Thursday, December 29, 2005
Book Review: Julie & Julia
julie and julia
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.
I love books – I love to read. This year, alone, I probably read 70 books.
But I really, truly enjoyed only a small percentage of them. The rest, I read quickly, skipping over the middle to the good part at the end. This is how I read: with absolutely no patience.
For a book to inspire my patience, which is to say, for me to read it straight through, it has to be ridiculously compelling. I have to identify with some element of the story – a character, usually – at a core, base level. (Books that are really compilations, like the Jeffrey Steingarten books – are natural exceptions to this rule.) The writing must be accessible, easy to read, elegantly constructed and never, ever pretentious. And the story itself must be, of course, interesting.
Julie & Julia is all of these things.
As I said the other day, on the surface, Julie Powell and I are not much alike. She is a self-proclaimed theater geek with a penchant for vintage clothes, enough patience with New York to live in Queens, no patience for Republicans, and a genetically foul mouth. I am, well, practically the opposite of that. I spent a lot of my time reading trying to figure out who she would’ve been friends with, had she gone to my high school. Fortunately, I failed at that. Had I been able to easily classify her, to place her in a clique, it would’ve been a lot easier to dismiss the connection I felt to her.
And I did feel a connection – I completely understood the frustration with her life that led her to the Julie/Julia Project in the first place. In case you’re not familiar with the book, the premise is this: a 29-year-old, unfulfilled but happily married secretary living in New York decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol. 1) in one year. She chronicles the experience – both her cooking experiences and how they affect her job, marriage, friendships, etc. – on a blog, which quickly grows into a community of strong commenters. Then she gets to write a book about it.
In the book, Julie’s own experiences are interspersed with brief, semi-fictionalized stories about Julia herself, and the path that led her to take her first cooking class, at age 37. Between these mini-stories and the author’s clear explanation of her own frustrations and self-analysis, it’s easy to grasp the connection she felt to Julia. Which, I think, is a lot like the connection I felt to the author: she sort of envied Julia, but mostly wanted to understand her because somehow, understanding Julia would lead to a better understanding of Julie herself.
Julie started the Project just before she turned 30. Her job wasn’t fulfilling her and while she obviously loved her husband, her family and her friends very much, there was something missing in her life. She needed to do something else. Cooking with Julia filled that hole.
That desire to do something is exactly why I started this blog. I would bet that it’s the reason why most bloggers start blogs. It's also why I cook. To do something. Last night, we watched the (excellent) movie Hustle & Flow. At the end, Terence Howard’s character articulates the movie’s message: Everybody gotta have a dream.
And that’s exactly what The Julie/Julia Project is about: everybody’s dream. Julie Powell’s dream, Julia Child’s dream, my dream. So did I like the book? Of course I did. It gave me hope.
Plus, it made me laugh. Julie Powell’s a good writer and she’s funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously. So there is, of course, something to be said for that, too. Because, obviously, hopes and dreams alone aren’t enough. Sometimes you just have to make fun of yourself.