March 27, 2007

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
Nonfiction - Audio (read by the author) - Abridgement
Finished on 3/13/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Book Description:

On a visit to her childhood home in Texas, Julie Powell pulls her mother’s battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the bookshelf. And the book calls out to her. Pushing thirty, living in a rundown apartment in Queens, and working at a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell is stuck. Is she in danger of becoming just another version of the housewife-in-a-rut? Her only hope lies in a dramatic self-rescue mission. And so she invents a deranged assignment: in the space of one year, she will cook every recipe in the Julia Child classic, all 524 of them. No skips, no substitutions. She will track down every obscure ingredient, learn every arcane cooking technique, and cook her way through sixty pounds of butter. And if it doesn’t help her make sense of her life, at least she’ll eat really, really well. How hard could it be?

But as Julie moves from the smooth sailing of Potage Parmentier into the culinary backwaters of aspics and calves’ brains, she realizes there’s more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. For every heavenly meal, an obscenity-laced nervous breakdown lurks on the horizon. But with Julia’s stern warble steady in her ear, Julie carries on. She battles sauces that separate, and she haunts the city’s butchers, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. Her husband endures the crying jags and midnight dinners. Together they discover how to mold the perfect orange Bavarian cream, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the illicit thrills of eating liver. With fierceness, irreverence, and unbreakable resolve, Julie Powell learns Julia Child’s most important lesson: the art of living with gusto.

I rarely listen to audio books. There’s just something more enjoyable about holding a book in hand, Post-It Notes at the ready, the static text allowing for trouble-free re-reading of passages. I’ve listened to a couple of audio books while traveling and found that experience pleasant enough, especially in the pre-iPod and satellite radio days in which I grew weary of listening to the same cds over and over again. (Or worse, driving in areas where the radio reception was poor or nonexistent.) But those occurrences are few and far between. A couple of years ago, I decided to give audio books another chance. I listened to one over the course of a few days, while cooking dinner and driving to and from work. I found myself distracted as I tried to read a recipe while listening to the narrator drone on and on, and my commute wasn’t long enough to make it worthwhile, especially when I realized I’d been daydreaming and had to spend a big chunk of time “rewinding.” (What is that called when listening to a cd?) And then there’s the issue of poor (or annoying) readers. So, it’s never been of much interest to me. That is until recently, when I discovered podcasts.

I started perusing iTunes and discovered a slew of podcasts to download to my iPod. I listened to those as I drove to work and on my daily walks. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed listening to something other than music while driving (read: irritating morning talk shows) or exercising. Then, after recently reading Anderson Cooper’s memoir, I felt compelled to get the audio version from the library. I loved the book and thought it’d be great to hear Cooper read his own words. Unfortunately, all the copies of Dispatches From the Edge were checked out, but I did notice a copy of Julie & Julia on the new release table and thought, why not? I love to cook and I vaguely recalled a friend’s praise of this book, so I snatched it up, brought it home, ripped the discs to my iTunes library and loaded them onto my iPod.

I listened to the first chapter on my Bose in the kitchen while fixing dinner one night. Between Frankie’s non-stop meows for attention and my distraction as I tried to follow the directions to a new recipe (how ironic), I couldn’t concentrate on the audio book, finding myself getting irritated with the noise level in my kitchen. I also felt that Julie sounded angry and brusque as she read and those doubts about audio books began to resurface. But I wasn’t ready to give up. The following day I listened to more of the book while walking on the bike trail; I generally go for just about an hour, so I got a lot “read” that afternoon. Somewhere between the first and second disc, the intonations of Powell’s voice evened out and she didn’t sound quite so harsh. I began to look forward to my afternoon walks, eager to return to Julie’s kitchen and find out what new recipe she was working on. I found myself chortling out loud on several occasions (cause for some interesting glances from fellow walkers or bike riders as they passed by), finding Powell’s self-deprecating anecdotes quite humorous. I saw a lot of me in the author: I, too, have had temper tantrums (including one involving a cookie gun and a porcelain sink) while trying out new recipes. Yet, while I love to cook, I can’t imagine spending an entire year on such a daunting cookbook. The recipes sound extremely complicated, and neither my husband nor I would enjoy very many of these fussy meals. (Does anyone even eats aspic anymore?!) I own one Julia Child cookbook, but haven’t tried more than a couple of the recipes, so don’t look forward to a similar cooking journey from this cook. If I were going to spend a year working my way through a cookbook, I think I’d rather choose Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes. I certainly wouldn’t hear any complaints from my husband!

