Dianne's Reviews > Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
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Jan 16, 11

Read in December, 2010

I try to avoid ad hominem comments about authors. I prefer to discuss the merits of their work and avoid speculating on their merits as human beings. But when the book at hand is a memoir, and when the author seems set on showing, nay, magnifying, all her ugliest traits, it really is hard to know where the boundary between the work and the author begins.

So let's just say, I found this book a very ugly read, relieved only by a few bright spots of genuinely good food writing.

When the book opens, Julie Powell, who is herself on the verge of a minor meltdown, observes a homeless person in the New York City subway having what appears to be a major psychotic breakdown. A typical response from a city denizen would be total avoidance; a more mature thinker might use this as an opportunity to reflect on the fragile tissue that separates normal unhappiness from pathology. Powell does neither. Instead, she fixates on the "loon" and forces the reader to fixate, too, for two pages of rather vicious description of the poor unfortunate's behavior. Except she never refers to the woman as a "woman," or a "person," or even a "psychotic." It's always a "loon," an incredibly dismissive term that dehumanizes its object and shows us how very unlikeable our narrator is.

"Oh, boy," I thought. "That was yucky, but maybe Julie Powell grows up in the end."

Powell, it turns out, has a temp-to-perm job working with an agency that deals with survivors of 9/11. A good part of the first few chapters is devoted to mercilessly making fun of grieving people. Don't get me wrong: I sometimes think if I receive one more e-mail with an overwrought image of an American Eagle crying, I'll toss my cookies. But Powell just doesn't seem to know when to stop, when to recognize that lots of the schlock that comes her way, day in, day out, is due to the real grief of real people.

"Oh, boy," I thought. "This is still yucky, but there's still time for her to grow up."

But Powell never really grows up. She seems to have confused hipness with meanness, as if the only way she can see to bring herself up is to put other people down. I gave up expecting any growth when, two-thirds of the way through the book, she compares being asked to work on the weekend, in an unheated building, to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster. If you are unfamiliar with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, it was a sweatshop where 146 young women burned to death because the exits were locked. Powell: cold fingers. Triangle Shirtwaist workers; death by asphyxiation and burning. It's hard to think of a more overblown, offensive comparison, unless it's the Holocaust itself. I was so utterly shocked and disgusted by this that I forced my husband listen to me read it aloud. But that's Julie Powell: so full of herself and her own sufferings that she has no sense of proportion.

Near the end, Powell learns that Julia Child has heard of her blog and found it "disrespectful." When I reached that point in the movie, which really makes Powell out to be a nicer person than the book does, I thought, "Oh, that's too bad." But having read the book, and also having read Julia Child's marvelous autobiography, I can only say, "Madame Scheeld, you don't know the half of it."

In the final few pages, Powell reflects on where this journey has taken her, and her lesson, at first blush, appears to be a good one - "I did something hard, and it made me a better person." But as you read on, you realize that what she really means by that is that she gets to sit around in her pajamas all day writing rather that making fun of 9/11 survivors. I suppose the world is, indeed, a somewhat better place because Julie Powell doesn't have to deal with grieving people. But that's not really growth, that's just avoidance.

I do owe Julie Powell one small debt, though - thanks to her description, I can now flip an omelette fairly competently, without having had to track down a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Jodi Your review is terrific. And accurate. Her next book turned me off from her forever.


Moira Russell She continues not to grow up in the book after that, which is apparently all about how she cheated on her husband and learned to cut meat. //rolls eyes


Dianne My hand paused, for the merest second, over Cleaving today, sort of the same way that you slow down when passing a burning wreck on the highway. Then I remembered that there are more books in the world than time, and I decided not to waste 10 or 12 hours of my life on one that was sure to be bad.


Jodi You made the right choice, I assure you. It was beyond painful.


Moira Russell Dianne wrote: "My hand paused, for the merest second, over Cleaving today, sort of the same way that you slow down when passing a burning wreck on the highway"

//cracks up A wise choice!

I would assume that, like all second books by people who actually don't have much to say, it is all about the aftermath of her first book: what it felt like to be published, to get the movie deal, to go on That Book Tour, &c &c. Sort of the book equivalent of those old rock songs about how much it sucked to go on the road and play rock songs.


message 6: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Thanks for the heads up - sounds like I'll avoid this one!


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