cooked French food in their life, heard about the blackout and thought about me. That's sort of incredible, isn't it?...Because people who would have looked at this as a disaster happening to other people were looking at it as a disaster happening to one of their own, to a friend. I didn't mean this to be arrogence; in fact, I don't think it has a whole lot to do with me one way or the other. I think what it means is, people want to care about people. People look after one another, given the chance. (p. 237)

What was I, the woman with the plan? It was not exactly as if I told my friends and family, "Hey, I'm going to cook my way through an old French cookbook, and when it's done, I'll have figured out what to do with the rest of my life."...Who was I to judge someone else's navigation? Was I some kind of existential backseat driver? (p. 272)


Katherine P said...

This is on my top ten books I was most disappointed in without question. Like you I expected details of the food and the project itself and I felt like I mostly got whining and odd references about sex. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for her husband as well and I heard in her 2nd book (which I have no interest in reading) she divorces the poor guy. I've heard the movie is actually pretty cute but I'm not sure I can fight through my dislike of Powell to watch it! Glad to know I'm not the only one who felt this way!

Bev Hankins said...


You're absolutely not the only one. I'm not surprised they get divorced (there was someone on Goodreads who kind of predicted that...).

fredamans said...

I guess I'm alone here 'cause I really liked it. I didn't love it, it had flaws, but I liked it enough to let it take me away too.
Appreciate your great review though.