Note: Julie tends to use the f-word quite a bit and while I don’t usually have a problem with reading it in books, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to hear it read aloud on an audio book, especially when it’s played on a stereo in the house rather than listened to through headphones. Just a cautionary note in case any of you plan to listen to this on your family vacation this summer. As I always told my daughter when it came to the use of profanity, “Know your audience.” Nothing I hate worse than hearing that particular word used in everyday conversation, especially when young children are nearby.


  1. While I thought this was an interesting idea, I was not interested in the book. I'm so not into cooking; have never been able to find the creative spark. My mother-in-law had it, though, and I'm definitely appreciative of anyone who loves cooking.

    Somehow, you've managed to interest me in Julie's journey. Learning to live with gusto is certainly a worthy endeavor. Maybe the audio version is the way to go (with ear phones, so no one else hears the f-- word).

  2. My sister first mentioned this book to me last year - and so I put it on my Amazon wishlist. Then I heard some negative reviews about it and wondered if I really wanted to read it. So, thank you for your positive review. I *do* think this is a book I'd enjoy. I love to cook and experiment with new recipes. The *f* word doesn't distract me :)

  3. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Great thoughts on the audio book...I agree with you, that the reader can definitely make or break it. I tend to shy away from the ones that are read by the author because they're often terrible readers. :)

  4. I thought Julie's trials trying to get her hands on beef marrow was particularly hilarious.

    Ordinarily the f-word wouldn't bother me, but it is different when it is being said into your ear. I listened to the audio version of Stephen Kings "Nightmares and Dreamscapes" (which is a collection of short stories and each one was read by a different celebrity) and one of the stories was read by Yeardly Smith (from 'The Simpsons'). The last thing I had ever wanted to hear was little Lisa Simpson say the f-word. :(

  5. Jenclair - I'll be curious if you like this since you aren't into cooking. The reviews on Amazon aren't very good (at least for the printed version), but I went into the read without any preconceived notions, so maybe that helped.

    Wendy - As I told Jenclair, I hadn't read anything about book, so I didn't know about the negative reviews until after I'd finished. I think a lot of the negative comments were directed at her off-topic rants, but they didn't both me a bit.

    Literalicious - I remember listening to one audio book in which the reader tried to change her voice to reflect each character. I suppose sometimes this works well, but in this case (I can't remember the name of the novel) it was nothing but an irritating distraction. Maybe I need to stick with nonfiction audios.

    Kookiejar - After a bit, I don't even notice the profanity, but it sure seemed a bit much on that first disc. Maybe that's why my cat was crying so loudly. Such a sensitive little guy. ;)

  6. I loved reading this post, Les. I used to be a huge fan of audio books when I walked everyday, but after I pulled a muscle and was forced to stay off the trails I found myself reading books more and listening to them less. However, I have been in a bit of a reading funk oft late so I resorted to audio books once again and I am loving it!

    Wonder why Julie finds the need to use the f-word so much? I am sure it is quite off-putting in a recipe book!

  7. Lotus - I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying audio books. I recently listened to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea and now plan to give the book a reading (actually, a re-reading, although it's been decades since my first read). It's one that I do need to read with either a highlighter or sticky notes. Too many passages I want to quote in my review.

    Not sure why Powell used the "f" word so much. Maybe that's just the norm for her and she wanted to keep the book as "real" as possible. It's my understanding that most of the content came from her blog. Oh, and I haven't actually looked at the book (and the audio was an abridgment), but I wouldn't really call it a recipe book. I didn't get the impression she included the actual recipes, but rather little bits of information about how she was attempting to make each and every one. I really should pick up a copy and thumb through it to see what the format is like in print versus audio. Maybe she does have all the recipes, but that would make for a very large book!

  8. Anonymous9:53 PM

    The off-topic rants and quasi-political discussion did bother me a bit, but what most disappointed me about this book was that I was expecting/hoping for more detail about her trials and tribulations surrounding her cooking experiences. As I recall, in her retelling of that year, the cooking took a back seat to her personal life.

  9. Lesley - Did you read the book or listen to audio? I'm just curious if my reaction would've been more negative had I read the book. I would've probably have liked to have seen more recipe-detail in the book, but since I was walking as I listened, I didn't mind that there was quite as much.


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