Posts Tagged ‘Julia Child’

Julia Roberts. Julia Child. Julia Cameron. A writer friend with whom I’ve recently reconnected. My yoga instructor, for a few months on Saturday mornings. And the name of my ex-husband’s new partner – indeed, the only name I knew her by, for a long time.

It’s not an uncommon name, Julia – especially here in the U.S., over the past century or so. I can think of other actresses (Stiles, Ormond, Louis-Dreyfus) and I’m sure I’ve met other women with that name, over the course of my life. For months after my marriage fell apart, the name hit me in the chest every time I heard it, whether or not it was referring to the woman whose last name I still didn’t know. (I didn’t ask for a lot of details; I figured – still figure – that for me it’s better not to know too much.)

I wondered, at the time: will I hate this name for the rest of my life? Would it make my heart clench every time I heard it? The name Julie, so similar but different, inspires nothing but warm feelings in me: since high school I’ve had at least one friend named Julie, women of courage and grace and great kindness, one or two of whom are still in my life. But I knew I didn’t want to recoil from every person I met named Julia. It’s a small detail of divorce I didn’t expect, this quiet reckoning with and reclaiming of a name that took something from me.

The reclaiming has been gradual, and it’s still in progress: it began with those Saturday morning yoga classes, a dark-haired nurse named Julia standing at the front desk, greeting all of us with a smile, learning my name. She moved to Florida a month or two ago, and I never told her – couldn’t figure out how to tell her – about this role she played in my life. In addition to sun salutations and child’s poses and deep warrior lunges, she brought a pleasant association with a name that had brought me sadness and grief.

Julia is also the name of a childhood friend’s daughter. Born a preemie, she’s now preschool age, spunky and slight, always on the go, if her mom’s Facebook photos are any indication. I haven’t met this wee Julia in person yet, but she and her brothers light up my feed when they appear, as does the joy of their parents and grandparents. We were all once afraid she might not make it this far, and now I think her folks worry more about keeping up – a joyous problem to have.

There’s no neat and tidy conclusion to this process, no total redemption (at least not yet) of this name and its difficult part in my story. But I’m learning to layer the good memories on top of the hard ones, not to hide them but to remind myself it all exists; it all belongs. These women I know, or have met, or whose work has influenced me, are part of the story of that name in my life, as much as the woman whose invisible presence hurt me so much. Tiny Julia; writer-from-Maine Julia; yoga instructor Julia; the redheaded actress whose cackling laugh I adore. The chef played so fabulously by Meryl Streep in a movie I love. And the writing teacher whose books have shaped my life so powerfully – thanks, in part, to that same ex-husband, whose presence in my life will never wholly disappear.

They all are part of the story of this name. I’m grateful that now, most days, it is a story of joy – even if the pain still stings once in a while.


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If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I have only spent a little time in Paris: a few days here and there on three separate trips. But like so many visitors to the City of Light, I find it utterly enchanting.

There are hundreds of books set in Paris, and I have read dozens of them, but here are my favorites. (Heavy on the nonfiction this time because there are so many gorgeous Paris memoirs.)


A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I read Hemingway’s memoir on the Eurostar train to Paris years ago and fell in love with its crisp, lucid descriptions of life (and writing). I have mixed feelings about Hemingway’s fiction, but I savored every page of his account of life in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley, and their son. I adore the last line: “But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, T.E. Carhart
A fascinating story of how the author makes friends with the owner of a Paris piano atelier. Carhart’s descriptions of the arrondissement where the shop is located, and the shop itself, are lovely.

My Life in France, Julia Child
Child’s memoir chronicles her travels around Europe with her husband, Paul, and the launch of her culinary career. Her love for Paris comes through on every page, and the descriptions are truly mouthwatering. (Bon appetit!)

