Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prudhomme

I may not have mentioned that I keep a book journal.  It was something I saw while perusing Barnes and Noble one day, and I thought it was a great idea.  I had been having a conversation with my neighbor (a former English teacher) about all the books we had read and subsequently forgotten so much of them.  For many books, all that remained in our memories were general feelings about the book as a whole.  We were both saddened by our faulty memories, and so I started writing down a summary reaction for every book I read.  Well not the books on autism or related to autism - that would require more digital storage space than is available to me presently - but the books I read for fun.  Then when Amy, Carrie and I started this awesome blog, I started from the beginning of my book journal.  I'm telling you all this, because I'm guessing some people are wondering why I keep reading old books as opposed to more recent releases.  I do read them.  But I have to get through the backlog first.  Which brings me to Julia.

This is Julia's autobiography and it came out before the whole Julie and Julia phenomenon.  There is probably nothing in this book that would shock you, but Mrs. Child does talk about some intimate issues that I didn't think she'd share with the masses.  For anyone who missed the basics of Julia Child's rise to cooking icon, here's a brief summary.  Her husband, Paul, was stationed in post-WW II Paris as part of the efforts to rebuild and transition a very war-weary Europe.  She recalls many things in great detail, partially due to a diaries and letters and partially due to a detail-oriented personality.  Her descriptions of where she and her husband lived and travel are clear and precise and pale only to her descriptions of what they ate.  Julia starts as a rudimentary cook but as a means to pass time and foster a passion for food and the sensory experiences it provoked for her, she begins to study the art of French cooking in earnest. 

I was surprised by how scientific and mechanically she went about conquering la cuisine.  Her battle with mayonnaise seemed epic for example, and in her first draft of her classic cookbook she was forced to edit down her four page description of the science of said dressing.  She also discloses personal details like the investigation of her husband under an increasingly scrutinizing American government as McCarthyism swept through the States.  He was interviewed at length, having to answer questions from his feelings about democracy as well as his sexual orientation.  Her husband was allowed to keep his job, but many of their friends were not as they were found (unfairly for the most part) to harbor "unAmerican" sentiment.  Eventually the Childs move back to the United States and Julia discusses her adventures cooking on television. 

This isn't a particularly fast read, but it's interesting and well-written.  It did spark my interest in owning her cookbooks as well.  If you have any interest in the science of food or the mastery of French cooking, put this book on your list.  I have a feeling she would have gotten along well with my grandmother.  Though Julia seems to lack the warmth my grandmother had, but that could be a product of not actually knowing Mrs. Child or from just really loving my grandmother.  :)  I have a new perspective on Julia; a determined woman with a heart of pure foie gras.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With Julia Child's death in 2004 at age 91, her grandnephew Prud'homme (The Cell Game) completed this playful memoir of the famous chef's first, formative sojourn in France with her new husband, Paul Child, in 1949. The couple met during WWII in Ceylon, working for the OSS, and soon after moved to Paris, where Paul worked for the U.S. Information Service. Child describes herself as a "rather loud and unserious Californian," 36, six-foot-two and without a word of French, while Paul was 10 years older, an urbane, well-traveled Bostonian. Startled to find the French amenable and the food delicious, Child enrolled at the Cordon Bleu and toiled with increasing zeal under the rigorous tutelage of √©minence grise Chef Bugnard. "Jackdaw Julie," as Paul called her, collected every manner of culinary tool and perfected the recipes in her little kitchen on rue de l'Universit√© ("Roo de Loo"). She went on to start an informal school with sister gourmandes Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were already at work on a French cookbook for American readers, although it took Child's know-how to transform the tome—after nine years, many title changes and three publishers—into the bestselling Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). This is a valuable record of gorgeous meals in bygone Parisian restaurants, and the secret arts of a culinary genius.
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