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Book: Appetite For Life, Biography of Julia Child

August 19, 2008
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(I can’t upload the cover for some reason)

Miss Noel Riley Fitch chronicles (in sometimes excruciating detail) the life of American goddess of the kitchen Julia Child in this very long and pretty dry biography.

The book is dry; the life chronicled is definitely not. Julia Child certainly had a pretty fantastic life, doing something she loved, living places that she loved, with a man that she loved. Pretty good work, if you can get it.

Coming from a weathy family, Julia McWilliams coasted through the first part of her life, pretty much just enjoying herself and her friends, always throwing parties, neglecting her studies, eating jelly donuts. She did not need to work, lucky thing. Eventually in a fit of patriotism she joined the OSS doing government work overseas, and there met her soon-to-be husband, Paul Child. From then on, things took a turn for the better. Paul was a cultural attache (or something… I kind of skimmed over that part) and had a post in Paris, where he showed her his favorite restaurants and introduced her to fine food.

She fell in love all over again; with Paris, with food, with cooking. Eventually she went to Cordon Bleu (for not very long, I think it was something like 6 months) and then started a small cooking school for housewives with her French friends. Etc. Etc. Then she and her two friends began a manifesto on French cooking; what eventually became Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. It took 10 years and what sounded like endless recipe revisions. Finally it was published, and that’s when the third chapter of her life began. She started doing local public TV (in Boston) with her French Chef show and an iconic television personality was born. More books, more TV shows, etc. etc.

So, everyone knows Julia Child. I love her French Chef shows, she totally cracks me up. I cannot figure out at all what her voice is doing and when she makes a mistake, she is so nonchalant about it. I love it. I do not have a copy of MtAoFC but I intend to get one!! I also would like to try the famed French bread recipe in the second MtAoFC.

If I were reviewing this BOOK, I would say, eh. Really dry. Too long. Way too much detail. A strict chronological narrative, this could have been written by anyone who had access to all the details. Yawn. I kind of raced through it, skimming over parts that I didn’t care about.

However, Julia herself is another story. I think that essentially she had the good luck to be born fairly wealthy so she was able to support herself and Paul during the long start to her career, but her personality is obviously completely authentic and unique, and that is why she was so successful (in my opinion). Yes, of course her book is a classic, but it is not because of the book alone that she was such a beloved public figure. I am fascinated with her odd bubbly personality, and she just seems so good-natured about everything.

I also really like her admonitions that you don’t have to be all fancy and elitist to eat well; you just need to know how to put those ingredients available in your grocery store to good use. Plus butter. Lots of butter. She emphasized moderation in anything — don’t give up the butter entirely, just eat less of it (if your waist starts to expand; otherwise, have at it!). She also wanted to have fun in everything she did, which is a fine thing to aim for.

She was not introspective (apparently, not at *all*, which I have a hard time wrapping my introspectively-inclined brain around) and extremely extroverted. She sounds utterly charming; however, not given to much thought of the meaning of life (besides, eat and have a good time). There is definitely merit to that; I’m just glad there are ALL kinds of people in the world. We need the Julia Childs and the Prousts and the Marthas and the Kants… as I toiled my way through the book I was struck by the relentless energy and extroversion. I was glad to know that she had some downtime in Provence sometime, my goodness.

Of course I’m simplifiying things; she was an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood and was apparently very kind to those around her, and completely devoted to her husband, Paul, who suffered a long decline for about 15 years. They did everything together as long as possible. When he died (in the book) I cried a little; theirs was a true marriage of souls, it sounds like.

As the book wore on, I found myself completely overwhelmed with everything. All the books and shows and tours and speaking engagements and dinners and so on. I very much enjoyed reading about their time in Paris and Marseille, and the first few years of The French Chef (and of course, the writing of MtAoFC) were fascinating. After that, it just sounds exhausting. I definitely would NOT want that life. I’ll take France in the 1950s, however, any day!

There was an interesting comparison drawn towards the end of the book about Julia vs. Martha. Julia was all about the pleasure of life, and Martha is all about making pleasure a job that must be done correctly. Julia was a bit messy and liked a good romp in the hay; Martha must have her sheets hospital-cornered and her cookies perfectly frosted. Given the two, I’d rather hang out with Julia. What’s not to love about a person who, when pulling hot pasta shells out of boiling water, yelps, “Wow! These things are hot as a stiff cock!”

That. Cracks. Me. Up.

So. My final assessment: The book is eh. So-so. But the life it describes: fantastic fun (especially the middle part). I would not trade my own life for Julia’s, but I certainly can appreciate taking a little more pleasure in the everyday things: good food, good friends, sweet love. Life is pretty good, you know?

Especially, apparently, with copious amounts of “rich creamery butter.” In honor of Julia, I made Potage Parmentier tonight (Potato Leek Soup). Of course, I didn’t have her recipe; and I kind of screwed it up with too much seasoning; but it was still yummy. I put an extra pat of butter in it just for Julia.

As a quick aside, I looked up the recipe on a variety of sites, and found one that called for an entire stick of butter and two cups of cream. Each serving had almost 50 grams of fat. Seriously. Well, I guess the only kill is overkill, sometimes. What a way to go.

Moving on to My Life In France, which I think was her very last book, published in 2006. It looks fun and focuses on the part of her life which I found most entertaining. I also requested her first cookbook, MtAoFC, from the library, so expect some experiments in classical French (vegetarian) cooking!

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