Category: memoirs (page 2 of 6)

My Life in France

In the fall of 1948, Julia Child and her husband Paul arrived in Le Havre, France for Paul’s new position at the American Embassy in Paris. A simple meal in Rouen, at Restaurant La Couronne, would begin Julia’s love affair with French food – an affair that would spawn a lifelong fascination and obsession with food and change Julia’s life forever.

It is impossible not to love Julia Child. Her infectious enthusiasm seems to pervade every aspect of her cooking. Published two years after her death in 2006 and co-written by her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme, My Life in France was Child’s sumptuous memoir of her time in Paris and Marseille in the early 1950’s. Filled with incredibly detailed memories (including precise and deliciously descriptive recollections of specific meals), My Life in France fills you with Julia’s warmth and passion for France, French food and the experience of eating extraordinary food.

This book is not an autobiography in the strictest sense; rather, it’s a collection of stories and memories linked together by food – the food Julia loved to eat and the food she learned to craft and create during her years in France. It’s focused primarily on the first half of the 1950’s decade, when Julia attended Le Cordon Bleu, and then met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, the two women with whom she would write the classic French cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her stories are accompanied by black-and-white photographs taken by her husband Paul and together, they give readers an intimate look at Child’s life in what she called her “spiritual homeland.”

The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food – the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.

Though Child and Prud’homme relied on family letters to help fill in some of the blanks, the level of detail in My Life in France is still astonishing, especially considering that Julia was recalling all of these memories in her 90s! And while her nephew did do the bulk of the actual writing, it is Julia’s voice that shines through on every page. You can practically hear her, with her distinctive voice, describing the simplicity and the intricacy of French food. Post-war France comes alive and it’s as if you’re there with her, bobbing in and out of the little shops, lingering in the market over the fresh produce and flushing with excitement in her attic kitchen as she experiments and triumphs. Her single-minded determination to master French cooking is inspiring and her relentless belief in her cookbook, despite several rejections, is a lesson in perseverance.

Of course, Julia Child fans should read My Life in France, but even if you’re simply a fan of food or a fan of France, this memoir is the perfect companion. With sensory details and a palpable zest for life, Julia Child’s My Life in France is as comforting as a croissant and chocolat chaud on a rainy day. 

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Paris in Love

We all have that dream, the one where we drop everything, sell all our possessions and take off for adventures in far-off lands and exciting destinations. But most of the time, it remains just a dream – but not for best-selling author Eloisa James. Just weeks after losing her mother to cancer, James was diagnosed with the very same disease. Even after successful treatment, she wanted a change. So she and her husband sold their house and cars, took sabbaticals from their teaching jobs, packed up their children and moved to Paris for a year. From endless gastronomic discoveries to the inevitable envy of fashionable French women (accompanied by an insatiable lust for their French clothes), James recounts her family’s time in la ville de l’amour.

I’ve long felt an attachment to Regency romance author Eloisa James. She wrote some of the very first romance novels I ever read and I’ve continued to enjoy her writing throughout the years. On top of that, she’s a Shakespeare professor at my alma mater (though, regrettably for me and my love of Shakespeare, she arrived at the university after I graduated) and my favorite of her books are four that take inspiration from the Bard himself. Add into this mix my fascination (and yes, even obsession) with France and there is no doubt that I would snap up Paris in Love the minute it came into the bookstore.

Paris in Love is technically a memoir, but James’ style of writing and the short, little vignettes (many of which started out originally as Facebook status updates, believe it or not) made me feel as if I were listening to a beloved friend confide in me. Several times I found myself bringing the book closer to my eyes and my body, as if I were leaning in to better hear my friend gossip and share. This informal style makes Paris in Love so accessible and also so impossible to put down.

James has an eye for the smallest details and takes great delight in the enjoyment and celebration of the little things in life. The stories and vignettes are loosely organized by season, but each could easily stand alone as a moment in time captured on the page: Paris on this day, at this hour. Paris in Love showcases the everyday Paris, the routine of James and her family, the rhythms of Parisian life and the charm of the shopkeepers, the Metro passengers, and the others you might meet each day.

My favorite parts involved James’ family – her Italian husband Alessandro, their two adolescent children and even Milo, the obese Chihuahua – all of whom come alive in her hilariously funny stories. Several times I laughed aloud at their antics (which definitely earned more than a few stares on the T) and by the time I finished the book, I felt like I had gotten to know these people. Paris in Love makes you feel as if you are right there with James, sharing in the same experiences.

Eloisa James’ Paris in Love is an absolute delight from start to finish. I was wooed and charmed by this book and it is the best kind of book to enjoy – the kind that simply makes you happy when you’ve finished reading. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read in 2012 so far. If you’re a fan of James’ romance novels or even if you’re just a fan of Paris, then you cannot miss this book.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Book News, March 5th

Happy March, bookworms! March is filled with birthdays – friends, co-workers, yours truly (hint, hint, hint). Naturally, I suggest books as birthday gifts (or, really, any kind of gift: Easter, anniversary, a random Tuesday…). You could even gift a book written by a March-born author: Dr. Seuss, Lois Lowry, Douglas Adams and John Irving were all born in March. I’m in good company!

  • The Oscars were last weekend, with literary connections galore.The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, while Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network took home the Best Adapted Screenplay statue. But the best part of the show had to be the Auto-Tune mash-up of songs from literary-inspired movies like Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows and Eclipse. I could listen to Ron sing about his little ball of light all day.
  • Speaking of movies, NPR has a look at a few of the upcoming 2011 movies that were originally based on books. I’m cautiously skeptical about the film version of Something Borrowed and cautiously optimistic about Water for Elephants. I am, however, already planning my trip to the theater to see the latest version of Jane Eyre. I can’t resist Jane.
  • Perhaps this is why everyone keeps saying publishing is dead? While Bristol Palin recently confirmed a book deal for her memoir (who gives a 21-year-old a book deal for a memoir? She’s barely lived – though I supposed life with mom is worth a few therapy sessions), crazy-town train wreck Charlie Sheen is trying to sell his memoirs for $10 million. The saddest part is, someone will pay him that obscene amount for the book. And people will read it.
  • Meanwhile, I’m anxiously awaiting a few books that are bound to be so much better: Gayle Forman’s Where She Went and Beth Fantastkey’s Jessica Rules the Dark Side. Both recently posted excerpt previews online, making me even more anxious to read both.While I only have to wait a month for Where She Went (a book I’ve already pre-ordered), I must toil for almost a YEAR until Jessica Rules the Dark Side finds its way to bookstores. Le sigh.
  • Three cheers for Meg! Laurel Ann of Austenprose announced the top ten finalists in the “Jane Austen Made Me Do It” contest. Janes-in-the-making wrote short stories for a contest which will see the grand prize winner have his or her story published in a book. Meg, of Write Meg!, is one of the finalists! Congratulations!
  • Gary Ross, pay attention! The ladies (and Henri) of Forever Young Adult have written letters to The Hunger Games director Gary Ross, offering their sage advice on how best to transform an amazing book into an amazing movie.If he’s smart, he’ll pay attention. Remember Gary – the adults are the ones with the money.

As always, happy reading!

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