Monday, July 19, 2010

Two more summer book reviews: Julie and Racing

More food books? I know. I'm on a roll. Or a baguette, maybe. (BTW, I just started reading Julia Child's My Life in France, and once I've finished it, that make FOUR food-related books this summer.) I promise the second review below is NOT a food book. Can't be too predictable, now.

Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell

I really wanted to like this book. I really wanted to like Julie. I loved the film--I found it to be completely charming and though I loved Meryl Streep as Julia Child, I even will admit to finding Amy Adams kind of cute as Julie Powell. I now see that this was the result of carrying over my Junebug and Enchanted affection for Ms. Adams into my perception of a role that didn't really warrant it. Or I guess I should rephrase. I think I'll still always have a fondness for the movie. But for once the book was not as good as the film.

Like I said, I wanted to love it. I liked it; I'm glad I've read it. I wouldn't read it again, though, nor would I suggest it to anyone. For one it really showed me that a lot of what works in blog land does not work in memoir land. It could have worked, but she needed a better editor. Not only did I find some of her descriptions a little tedious, it didn't seem like there was any kind of arc to the story. At the beginning of the novel, she was complaining about her life, unsure if she'd finish the project, and kind of mean to her husband. At the end of the novel, she was complaining about her life, unsure if she'd finish the project, and kind of mean to her husband. I just wished it went somewhere.  I didn't mind her prolific use of the F word or the almost near constant (and "off" in some untenable way) references to food and its connection to sex.  But I just didn't like Julie.  I think it's important to identify in some way with one's protagonist, and I couldn't make the connection.

J&J had lots of potential, but I think if you're interested in the story, you're better off doing a google search for Julie Powell's original blog and then reading that. Something was lost for me in the book. Another note: the haphazardly inserted vignettes of Paul and Julia seemed odd, distracting, and poorly done. They didn't really add anything and I wished they weren't there.

My recommendation: Pass. (I'm only about 30 pages in to My Life In France by Julia Child and it's already 400% better.)

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved. It's simple. It's predictable. But it's funny and (swear to Pete) it made me look at my dog differently. The narrator of TAORITR is Enzo, a dog. He's a sentient dog, though he lacks the ability to let his humans know he understands their every word. He watches TV. He plays thoughtfully with children. He waxes philosophic about race car driving and life. Now I don't give one bean about racing, but this book kept me on a tight enough leash that I followed right along, no problem.

Enzo's narration is the star of the book. But even though his humans' storyline was a bit predictable and maudlin, I didn't mind it. I found the idea of dog as narrator so captivating, so close to my heart as one who's owned (and loved, and anthropomorphized) dogs, that I snuggled right down into it and let myself enjoy. It was a comfy book to read and the perfect thing for my day in bed when I didn't feel so hot.

I like books like this. Not all books can be philosophical literature.  Not all books can examine the darker intricacies of human existence--or at least that's not the only thing I want to sit and read all the time--it can't all be Crime and Punishment, you know? Sometimes you need a feel-good book, so you reach for Tuesdays with Morrie or your well-worn copy of The Thorn Birds or The Art of Racing in the Rain. And after you cry a little and sigh a little and race through the ending so you can see how it all wraps up, you go and hug your dog a little tighter because you know he just gets it and he just gets you and you just feel good.

My recommendation: Curl up with puppy (alternately: cat), then read. Cry. Hug. Rejoice.


  1. Thank you for saying aloud that Julie and Julia was not as good as the film!! I enjoyed My Life in France so much more! Happy reading!

  2. I read the book before I saw the movie. My husband, who reviews films, came home after the screening for J&J and said, "You are going to LOVE this movie!"

    I didn't. I thought the book was honest and soul-baring, but, No, I didn't like Julie, either. Why was she shocked that Julia didn't care about her project? Oh, right - Julia's whole THING regarding the cookbook was to teach American cooks how to create French dishes in their homes. Why WOULD Julia care about what Julie was doing? She was doing exactly what Julia expected her to.
    I didn't like Julie in the book, didn't care what happened, and I am afraid that transferred over to my disdain for the movie. I love Amy Adams, and I thought the interaction between Meryl and Stanley was as lovely as could be. It actually made me want to read, "My Life in France".
    However, this was not a movie that I find myself being called to watch again.

  3. By the way - have you ever seen the movie, "Drop Dead Gorgeous" - in which Amy Adams made her film debut?

    It is a DARK comedy about beauty pageants. It is completely tongue-in-cheek, but oh, so funny. Amy is charming and hilarious.