One of the prompts for the 2016 Library Challenge is to read a memoir. To that end, I’m reviewing the book I read for this challenge—Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, which chronicles Powell’s year-long project of cooking every single recipe in Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My boss Julie recommended the book to me, and I’m glad she did. (Thanks, Julie!) I had vaguely heard of Powell’s project—due to the buzz surrounding the blog Powell initially recounted her culinary adventures on—and upon reading the book, I realized that several years ago, I actually had read and enjoyed an excerpt of her chapter on cooking (and murdering) lobsters.
Now, if you’re thinking this book is solely limited to cooking, then you would be sadly mistaken, for Powell writes not only about her project but also about her childhood growing up in Texas, her marriage to her high school sweetheart, her twenty-something friends’ escapades, and also the dead-end secretarial job she loathed that partially prompted her to decide on this quest. Throughout, Powell displays a keen sense of humor as she shares a wide range of funny and at times embarrassing anecdotes. That being said, my favorite parts of the book were the ones that focused on her cooking adventure, as well as her experiences blogging.
I think anyone who has ever cooked—or attempted to cook—can relate to Powell’s experiences, even if you’ve never even thought about trying a Julia Child recipe or making a French dish. Powell certainly has her moments of triumph as she turns out some dishes perfectly, but the most engaging and relatable parts are the ones where the recipe goes really wrong.
I don’t say that out of meanness. I like to think of myself as a good cook, albeit a cook with a relatively small repertoire, but I don’t think anyone can cook for any length of time without having a recipe not just backfire but backfire spectacularly. My culinary Achilles heel is pancakes. I don’t know why, but I am apparently incapable of making pancakes that don’t look like deformed, misshapen, amorphous landmasses. Oh that and marbling cakes because my marble cakes, though tasty, never look marbled. Not that I’m bitter about it or anything. (Well, maybe a little.) So, when I laughed at Powell’s stories about dinner parties gone sadly awry, it wasn’t out of meanness but because I could relate.
I’ve read quite a few books based on blogs before, but I’ve never read one that directly talks about the author’s experiences blogging. So, as someone who blogs, I also recognized and appreciated Powell’s reminiscences about the joys of seeing her first reader comment and developing a sense of community online.
If you’re looking for a funny memoir, give Julie and Julia a try. It’s a book about cooking that can appeal to both foodies who may have cooked most of the dishes Powell talks about and those who think not burning water is a good day in the kitchen.
As always, if you’re interested in learning more about this book or reserving it, follow this link to our online library catalog. Also, if reading Julie and Julia inspired you to embark on your own Julia Child marathon, you can also check out Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as Child’s own memoir, My Life in France.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter.
Do you like to read memoirs? Have you read Julie Powell’s book? What’s your favorite book about food and/or cooking? Tell us in the comments!