For the sake of not giving anything away to those who have neither read the book or seen the movie, and for the sake of not boring those who have, I’ll try to keep the description brief. Actually, there isn’t much to give away. This is not exactly a plot-based book, which isn’t intended as an insult at all. It’s a memoir. You read it for the joy of the language and the humor. If you want mega-plot and uber-suspense, go read Tom Clancy. (Not that I have anything against Tom Clancy. I think The Hunt for Red October is a classic.)
The situation is this: a young woman from New York City, Julie Powell, is in the emotional doldrums at age 29, and decides that what she needs is a Project (note capital letter). She decides she will cook her way through all 500-plus recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. Her husband suggested she do a blog about it at the same time, so she did. The book is almost equally about the cooking and the blog.
Today, you have to be a complete Neanderthal to even want to cook from what Julie soon abbreviates into MtAoFC. There are seriously unnecessary steps and modern conveniences undreamed of in France in 1961. I’m a moderate purist myself, and would, for example, have to be starving to eat canned mushrooms. On the other hand, I consider the dawn of civilization to have begun when grocery stores started selling already-diced onions.
When I cook (oh wait, lemme think…when was it that I did that last?) I prefer to use fresh ingredients–as if there is such a thing in our modern pesticided, herbicided, hormone-enhanced, preservative-laden world. To get a truly “fresh” tomato, for example, you have to grow it yourself. And even then, you have to sit by the plant in a lawn chair for its entire life cycle to protect it.
So we follow Julie through her cooking of various dishes that even I wouldn’t eat, and I’m reasonably adventurous. We follow her as she debates with herself about the most humane way to kill a live lobster (which she carries home on the subway!). But two of the things I was most amused by had to do with the blog.
In one case, a day comes when there is a massive blackout and everyone is forced to walk home from their offices in Manhattan. Once power is restored and she’s able to check her blog, there are many messages from people she’s never met to the effect of “Are you OK?” or “I was worried about you.” And it’s as if she recognizes at that point the power of her words. To her readers (whom she calls her “bleaders”), the blackout in NYC became not just an event in a distant place, it was an event that affected someone they “know”. Given the opportunity, Julie says, people will care about one another.
The other thing that cracked me up was her reference to the comments from the regular bleaders. One of them frequently said her blog would be much improved if she would stop using the word f*** so often. (I’m using her spelling here–I have no problem spelling the word out myself.) Then one day, an article is published about her “Project” in the New York Times. Her evil boss is not pleased. And she says, You know what? I think my ship just came the f*** in.
Now she’s written another book, which was supposedly published in December of last year. It’s called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. There is an exerpt of it at the end of the library’s copy of Julie and Julia. With the success of her book and the movie, she was able to quit her mind-numbing secretarial job, and she went on to become a butcher’s apprentice. I guess finding that you have a talent for mangling lobsters to death while they flap on your kitchen table points you in a certain direction career-wise. I plan to read the book, although it makes me a bit nervous. I’m afraid that her ship has, indeed, come the f*** in.