Author: Julie Powell
No. of Pages: 307
First Released: 2005
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “Julie Powell is 30 years old, living in a tiny apartment in Queens and working at a soul-sucking secretarial job that’s going nowhere. She needs something to break the monotony of her life, and she invents a deranged assignment. She will take her mother’s worn, dog-eared copy of Julia Child’s 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she will cook all 524 recipes — in the span of one year.
At first she thinks it will be easy. But as she moves from the simple Potage Parmentier (potato soup) into the more complicated realm of aspics and crepes, she realizes there’s more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. And somewhere along the line she realizes she has turned her outer-borough kitchen into a miracle of creation and cuisine. She has eclipsed her life’s ordinariness through spectacular humor, hysteria, and perseverance.“
Comments and Critiques: I’ve held off on writing this review as long as possible but I have to face the facts that I did not like this book. I thought I would because I adore cooking and really liked the premise of the project. The fault likes with Julie Powell. I did not like her. She comes across as whiny, spoiled, self-absorbed, foul-mouthed, conceited, and just unlikeable. I actually found myself sympathizing with her put-upon husband for having to deal with her day in, day out.
Finishing the book, I was still confused as to why Ms. Powell decided to undertake the project. I’ve been known to do something without really figuring out my reasons for doing it, but at least my projects have had some form of professional gain to them. In addition, in spite of protestations to the contrary, I never got the impression that Ms. Powell truly enjoyed the project. It seemed more like a job, from start to finish, one she obsessed and cursed over as she did her regular job with the government. Her focus on the blog makes me think she was in it solely for the publicity. As a blogger, I find this rather contemptible. I blog for my own personal satisfaction, not for an audience. If one happens to find me, I’m not going to turn them away, but to write only because my audience expects it, to me is the worst reason to blog.
As for Ms. Powell herself, wow. As a thirty-something female, I should have had quite the connection with her. I adore Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her favorite TV show. I recently experienced the trauma of turning 30 too. I’ve had my own low-paying, low-prestige government jobs. Still, I found her utterly unlikeable. She wasn’t cute or charming or funny. Rather, she was pretentious. She lived for the attention, and it came across with every word written. Even her choice to use cuss words seemed like a cry for attention. I have a mouth like a sailor too, but I would NEVER use them in a such a permanent record like anything in writing. It says something about you, who you are, and to me, can give the wrong impression. I want to be known for the message behind my words and not because of any scandal related to using cuss words.
I was really bothered by her relationship with her husband. To criticize him for his migraines, as if they were something that he could really avoid or got just to annoy her really set me on edge. It seemed like her definition of marriage was to take, take, take while her poor husband gave and gave and gave. Given her theatrics with each cooking endeavor, I’m not certain how he made it through the year with her.
I thought that this project was a great idea. And then I read some of the descriptions of the food and realized that I would never undertake something like this myself. Aspic, brains, liver, kidneys – just not for me. That and the butter. My arteries are hardening and my cholesterol rose just reading about the sticks and sticks of butter used during the project. Apparently, while I love cooking, I do not love French cooking.
In all, this book was just not for me. I know others who have loved it though and thought it was hilarious. Whether or not you like the book depends on your impression of Ms. Powell, how well you relate to her and whether you find her likeable or not. As a memoir, your relationship with her as the author forms the basis for your entire opinion of the book. Unfortunately, I just could not overcome my dislike for her enough to enjoy the book as much as others have.
I do want to thank Anna Balasi at Hachette Books for letting me review this book. I was really excited about reading it, and I am truly disappointed that I couldn’t like the book more.
Savvy Working Gal – I did hear that. It is no wonder they had to tone her down a bit. I've also heard that Julia Child (aka Meryl Streep) stole the show. It is on my must-see list when it is released on video.
I agree the author is everything in a memoir. If I can't relate to the author, I can't relate to their story. Interesting side note; I've read they cleaned Julie's character up in the movie and that some viewers are saying they would have preferred a movie just about Julia Child.
Savvy Working Gal – Thank you. I was a bit concerned that I should have toned down my review a bit, that I shouldn't have let my personal opinion of the author become so apparent. But, in a memoir, the author is everything, don't you think? Either you relate to him or her or not, which will affect how well you like the book. It is interesting to see just how divided people are on this one.
You’ve written the best review of this book I’ve read to date. I also like that you point out it is not the book itself, but the author. I’ve also read Paula Deen’s book, “It Aint All About The Cookin.” Paula can get a little melodramatic at times, but no one could ever say she didn’t have a passion for cooking.
Lit and Life – I fervently hope that you enjoy it more than I did. I really dislike giving a bad review and can count on one hand books that I truly dislike. Even now, I can't say that I utterly hated the book. I just didn't like the author, which is different.
I need to get this read for a review but now I'm not so sure I want to! At least you have tempered my expectations; sometimes I think I'm disappointed by a book because I expect too much. I did have high expectations for this one; think I can pull them back a bit now.
Staceybuckeye – Please don't let my review change your mind on this, especially considering my opinion seems to be one of the minority. It does has its moments where I did enjoy it.
Wow. Thanks for offsetting all of the glowing reviews of this book. I have this on my wish list, but from your review I think I may have some of the same issues when reading it. Thanks for your review.
Thanks Ceri! If you have the right author, this could be wonderful. I mean, I would watch Paula Deen or Giada de Laurentiis cook anything all day long. If you can't get behind the author, then you're stuck.
Diane, I think this is one of those books that could cause huge debates. So many people love it, and that's great. I think I approached it from the wrong angle, being of the same age and having come through my own job crisis. She chose to cook. I went to grad school. She's now famous. I'm not. I think she made out better than I did. 😉
Sorry this was not a hit for you. I really enjoyed it. Hope your next book is a big hit!
Really well-written review 🙂
I have to say that what you thought of the book was why I have avoided reading it. I didn't really understand the point of the book – a woman going through recipes which, I guess, is fun if you do it yourself but I imagined after a while it would get a bit tedious.