Monday, February 8, 2010

Julie and Julia
by Julie Powell

Available in paperback, Kindle, audio CD or download. Little, Brown and Company, 2009; ISBN: 031604251X; 400 pages.

I read this book -- originally subtitled "365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen", now subtitled "My Year of Cooking Dangerously" -- last summer while on vacation. This was before the movie (starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) came out and changed the cover and everything. (Pictured is the original cover because I like it better.) In fact, I didn't know there was a movie coming out until after I had started reading it.

In case you're unaware of the premise, let me fill you in. The book is a memoir written by Julie Powell, a late-20s woman who shares a typically small New York apartment with her husband and cat and works in a cubicle for a government organization. Depressed by her life, she decides to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, consistently blogging about her journey. Originating as a source of purpose and delight, her challenge quickly becomes an obsession. Peppered throughout the text are scenes from Julia Child's life, as imagined by Julie Powell.

It's always tough to review books and movies of the same work. You can review the book one way and have a completely different opinion about the movie, or vice versa. I think it's always easier to enjoy one without the other. If you have both, it just becomes a competition. I liked this about the book, but I liked this better in the movie. I wish they had included this part, and this part didn't meet my expectations. Instead of being entertainment, the viewing and reading becomes work, a work of criticism.

That said, I'll tell you I enjoyed the movie more than the book. The reasons why point directly to why I didn't like the book.
  • The book contained a lot of foul language and sexual content. There weren't specific sex scenes, but there was a lot of talk about sex and the erotic nature of food and the specific conquests of Julie's single friends. I was glad the movie omitted these parts.
  • The movie combined this memoir with Julie Child's memoir, My Life in France, and wove the two stories together better. I liked seeing the similarities and contrasts of Julia to Julie. These scenes and stories lent greater credibility and interest to Julie's challenge.
  • I could identify better with "Julie" in the movie than the Julie of the book. The Julie in the book was crass, pessimistic and rude. At times I found her irreverence funny and witty, but most times it grated like a spoiled child whining about her miserable life. Also, she treated her husband horribly in the book. At least in the movie she admitted when she was a jerk. In the book she didn't apologize or make any admission of her egotistical behavior. I have a low tolerance for people who disrespect and devalue their spouses.
I must admit, though, that the greatest annoyance of mine in reading this book was her journey to publication. The author seemingly had no experience in cooking or writing, yet out of the blue important people start reading her blog. And then she's interviewed on TV and has a book deal and a movie lined up even before she finishes her one-year challenge. People struggle for years and years to get published, yet somehow this woman with no connections rises to the top in a matter of months. I closed the book wondering "What's so special about her? How did she find a backdoor shortcut through the system?"

The movie made this last point easier to swallow. It was a fun story rather than a memoir of a true person. Julie Powell is not a nobody and I don't want to even suggest that. However, I like memoirs to be of someone significant who does significant things or someone who overcomes mountainous trials. I like true stories to have a point, to be inspiring. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more as a novel, not knowing it is based on fact. I just don't think blogging about cooking someone else's recipes (and poorly at that) constitutes greatness.

I apologize for my rambling commentary. I've not actually said too much about the book, have I?

Or maybe I've said too much.

Final Thoughts: Rent the movie; skip the book.

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