To kick off Julia Child's nationwide 100th-birthday festivities, which begin today (her actual birthday is Aug. 15), we're taking a look at several books released in honor of the Pasadena native. A boeuf Bourguignon centennial book party, in essence (Happy, happy birthday!).
We've seen several great children's books recently, including Bon Appetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child and Minette's Feast. Both offer a glimpse of Child's life to a generation that doesn't remember the towering and talented chef who did so much to transform what is on our dinner tables every night. There's even a cat-themed overview of her life: Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats. Of course there is.
But the biography that trumps all other Julia Child tributes this month is, undoubtedly, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. It is the most engaging celebrity biography we've read in years, even if we're pretty certain Child would laugh, and rather loudly, at our "celebrity" word choice. And so we'll use author Bob Spitz's term: Remarkable.
If you've never read his work, Spitz is a fantastic writer with an award-winning biography on The Beatles among his credits. He's better than good at the tricky field of indirect reporting to get to the core of a woman who passed away eight years ago, piecing together quotes from newspapers, magazines and television shows, conducting interviews with those who knew Child, and clearly learning everything he could about Child.
But beyond the piles of research, there is a fine art to capturing the life of someone whose story we have all heard too many times to count. Spitz's subject is a woman whose contributions affect us all on a very personal weeknight dinner and entertainment level. Her lasting influence applies not just to what we cook on a daily basis but also the cookbooks, magazines, blogs and newspaper food sections we regularly flip through today -- yes, even the adrenaline-laced food television programs that we click right on past. Those are big book pages to fill.
And yet wherever you've settled in to read Dearie (the kitchen, we hope), Spitz manages to convey the vigor, curiosity, confidence and booming voice of a truly remarkable woman as if she is sitting at the kitchen table with you.
To tide you over until you get a copy of the book, we leave you with a paragraph from Spitz's prologue that is particularly entertaining. Not only because he mentions Child alongside the likes of Hugh Hefner, which we're pretty sure she would get a kick out of. But because there are days when we could all use a little more of Child's humble, grateful and plain old "damn lucky" kitchen perspective.
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Julia's hunger was a well-known symptom. She was a woman with boundless appetites -- for food, absolutely, but also for the tides of change. Nothing sustained her like a ripe idea, a fresh experience, a saucy challenge, the impossible. In that respect, her timing was impeccable, because Julia came into her own during the early 1960s, when not only the role of women but also other cultural paradigms were undergoing upheaval. The arts, politics, fashion, values were all breaking out of the narrow concept of everyday life. Julia, being an iconoclast herself, was eager to shake up norms. She took up arms alongside the other cultural guerrillas who were busy knocking down walls: Andy Warhol, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, Hugh Hefner, Philip Roth, Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Gurley Brown, Allen Ginsberg, The Beatles. The Kennedys: Their sophistication and youthful exuberance gave all of this momentum, leading Americans to look beyond their own culture for inspiration. "With the Kennedys in the White House, people were very interested in [French cooking]," Julia said, "so I had the field to myself, which was just damn lucky."
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