Monday, September 6, 2010
The Julie/Julia Project: A Book, Movie, and Inspiration
Anyone read this book?
It's a memoir. In case you're one of those who hasn't heard of the book, or at the very least heard of the movie staring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, the book is about a woman named Julie who, in a state of depression and frustration, decides to turn her life around by cooking through the entire Mastering the Art of Fine Cooking by Julia Child.
She began the Julie/Julia Project in conjunction with a blog... this being in the days before blogger and livejournal and the onslaught of blogdom. And by half way through the book, I wish I'd just read the blog instead of the book that it's based on.
I'm conflicted, so far. It doesn't read like a story, which maybe is a hallmark of a memoir. It's sort of chronological, but then again, not really at all. There's not really a plot, save the cookbook, which isn't exactly plot-rich. There are relationships: her husband, her brother and parents, a few stray friends, a business colleague or two mentioned by name, but none of these characters very fully developed. They pop in here and there but without purpose other than to serve food to. As a person who writer, and reads, to get to know characters, this bugs me a little.
Despite what the movie might allude to, the book itself features almost nothing of Julia Child herself. There isn't the grand flipping back and forth, and the only little snippets you get of Julia's life are before she really learns to cook. I think what I'm learning in the book is that I want to read a book about Julia Child.
The writer herself isn't that likable, either, which is hard to say because since she wrote the book and it's about her, shouldn't it make her to be likable? Does that mean she's really self-deprecating, a quality that usually balances out most other faults? But I don't think she is. I think she's just opinionated and critical and judgmental and a bit bitter, and unafraid to admit that. And some of that rubs me the wrong way. Others who agree with her might not find it grating, though. I found it interesting how endearing the movie made Julie: weepy at the 9/11 calls, bonded with co-workers, either happy or sad, but rarely bitter and angry in an ugly sort of way; this is not the Julie of the book at all.
Still, I find the book unputdownable. There is something about a memoir that forgives a great amount of lack, because it's real, and because you as a reader know it's real. I'm intensely interested in people and in their lives (hence my DVR schedule of reality TV). I like people watching, and so a memoir is that. And Julie writes in such a way that makes you feel as though you are getting to watch her as she goes through her days. Not the high points of a life, the awards and political appointments and dramatic moments of a celebrity memoir, but the minutia of the day-day-day we all struggle with, and her unique way of dealing with it.
I will say there were chapters that gave me nightmares. I woke one night this past week feeling queasy and sick and ran to the bathroom. My head pounding, the tile cool against my cheek, all I could think of was aspic. The mental image of making aspic, the smell of aspic, the color of it and the way it jiggles in the pan, of blue eggs soaked in red wine resting in the middle of it. And I realized I'd been dreaming of the chapter of eggs and aspics, and it had made me literally sick.
I slunk back to bed, still feeling ill, and hoping in the morning I, like Julie, would turn the chapter on that and head into something better and more tasty.
I don't think reading Julie and Julia would be especially inspirational to most people in the area of the art of mastering French cooking. I've heard great things about French food, but after reading this book, I certainly don't feel like eating it. The recipes she chose to include in the book, I can only surmise because they are the most dramatic, are ones which include calves feet and creamed livers and bone marrow. I want to know more about Julia Child, but I don't care to pick up the cookbook!
Still, motivation still comes because I love cooking, and because the cooking itself, while seeming to drive Julie and her husband to madness, is also her salvation and sanity. And so, the book buzzing in my brain, I decided to bake scones for my childrens' teachers on the first day of school.
I've only baked scones with Bisquick before, so I hunted the most complex recipe with five stars I could find on google, gathered supplies, and set out to be my own Julie/Julia.
I didn't save my life through them. I didn't find myself or make my miserable life less miserable. I didn't accomplish any great feat or gather media attention or get a book deal or garner tons of dedicated blog readers through it, but I did make delicious blueberry scones. And today I think I'll try orange and cranberry, and some chocolate chip ones.
Because, while Julie the blogger/author would move on to the next recipe, a deadline in hand, I have all the time in the world to perfect and hone my scones. And I think that's exactly what Julia Child might do.
** Okay, I finished the book, and near the end there are maggots. MAGGOTS!! Oh yeah, like I won't have graphic nightmares about that description. So after thoroughly cleaning and cloroxing my own kitchen, I set about keeping the nighttime nausea at bay by slow cooking ribs with steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes. I knew that Julie and Julia would know what to do with all those juices in the bottom of the ribs, whipping it together with butter and cream and mushrooms and onions and artichokes and other things I can't even remember to make some delectable gravy. I, however, am not Julie or Julia, so I threw it away. And made more scones.