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.