R&R 136 | My Life in France
A review! FINALLY! I wrapped up some client shoots and one of the first things I did was get this review ready, because it was time. I will continue to be busy for a few more weeks as we're 4 weeks away from our wedding day, buuuuut I will try and prepare another review during that time! Meanwhile, I hope you'll enjoy reading this one.
Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
My Life in France
First published in: 2006
This edition: movie tie-in, Anchor Books, 2009
ISBN: 978 0 307 47501 5
Cover: Columbia Pictures
There is only one good Jules in Julie Powell's Julie & Julia, and her name isn't Julie. The one good thing
about that flop of a book, is that it got me curious about Julia Child. (The woman more than the chef, I
should add. All that butter, no thanks. But that feisty lady behind the apron? Yes please!)
The only two good things about Nora Ephron's subsequent movie, are Meryl Streep and even MORE Julia Child, as the movie is based on both Powell's self-indulgent train wreck, and on Julia Child's My Life in France, which deserved Meryl, but also its own movie. Alas. After fast-forwarding through bits featuring Amy Adams's horrible wig (e.g. I only watched "Julia Child's scenes"), the movie at least inspired me to get a copy of My Life in France. A lot of butter, but no more Julie. Hurrah!
And let me tell you. My Life in France is BY FAR the superior book. It has what Powell's self-aggrandizing "memoir" lacks in abundance: love, love of food, respect for others, passion, and genuineness.
Child's voice is infectious. I tend to have trouble starting books, especially when they concern subjects I am trying out. I usually read a lot of fiction, and a lot less non-fiction. And My Life in France is a memoir involving lots of cooking – as this book largely covers the time in Julia's life when she attended the Cordon Bleu and the years after that, writing cook books and starting her TV show – and my interest in cooking and recipes has only really developed this past November. I read this book before then.
So I expected to struggle getting into it, honestly. But it was a breeze to read. Julia Child tells her story with so much joy, and genuine affection. I know the phrase "feel good" is used very, very often… but it is an apt description here. This lady enjoyed life, and it just shows. I think that, in another crazy lifetime during which I would have actually gotten to meet her, that Julia Child and I would've gotten along great. Her personality sparks. I admire her spirit. She put her mind to it, and she did it. Adjusting to France, learning the language, learning to cook. She did it and did it well and that's inspiring.
To continue on this train of thought regarding my expectations for this book: I expected to like it. Definitely. But I ended up really, really loving it and this surprises me, today still. I just didn't think I'd be so taken with Julia Child.
I believe Julia Child is the Original Foodie, and she writes about it with a clear passion. Yes, she would often use French phrases for recipes and ingredients, and that wasn't always easy to follow. But I'm referring to food and a human's senses. The joy of first experiencing a dish, the scents one can detect. Experiencing food. She describes food – cooking it, smelling it, tasting it, processing it – in great detail, and with feeling. Julie Child clearly loved food. She understood it. It's hard to describe food and flavors to other people. I'm a vegetarian, and I don't understand bouillabaisse. But Julia managed to make me get why it's an impressive recipe, even though I could never (bring myself to) enjoy the taste of it. And a large chunk of Child's cooking (and French cuisine basically) consists of meaty meals. But Child still managed to enthuse me about food and cooking generally. I'll just stick to the vegetarian edition 😉
It's not just the food which she describes well; the book is of course about her life in France. She tells us about the places she's been, the people she's met. Her struggles and triumphs. There are detailed, lively anecdotes. My deep kudos to Meryl Streep *bows* (I do think she mastered the essence of the person, and became, Julia Child), and like I said this book deserves its own movie… but truth be told it doesn't really need one, because Julia Child has such a vivid and enthusiastic voice. Child's world really comes alive on the pages.
Besides this being a record of one's journey in cooking, My Life in France is also, of course, about Julia and Paul's marriage. Their story is a sweet one, and I'm glad she had him in her life. Like Julia, Paul comes across as a charismatic but very relatable person. I think he made her even better than she already was. I was charmed by their compatible, supportive and loving relationship. There was so much mutual respect between them and Child really managed to get that across to us readers. I think their connection was my favorite element of this memoir. The man behind the woman behind the apron.
And my compliments to Alex Prud'homme for successfully helping Julia Child streamline and organize her thoughts, notes and memories into one delightful book.
It's weird. I don't usually attach a visual feeling to reading a book. I mean, I do when I review books and take these self-portraits. I reflect and visualize what I would like to express in relation to a particular book. But in this case it was during my reading experience that I could visualize something, which is what this R&R's self-portrait reflects:
It's like Julia would be standing in her kitchen, this tall, impressive woman, in the process of cooking. You smell everything. It's mouthwatering and your stomach growls. But it's okay to wait a while, because you're too focused on this woman and what she's telling you. "Whoop!" she exclaims while expertly swaying from one part of the kitchen to the next, telling you stories about her husband and their first lunch at some cozy restaurant. It's almost like you're sitting at her kitchen's bar, enjoying a glass of red wine together, listening to this fun but fierce woman, contently smiling. Makes me wish it was real… but I'm happy enough with the idea of it.