Wine and Walnuts

A blog about eating, drinking, cooking and reading in the not so Deep South

Good Reads: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell

Go read this book

Go read this book

I’m not going to sugarcoat it:  I loved this book.  I guess I seldom write about things on this blog unless I like them, so that should be no surprise.  I read it inside four days back in August 2008, just after Julie and Julia, the movie it inspired, opened.  I’d read Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, the other inspiration for the movie, just before the movie opened.  So I guess you could say that all the month of August 2008, I was immersed in the lives of these two very interesting and inspiring women.  I think it changed me.

By now you all no doubt know the story:  Julie Powell, a secretary at a government agency in New York, nearing 30 and feeling trapped and uninspired in her job, decides to cook her way through all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. She starts a blog and chronicles her nightly cooking attempts, both the successes and the failures.  Before the end of the year passes, she starts getting media attention: a New York Times article, appearances on CBS and CNN.fn, interviews with Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times, and so on. 

Fast forward a year or so, and she’s written Julie and Julia.  Needless to say, her life changes in many very good ways.  

If you’ve seen the movie Julie and Julia, you know the story.  I highly recommend reading Powell’s book, however.  Because you will get the real Julie Powell.  All salty language, hysterical fits, and beautifully, if sometimes snarkily rendered, prose.  Which, of course, just adds to her realness and authenticity. And to her charm, for my money.  Yes, I do find her charming, enchanting, even. The book version of her, anyway.  You can totally imagine her as your funny, witty, talented, if a little lost, best girlfriend.  You want to go out for a martini with her.  And you damn well know you’ll have an enormous time.

The book is funny as hell, and poignant, and true.  She doesn’t hide her warts.  She embraces them, offering them up for our reading pleasure. What resonates with me the most, however, much like with Julia in My Life in France, is her decision to take her passion seriously and practice it daily. To indulge it, wrestle it to the ground, and wring success out of it.  Even if she had NO idea when she started the Project, as she calls it, that success would arrive, and arrive so grandly.  Seriously, would YOU work in a mind-numbingly awful job all day, traipse around the city buying recipe ingredients every evening after work, fling yourself onto the subway for the ride out to Long Island City, get home, cook massively complicated French food, then get up at the crack of dawn the next morning to write about it, every day and night, for a year??? 

But she did do it, and discovered herself in the process.

Just now, reading through all the many, many pages I turned down because they contained brilliant and witty and funny insights I wanted to share, I realized, I could transcribe nearly the entire book here, but it likely wouldn’t mean as much to you as it did/does to me. In my initial notes about what to include in this post, I wrote down these things:

Talk about:
- her authenticity and realness
- Her HI-LAR-I-OUS and spot-on riffs on Republicans
- her initial inspiration
- how the Project changed and saved her
- **and especially, how passion (and a healthy dose of commitment and dedication) can save you**

But you know what?  I think instead I’ll share a short passage from the middle of the book, and one from the end, and if you feel inspired or entertained or intrigued, then you’ll go out and get it, and I won’t have spoiled anything for you by sharing too much.

A few months into the Project, she shares this: 

“It was not as if I began this project in pursuit of the perfect Oeuf en Gelée.  Certainly not.  To tell the truth, I couldn’t remember exactly why I had begun.  When I thought back to the days Before the Project, I remembered crying on subways, I remembered cubicles, I remembered doctor’s appointments and something looming, something with a 0 at the end of it.  I remembered the feeling of wandering down an endless hallway lined with locked doors.  Then I turned a knob that gave under my fingers, everything went dark, and when I came to again, I was chortling away at midnight at a stove in a bright kitchen, sticky with butter and sweat.  I wasn’t a different person, exactly, just the same person plunked down into some alternate, Julia Child-centric universe.  I didn’t remember the moment of transition . . . . but there was no question I was in a different place. The old universe had been subjugated under the tyranny of entropy.  There, I was just a secretary-shaped confederation of atoms, fighting the inevitability if mediocrity and decay.  But here, in the Julia-verse . . . . I took butter and cream and meat and eggs and I made delicious sustenance.  Here, I took my anger and despair and rage and transformed it with my alchemy into hope and ecstatic mania.  Here, I took a crap laptop and some words that popped into my head at seven in the morning, and I turned them into something people wanted, even needed.”

Then, at the end, after the year of cooking dangerously and living largely, after she and her husband Eric make a pilgrimage to the Julia Child kitchen/exhibit at the Smithsonian in DC, this:

“I placed the butter beneath her picture — and then I ran like hell, cackling all the way, Eric on my heels.

And that was it, really.  A secretary in Queens risked her marriage and her sanity and her cats’ welfare to cook all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking — a book that changed the lives of thousands of servantless American cooks — all in one year.  The same year she turned thirty.  It was the hardest, bravest thing a coward like her ever did, and she wouldn’t have done it without Julia.”

The End

There is so much, much, much more to enjoy, and revel in, and turn down the pages on for memory’s sake, before and between those passages, and I know the second reading I just completed will not be my last.  It’s meaningful, it’s funny, it’s smart, and it’s easily the most entertaining book I’ve read in recent memory.  If you love food, or inspiring success stories, or you just want to read something that draws you in and practically insists that you root for the flawed yet charming heroine, then this is your book.

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About The Author

Kimberly Houston

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