Friday, August 28, 2009

Memoir Review: Julie & Julia

I’ve been fascinated by Julie & Julia ever since I first heard about it (before it also became a hit movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams). After all, this story combines two of my passions – cooking and blogging. In case you’ve been living in a cave this past month and somehow missed the movie ads shown on TV every 10 minutes, Julie & Julia is a memoir by Julie Powell, a self-described “government drone by day, renegade foodie by night.”

Feeling trapped in a dull job and anxious about her quickly approaching 30th birthday, Julie decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (referred to by Julie as MtAoFC), in a year within the confines of her tiny NY-area kitchen and blog about the experience. Here, the glimmer of this idea begins to form during a visit to her mother’s house:

Oh, God. It really was true, wasn’t it? I really was a secretary.

When I looked up from MtAoFC for the first time, half an hour after I opened it, I realized that deep down, I’d been resigned to being a secretary for months – maybe even years.

That was the bad news. The good news was that the buzzing in my head and queasy but somehow exhilarating squeeze deep in my belly were reminding me that I might still, after all, be something else.

Do you know Mastering the Art of French Cooking? You must, at least, know of it – it’s a cultural landmark, for Pete’s sake. Even if you just think of it as the book by that lady who looks like Dan Aykroyd and bleeds a lot, you know of it. But do you know the book itself? Try to get your hands on one of the early hardback editions – they’re not exactly rare. For awhile there, every American housewife who could boil water had a copy, or so I’ve heard.

I enjoyed Powell’s honest writing style and sense of humor as she examined her life and set out to accomplish her unusual goal. Be warned, though, if you’re easily offended, that she can swear like a sailor and takes pleasure in bashing the Republicans that she works with. I found those passages some of her most amusing but not everyone shares that sense of humor.

I did occasionally find Powell a bit whiney, but I enjoyed her memoir overall. Her cooking escapades were both interesting and amusing, though I can’t say I really identified with her passion for MtAoFC. I love to cook and understood why she set out on this venture but just didn’t get the appeal of making things like cold poached eggs in aspic, sweetbreads, and liver (something Powell is passionate about). To me, this particular cookbook is outdated. But to each her own. I admire what Powell set out to do and was entertained by her tale.

As a fellow blogger, I was also fascinated by the story of the book itself. When Powell embarked on this project, she didn’t even know what a blog was. She started her blog at her husband’s suggestion to keep her family and friends informed about her cooking project, but her blog took on a life of its own, with a rapidly growing and passionate audience. Out of the blue, magazines, newspapers, and TV news started calling her to cover her story, and she eventually got a book deal that turned into a hit movie. It’s an amazing story, and, ultimately, undertaking this project ended up changing Powell’s life dramatically. I was curious enough to look for and read her original Julie/Julia Project blog and found an article about her path from blogger to best-selling writer very interesting. And, if you're interested, you can also follow Powell's current blog, post-best-selling author. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie!

P.S. If you’ve read Julie & Julia, Barney’s Book Blog will be hosting a book discussion of it this Sunday, August 30. Stop by and join in!


  1. Julie *is* whiny--I read an article a few days ago about how upset she was about the movie that just came out, and which ostensibly made her rich, because it didn't feature her cat more. And she didn't like that they left things out of her life. I mean: SHEESH!

  2. I loved the movie and the book. I do agree Julie was a bit whiny, but I still enjoyed her. I just discovered your blog today; have fun blogging.

  3. I really have to get this read. I was hoping to have it done before the movie came out but did not so refused to see the movie until I had it read. Looks like I will be waiting for DVD.