Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Cooking?  Blogging?  New York life?  I know, why did it take me so long to read this book, right?  It should have been on top of my must-read list for about two minutes before it jumped from my amazon cart onto my kindle.  But it wasn’t.  It didn’t.  And after reading it I know why.

The movie was the first I heard of Julie and Julia, which is now decently old in movie-years.  I was in high school at the time and only moderately interested in baking.  I enjoyed finding and trying new recipes at the weekend, but I didn’t spend my time looking at cookbooks or thinking about how to improve my cookie baking technique.  I was perfectly content with a single chocolate chip cookie recipe and didn’t even lust after a kitchen aid mixer.

If there’s a reason this book isn’t on every cook/blogger’s must read list, it’s because it’s not that good.  Julie’s challenge and ideas may work well on a blog, but they don’t translate well into a book.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell tells the author’s story of cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking during a year and blogging about her experiences and the dishes.  Powell is about to turn thirty, unhappy with her job and in a precarious personal position.  She isn’t happy with her finances and feels at loose ends as she contemplates entering into her next decade.  When her husband suggests that she takes on this project for the year, she impulsively says yes and starts a blog to keep herself accountable.

And so she embarks on her journey and we have to read about just how gosh-darn hard/annoying/stupid it was.  We listen to her whinging about sugar cubes, indian rice and aspic.  It’s amusing for the first couple of chapters, or at least while each complaint is still fresh.  Soon, the reader has heard every single complaint at least three times, in three different ways.  By the time the middle of the year arrives, you’ll be so fed up about being a sounding board for Powell’s insecurities that it would take a mighty interest in Mastering the Art of French Cooking to sustain your intention.

The real issue I had about the book was the writing style.  There were so many diversions, even within sentences, that it became difficult to follow.  A description about cracking open a bone could quickly divert into a witty comment monologue about her and her husband’s sex life.  This writing may work on a blog, heck it may even be welcome, but it doesn’t translate well into chapters, let alone a book.

Moving past the writing style, there’s the issue with Powell as a character.  She doesn’t make herself particularly likeable or sympathetic.  This, of course, could just be me.  When people start complaining about being priced out of the neighborhood in which I live and how they have to move to Red Hook and then Long Island City, I lose interest.  It’s just not fun.  She projects a tough-chick New York attitude that gives the worst stereotypes of the city a bit of credence.

Maybe the movie would make me more sympathetic to Powell.  Maybe if I had more of a history with Julie Child I would have liked the book better.  A good book should have been able to let me jump over those obstacles to feel a sense of affection and Julie and Julia most definitely didn’t.

Have you cooked from Mastering the Art of French Cooking?  Do you like Julia Child?


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