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard
Just what the subtitle says. Bard (an American) falls in love with a Frenchman and chronicles the highs (delicious meals) and lows (absurd amounts of paperwork) involved in building a French life. Clear-eyed and charming, with delectable recipes. (I also loved Bard’s second book, Picnic in Provence.)

A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg
Wizenberg’s first book is about grief, growing up and falling in love, but it is also about Paris, where she has been happiest and also loneliest. Mouthwatering descriptions of food and markets, and some lovely passages about wandering Paris alone (my favorite way to explore a city).

Left Bank Waltz, Elaine Lewis
Lewis is an Australian who founded and ran an Aussie bookshop in Paris for several years, á la Shakespeare and Company. Her memoir is a delightful account of that journey, and a slightly different angle than the usual American-abroad-in-Paris memoirs. It is hard to find in the U.S. (I found it in an Oxfam shop in Oxford, long ago.)

Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik
Gopnik writes lyrical, often humorous essays about adapting to life in Paris with a small child. I like Gopnik’s other work (on winter and food, notably), but this is my favorite of his books. (Similar in some ways to Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous Four Seasons in Rome.)

Mastering the Art of French Eating, Ann Mah
I devoured Mah’s memoir about making a home in Paris and exploring the culinary traditions of Paris and the rest of France. She writes eloquently about food and loneliness and evokes the city so well.


The Lollipop Shoes, Joanne Harris
I adore Harris’ rich, evocative novels, especially Chocolat and its sequels. This book (published in the U.S. as The Girl With No Shadow) brings Vianne Rocher and her daughters to Paris, where they try to build a new life but find it difficult for various reasons. A vivid, gritty evocation of life in Montmartre.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
I read Hugo’s masterpiece a couple of years ago (I have loved the musical since I was a teenager). Paris itself is a character in the book – teeming with history, fascinating characters and barely suppressed violence. This is not the scrubbed-clean Paris of my favorite chick flicks: it is vital and bloody and wholly alive.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
This is Hadley Hemingway’s story: how she fell in love with (and eventually lost) Ernest, and their years in Paris together. Gorgeous and evocative (and, inevitably, deeply sad).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are your favorite books set in Paris? (I agree with Sabrina Fairchild that “Paris is always a good idea.”)

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kramerbooks afterwords washington d.c.

The White Robin, Miss Read
Another sweet Fairacre story (one of the shorter ones), involving a rare white robin who quickly becomes the darling of the village. I love Miss Read’s attention to the details of country life, and her incisive observations on human nature. It’s always comforting to spend a few hours in Fairacre.

Nemesis, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple receives an odd summons from a recently deceased friend: he wants her to solve a crime, but gives her almost no details. She is intrigued, and of course manages to solve the case with her usual insight and aplomb. One of my favorite Miss Marple stories, because it focused much more on her as a central character than some of the others do. Fascinating and fun.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz
A magnificent, detailed biography of Julia, from her childhood in California through her wanderings in Europe, up to her years in Cambridge. I’ve read My Life in France, her memoir, and also her correspondence with Avis DeVoto, but this book gave me an even more extensive look at the woman who changed the face of food in America. Julia was no saint, but she was warmhearted, generous, passionate and fascinating. Spitz confesses to having a crush on his subject, and by the end, I did too. Fabulous.

The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple is called in by a friend to help solve the title crime (whose body? What was she doing there? Who killed her?). In the process, she discovers a nest of family secrets and various other tidbits. Not as much fun as Nemesis (see above), but still entertaining.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes, ostensibly retired (and tending bees), takes on an unlikely apprentice: headstrong, orphaned teenager Mary Russell. They drive each other crazy sometimes but work astonishingly well together, and have solved a few cases when they realize someone is out to murder both of them. The witty banter, the rich descriptions, the twisty plot and the cast of fascinating characters all thrilled me – I loved it. This is the first in a series and I’ll be checking out the others for sure.

