BOOK REVIEW: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell

RELEASE DAY: July 1, 2009
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown & Co. (an imprint of Hachette Book Group)
FORMAT: Paperback
SOURCE: Purchased

Julie & Julia, the bestselling memoir that’s “irresistible….A kind of Bridget Jones meets The French Chef” (Philadelphia Inquirer), is now a major motion picture. Julie Powell, nearing thirty and trapped in a dead-end secretarial job, resolves to reclaim her life by cooking in the span of a single year, every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her unexpected reward: not just a newfound respect for calves’ livers and aspic, but a new life-lived with gusto. The film is written and directed by Nora Ephron and stars Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia.


I like to cook. Most of the time, I’m good with thinking up dinner recipes – or finding ones in cookbooks, baking cakes, cookies, and whatnot, and just creating things in the kitchen. Sometimes I need motivation. When I started reading Julie Powell’s book Julie and Julia I felt very motivated. After reading the first chapter, I dug out my cookbooks and planned meals for the next couple days. And I really enjoyed cooking them.

Halfway through the book I realized that it was all pretty much the same thing happening. Julie cooks Julia’s recipes – they either turn out well or they’re garbage. She works her way through the entire Mastering the Art of French Cooking book, eating things like liver, duck, marrow, etc. She swears, she cries, her husband helps her at times, she feeds friends and family, she writes on her blog (which was a pretty new concept when she had started blogging). At this halfway point, I realized that while Julie is “finding herself” while cooking, it’s also the same thing over and over again. She cooks, they eat, she goes to her day job, people notice her blog and she experiences a bit of fame.

After this point, I put the book down. I was bored. She cooked. She wasn’t a cleaner (maybe I’m a clean freak, but the thought of those little black flies in my kitchen, and the part with the maggots just didn’t sit well with me – who lets their kitchen get that way?). She was gaining weight because of the sheer amount of fat used in the cooking. She didn’t like her office job because it wasn’t helping her discover herself. Blah, blah, blah.

I started reading Julie and Julia at the beginning of November. Now, at the beginning of December, after reading 4 other books, I’ve finished reading it. I didn’t feel enlightened after finishing the book. In fact, I didn’t even feel the urge to cook anymore.

Julie Powell is a decent writer, though she does stray from topic to topic throughout the book. One thing would remind her of another and she’d go off talking about something else. As a reader, I didn’t feel intrigued to get to the end of the book – I assumed she’d work her way to the end of MtAoFC and discover herself. It wasn’t like reading a regular fiction book – there was no suspense, no intrigue, no mystery. In fact, by the end of the book there were a few endings (where Julie felt the need to write “The End”. Twice.) where I just thought to myself, “Finish it already!”

By the end of the book, Julie cooks her final dish well, but still doesn’t really know how to cook. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I do find myself to be slightly more capable in the kitchen which might be why I couldn’t relate to Julie. When something goes wrong, I’m not swearing. I don’t let the dishes pile up for days. Cooking is more therapeutic for me rather than a chore (which is what the Julie/Julia Project seemed to be like for Julie). I’m not the best cook in the world – in fact, far from it – but I manage. After following a “how to” cookbook for a year I would think I’d be better in the kitchen, just as I thought Julie would have turned into a better chef than she was at the start of the book.

I’m very interested to watch the movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams – perhaps it’ll keep my interest more than the book did.

On another note, at the end of the book there is an excerpt from Julie Powell’s next book Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. After reading bits of that excerpt, I noticed it was the same kind of writing as in Julie and Julia and I really don’t see myself purchasing it. I’m not sure why, after writing a memoir about food, Julie would write yet another memoir about food. Instead of working her way through a cookbook, she’s discovering herself as a butcher. Wow. Maybe she’s just trying to stretch out those 15 minutes of fame.

I think I would give the book 2 stars out of 5. Now, we’ll see how the movie fares.

EDIT: Today I watched the movie Julie & Julia and liked it a lot better than the book. Personally, I was drawn to Julie’s character in the movie and felt like I could connect with her, rather than the Julie who wrote the book. I had read a few reviews where people said Julia Child’s character was more likeable than Julie’s, but I found her annoying. I think it was the lilt of her voice, but maybe that’s me. I was happy that the movie seemed to be more about the food and that the lives of these two women was prominent, but not right there in the forefront – the food was always showcased. One big difference I noticed was that Julie seemed to know how to cook at the end and there was a lot less screw ups with working her way through the book than there was in the novel. In fact, the only one I can recall is when she attempted the aspic. She also kept a very clean house. Jane Lynch playing Julia’s sister was awesome – their interaction was very good! Anyway, the movie was way better than the book and I’d highly recommend it!


My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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