I don’t read often or consistantly, but when I do pick something up I tend to tear through it as great speeds. I started I, Claudius just after Thanksgiving… but since I knew what happened, I was less than aggressive at the page-turning. I picked it up again on the train ride down and finished it in the first hour. Once I was down there, I got half-way through Triangle, about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, on Dec 24th. It was pretty interesting, but it was also heavy (weight-wise, not content-wise) so I didn’t take it back on the train with me.
My parents both bought copies of Julie and Julia for each other on Christmas. A charming redundancy! I had never heard of this book, or even of the blog that inspired it (despite the jacket copy calling it an “internet sensation”) but decided to flip through it. We don’t have any extended family on this coast, nor anything to do really on the date of our precious savior’s birth (our savior, Mithras)... so lots of downtime. I finished in about 6 hours.
This book was crap. It made me want to swear off blogs and blogging forever. Erase this page. Never type another casual personal memoir in any electronic formal. It was like hearing your own voice on a tape recorder… do I really sound like that? It really threw, in sharp relief, the difference between book writing and blog writing. In that the latter is shitty.
She has a hook, right, where she’s going to spend a year cooking every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, despite living in a shitty Queens apartment and being a relatively-untrained cook. Great. I’m sold. Then she barely talks about the process… if this is food lit, the orgy of details about the process of each step of the way (either glowingly orgiastic or post-modernly critical) is hard-coded (or hard-cooked) into the genre. The few times she goes into detail it’s like… a paragraph, maximum. That’s the raison d’etre of this book! She skimps on the meat and piles on the potatoes… rancid, cat-hair covered potatoes.
It’s also a really interesting time in New York… just post 9/11 through the Blackout. And she’s working for the [purposefully unnamed] commission to manage Ground Zero and has to field all these calls from lunatics as well as set up photo-ops and meetings for the 9/11 Families and shit. I mean, there’s so much interesting stuff there. But it never really explores the job beyond “I hate being a temp. My boss is a dick.” Wha?
The rest of the book is tiresome and repetitive references to how “crazy” her friends are and how “wonderful” her husband is and how “good” Buffy is … as well as cliches living in a crap apartment. I mean, that’s 9/10s of my life and everyone else I know and I was bored. If you can’t get a person with a practically identical life on your side, you’ve really screwed the pooch. The grumpy reviewers on Amazon all seem to be 50- somethings offended by her stereotyping of Republicans and the 9/11 families… which she does in a cliched, not-even-interesting way. The die-hards also can’t seem to get the name “Julia Child” down… at least half of the entries have “Julia Childs.”
The main impression I had after reading this shit was… “you have a boring life.” Still, she did get money to write this book and people are buying it… so she must have done something right. Maybe the failure was really on behalf of her editor for not catching the problems before it went to print. Problems like, “this is a terrible book.”
I tried to actually think through what made this book so “bloggy” and I think it was giving judging statements without arguing her case. Even if the statement is something like “Buffy is my favorite show” or “my friend So-and-So is such a nut”... it’s never really supported by anything to make her viewers agree with her. Things/people aren’t introduced, we’re just met with this new character as if we already are aware of them. I suppose in blogs, most readers probably would already know all the people in her life and agree with her opinions about Buffy... She doesn’t work very hard at writing examples to get the reader “on her side.”... I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well.
There are also “fan fiction” interludes of the life of Julia Child and her husband Paul, which are sexy and unrestrained reimaginings of their playful foodie courtship…. Gag me.
On the plus side, I’m fully motivated (by anger) to write a novel in the next year. I don’t have as good a hook, but reading 320 pages of missed opportunties.
However, I do recommend watching the DVDs of Julia Child’s early seasons of The French Chef... there’s guaranteed to be at least one major disaster per episode. What makes it so funny, I think, and not sad or grating is that she doesn’t break and point out that the pancake burst into flames. She just rolls with it and maybe will make a reference later on in the show like “now, this time it’ll work.” You saw that pancake catch on fire. She saw it catch on fire. We’re not denying it happened, but what does it serve to dwell on it. Now I will fling a gallon of boiling-hot molten sugar across the room directly at where the camera man is standing. Hooray!