Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. I wasn't sure about this one for about the first 100 pages. I mean, the idea is kind of fascinating - a woman (Julie) decides to cook her way through all 524 recipes in Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 in just 365 days. The rules are simple - she has to make every recipe in the book in a year, and she's blogging about it. But at first I just didn't understand WHY.
I thought she was whiny about everything: her job, her family, her stature, her crappy apartment, her relationship with her husband, and on and on and on. And then it dawned on me that she was having one of those just-before-30 crises that so many of my friends had. I don't think I had one - or if I did, I didn't realize it because I was so freakin' stressed out and busy at work - but a lot of people I know, my husband included, had a really really really hard time with turning 30. And after all, I may not have had an existential crisis with that particular timing, but I have definitely had more than one in my lifetime, so I could identify. Basically, Julie is not what she thought she'd be when she grew up, she's almost 30 and working a crappy temp secretarial job she hates, living in the outer outer outer reaches of what might even begin to be called NYC, having a bit of a rough patch with her husband...and she has a nervous breakdown. And this project is what she devises to keep her sane, even while it drives her to a different kind of insanity.
Once I got it, I loved it. She comes home from work every day with a cart full of obscure shit that no one should really ever have to eat (like bone marrow and kidneys and calves' brains) and she cooks it for dinner, which is usually ready to eat around 11:00 pm. And she starts to get good at parts (crepe-flipping and lobster-killing), and she inexorably fails at some things time and again (mayonnaise and all things gelatinous), and she keeps going through it all. She finds an audience, and a purpose, and her self-esteem (despite the 20 lbs. of butter weight she puts on). It's really a fascinating study of a number of things, like the advent of the blogosphere, and French cooking, and friendship, marriage and insanity (and how they all must dwell happily together).
By the end, I was sobbing with Julie when a reporter tells her (on the eve of the last day of the project) that he's just spoken with Ms. Child herself, and she hates the Julie/Julia project. I mean, it's ridiculous, and who gives a crap what a 91-year-old bat you've never met thinks, but at the same time...you've just poured your heart and soul into this for nearly a year and she tells some reporter you're not serious enough or something? Crushing, and ridiculous. I got it. I ended up loving the book, and loving the author, and even loving wacky nut-job Julia Child. Though I still have NO desire to eat any kind of animal offal ever.
And yes, she does eventually conquer the mayonnaise.