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[234] Julie and Julia – Julie Powell


“I cleaved the stuff out bit by painful pink bit, until my knife was sunk into the leg bone up past the hilt. It made dreadful scraping noises—I felt like I could feel it in the center of my bones. A passing metaphor to explorers of the deep wilds of Africa does not seem out of place here—there was a definite Heart of Darkness quality to this. How much more interior can you get, after all, than the interior of the bones.” [86]

Other than that Julia Child wrote a cookbook called Mastering the Art of French Cooking some forty years ago that makes a spiritual connection to a government drone who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown before turning 30, Julie and Julia has very little to do with Julia Child. Even the skimpy scenes from the lives of Paul Child and his wife interwoven throughout are works of pure imagination. The book is a memoir of the Julie/Julia Project that Julie Powell began in 2002. To prove that she’s not a quitter, she challenged herself, out of whim and sheer impulse, to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook in a year’s time. She was to blog about her progress to keep herself in check.

These people thought that Julie Powell, with her yearlong cooking project, was sufficiently fascinating to draw the greatest lights of food celebrity chefdom, and maybe even some minor movie stars, . . . I was going to be famous! Famous, I tell you! [119]

Good for her. Ms. Powell has certainly gained much more than 15 minutes of her fame with the yearlong cooking project. Food writers knocked on her door, interview hered and tasted her dishes. News crew followed her around the grocery run. But chefdom? Her self-esteem might have inflated too dangerously, a little self-deceiving maybe? What makes Ms. Powell think that cooking all 524 recipes will render her a great chef? Quantity and quality are obviously two different attributes. What might possibly make Julie and Julia a treat for some readers is not the culinary techniques but the various breakdowns and nightmares that threaten to derail her project. Then there is the compulsive blogging that makes her question her sanity. Bristled with self-absorbed self-conscious sass, Powell’s acerbic voice, tinged with profanity and biting humor, does give a honest account to her grueling endeavors that open up new opportunity to her life. The film deserves the credit for gentrifying Ms. Powell’s profanity and abrasiveness in the book, which could be trying and obnoxious at times, especially when she was making fun of 9/11 victims and bashing senselessly against Republicans. (Note: I’m *not* a Republican but I have to say it to do justice.) Revolting and repulsive read.

359 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

32 Responses

  1. Sounds like in this case it makes sense to go see the movie and skip the book!

  2. Matt, I am so glad to see someone else not enjoy this book. For a while there, I thought it was only me. You put your dislike much more politely than I did though. 😉

  3. My partner is jumping up and down saying, YES! He agrees with you completely. I don’t think he’s going to finish the book. Lucky for me I won it in a contest.

  4. I really enjoyed this book, because I saw myself in some of the scenes. The profanity and the sometimes disastrous attempts at making something that is way over my head. I read it quickly and I laughed out loud. All I can say is that people are bi-polar on the book. They either loved it or hated it.

    Considering I took my kids to see the movie, I was glad as well that they eliminated the bad language!

  5. Hello, Matt. When I read this book, there were instances when I felt like slapping Julie in the face and saying, “Get over it!” It was still a fun read though.

  6. I liked the premise of this book — cooking your way through a classic culinary book — and I was first introduced to the term “blogging” when I read this book (and was very intrigued about how to go about doing it myself). Unfortunately, I did not feel that book itself – or the writing style – met my expectations.

    I will say, however, that I absolutely LOVED the movie and came away very inspired to read Julia Child’s, My Life in France.

  7. My friend read this and said she found it difficult to sympathize with Julie, for just the reasons you say. I’m not a Republican either, but I get frustrated with memoirs that insert unnecessary polemic.

  8. I can’t remember the last time you gave a book a “Toss” rating! I have waffled back and forth on reading this one, because I do enjoy cooking and food things, but in the end I decided I would probably not enjoy this very much at all and have decided to pass on it. Maybe I’ll see the film when it comes out on DVD!

  9. Glad to know that I’m not alone on really disliking this book and the author!!

  10. Hello Matt,
    I did not read the book and I am not really intrested in it. But I went to see the movie and was completely delighted: I liked Julie energy and Julia irreverence. And for sure, I loved this outdated version of Paris!

