Monday, October 19, 2009

16. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

I heard about this book when it came out, and it sounded vaguely interesting. I would see it on my mom's bookshelf and briefly consider reading it, but never did. And here's why: I'm not a foodie. If you know me at all, you probably know this by now. I don't watch the Food Network or try fancy dishes at restaurants, and I certainly don't cook for the enjoyment of it. Also, my mom could never really teach me how to cook. She's an amazing cook, and was a successful caterer for many years. People really look forward to eating at our house. But she's an instinctual cook -- she doesn't need a recipe to tell her how much of an ingredient will be just right. She just knows. But in this area, I take more after my dad. I need a list of directions that spells out for me exactly what to do and when. I don't know when to substitute one thing for another, and I don't like to deviate from what my directions tell me to do. So, this book just didn't seem quite right for me, and I never picked it up. Until I saw the movie. The trailer for Julie and Julia was so good, and I was seduced. Colin and I went to see it on a random Thursday night, and had such a good time. It was utterly charming, and funny, and a tiny bit magical. Having blogged about a project before and currently, I totally got the Julie part of the story. And so, I decided that I had to read this book finally.

If you're not familiar with the story, here's a brief synopsis:

In 2004, Julie Powell was a frustrated secretary approaching thirty, living in a small apartment in one of New York City's outerboroughs, who was looking for some kind of meaning and purpose. Her husband suggested that she start a blog (not quite as popular a pastime then as it is today) and after some consideration, she settled on the Julie/Julia Project. Her mission? To cook each of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. The book Julie and Julia is adapted from Julie's blog, and rounds it out with anecdotes about her childhood, friends and co-workers.

Admittedly, expectations were high. And not met. See, I loved the movie. This story really worked for me in that medium. And it didn't really in the written word. Here are some of the reasons why:

I wanted to read a memoir about Julie's project, more so than about her life. I don't care about the time that she discovered her parents' copy of The Joy of Sex. The movie focused on this particular year in Julie's life, while the book did not.

As previously stated, I am not a foodie. Reading about the recipes and the process of making them wasn't riveting for me. I enjoyed the scenes of cooking in the movie more; seeing the cooking done simply worked better for me.

I liked how the movie cut back and forth between Julie and Julia. It was interesting to see what Julia was going through and relate it back to what Julie was doing. In the book, Julie includes some stories about Julia and her husband Paul but freely admits that she made them up. I thought that was kind of weird. (Although in the post-James Frey age, it's nice to note that she was upfront about it.)

Julie in the book? Not that likeable. When I asked my mom if I could borrow the book, she asked me if I was sure. In her opinion, all Julie did was whine the whole way through. They definitely toned that down in the movie. Seriously, Amy Adams as Julie in the movie? Love her! Want to hang out with her! Cute as a button.

I saved one of the more important reasons for last. In the book, Julie doesn't really explain what Julia meant to her until the end. She does kind of tie it all together when writing about Julia's death and how she felt about it. But in the movie, it's clear right from the start that Julia Child meant something to Julie. The project meant something to her. I really didn't get a sense of Julie's passion about her project in reading the book, and by the time I got to the end it was almost too little, too late.

That's not to say that Julie and Julia is not a bad book, per se. But for me, the story was better told in the medium of film. They were able to better tell the story that I wanted to hear.

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