I have a hard time packing things I'll actually need when traveling. For one, I can't imagine how the climate at my destination can be any different from the climate at home. (This caused a lot of problems when traveling from California to anywhere cold.) I also will either overpack reading material or not bring nearly enough. So a few weeks ago when I went to Salt Lake City for work, what I brought to read only made it through the flight there. So I spent some time once there wandering around downtown Salt Lake City in search of a bookstore. Even though I did not run into either Dooce or Ken Jennings (really, the only two celebrities I know of in Salt Lake City), I was lucky enough to stumble upon Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, a large independent bookstore that sold both used and new books. I could have spent the afternoon there, which was good, considering that what I had seen of the rest of downtown Salt Lake City didn't have much to offer. Of all the great books they had available, I finally decided on a copy of My Life in France by Julia Child.
I loved this book. It is written by Alex Prud'homme, Julia's great nephew, who sat with Julia for long discussions of her life and looked through old photographs and letters written both by Julia and her husband, Paul. The book is in Julia's voice and he did an excellent job getting the tone just right. It reads much the way I imagine she spoke.
What impressed me most about Julia Child is how hard she worked in her life, although work might be the wrong term to use, as she seemed to enjoy almost every minute. She was an awful cook when she started, but was determined to get it right. While working on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she constantly testing recipes, all variations of coq au vin, for example, and did significant research, so much so that the book took her and her coauthors years to complete.
She and her husband Paul had a wonderful relationship that really shines in the book. (The photograph on the cover of the book is one of many of their Valentine's day cards, which they sent in lieu of Christmas cards, partly because they could never seem to get the Christmas cards out in the mail on time.)
This is one of those books I will read again. Probably often. The tone is comforting, the story engaging and warmhearted, and she never takes herself too seriously. The book is full of fabulous passages, and here is one of my favorites:
I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook. . .," or "Poor little me. . .," or "This may taste awful. . .," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed---eh bien, tant pis!