Vote It Up: Book Blip

January 1, 2010

On Finishing Julie & Julia

Last night I dined with my husband and a group of 6 women for New Year's Eve at a charming little Italian restaurant (sounds cliche when I write it). We're an educated bunch: 3 academics, 2 school teachers, an artist, a chef and a librarian. The topic of books came up several times and because I've been engrossed in the life of Julie Powell, a la her blog-cum-memoir Julie & Julia, I mentioned that I was on the final pages. The women swooned, "Have you seen the movie?" (I haven't.) Amy Adams (who plays Powell) is fine, but Meryl Streep is - clutch the chest - divine. Streep, of course, plays Julia Child during her middle years, the years she spent learning to cook in Paris before becoming, well, Julia Child. This part of the film is based on Child's own memoir, My Life in France. I haven't read Child's memoir (though, now I would like to) nor have I seen the film, so you can see I had little to say about Streep's most-probably-Oscar-nominated performance. Most people found "Julie" irritating, petulant, and simply in the way of Streep's powerhouse portrayal. And this, people, makes me frustrated as hell!

Julie & Julia, the book, is a very funny, often gruesome, highly entertaining read. Julie - the REAL Julie, is fallible, self-conscious, under-confident, wickedly funny, inappropriate and vulgar, intelligent, insightful, and unapologetically, politically liberal. I'd recommend the book for my book club, except for the fact that we have one Republican member - a high school friend of mine who remembers her inner-city roots with volunteer sweat and monetary contributions, but still voted for McCain/Pallin. Powell's writing is incendiary at times, and I don't want to anger my friend, Kim. Not that I disagree with Powell, who at the time of writing her blog was working for Homeland Security at an agency responsible of memorializing Ground Zero a year after 9/11. I don't think any of this is mentioned in the movie. A shame.

Another bit that I love about Powell's personality is her unabashed love of Joss Whedon, specifically for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I was a huge Firefly fan, myself), David Straitharn who I have adored since he appeared on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (as Moss, the antiquarian bookstore owner) and in every John Sayles movie I can think of starting with (and I could be wrong here, but this is what I recall) Matewan, and Jason Bateman, whose comic timing on Arrested Development is genius (smirk for me again, Jason). So, yes, I relate to her and her self-deprecating sense of sick humor.

Strangely, I am not a cook, but I am drawn to several cooking-themed memoirs. Ruth Reichl's trilogy, starting with Tender at the Bone, rank up with my favorite books. Cooking and food, in general, are at the heart of these memoirs, but the recipes stand for much more. In Powell's book they represent determination, camaraderie, filial loyalty, and the transcendence of stultifying circumstances. So, I do take umbrage when people who haven't read the book dismiss the "Julie" character as flighty and annoying. She is actually quite grounded and rational. And, yes, I know that the woman has an affair in her next memoir, Cleaving, which sits by my side waiting to be opened despite wretched reviews from the New York Times. Anyone whose first memories of Mastering the Art of French Cooking correspond with secret bathroom readings of her father's copy of the Joy of Sex is okay in my book. Anyone who shows the blemishes of screaming "Idiot!" at her supportive husband along with the successes of a gorgeous Pate de Canard en Croute (boned stuffed duck in a pastry crust) is anything but plaintive. And New York Times be damned, I'm reading her next book!


  1. Yeah, you're much nicer about it than me, but then you write, so you know how hard it is to do. When I've finished my first novel, short story or blog post, I'll be nicer too. I didn't like the book - I found it a bit too navel gazing and poorly written. Her character flaws could have been entirely interesting in a better writer, but I was unimpressed with her descriptive powers, her use of metaphor and over use of aphorism. We should start a virtual book club. I'm reading The Blind Side after seeing the movie in a drive in, while in an RV, while camping in a Recreational Vehicle Park in Central California, i.e. the red state movie in the red state setting.

  2. And damn, now I wish you were in the same room so we could talk about all this more.

  3. Oh, Sarah, I often wish we were in the same room to talk about many things more. Are you still blogging? If so, please send me a link.

    As for Julie Powell, I really didn't think she was any more navel-gazing than your average blogger/memoirist. I mean isn't she supposed to reflect on her life? Isn't that the point? I didn't think she was whiny, or if she was, I thought she owned it. And, I disagree, I think her descriptions were gruesome enough to illicit gagging from me. I teach writing, so I'm going to just say that is effective writing. Is her book great lit? No. But it isn't meant to be. It grabbed me more than I expected it would.

    Now, as for your viewing/reading of The Blind Side . . . I just don't know what to say. Looks like pap to me even if it is based on a true story. Tell me more about what you think.

    Seriously, virtual book club? Sure! We'll argue for days, which is more conversation than I usually have with my local book club. We get sidetracked a lot.

    Thanks for reading, dear friend.

  4. I haven't read the book as it isn't in graphic novel form, BUT as a counselor I would like to take a moment to put in a plug for the much maligned navel gazing. Introspection is a very good thing overall. Too much is bad and too little is bad but the basic art of self reflection and analysis is the basis of change. People who don't do some 'navel gazing' never grow and never change and never consider their actions in a grander gestalt. So, as a psychologist married to a memoirist...ummm yeah navel gazing.


  5. The Blindside is about football. Which I know nothing about so I can't really judge it, but I was curious to see how much of the movie reflected the facts in the book, and so far it appears to be surprisingly accurate. I'm sure the movie and book come across differently to you as southerns, but to me, it's really heartwarming. Of course, I worry about poor children endlessly, so any store of one being cared for is a load off my mind.

    As far as Julie Powell and MTAOFC, part of my dismay was her lack of application to the cookbook. I love that cookbook and a book about doing the recipes in that cookbook should have been fantastic for me - but she didn't talk about things like the way industrial agriculture has made it impossible to get an old rooster to make coq au vin appropriately or that industrial eggs don't make souffles as tasty as they should be. Also, she didn't get into the science of the food - it was more like, "okay and then I killed myself trying to make this next recipe" So what. It could have been "okay and then I killed myself trying to run a 5 minute mile." What's so novel if she doesn't go into the nerddom of it all? Maybe that's the thing - it's a cooking book for those who don't cook? Ruth Reichl on the other hand should be more in depth, foodie writer, etc.

  6. Surprisingly, Sarah, Ruth Reichl's memoirs are not about the nerddom of cooking. Tender At The Bone is very much a memoir about her relationship with her mother and mother-figure and their influences on her relationship to food. It has been a few years since I read it, but that is what I recall. I think you probably enjoy Michael Pollan's more political food writing, and I DO want to read both The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, but that's not what I thought Powell was attempting to do. Different expectations, you and I.