three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
By: 
Julie Powell
user_rating: 
0

365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

A-JulieJuliaWhen a woman is unsatisfied in life, she naturally turns to the kitchen. Well, this one did, at least. An Amherst College graduate approaching 30, stuck in a dead-end secretarial job and living in a run-down apartment in Queens with her husband, Powell needed a new lease on life. Thus began her frenzied "Julie/Julia project"—a yearlong sojourn of cooking every single recipe in Julia Child’s 1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Recording her experiences in an online blog, Powell started with Potage Parmentier (potato soup) and worked her way toward Rognons de Veau a la Bordelaise (veal kidneys); in between, she killed lobsters, haunted butchers, mooned about food and sex—and saved her soul.
Little, Brown. 309 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 031610969X

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"In one of the book’s finest moments, she gives beef councils across the country the best X-rated sales pitch for liver in a generation. … She’s got a cheeky honesty, a crudeness, a plow-ahead, just-do-it courage that many home cooks could benefit from." Joe Ray

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"You don’t have to like cooking or French food to enjoy the zippiness of Ms. Powell’s prose or to admire the purpose of her project. If our own grueling endeavors rarely bring the insight we imagined, or the transformation for which we hoped, Julie & Julia at least affords us the pleasure of cheering for Ms. Powell as she attempts her own." Cameron Stracher

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Julie & Julia is worth the price of admission simply for its hysterical descriptions of the culinary challenges that Powell met along the way." Lauren F. Winner

Newsweek 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What’s really bizarre about Powell’s idea is that it turned out to be her salvation . … Powell feels an intense connection to Child, even though she never met her." Barbara Kantrowitz

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is such a delicious premise that the book even carries a second subtitle: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job & Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living. Powell’s book has slashing humor galore but also surprising insight." John Marshall

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"At her best, Powell has verve, personality and a flair for original observations. … At her worst, Powell displays the qualities of a spoiled blogger—she can be wordy, crass or rattle off mundane details that are just not interesting." Gabrielle Gershenson

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"When she’s focused on the cooking itself, Powell shows signs of being one of our better, loopier culinary thinkers, more in the iconoclast mode of M. F. K. Fisher than the rhapsodic, sun-dappled vein of Saveur magazine at its most-perfect-peach fetishizing. … But … Julie and Julia still has too much blog in its DNA." David Kamp

Critical Summary

During her year of culinary experimentation, Powell often served dinner well after midnight. Critics agreed that her efforts were well rewarded, at least from a literary perspective. Even though Powell started her project as a way to sort things out—her job, her sex life, her girlfriends’ sex lives, her reproductive challenges—she has all the makings of a fine food critic. If her self-effacing, humorous, even bawdy tone doesn’t always produce great insight into life’s little challenges, readers will appreciate the scattered, small nuggets of wisdom. A few critics felt that the book did not transcend its blog; excessive details and some self-indulgence created a voice like "Bridget Jones if she were a New York foodie" (San Francisco Chronicle). But what’s so bad about that?