For Book Club this month, Lori and I have been reading Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. It tells the story of Julie Powell, a New York City blogger (back when blogging was a new thing in 2002) who decided that it would be a good idea to cook every single recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Oh, and she decided to cook them all (524 recipes) in the span of just one year. During the course of her one-year adventure, she becomes rather well-known for her Project, getting stories in major newspapers and magazines as well as TV spots.
Before I dive into the questions, I want to take a moment to talk about my thoughts on the book itself. First, I wish there was less commentary added to make it “book like.” I would have found it much more interesting if they’d literally just published her blog entries. Because she went back and edited the blog entries to make a more “streamlined” book project rather than a series of short and sweet entries, it kind of dragged a bit. Second, Julie Powell is not a very nice person. She curses, she’s mean to those around her, and she’s so politically one-sided that her book is a nightmare to read, especially as someone with conservative-to-moderate political leanings. And finally, I cannot imagine undertaking the task she put upon herself. I’ve made a few recipes from the cookbook in question, and they’re complicated. Not difficult, but involved. Most of them take several hours to make, and a fair portion of that time is hands-on. So despite the fact that I don’t think I’d like Julie Powell as a person, I still respect her for having cooked all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Here are the questions (from LitLovers):
1. Julie has such a remarkable relationship with Julia Child, despite never having met her. What did you think of the relationship that Julie built in her mind? And why does it not matter, in some sense, when Julie finds out that Julia wasn’t an admirer of hers or the Project?
I think it’s weird when people say they “have a relationship” with someone they’ve never communicated with. (I think it’s completely feasible to have relationships with those you’ve never met, especially in the internet age, but to think you have a relationship with someone you’ve never even emailed is absurd.) In that sense, I think this question is silly. When you continue reading it, though, you get to the part about “the relationship that Julie built in her mind.” That’s a whole different thing, and something that I think can definitely be very real. The relationship Julie created in her mind is one of reverence to the great “JC,” and that’s an okay thing, I think. It didn’t matter when Julie found out that Julia wasn’t a fan of the Project because she’d decided that the “made up” relationship she’d created was better that the real person she was wanting to know. And by that time, I think Julie cared more about the task she’d set out for herself (cooking all of the recipes) than she did the person who wrote those recipes.
2. Throughout the book, various people become involved with the Project: Julie’s husband, her friends, and several of her family members. Discuss the different roles each played in the Project. Which people were most helpful and supportive? Who was occasionally obstructionist?
This is an easy one. Her husband was the most helpful and supportive (and Julie rarely gave him proper credit for that). He ate the food she cooked (even those that sounded gross, such as aspic, which in case you don’t know is meat-flavored Jell-O with stuff, usually bits of meat, floating in it), he helped her with things she couldn’t muster up the courage to do (specifically, cooking live lobsters), and at one point he even cooked two of the recipes for her when he knew she’d be working late. Eric was a saint to Julie.
The main obstructionist was definitely Julie’s mom. She was constantly berating her for the Project, and when Julie and Eric went to visit her, she flat-out refused to let Julie cook anything on that trip.
Others that were fairly indifferent to the whole process were Julie’s friends Sally and Gwen and her brother, Heathcliff.
3. Did you find Julie to be a likeable character? Did you relate to her insecurities, anxieties, and initial discontent? Why do you think it is that she was able to finish the Project despite various setbacks?
In case you couldn’t tell by my opening paragraph, I definitely did not find Julie to be likeable. At all. She had a bad attitude about life, and she seemed like the kind of person who is never really happy with whatever’s going on, no matter how good it might look to someone looking in. She’s very discontent.
She was able to finish the Project because it was important to her. Whenever we decide that something is important to us (even if it rates a zero on the importance scale to anyone else), we are willing to do almost anything in our power to make it happen. My not liking Julie doesn’t change the fact that she was a very determined person, and finishing the Project was something she felt she had to do, so she did it.
4. If someone were to ask you about this book, how would you describe it? Is it a memoir of reinvention? An homage to Julia Child? A rags-to-riches story? A reflection on cooking and the centrality of food in our lives? Or is it all (or none) of these?
If I had to describe this book, it would be none of the things the question suggests. I would describe it as a “gimmick.” She wasn’t trying to make her life better; she was just trying to do something difficult for a small period of time. She didn’t do anything life changing; she just cooked some recipes she never thought she would. I think it’s almost an insult to Julia Child to suggest that this book in any way is an homage to her; Julie Powell is definitely no Julia Child, and it’s sad to think that anyone might compare the two in a serious context.
5. Did Julie’s exploits in her tiny kitchen make you want to cook? Or did they make you thankful that you don’t have to debone a duck or sauté a liver? Even if your tastes may not coincide with Julia Child’s recipes, did the book give you a greater appreciation of food and cooking?
Some of the moments in the book made me want to cook, yes. A lot of them made me glad that I didn’t have to cook the things she was cooking. I don’t think I’d have the heart to slice a live lobster in half. Blech! Reading this book, I know that I will never cook all of the recipes in MtAoFC. Too many of them are either too complicated, too expensive, or too “gross” for me. That said, yes, I think I do have a better appreciation for cooking now. It makes me want to go through my own copy of MtAoFC and try some of the things talked about in the book.
6. When Julie began the Project, she knew little to nothing about blogging. What do you think blogging about her experiences offered her? Does writing about events in your life help you understand and appreciate them more? Do you think the project would have gone differently if the blog hadn’t gained so much attention? Who was the blog mainly for, Julie or her readers?
This is an interesting question, especially since I’m participating in a virtual book club on my blog. I think blogging offered Julie a place to air her frustrations over the recipes when she felt like she couldn’t really complain anywhere else. I don’t use my blog for that kind of thing; I write about our lives mostly to have a chronicle of the things my family has accomplished. I like giving my own take on things sometimes, but I don’t think that “writing about events in my life helps me appreciate them more.”
I think Julie would have finished her Project even if her blog had never been read by anyone but her own friends and family. She seems like a very determined person, and I think completing the Project was something that was of vital importance to her, so she would have made it happen regardless of the popularity of the blog. Whether the blog was mainly for herself or her readers, well, I think it morphed over time. It definitely started as something for herself (as all blogs do – there’s not a startup blog in the world that comes with ready-made readers), but the more readers she gained, the more she made it about them. That’s not to say that it ceased being about her at all – it didn’t. I’m specifically thinking about the time she was cooking all the aspics. The blog readers begged her not to do the rest of them because they were gross, but she persevered and made them all anyway. That phase was about her. A lot of it seemed like it was about the readers, though. She even mentions several times (mostly in conversations with her mother) that she “has to post, otherwise her ‘bleaders’ will be disappointed.” (Bleaders, btw, is her smush word for blog readers.)
There’s one more thing I want to touch on before I leave Julie and Julia behind. I found it so interesting when she wrote about one particular recipe, Gâteau de Crêpes à la Florentine. This part was so interesting to me because that is one of the three recipes I’ve cooked from MtAoFC. And my experience with it was pretty much exactly the same as what Julie described in her book: time consuming to make, weird looking as a whole, but absolutely gorgeous when you cut it open and so delicious.
Lori and I are taking October off from Book Club so we can get back into the swing of things with our kids starting up homeschool again. I’ll have a book review for a Christian novel for you guys later this month, though, and we’ll have a brand new Book Club post in November! In the meantime, make sure to click over to Lori’s post and read her thoughts on Julie and Julia.