Sunday, May 23, 2021

Book Review: 'Julie & Julia' by Julie Powell

✰✰✰ Julie Powell is just your average, bored secretary in New York City. As she approaches her thirtieth birthday, she's feeling extra dumpy. Faced with few prospects and a mother nagging her about her biological clock, Julie is looking for a change. But what?

One night after an especially soul crushing day, Julie whips up a simple potato soup that just happens to be Julia Child's recipe for Potage Parmentier. And just like that, Julie and her husband come up with an idea. Why not cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck and blog about it? It was a win-win idea. Not only would they get to eat French food, but Julie would learn cooking techniques, and be able to write about it. And so, the Julie/Julia Project was born.

But as with Potage Parmentier, the project wasn't as easy as it sounded. Cooking 524 recipes in one year would prove to be hard work. Julie worked full-time and ingredients were sometimes hard to find. Little by little, people began to read her blog. And despite her use of snarky, foul language, brutal honesty, and some mean spirited comments, Julie began to learn. Not only did she learn about French food, but through taking chances and trying new things, like eggs, she began to grow as a person. The result is humorous a book about being yourself and perseverance.

The Bottom Line: Although the concept is interesting, Powell's liberal use of foul language and whining was difficult to read through.  As she writes about herself, her friends, and her family, Powell seems to have no filter. She  complains throughout the book; and yet there are a few interesting observations and, of course, tantalizing tidbits about Julia and Paul Child before Julia became a celebrity chef.

At the time she worked her way through Julia Child's recipes, blogging was new and perhaps being able to connect with readers near and far was a novelty. Stories about Powell's friends make the book mildly  entertaining. Was the Julie/Julia Project a stunt or was Powell serious about French cooking? No one can say, but the author. Some fans of culinary biographies might enjoy this.

Book Club Notes: Prior to our actual discussion I heard grumblings about this book in particular. While many had previously viewed the movie, which received rave reviews, the book just couldn't compare. First, the language: Powell swears like a sailor. Second, the complaining:  Powell just doesn't seem like a happy person. Third, the project: Sometimes it did indeed sound like a stunt as Powell seemed to lack sincerity. Nevertheless, Powell did hit on a cool idea and had the persistence to complete the challenge she set for herself. As a group we discussed how Powell did seem to be very honest in her feelings, and there appeared to be some personal growth by the end of the book.

While the book was not a hit with us, the movie was enjoyed by all. We agreed that Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julie Child was phenomenal, and Amy Adams was adorable in her role as the author. What made the movie great was that screen time was almost evenly split between Julia Child and Julie Powell. Additionally, the movie was able to highlight similarities between the two women that wasn't so evident in the book. If you are looking for an entertaining & humorous film, check out Julie & Julia. By the way, the food in the film looks yummy, so it's a good idea to have some snacks on hand before you begin viewing.

All in all, our book club discussion was animated and fun. We gave the movie an average rating of 4.25 (on a scale of  1 - 5, with 5 being the highest). The book didn't fair so well with an average rating of only 3.

On a final note, our group has been meeting via Zoom for almost a year now, so technical challenges are few. We still have to work on making sure everyone gets their fair share of time to speak in our shortened meeting though. 

Discussion questions can be found at the Theology of Work Project, LitLovers, and StudyLib

For information about where Powell is now, visit 

And those interested in taking a look at the original blog can find it via the Internet Archive WayBack Machine here

Details: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. Paperback published by Back Bay Books in 2006 and includes a Reading Group Guide. 310 p. ISBN: 978-0-316-01326-0 

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