Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Julie & Julia: a book club review

NB: I first reviewed Julie and Julia when I read it in 2009. This update is because it was the book club selection for October. 
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So I read Julie and Julia in the last 36 hours. When I first heard of the movie I couldn't WAIT to see it, and then when I realised there had been a book, not just a blog, well that just sounded even better. And Tuesday I stopped by Book Warehouse on the way to Dj's for dinner - and let me just pause here to mention what a very very good thing it is that there isn't a Book Warehouse in Victoria as I haven't time or money or space enough for all the books I'd then buy - and there it was, strategically placed and bargain basement priced for impulse purchases. I started reading on the ferry on the way home yesterday, and ... done.

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Done. And entertained, inspired and with a slight sense of 'hello self.' Not to mention utterly disgusted by classic French cooking (all that offal and marrow and aspic - PLEASE, people that's just sick!). I used to routinely find ways to simultaneously cook and read, clean and read, bath and read, do my makeup and read. I shushed Cowboy on the ferry and read. I sat in my room for 4 hours uninterrupted and read. I took an actual lunch break and sat in our actual break room and read for an actual hour. It's been a while since I did that - read - no RELISHED - a book almost non-stop in just a day - but really it's not that huge an accomplishment in this case.

Yes, Julie and Julia was utterly un-put-downable, but it wasn't really a heavy-weight (no, Mom, it was no Schindler's Ark. ;-) But it was oh so good Julie Powell is an unflinching fun, entertaining writer. Actually, now that I think about it, there's a slightly annoying self-absorption and whining tone to the whole thing - the project, the book, and likely the movie.

But self-absorbed and whiney and oh so very very funny. And, based on the excerpts she shares from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Childs was a similarly personable and inspiring writer, even of multi-page recipes. There's also, though, a lingering longing. Julie Powell began her cook/blog project out of a sense that her life was missing a centre - she had a great husband, a crap job, a looming 30th birthday, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and no clear plan or sense of who she really was in the world. And along the way - in 365 days and 500+ recipes - she found purpose, meaning, money and ... best of all JOY!

One of the things I always look for when I read about other writers writing is a clue, a roadmap, a hint as to what I can do that would get me where they are. Especially if that writer has a multi-book deal with a respectable publisher. So it was slightly disheartening for me to read Powell's assertion that there is no road map. There is no formula. There's no working hard. There's just doing something you love - or maybe just something challenging - and being brave. And sticking it out. And, just to reinforce the point, I read an interview with two of my favourite bloggers today - the Fug Girls - and they pretty much said the same thing:
JESSICA: We’ve been so lucky to find some measure of success doing something we really enjoy, but it really started as a hobby. I guess my best piece of advice is to try to find some time in your life to work on something you feel really passionate about, even for just a few hours. You never know what it’ll lead to. HEATHER: Yep, I agree. Scrap the roadmap. Be open to anything, because the best things are the ones you didn’t see coming.
Sometimes I think I don't know what I love. Or what I'm passionate about. Or what really lights me up. And I have to say, that's some pretty solid bullshit. I know. I've just not been brave enough to do it. Yet. This is not my usual book review. And in many ways this was not a usual book. This is a line in the sand book - I can't unlearn what I learned here about being really alive. I leave you with this nugget of wisdom from Julia Child:
By the time you have completed half of this, the carcass frame, dangling legs, wings and skin will appear to be an unrecognizable mass of confusion and you will wonder how in the world any sense can be made of it all. But just continue cutting against the bone, and not slitting any skin, and all will come out as it should. "How to Bone a Duck, Turkey or Chicken" - Julia Child, How to Master the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1

When this book popped up for Our Book Club's October read, I emitted a sigh of relief. I was unsure what life would look like in Jamaica, and having a book I had already read come up took the pressure of making sure I had time to read.

As it happens, I have plenty of time to read but have not brought along enough books, and Jamaican bookstores tend to specialise in Bibles, Christian self-help and school books. Lesson learned. Perhaps NL can bring me more books when he visits at Christmas.

Although I missed our meeting in August, this feels like my first month away because I am so removed. And when I heard that our fabulous hostess of the month was attempting Julia Child's  Beouf Bourguignon I was even more sorry to be missing out.

I had thought about Skyping in, at least for the book chat (which is always the briefest part of the evening) but apparently that wasn't workable on the other end. And so I read the updates on our Facebook group with a smile, hope someone took and will share pictures, and remember the good humour and good food that is the hallmark both of this month's book and of our group. 

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