Citizen Reader's Holiday Gift Guide
Citizen Reader's Holiday Gift Guide: In the Shadow of the Moon

Citizen Reader's Holiday Gift Guide: As Always, Julia

Julia Child was, let's face it, one sassy dame.*

You have to respect a woman who didn't find her true calling in life until her forties, and who arguably didn't make a grand success of her business until nearly age 50 (born in 1912, her masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was first published in 1961). At least I have to respect her--she gives me hope that I may still chance upon something that a) I am good at, and b) I can make some money at.

But all of that aside, Child's life was a fascinating one even before she became television's French Chef. She worked for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA), married her true love, traveled the world, and cooked and cooked and cooked until she knew more about cooking than many great chefs. If you're interested in her at all, or know someone who might be, the first book I would suggest purchasing is Noel Riley Fitch's biography, Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child.

Julia But the book in question for today is As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto: Food, Friendship, and the Making of a Masterpiece, edited by Joan Reardon. It's a collection of letters between the two women, primarily covering the years 1952-1962, when Child was, along with Simca Beck, experimenting on the recipes that would comprise their infamous cookbook. DeVoto was a woman that Child got to know by accident; Child originally wrote to Avis's husband, historian and columnist Bernard DeVoto, about an article he published about the quality of knives used in American kitchens (primarily stainless steel ones, which evidently don't rust but also aren't easy to adequately sharpen). Avis answered that letter, and soon the two were off, discussing knives, food, politics, culture, and eventually, the chances of publishing Child's cookbook (Avis also had connections to several publishing companies).

The letters have a lot to do with food, as one might imagine. What surprised me, though, is how much the women also chatted over current and cultural affairs, politics (particularly Joe McCarthy), and other issues in their personal lives. I knew I loved Julia; what I didn't expect, though, was to start feeling so attached to Avis DeVoto--who seems to have been a fascinating and warm woman in her own right.

So, who might like this book?

Fans of Julia Child, of course.

"Foodies," or people who love to read anything about food--seeing how the cookbook was tested, and how passionate these women were about food and the correct cooking methods is fascinating.

Anyone who likes letter collections--I myself find them the easiest way to pick up social and cultural history, and I love the personal asides that slip in (from Julia: "What a horrible 5 days we have just been through, both snortling with head colds, and I got the curse on top of it." HA!).

Readers who enjoy nonfiction by or featuring strong, personality-rich women, which Child and DeVoto unquestionably were.

*God love her, she reputedly didn't think much of Julie Powell's memoir Julie and Julia, which she derided as "a stunt."