  11. I am astounded by the number of people in the blogosphere who have had such a negative visceral reaction to this book. I read it long before the movie and I loved it because I am a foodie and liked hearing about and imagining her attempts at the not easy recipes in this cookbook. And because I read the book first, I never expected it to be about Julia Child.

    As for the political stuff, readers have to remember that she wrote the blog in real time and without the benefit of hindsight. She worked for a highly politicized organization in a HIGHLY politicized time. Remember these were the days that any criticism of the government was seen as anti-American. Taken in context, I don’t see her ranting as terribly polemic. Especially in those days (Sept 2002) when all the oxygen was being sucked out of the room by the Cheney-Bush crowd who were trying to get us to go to war in Iraq.

    I think in some ways some readers want Powell to be someone she isn’t. That would be like someone going to my blog and telling me that I was writing it all wrong. The fact that she swears and is snide, is who she is. I know reviewers have every right to not like this book, just as they might not like any other book. But I am still surprised at some of the criticism, it seems so personal. Rather than see her as a character with quirks and annoying habits there seems to be real animus out there.

    Then again, if I play this out a bit more, there are times when we all hate a character in a book but the author isn’t necessarily the character, so we don’t necessarily hate the author. In this case the author is the character, so I guess there is no hiding from the dislike.

    So maybe I don’t really have a leg to stand on. It just comes down to whether or not you like sassy people with a snide sense of humor and a potty mouth.

  12. Oh no Matt, I have this so high up on my TBR and now I find you don’t like it and it makes me wonder if I will!!!! Oh what a quandry especially as I completely fell in love with the film!

  13. Kathleen:
    I enjoyed the film so much more than the book. If people think there should be more Julia Child in the movie, they would be all the more frustrated with the book.

    I like some parts of the book, but as I read on, I was just so fed up with her being so self-absorbed and abrasive. I no longer cared whether she would finish her project.

    I picked to read because I was not sure about how Julia Child herself responded to the project. In the film it was mentioned in passing that Julia Child hated her. I perused the book looking for some answer. It turned out that Julia Child did feel the pill about her and I can understand why.

    I laughed out loud at some parts but to consider it as a whole, I didn’t like it very much. The abrasiveness and profanity are a bit off-putting to me.

    She’s one of the most self-absorbed person I’ve read about.

    The movie downplays (thank God) Julie’s abrasiveness and rude remarks and puts more emphasis on Julia Child’s journey to cook. I appreciate how the director decides to conduct scenes from her Cordon Bleu program.

    The book reads like some very crazy, sharp-tongued rants that would not end. 🙂

    The last ones were Valeria’s Last Stand and Perfume. I picked up this one because I enjoyed the movie and that I wanted to find out what happened to her with Julia Child, who was rumored to have hated that project.

    It seems to me that reviews are split in the middle. But the blogsphere doesn’t seem to take it very well.

    La Nymphette (from Paris):
    Hmmm…the good thing out of this reading experience is that now I wish to read Julia Child’s book, My Life in France and relive Paris at that time. 🙂

    I just dislike the voice in which she narrates the book, and the crazy, abrasive, making-too-much-of-a-deal attitude. I was more frustrated than I was loathsome.

    Hmmm…I’m afraid you’ll have to decide for yourself. Some parts of it is funny but the not-so-funny parts fail to compensate my dislike.

  14. I think I’ll skip this one and watch the movie instead!

  15. I’m glad on the one hand to see another negative review in the book blogophere, and amused that you’re ready to toss a book I liked. Aren’t all bloggers pretty self-absorbed?

  16. I liked her voice to a certain degree. I loved her sarcasm, but at points, she just complained SO MUCH. I can handle cynicism but not rude, abrasiveness. I wanted to smack her because she was such a self-absorbed bitch. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that they turned a blog into a book. A blog voice is very different than a novel voice, and they didn’t even try to adapt it with this one. When the rants and emotion that you can express in a blog post with CAPS and lots of !!!!!!!!!!! and ????? are put into a novel, it doesn’t create a very appealing character.

    I’m so glad you mentioned the 9/11 part…that was the exact passage I referenced as well.

