So I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy lately. And I continued that trend when I picked up Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. However, it was going a bit slow (I don’t think it is possible to read that book fast), and the heat has been putting me in a lazy yet antsy mood. I wanted to read something fast. Coincidently, my mother recently found Julie Powell’s book Julie and Julia for a rather inexpensive price at a local used book store. I adored the movie when it came out (my love for the work of Amy Adams may have quite a bit to do with that), so I was excited when my mom got me the book. Because of that, it was sitting on top of the pile, so I decided to pound my way through it.
Julie and Julia is the autobiographical story of how Julie Powell decided to cook (and blog) her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year’s time. Feeling lost at her government agency secretarial job, and facing the reality of her approaching 30th birthday, Julie decides she needs some goal or purpose in her life. Encouraged by her husband Eric, she embarks on her culinary journey that includes such feats as splitting a marrow bone, creating aspic, cooking a live lobster, and boning a duck.
If only the story had focused on her adventures in the kitchen, I may have been a bit more engrossed in the action. However, it seemed like a great deal of the book focused on the sexual adventures of Julie’s friends. Which would have been ok (I get that a major theme of the book is her trying to compare fine foods to good sex) if only she weren’t so whiny about it all. Whining about her job is one thing – being a secretary for a really depressing government agency overlooking the giant hole in the ground that was once the Twin Towers isn’t fun – but whining because she married her high school sweetheart and isn’t having all of the adulterous relationships enjoyed by her friends? Give me a break. Whining about her cramped kitchen space with dubious pipping? Sure, that can’t be fun to deal with, especially when you are making mounds of dirty dishes on a daily basis. But whining because you have to cook amazingly delicious food on a daily basis? Umm, no, you signed up for that. Her attitude ping pongs between “I am so lucky I get to do this and have amazing support and an adoring husband” and “Woe is I, for I must cook, and work, and I have only had adult relations with very few men. Sniffle.” The inconsistency of her attitude is a really annoying and more than slightly off-putting.
On top of her attitude, the book itself has a somewhat scattered and unorganized tone. I mean, in general she recounts her tale chronologically, with the insertion of important flashback scenes, but she tends to ramble and wander from topic to topic as she slowly comes back to the point at hand. On occasion I found some of her thoughts to be witty, and I can see how her more conversational style would be good for a daily blog, where the scope was more limited and the content more focused. But more often the writing in the book left me re-reading sentences and trying to wrangle the mess of English in front of my into a cohesive thought. I found the most enjoyable segments to be the small inserts that speculate the lives of Paul and Julia Child. Honestly, Paul Child was my favorite character in the entire book and he only amounted to just over 10 pages of action. The only other consistently amusing segment was the highlighted reader comments from her blog.
Despite all this I did finish the book within a few days time. Which is good because I think if I had put it down I would not have picked it back up again. I am also grateful that the book was bought used – at least I didn’t sink a ton of money into it, and I won’t feel bad at all about selling it back to the bookshop. I love the movie, so I suppose it was fated that I would read the book. I almost wish I hadn’t. In the film Amy Adams does a wonderful job of taking this neurotic and abrasive secretary and turning her into a quirky and relatable individual. The movie also does a much better job of focusing on the story at hand – enriching one’s life through cooking – because it focuses on Julia Child’s story (played by the sublime Meryl Streep) as much as it does Julie Powell’s. I am not one who often champions a movie over a book, but in this case the movie is undeniably better, most likely because the screenplay was written by Nora Ephron (of You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle fame) who knows how to tell a compelling and cohesive story. All things considered, my final recommendation is this: skip the book, watch the movie.