Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Art of Cooking Dangerously

I suppose part of the reason for a joining a book club is to be forced (in the nicest possible way, of course), to read books that you would not otherwise have picked up on your own.  So it was with my books club's October selection, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.  Admittedly, I tend to shy away from non-fiction in general.  When I read in my rather small amount of spare time I am usually trying to escape the stresses of everyday life.  Somehow reading the lates treatise on the war in Iraq or the inspirational story of some celebrity's battle with shoe addiction does not quite scream "relaxation" to me.  So whenever my book club chooses a non-fiction book I cringe a little.  However, my rather narcissistic insistence on being considered well-read usually overcomes my inherent reticence (with the notable exception of Sin in the Second City...it takes real skill to make the history of prostitution in my own city so boring and lifeless).  And at least this particular non-fiction book had the benefit of being made into a major motion picture that I actually wanted to see.

Julie and Julia turned out to be every bit as charming a book as the trailers make the movie out to be.  Julie Powell is someone I can relate to.  A democrat in a republican controlled world (though that particular nightmare is over for both of us at the moment).  A woman with ambitions who feels thwarted by circumstances completely (or mostly) outside of her control.  A person who takes on a crazy project just because she can (can you say "second masters degree"?).  And she is funny-with a kind of sarcastic wit that I appreciate (and sometimes indulge in myself).  The icing on the gateau?  Her obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I share, thanks to my best friend Rachel.

Reading the book at times made me question the sanity of my French forebears.  What sort of deranged person is the first to decide that boiling down calf hooves in your kitchen, and then eating the resultant gelatinous concoction was a good idea?  I mean really, who looks at a cow's feet and think "delish"?  Some sort of bovine fetishist, I can only assume.  But while the food often takes center stage in this book, with long descriptions of aspics and veal brains and deboned ducks, it is really the story of a dissatisfied secretary finding a way to create meaning in what appeared to be a rather meaningless existence.  The fact that she starts her journey on the heels of 9-11 only served to underscore the point.  I think that we as a country were struggling to find meaning in the wake of that tragic day, and deciding to take on a chaotic cooking project as an attempt to bring a modicum of control into a world that felt suddenly unmoored makes perfect sense to me.

The irony of me writing a book review on a blog about a book that was written because of a blog is not lost on me.  I think that it is one of the remarkable things about the way that we communicate in the 21st century.  Fifty years ago, this book would not have been published.  Fifty years ago, it wouldn't even have seemed strange for a woman to take on learning the art of French cooking.  In this beautiful myth we've created for ourselves about the American housewife of the mid-20th century, we would have nodded our heads in approval and felt guilty for not doing it ourselves.  Today, I can be glad that Julie blanched, sauteed, and pureed her way through Julia Child's masterpiece of home cookery.  The fact of her doing it, and writing about it in such an entertaining, self-deprecating way, means that now I never have to.  Trust me, reading about how to saute lamb kidneys in a red wine reduction sauce was enough for me-I'll leave the actual cooking and, more importantly, the tasting of it to the few, the brave, the Julie Powells of the world.

17 comments:

  1. You really do have a knack for this writing thing.

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  2. Thanks! I'm having fun with it.

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  3. This sounds like a great book! I'm definitely going to check it out. Fantastic review :)

    I love being part of book clubs as well because they make me read things I would usually pass by with a derisive snort. And true, sometimes I end up reading a book that I want to slowly roast, but the gems that pop up now and then make it all worth it!

    (Here from the awesome Sunday Blues!)

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  4. I definitely wouldn't be one to try any sort of hooves. I've heard of the book and movie and didn't know quite what it would contain and never have picked it up myself. I can't say it truthfully sounds like the read for me - I'm not terrible in the kitchen but I don't want to live in it. Although the Julie definitely sounds like a character I would want to get to know better.

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  5. This is a fantastic review - one question for you though.

    I've heard the book is really foul-languaged in parts. Is it so? And if so.. did it bother you in reading it?

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  6. Great review. I know what you mean about reading books that you normally wouldn't choose. I find that with review copies sent by publishers. They're not always what I'd pick but I've found some great reads that way. I keep trying to make myself pick at least one book from the library that's not my 'normal' thing as well.

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  7. Lydia-Julie definitely has a potty mouth. Happily (or sadly, depending on your feelings on the matter) so do I, so it didn't bother me at all. I'm not sure how much a turn-off it would be for others. I suppose it could be distracting, though it's not like she's dropping an F-bomb in every sentence.

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  8. The movie previews made me cringe a little - not gonna lie. The book however looks much better! What a great review Heather! So glad I found your blog (Thank you Kristen!)

    btw - couldn't find your email address but I sent you a message via Goodreads - hope you get it!

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  9. I think I may have stayed away from this book in the past because of the hype about the movie- I'm so nervous about movie adaptations of books! Your review definitely piqued my interest in getting the book from the library though. Thanks!

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  10. It sounds great. Last time, i'm not really into any non fiction books. But, reading several of 'em lately make me think otherwise. They are great and give impacts on me. Thanks for sharing. I love cooking (guy also cook) !!!

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  11. I've only seen the movie so far, but this book is on my list of books to read one day, hopefully soon. She also wrote at least one more book, about learning how to butcher, which I think would be really fun!

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  12. Amazing review! I've never read a non fiction book before, but I might have to check this one out. I love to read books then watch the movie!

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  13. What a great review! I had no idea that book was non fiction. And that it was written about a blog. Very ironic. I hope there were some good recipes shared or was it just the gross ones? That's what I've always thought about Julia Childs food, hard to cook, too many ingredients and disgusting ingredients. But your review definitely makes me want to read this book which I never would have considered. You do know it's August or are you just that prepared ahead of time? Thanks for the look at this book.

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  14. This review was from last year-the Sunday Blues is to get comments on a previous post that was, shall we say, underappreciated. I think this might be my best written review, but I didn't have very many followers back in October, so not too many people read it!

    There aren't any recipes actually in the book. I imagine there would be copyright issues since all of the recipes are from Julia Child's book.

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  15. This is definately not the type of book I would read either but what a wonderful review. It sounds like the book is probably better than the movie as I really only enjoyed the Julia parts of the movie and never connected with the actress playing Julie.

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  16. Really nice review!!! And I like your thoughts about blogging. And --- how reading about cooking certain things is enough (and you don't feel the need to cook it, yourself). I'm definitely the same way. I read this book a long time ago, and really liked it (although I wouldn't have been bold enough to tackle some of the recipes). Looking forward to reading more of your blog. :)

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  17. Hopping by from the Hop. Nonfiction can be so interesting! I have a whole blog dedicated to it! And I only read really good books. :)

    I have heard really mixed things about this book and have shied away from reading it, especially after how much I loved My Life in France. One of these days I am sure I will get up the courage. :) Thanks for posting it.

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