third time's the charm - "julie and julia"

it seemed so simple, and so brilliant and so the perfect type of book for me, i remember thinking as i perused--i forget what, probably the new york times--and saw a reference to julie powell's julie and julia project.

a woman who dedicated her year to learning how to cook.
like me. i hoped for inspiration--for my writing, for my cooking, for ideas that i could incorporate into both.

i immediately ordered a copy. or maybe i went straight to borders after work. i started reading the night i got it. that's how eager i was.

and then i put it down in disgust. it wasn't her language--i'm from new jersey, i can swear like a sailor and appreciate the release it offers in one's vocabulary. it was her attitude. whiny. despairing. woe-is-me.

that was my first turn-off.

several months later, i picked it up again, convinced that i had just given it short shrift. it's pretty rare, after all, that i don't bother to finish a book that i've started. i got much farther into the book this time--nearly halfway--and again, i got distracted and annoyed by her writing style. this, i rationalized, may have been because i had started the book all over again from the beginning instead of merely picking up where i left off, giving all of the original prejudices a chance to rear their heads again. i donated the book to a used book store.

and then, in spite of myself, i picked up another copy off of a discount table at barnes and noble. surely, surely the third time would be the charm. surely the information and hope that i had envisioned were somewhere within the pages of this conceptually brilliant book.

so this time, just last week, i decided to throw it into my weekend travel bag for a 3-hour train ride and give it one last try. i started from where i'd left off, approximately. i read it non-stop for 3 hours. and it did, at last, begin to grow on me. i shared her affinity for buffy, her inability to make pastry cream even after a dozen practices. i loved her chapter about her murderous rampage of the lobsters in new york city. and here is where i really found the weakness of this book--not in the tone, or the despair, or the language or the attitude. it was actually in the structure of the book itself.

julie seemed incapable of adhering to a timeline. everything was an anecdote that tied back to something else. and since she wasn't really writing chronologically, on a recipe-by-recipe basis, each anecdote had to be explained before it could be joined with the cooking example at hand. she interrupted her best chapter, about the lobsters, with a story about being home for christmas and finding out that her best friend wants to have an affair with a punk rocker from bath.

every successive example of seriously good writing was similarly misspent. her chapter about preparing to cook for a food reporter--interrupted. her chapter about the final month of the Project--scattered to the winds.

and above all, she doesn't write enough about the food, which is what i really wanted to hear. yes, i sympathize about her government-secretary-syndrome, but i don't want to hear abotu how your day sucked, i want to hear about cooking that day's recipe and how it affected your day. were you mad while you were shopping? did the recipe turn out? what, for heaven's sake, were you even making? how far into the Project are you?

(these tidbits were scattered across the chapter heads, but there was nothing more specific than that)

her writing lacked the consideration, the sensuality, even the day-to-day rhythm of, say, nigel slater's kitchen diaries. he made everything sound sexy. even the recipes that failed were still fantastic to read about. it made me think about how incorporate food and cooking into my daily life and how shopping for lunch can be a hassle, but it can also be the highlight of your day.

nigel made the food sound sexy.
julie talks about how cooking ruined her sex life.
enough said, right?

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