Bookshelf Project 2016: #4–My Life in France
How embarrassing. The movie tie-in edition. I was, honestly, a little mortified every time I took this out to read in public. I’m just not a movie tie-in edition kind of girl, Meryl Streep or no.
I acquired this book on a long ago day in the Random House offices, where they have shelves of free books for employees. It’s a dream for any book person, though the collection was hit or miss, as I recall. But I walked away that day with a tote full of new books, which is never something to complain about.
Though I love food, I’ve never been much of a cook myself. I’m easily flustered when things go awry and I lose patience when things take too long and don’t have the results I was hoping for. Of course, like anything, cooking requires practice, and I just get too impatient to follow through, opting instead to throw together some mixed vegetables and chicken breast and soy sauce and calling that dinner.
So reading about Julia Child’s journey from reluctant household cook to internationally beloved chef intrigued me. She moved with her husband Paul, a diplomat, to Paris in 1948, where she was exposed to French cuisine for the first time. She fell head over heels in love, and the rest is history. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that, but My Life in France is, in essence, a love story between Julia Child and food. (And, sure, her husband too, but mostly food.)
I can vaguely recall my mom watching Julia’s old cooking shows on PBS when I was a kid, but all I remember about Julia is that she was tall and had a funny voice. In fact, I’d always assumed she was French. I haven’t learned all that much about her in the intervening decades, so it was interesting to finally learn about her–how she essentially taught herself to cook in her late thirties, taking courses at Le Cordon Bleu and experimenting in her own kitchen as much as she could while her husband was busy working. Her family was wealthy, and because she didn’t have children, she had ample free time, but she also built a name for herself with her ambition and charm and curiosity and determination.
When I first started the book, I was disappointed in how superficial it seemed. The book was actually written with the assistance of Alex Proud’homme, one of Julia’s great-nephews, when Julia was already in her nineties (she didn’t live to see its publication). Much of it was based on letters Julia & Paul had sent to friends & family during their time abroad, and the vignettes that Julia recollected to Alex. Julia’s voice is authentic–lots of “Oh phooey!” and “What a treat!”–but the book doesn’t linger too much on the realities of post-war life in France, the Communist witch hunt her husband was subjected to in his government work, her inability to have children, her mother’s death, her fraught relationship with her father, and what it was like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Rather, there are exhaustive accounts of multi-course meals, down to the year of the bottle of wine consumed, and lots of gushing about how spectacular life was in France.
Once I settled into the book and let it be what it was, I enjoyed it more. If you’re looking for dirt about Julia, you’ve got to read Bob Spitz’s daunting biography, Dearie (another Random House relic on my shelf that will appear here further on in this project)–you’re not going to find anything here. But if you’re content to read a light story about food and love and travel and finding one’s passion later in life, then you will very likely enjoy My Life in France.