Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Feed your soul, through life's banalities

Title: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen
Author: Julie Powell
Pages: 320
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316109697

A few years ago, my husband and I watched the Nora Ephron movie Julie/Julia, mostly because I liked Amy Adams from Enchanted. However, I was hooked on learning more about Julia Child's life, as I found Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci's interpretation of Julia and Paul Child's marriage fascinating. I picked up Julia Child's memior My Life in France and really enjoyed hearing, in her own voice, about Julia's experience living and learning cooking in France. However, when I looked at reviews of Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia, the reviews were uneven and many complained about the whiny and profane manner of Powell's writing. When I happened to stumble on the audio version, that was even read by Powell, I figured I would give it a chance.

For me, the main theme was Powell's desire to make a mark on the world or at least find meaning in her own life. That does seem to parallel Julia Child's experiences in France. Other than her husband Paul, Julia Child had not found her passion or niche in life until she began taking cooking classes in France. Julie Powell, an unfulfilled actress and daytime secretary, was looking for the same thing. Her vow to cook all 524 recipes in Child's first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about it, gave Powell a sense of purpose and eventually, accomplishment. Her blog gathered a loyal following and toward the end of the year project, Powell was featured on talk shows and in print, which eventually led to a book deal. Drawing on her blog, but re-interpreting the year, Powell recounts the struggle to find obscure ingredients, master time-consuming cooking techniques, and the multiple melt downs as she contemplates hitting age 30 without anything to show for it.

I think what drew a lot of readers to the book was this sense that we all want to make our mark on the world. Each individual life can seem petty, like the scene in Joe Verses the Volcano when all the
workers file into the gray office building to do their lowly jobs in gray, windowless rooms. I think we all strive to stand out, be meaningful or at least recognized by more than our small circle of family and friends. There is debate about if Powell started the blog as a “stunt” for publicity, but even if she did, the dedication to learning antiquated French cooking techniques and religiously blogging about it was more than a passing publicity stunt. As for Julia Child, maybe she didn't intentionally set out to shake up the cooking world, but when opportunities for more books and TV deals came up, she took them and became known around the world. I found it greatly ironic that Julia Child may have thought Julie Powell was “not a serious cook” and a bit irreverent, when what I've read about Julia Child indicated she was called the same thing when she began cooking on TV. A few years ago, Gourmet magazine made a list of 50 Woman Game-Changers in food – Julia was number 1, Julie was number 50, but she made the list.

In the end, the book is about finding the things that feed your soul, when life's banalities seem to loom large.  And for feeding their souls, French food, for both Julia and Julie, was the answer.