My Favorite Reads – My Life in France

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.

From the inside cover: In her own words, here is the captivating story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found her “true calling.”

From the moment the ship docked in Le Havre in the fall of 1948 and Julia watched the well-muscled stevedores unloading the cargo to the first perfectly soigné meal that and her husband, Paul, savored in Rouen en route to Paris, where he was to work for the USIS, Julia had an awakening that changed her life. Soon this tall, outspoken gal from Pasadena, California, who didn’t speak a word of French and knew nothing about the country, was steeped in the language, chatting with purveyors in the local markets and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu.

After managing to get her degree despite the machinations of the disagreeable directrice of the school, Julia started teaching cooking classes herself, then teamed up with two fellow gourmettes, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, to help them with a book they were trying to write on French cooking for Americans. Throwing herself heart and soul into making it a unique and thorough teaching book, only to suffer several rounds of painful rejection, is part of the behind-the-scenes drama that Julia reveals with in inimitable gusto and disarming honesty.

Filled with the beautiful black-and-white photographs that Paul loved to take when he was not battling bureaucrats, as well as family snapshots, this memoir is laced with wonderful stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced so wholeheartedly. Above all, she reveals the kind of spirit and determination, the sheer love of cooking, and the drive to share that with her fellow Americans that made her the extraordinary success she became.

My thoughts: I have always wanted to be able to cook like Julia Child. Her love of food is contagious in this book and the frank almost off-hand way she tells the story is wonderful. It’s as if she’s sitting next to you telling the story. It’s more than just food but the way food becomes such a large and totally encompassing part of her, and her husband’s, life during their years in France and how a woman, who didn’t know how to cook at all, found herself the icon of French cooking.

I have one of her small cookbooks in my kitchen that is ratty, food stained, and dog earned. I reference it often when I’m trying to cook something I bought and realized had no idea what to do with when I got home. It’s called Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom and is by far one of the best cookbooks I ever bought. She has a way of breaking down a recipe so easily and making it sounds as if you can make the most complicated of dishes with ease.

Memoirs are not a genre I frequent but having watched Julia on PBS for years I had to read this book. It’s just as funny as she is on the show and the stories she tells about learning French, learning to cook, and finding her way in a country and culture very foreign to her is unforgettable. Not only a good cook, she’s a great story-teller as well.

This book was finished after Julia died in 2004 by her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme but none of her voice is lost. The photographs are absolutely fabulous as well.

I don’t have copies of The Art of French Cooking but if you were to ask me what two books I covet most in the world, it would be The Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2. I should admit that I don’t cook a lot of French food and rarely follow a recipe, I mostly look at recipes for ideas, but these are two books I know I would find use for.

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4 thoughts on “My Favorite Reads – My Life in France

  1. I love this book too, and read it after watching (and reading) Julie & Julia. I have to say that My Life in France is my favorite of them all by far.

    I have The Art of French Cooking on my wish list (and so do a ton of people on paperbackswap). 🙂 I hadn’t heard of Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, but it sounds very useful!

    • Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is short but so useful. I’m hoping for The Art of French Cooking for my birthday this year.

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