rachelmanija: (Default)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2005-10-12 01:16 pm

Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell; Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl

Two foodie memoirs by talented female writers; two great big disappointments.

Julie Powell wrote a terrific blog called "The Julie/Julia Project" about how she relieved the stress from her horrible government job by cooking every single recipe from Julia Child's French cookbook, in one year, in her tiny New York apartment. Now the blog has been taken down and is forever unavailable, for it's been replaced by a book which is inferior in every respect.

What was fun about the blog was the crazy concept and Powell's excellent, funny writing about her kitchen mishaps and the food itself. Some of that has been preserved in the book. The parts of the book where she writes about food and cooking are quite good. Unfortunately, at least half of the total verbiage of the book is not about food and cooking, but about Powell's polycystic ovarian syndrome, Powell's relationship with her husband, Powell's nasty apartment, Powell's horrible job, Powell's friends and their love lives, how Powell felt about blogging, and how Powell became famous. Almost none of that material has any inherent interest or is written about in an interesting manner. (The exception, oddly, is Powell's horrible government job, which was to collect citizen's proposals for the 9/11 memorial.)

Few of Powell's original (and delightful) blog entries have been reprinted. Instead, in a jaw-dropping lapse of judgement, a great many of the totally uninteresting comments on her blog have been, along with Powell's annoyingly navel-gazing feelings about the blogging process. I don't care what people said to her about her blog, and I don't care how she felt about blogging-- I want to read more of her charming posts, the ones we all loved in the first place, and I was sad when I discovered that they have all been removed from the web.

The book is a smash-- she had a lot of fans from the get-go, and a million-dollar publicity budget-- but the cost was the replacement of a genuine, if impromptu, work of art with a dull and forgettable money-making machine.

ETA: Oh, wait, looks like at least some of the original posts are still archived in wayback: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/

Ruth Reichl's first two memoirs of her education in food, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, are excellent, especially the first. Reichl is ten times the writer Julie Powell (especially book-Powell) is, and her food writing is sensual, evocative, and suggestive of larger themes. Unfortunately, Garlic and Sapphires, like Julie and Julia, is saddled with a misguided concept that buries the marvellous food writing under a lot of verbiage about something I didn't enjoy reading about. Apparently when Reichl became the food critic for the "New York Times," she became so famous that all restauranteurs knew what she looked like and treated her like royalty-- and unlike a normal customer-- every time she showed up. So she began dining in disguise. Several disguises. The concept here is that every time she donned a new disguise, she also donned a new persona, and so explored new aspects of her personality.

It's not that I think Reichl made all this up. It's just that it reads so totally unconvincingly that I kept having to tell myself, "No, really, I think this really did happen to her." So her restaurant reviews, many of which are reprinted within, are terrific. Her accounts of eating are terrific. The approximately half of the book that's about her disguises is strange, implausible, and dull.

[identity profile] sdn.livejournal.com 2005-10-12 08:44 pm (UTC)(link)
oh, that's a shame about the powell. i loved her blog. i don't care about the rest of it.

[identity profile] janni.livejournal.com 2005-10-12 09:00 pm (UTC)(link)
Can you find her old posts via the Wayback Machine? (www.archive.org)

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2005-10-12 09:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks, looks like you can. For now, anyway.

[identity profile] tavella.livejournal.com 2005-10-13 12:45 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, that's sad that she took down the site; it was up until a couple of weeks ago, I reread her entry on lobster murder recently.

[identity profile] literaticat.livejournal.com 2005-10-13 03:50 am (UTC)(link)
EXACTLAY what I thought about J/J.

Meanwhile, the story about the cell phone has gone EVERYWHERE (NOT by me, I should add), and everyone from SF to NYC has been making fun of our hero.

Q: Hey, C, what cell phone service do you use? Verizon, or VIAGRA?

A: Sprint.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2005-10-13 04:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Q: Hey, C, what cell phone service do you use? Verizon, or VIAGRA?

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Best author story ever!