Ann's Reviews > Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
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Jul 24, 09

bookshelves: france, new-york-city, non-fiction, blog, chick-lit, 9-11, culinary, marriage, food-writing, memoir, 2000s, new-york
Read in July, 2009

** spoiler alert ** This is purely to be read as my feelings on the book, not as a recommendation to anyone. I know that my issues with it are very personal to me and the way I viewed the author/narrator, and I don't expect someone else to see it the same way.

I have to start by saying that I think the idea behind this book is one of the best I've ever heard, and I wish more than anything that I had thought of it myself (although I acknowledge that it would have been completely impossible for me to accomplish with all the wine involved). I admired Julie's need to do something more with her life, and respected and identified with her choice to stage an extravagant cooking project to help her get out of her rut. I'm jealous that it turned into a much bigger opportunity for her. I thought that the struggles to make classic French food in a tiny kitchen would be amusing and that I'd understand her attempts to make something magnificent in less than ideal circumstances. In short, I was prepared to love this book.

I did not.

First of all, I got no impression from the beginning of the book that Julie had any interest in food, or any skill in the kitchen. Later on, she describes herself as a foodie, and I almost laughed out loud because this came as such a surprise to me. I really thought the Project just seemed like something interesting to do, not because she loved to cook. Later on, she explains how she got into cooking, but I still never felt like she really loved anything she ate or the process of making it. And, frankly, I think that either has to come from a lack of a true love for food and cooking, or her inability to write well about it. I suspect a combination of the two. Throughout the book, she describes all of her disasters in great detail, and it's very entertaining. But when it comes to describing any successful cooking process and her happy feelings about food, she glosses over them or writes in such a dry manner that it does nothing to inspire. It is merely a list of what she did to achieve the end result. The only time she tries to wax poetical about food is to compare it to sex. How unbelievably original! No one has ever done that before! Ugh. It also made me laugh that she compares herself Nigella Lawson in their love of life and food, mainly because Nigella is so skilled in her food writing and takes such obvious joy in food and cooking that I can read her cookbooks like novels. Her ability to describe the pure happiness that food gives her is what sets her apart from any other cookbook writer I've read. Julie couldn't dream of writing like that on her best days. I'm not saying that Julie should have been able (or wanted to) recreate that kind of writing, but her comparison was the funniest part of the book.

It also frustrated me to no end that she complained about her many disasters when she went about her cooking in such a stupid way. Of course things won't turn out if you skip over steps, don't read recipes ahead of time, and substitute crucial ingredients. In the meantime, her kitchen is constantly trashed (to the point of maggots growing on her counter) and she moves in the middle of the Project. Why why why??? Why make it seem as though the recipes are so difficult when you are the one making them that way??? What's the point of a huge life-changing project if you are only going to make it unnecessarily difficult for yourself? Was she trying to make a better story by using no preparation for the task? I guess this comes down to the main question I had with the book: was she just doing something for the sake of writing about it, or did she really want to learn how to cook French food? She views herself as a modern Julia Child, someone without direction in her life and starts something that seems crazy to find it. I can see how she'd perceive it that way, but when she's upset at the end of the book to find out that Julia disapproved of her Project, I completely sided with Julia. To have your life's work reduced into almost a joke would be a hard thing to see, especially since Julie seemed to have more interest in checking off each recipe on her list rather than actually doing them well.

I don't want to criticize Julie's image of Julia Child - she's entitled to see her any way she wants, but I found myself feeling more and more at odds with her in basically every way. I hesitate to write my issues with her as a person, but the book is clearly attempting to make her into a sympathetic, relatable character so I feel like it's fair. Maybe other people could relate to her in some way, but her constant swearing and her perhaps more constant drinking nearly alienated me completely. Whatever, we have different standards of living. But as I read, I really struggled to see how there was anything to like about her. She dismissal of her friends' affairs with married men (or cheating on their own spouses) really bothered me, but then she also complains about the fact that she's completely happy in her own marriage and she wishes some stranger would send her dirty IMs. What?! And she never comes to any conclusions on these things - that it can be hard to be married when all your friends are single and can't relate, but that she's ultimately happier this way. The only purpose for including these stories about her friends and her own philosophies is to try to somehow inanely relate it the processes of whatever she's currently cooking, but the connections are non-existent at best. I had to re-read sentences so many times to try to understand how she could see the comparison she was attempting to make. And the complaining! She complains about everything! - her job, her marriage, the Project, her friends, her apartment, etc. If she had this intense sense of "joy" that she shares with Julia and Nigella, why was absolutely everything in her life worthy of complaint? This is perhaps the most self-indulgent books I've ever read, and unfortunately all her blog readers contribute to her over-inflated sense of self-pity. I can definitely understand and appreciate a lot of existential angst, but I failed to see anything that made me like her in any way. Even as a liberal psuedo-hipster myself, she reminded me of the kind of hipster I can't stand: aggressive, mean, arrogant, Republican-bashing, and full of self-aggrandizement.

P.S. I have to add that her inability to tell a narrative without having to insert myriad tangents that she should have expressed to set up the story in the first place was completely annoying. This is a book pretending to be a memoir of self-discovery, but it's really just obnoxious chick lit. Two stars for the idea only.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth I love this review!! So well stated. I do think you should have dumped the book at page 10, like I did, but I appreciated that you read through it so that you could bash on it in a way that I can't for lack of evidence. Thankeeeee!


message 2: by Ann (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ann It was the part when she sells her eggs to pay off her credit cards TWICE that got you, wasn't it?


Jeffrey Reidhead I agree with a lot of what you have written in this review. I think that for me at least, I enjoyed some of the little rants she had about working in her office and the attitudes that New Yorkers have about different parts of the city.

I think I have been on a kick with reading books that have a strong sense of voice. For better or worse, I feel like it did give a good sense of who she is as a person. It did get me thinking about learning to cook a new type of cuisine, perhaps Spanish, or doing some somewhat ridiculous project for a year. I mean, I am in between degrees and mainly amuse myself by reading, listening to music and NPR, and trying to eat my way through the winter as to avoid hibernation.


message 4: by Ann (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ann I can totally see your points, too, Little. Maybe if I didn't cook myself, this book wouldn't have frustrated me so much. Eh... I still think I would have hated her :)






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