Yet another of the “set yourself a year-long challenge, blog it, and get a book contract” genre — and I’m not even blaming A.J. Jacobs for this one. In fact, when Julie Powell was casting about for something to give meaning to her dead-end life as a New York City secretary, her husband suggested she start a blog and she didn’t even know what a “blog” was. It was 2002, so you can’t accuse her of jumping on any bandwagons that far back.
Frustrated with her mostly directionless life, Julie, who liked to cook, decided to work her way through Julia Child’s tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a recipe at a time, and to blog about the process. The rest, of course, is history — her blog gained momentum, spawned a book deal, and eventually became a big movie, now in theatres, starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell. I suppose it’s that same hope — that something you randomly tap out on your computer for half a dozen friends to read will somehow, seven years later, be in theatres with the name “Meryl Streep” attached — that keeps all us bloggers going. (If you want to read Julie’s original blog, by the way, it starts here).
Writers, especially women writers, of these types of confessional memoirs, are often castigated as being whiny, neurotic and self-absorbed. To be honest, I think you’d have to be a bit whiny, neurotic and self-aborbed to embark on such a project, but the key is to be funny enough that readers identify with you rather than learning to hate you. Julie Powell walked a fine line with me — I enjoyed her writing, but there were a lot of times when I wanted to shake her (and that was all before she got the amazing book deal). It’s hard to see how her project would have contributed to her overall quality of life if she hadn’t scored that deal — I kept thinking she’d have been better off to take a trade school course in something that interested her or at least try to parlay the cooking thing into a restaurant job.
But, all things work together for good, at least in some cases, and the book ends happily, with Julie quitting her boring day job to sit around in her pajamas and write. As for the rest of us, we know a little more about French cooking and Julia Child, and hopefully we’re inspired to be a little more creative in our own kitchens. Nothing on earth would entice me to crack open a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I won’t be trying any recipes involving brains or any other organs — but even I was stirred to the point of thinking, “Maybe I should try a FEW new recipes out of my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, now that the kids are a little older and a little more open to the idea of foods touching each other.” Maybe not all Julia Child might have dreamed of, but hey, I have to start somewhere.
Even if it’s unlikely to get me a book deal.