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Julie and Julia: hope, wit and French food

August 4, 2009

Memoirs are a tricky genre. It’s easy for their authors to come off as self-absorbed, revisionist and/or overanalyzed. So I consider it a treat when I read a good one. And Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia? It’s a good one.

For those of you out of the loop, Julie and Julia is about a government-bureaucracy secretary who, on a whim, begins a project to cook her way through the entirety of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, blogging about her experiences on the way. She intersperses her stories with fictionalized accounts about Child and her husband. Julie and Julia is about Powell’s blog and her cooking, but even more, it’s about her life and about life in general.

(As a side note, it’s really strange to look at Powell’s old blog after reading the book. But it kind of brings back that throwback feeling you occasionally get while reading the book. This was only a few years ago, but it’s an “old-school” blog. Really, really strange. Here’s her newer blog.)

Some have criticized Powell as complaining too much. You know, usually I have very little patience for that kind of thing, but it didn’t bother me so much in Julie and Julia. I think there are two reasons for that:

  1. Powell is self-aware, but not too self-conscious. She knows she complains; she knows she can be irrational and neurotic. She occassionally feels bad about it. I think it’s refreshingly honest, in a way (some would call it oversharing, but you know what you’re getting into when you pick up the book — that’s what memoirs are for). So yes, she can be whiny, but I think it’s successfully lampshaded.
  2. I’ve been a little overindulgent lately, and I’ve been thinking too much about the future. I  could identify, at least somewhat, with the feeling of aimlessness. It reminded me of one of my favorite mantras: It’s OK to make mistakes, even big ones. Usually, the world doesn’t end.

Aside from the whining (because of it?), Julie and Julia is a witty look at cooking, people, despair and hope. It also made me really want to cook something (I’ll finally have a kitchen come September!).

Can the movie measure up? Probably not. But we’ll see. And I’ll probably be reading Powell’s next book, Cleaving, too.

* Another pretty good memoir-style book I read lately is Red, White and Muslim by Asma Gull Hasan. It’s an interesting, easy read about being an American Muslim woman and about the state of Islam in general.

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