I was initially a little disappointed in Julie & Julia (the book) because it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I knew it was based on a blog so I expected it to be basically the blog entries bound in a book. The book, though, isn’t the blog itself but rather author Julie Powell’s hindsights as she digested the project.
The “project” was actually two-fold. There was the “cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. I in a year” project, and then there was the “blogging about cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. I in a year” project. My interest was more in the blogging aspect of the project rather than the cooking part since I also blog but I don’t also cook, at least not Julia Child caliber cooking.
While it’s true this was two projects in one, as much as the two are separable they are also inseparable. Without one there wouldn’t have been the other or at least “the other” would have had less meaning or impact. If she only cooked without sharing it on the blog then, well, it’s like the tree falling in the forrest not making a sound. She could’ve blogged about something else or random things, I suppose, but it seems like it was the combination of the two that really made this “work” for Julie. This was put into perspective for me half way through the book when she steps back in a meta sorta way and talks about the project itself. The passage is kinda long (roughly two pages) but the gist is that this “project” has given inexplicable meaning to Powell’s life.
“It was not as if I began this project in pursuit of the perfect Oeuf en Gelee. Certainly not. To tell the truth, I couldn’t remember exactly why I had begun. When I thought back to the days Before the Project, I remembered crying on subways, I remembered cubicles, I remembered doctor’s appointments and something looming, something with a zero at the end of it. I remembered the feeling of wandering down an endless hallway lined with lock doors. Then I turned a knob that gave under my fingers, everything went dark, and when I came to again, I was chortling away at midnight at a stove in a bright kitchen, sticky with butter and sweat. I wasn’t a different person, exactly, just the same person plunked down into some alternate, Julia Child-centric universe. I didn’t remember the moment of transition — I expect that wormholes do funny things to memory — but there was no question I was in a different place. The old universe had been subjugated under the tyranny of entropy. There, I was just a secretary-shaped confederation of atoms, fighting the inevitability of mediocrity and decay. But here, in the Juliaverse, the laws of thermodynamics had been turned on their heads. Here, energy was never lost, merely converted from one form to another. Here, I took butter and cream and meat and eggs and I made delicious sustenance. Here, I took a crap laptop and some words that popped into my head at seven in the morning and I turned then into something people wanted, maybe even needed. … I was being pulled relentlessly forward, not by own will … and not by the people who needed me … but by some implacable gravitational force, over the horizon or buried in the center of the earth. It frightened me, but there was not resisting.”
First, as a writer, what wonderful prose. I am envious and in awe of one’s ability to use mere words to communicate such depth of feeling as: “The old universe had been subjugated under the tyranny of entropy. There, I was just a secretary-shaped confederation of atoms, fighting the inevitability of mediocrity and decay.” Amazing.
But that theme — that we all need “something” — made the book worth reading.” For some us it’s our careers, our families, our children, travel or other hobbies, but we all need that one thing (or maybe several) that gives meaning to the mundane, that makes the commute, the traffic, the early mornings, the late nights, the hassles, worth it. I’m not talking about the elusive “meaning of life” but the things that affirm us as being unique or useful, the things that redeem us, that make us feel valuable to others or society as a whole. For that reason Julie & Julia was good for me to read.
Other thoughts: She uses the f-word way too much and even says her blog readers (aka bleaders, as she calls them) said the same thing. There were elements of the movie I liked better. Early in the book I found myself thinking I would’ve enjoyed it best following along with the blog in real time. However, I also don’t think I would have been interested enough in French cooking to have followed along in the first place.