In September of 2002, Julie Powell was as lost as lost could be. On the cusp of turning thirty, childless, and spending her days in a thankless job at a bloated government agency in New York City, Powell was desperately searching for something to give her life meaning. She found it between the covers of Julia Child’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. A self-taught cook with no professional training, Powell challenged herself to cook every one of the 524 recipes in the book within the space of a year, and created a blog where she shared her epic journey with others. The success of her blog led to national recognition in print and on TV, and eventually the really cute movie Julie and Julia, where Julie’s cooking challenges are contrasted against Julia Child’s discovery of food and cooking in France. Her book Julie and Julia is a memoir of the year she spent cooking and her unlikely rise to fame.
Surprisingly, I found this book very enjoyable, despite the fact that many of the reviews I read on Amazon were negative. Reviewers complained loud and long about Powell, labeling her as narcissistic, whiny, and angry. Let’s be honest…they’re all correct. She’s not particularly likeable personally, and it sounds like her husband spent several nights during that year hiding from her :). She’s like that crazy, neurotic friend we’ve all had at some point in our lives, (or have BEEN at some point in our lives)….very entertaining but slightly unstable. For me, this book was a guilty pleasure, just like reality television; it sucked me in not because Julie Powell was a great person or role model in any way, but because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. I actually found her cooking freakouts slightly enjoyable and humorous, since I’ve had many myself. Haven’t we all had something go horribly wrong in the kitchen? I grudgingly had to admire Powell’s bravery for attempting some of those recipes and making them edible, and maybe more so her family and friends for eating them along with her. Aspics and bone marrow sauce sound disgusting!
This book was a nice change for me, since I read so much heavy nonfiction. It was a light, quick read and was hilarious in parts (the aspic section alone is worth the price of the book). It’s not really a book about serious cooking, so if you’re looking for that you’ll be disappointed. The book made me feel that any of us could take on a big challenge like Julie Powell did and learn something about ourselves in the process. I haven’t read great reviews of her next book, Cleaving, but I will probably pick it up at some point, just to see how the drama continues.