Julie Powell is 30-years-old, living in a rundown 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 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. With Julia's stern warble always in her ear, Julie haunts the local butcher, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. She sends her husband on late-night runs for yet more butter and rarely serves dinner before midnight. She discovers how to mold the perfect Orange Bavarian, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the intense pleasure of eating liver.
And somewhere along the line she realizes she has turned her kitchen into a miracle of creation and cuisine. She has eclipsed her life's ordinariness through spectacular humor, hysteria, and perseverance.
©2005 Julie Powell; (P)2005 Time Warner AudioBooks
"Both home cooks and devotees of Bridget Jones - style dishing will be caught up in Powell's funny, sharp-tongued, but generous writing." (Publishers Weekly)
This book has induced several full-blown belly laughs as I listen with my headphones on, making my husband wonder what I could possibly be listening to. When I tell him it's about a woman who is cooking her way through a Julia Child cookbook, he looks nonplussed. The author, Julie Powell, reads her own work very well; her intonation and comedic timing are dead on. She is very irreverent ( I love how she refers to Julia Child as "JC"!) and does have a fairly foul mouth, but I have to say that I find this refreshing. So many foodie books seem to take themselves all too seriously. Like my favorite food writer Ruth Reichl, Julie Powell shows that she loves food but isn't a Food Snob. I can't wait to get back to the book as I potter around my kitchen.
I was attracted to this book because of its author's desperation to find meaning in her life--and the creative approach she took to resolving this all-too-common symptom of our empty-calorie society. Happily, I was not disappointed. The desperation of a bright young woman about to hit 30 who's mired in a life that's much too small for her is palpably felt in this book's prose, as well as in the author's voice (She's both a talented writer and an expressive reader). That she chose a formidable French cookery tome by Julia Child to prove her mettle is both highly entertaining and metaphorically satisfying. Her "hunger" for acknowledgment, for a proving ground, for salvation is gradually sated as she checks off one of Child?s bizarre and intimidating recipes after another. As the author records her personal and culinary failures and triumphs in a blog, she begins to attract dedicated fans, as well as CBS Nightly News, CNN, The New York Times, and a major book publisher. With her journey complete and the rewards more lavish than she could possibly have dreamed, she assumes the status of authentic mythological heroine very much like the archetype described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. To complain that the book contains too little food-related content is to miss its compelling point. This is a book about emotional and spiritual hunger that satiates on every level.
I was surprised and pleased by how much I enjoyed this title. Most of the author's commentary was witty and funny, and only occasionally marred by the unnecessarily childish vulgar language that better suits a blog perhaps than a book.
My biggest problem is not with the author as author, but rather with the author as narrator or perhaps the lack of appropriate directing/editing which is characteristic of not only this audiobook, but most audiobooks based on any significant percentage of French vocabulary.
How much extra time and expense would it take to consult a French dictionary or even just a French person and get some phonetic spelling to permit French words to be pronounced with some resemblance to French?
The whole purpose of listening to an audiobook is to HEAR the text. This is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE when no attempt is made to pronounce an entire specialized vocabulary within the book correctly. Further, there is no point in recording a book with lots of French words in it if they are mispronounced--the author might as well use English words if she didn't need the French ones in the text-and if she did need the French words then she ought to have learned how to pronounce them correctly for the audiobook.
If people don't speak French they can at least look the words up when they see them written on the page, but for those who actually DO speak French, there is no way to solve the problem of figuring out a mispronounced word in an audiobook. I think the producer, director, editor, whomever ought to be responsible for making sure an audiobook with this much French vocabulary is comprehensible to those who listen and want to understand what they hear.
It took me a few minutes to warm up to Julie, but once I did I was cheering for her until the end! This is a wonderfully written, funny, quirky tale of an everyday girl, stuck in an everyday job, who has an inspiration that turns her life around. Julie is me, you, and every other person going through the motions of life and looking for something a little more. You will laugh out loud and want more.
It took me a good 30 minutes to let go of my expectations for this book and let it be what it is: a witty exploration of one woman's "help I'm turning 30 and have no life" journey, with Julia Child as savior. It's a plus to have the author read her own work -- if you can ignore the frequent "up-swing" that peppers the reading -- and her observations never get mired in self-pity or whining. Powell has a remarkable ability to be self-deprecating and fetching while she explores a year of difficulties. You learn more about her circle of friends, and her circle of reality, than you do actual cooking. And it works.
That being said, its downside is Powell's tendency to become a bit too self-centered (IMHO), and lose perspective (I can only hope that her brief albeit breezy treatment of 9/11 and the despair of victims' families was meant to be just that, breezy, and not callous). The premise -- the "Project" and its intensity, the ways its demands took over the Powells' life -- is clever and compelling. Eventually, however, I found myself shouting (to my iPod)what it took Powell's husband 11 months to say: "It's only mayonnaise!"
In sum, an enjoyable memoir... if you don't mind the distraction of a 20-Something's navel-gazing (oh yeah: and lots of self-conscious use of the F-word).
I enjoyed listening to this book quite a bit. I'm one of those that simply must read a book before I see a film, and since I have wanted to see the film I had to "read" the book. I think the fact that the author is narrating her own work is wonderful and adds to the audible experience. A nice, easy listen when you need a break from heavier novels.
There's always time for reading
In addition to being a witty, honest memoir about a young woman finding her way in the world via her kitchen (with the help of JC, as she so wryly puts it), it is also a great window on the world of "blogs." The fact that Julie Powell is also the narrator adds tremendous value--she is a great reader and knows just how to time her words. Warning: it is a bit explicit, but, personally, I think that adds to the honesty of the book
I got hooked from the words, but the audio track is excellent. I do not know much about french cooking, but I was learning and experiencing all her pleasures and failures. It is a great audio book.
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