  17. I have had “Julie and Julia” on my TBR pile a long time, in fact before I got and read “My Life in France” (which I thought was fantastic). We need to remember that the movie (which I haven’t seen yet) is based on both books. I still look forward to eventually seeing this movie.

    I am not sure when (and if) I will ever get to the book “Julie and Julia”. I have been disappointed in the past with books that were originally based on blogs (such as the books by Jenn Lancaster). They seem too much like, “oooh look at me arent I clever??”

  18. I felt the same as you in that I really disliked Julie’s voice. I did enjoy the parts when she cooked, though, as I can totally relate (but only her cooking, not her cussing), as I’m a terrible cook! But my husband is a chef and he’s very patient with me (he eats what I set on the table even if it’s burnt, unseasoned, etc). But other than those, I really just skimmed the other parts of the book as they didn’t interest me. Especially when it came to those ones where the media was already following her around, didn’t like those.

  19. I found her ‘character’ annoying enough in the movie, I knew there was no way I would enjoy the book. The Julia parts of the movie were charming, the Julie not so much…I can only imagine in a book, where we directly hear her voice it might be unbearable.

  20. It is nice to see a review with a differing opinion. I have seen almost only great reviews for this book. I did win it and plan on reading it but it is nice to know if I hate it, I am not alone!

  21. I’ve never really been interested in reading the book as I’m not really a foodie. Gah, I can barely cook!

    Oddly enough though I really want to see the movie! I think it’s probably because of the Meryl Streep factor – she’s so great 🙂

  22. Valerie:
    I do not know Julie Powell in person but I can definitely say I do not like the voice she takes up in writing the book. It’s just annoying. However, I loved the movie because of Julia Child and that Meryl Streep plays the role.

  23. claire:
    I have experienced with a narrative voice that is a nuisance but I still ended up liking the book. The White Tiger is a prime example. But I am just fed up with Julie. About half way through the book I didn’t want to put up with her breakdown. Poor husband of hers who had to do all the dishes and pluck a clogged up drain.

  24. caite:
    I see the connection between Julia Child and Julie Powell, and understand the need to mirror them on a film. The movie is a more mellow and gentrifying version of Julie. Had she been more amicable and less self-absorbed, the movie might be even better.

  25. christine:
    I felt a bit misgiving giving it a “toss”, knowing that the book itself has been a success.

  26. iliana:
    Meryl Streep is what draws me to watch the movie because I would watch anything she’s in. Then I have always wondered about Julia Child, who happened to have grown up in Pasadena, where my special someone is living. Julie Powell is just blah.

  27. Oh, I have to admit, I’m relieved to know you did not like it! I was a little scared when I saw the post that you would be singing its praises.

    J&J was actually one of the first books I wrote about it in my blog, and my reaction was pretty much the same as yours. Her personality just rubbed me the wrong way and it seemed way more about her than about the food. The movie; however, I saw (love Meryl Streep) and I have to say, it’s much better than the book, thanks in large part to combining it with Child’s memoir My Life in France and for putting cute-as-a-button Amy Adams in as Julie and excluding all of that obnoxious personality of hers. (Note, that I am not Repbulican either, but all those rants got on my nerves big-time).

    Anyway, go see the movie or better yet, read/watch Julia Child herself!

  28. Lesley:
    So right on! I apologize for the remarks that the Julie Powell book does not have much to do with the legendary Julia Child. When I watched the movie in Julia’s very hometown of Pasadena, I had no idea it has adopted from two books. Thank god Amy Adams and the movie script have gentrified the role of Julie, or the box office might be hurting! Ha!

  29. Wow! I loved the movie and am surprised that the character wasn’t a little
    more edgy, or cranky, or spiteful for beginning a HUGE task…the sort of
    what the F#%k have I gotten myself into?!!! emotions. I do understand
    that much of that would have been a distraction from Julia Child’s book
    process and the pleasure of cooking French food.

    Sadly, when I did a little research on the real Julie Powell, I found her to be
    unnecessarily potty mouthed, like a child that has learned a new curse
    word and uses it incessantly without rhyme or reason. This sort of biting
    humor and turrets style profanity made me stop cold as you do when you
    notice there’s a hair in your food. C’est dommage! Congrats for the book
    deal though… you put in a lot of hard work.

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