The Convivial Codfish, Charlotte MacLeod
This fifth book in the Sarah Kelling series focused mostly on her art detective husband, Max, who is called in to track down a killer after Sarah’s uncle is injured and a few of his friends are poisoned. Amusing at times, though the plot dragged. Not the best in the series, but still fun.

A Novel Bookstore, Laurence Cosse
A beautiful heiress and a penniless book lover join forces to create a Paris bookshop called The Good Novel, whose stock is chosen by themselves and a secret committee of authors. Despite accusations of literary snobbery, sales are strong and all seems well until several committee members are attacked and nearly killed. I loved the idea of this book – a paean to great literature and its power to alter our lives, and it’s fun to think about which novels I’d choose for such a bookstore. But the plot was confusing, the mystery unsatisfying and the ending rather abrupt. Lovely concept, so-so execution.

What are you reading lately?

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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I’m back from my recently mentioned adventure in D.C., with a sunburn, a camera half full of photos, a rather depleted bank account and a handful of new books. J and I had a lovely time tramping around the Mall, perusing American history at the Smithsonian, chasing double agents at the International Spy Museum, and wandering Old Town Alexandria with our hosts, my pen pal Jaclyn and her husband Steve. It was hot – but we took advantage of cold drinks and air-conditioning whenever we could.

During our four days there, we visited four independent bookstores, beginning almost immediately upon arrival (after a delicious lunch at Teaism). The first stop was Kramerbooks, near Dupont Circle:

kramerbooks interior washington dc

kramerbooks afterwords washington d.c.

The space is smallish, but it’s crammed with an extensive stock and a team of highly efficient employees who wove around customers, shelving and reshelving books. (There’s also a cafe, which we didn’t visit since we had just eaten, but it looked delectable. And I love the ampersands everywhere.) I came away with A Novel Bookstore, which I’ve been longing to read, and the lovely Penguin Threads edition of Emma, which I’ve never read.

We headed down the street to Second Story Books, a quiet, well-stocked used bookstore, where I browsed the fiction shelves for a while.

second story books exterior washington dc

Then a familiar spine in the biography section caught my eye: the distinctive blue of As Always, Julia, the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Since this book inspired Jaclyn and me to become pen pals, and since I didn’t own a copy, I took it as a sign, and purchased it.

second story books interior washington dc

We also hit Politics & Prose, a two-story bookstore I’d read about in Shelf Awareness. It was slightly overwhelming – so many choices! – but I loved the extensive staff recommendations and the themed tables, including this Olympic Fever display:

politics & prose washington dc olympics

(That’s J in the background, perusing the politics and current events section.)

politics & prose interior washington dc

I came away with Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary (the first in her Tommy & Tuppence series). I could have stayed for hours, but it was time for lunch.

We ended our bookstore crawl on Sunday afternoon with a trip to the Book Bank, in Old Town Alexandria:

book bank exterior alexandria va

On the way out (after nosing around the fiction and children’s shelves), I casually glanced into the sci-fi and fantasy section, and nearly squealed with delight. There, for just $2, was a 1965 Ballantine paperback edition of The Hobbit – the perfect match to my Lord of the Rings set. I borrowed these books from my dad as a college student (after reading his copy of The Hobbit in high school), and I have a deep attachment to that particular edition. I’ve unearthed copies of the trilogy in Oxford, Paris and Boston, and it was so fitting and fun to complete my set with a Hobbit from D.C.

My suitcase was several pounds heavier on the plane ride home, but it was totally worth it.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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Messenger of Truth, Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie Dobbs’ fourth adventure takes her into the world of fine art – when a popular artist falls to his death from the gallery scaffolding as he puts up a new exhibit. Maisie delves into his past (as an artist and a propagandist during the war), the intricacies of his family life, and the nuances of art dealing. Well-written and fascinating, as always. (I grow more “mad for Maisie” with every book.)

An Incomplete Revenge, Jacqueline Winspear
It’s hop-picking time in Kent, and Maisie investigates a village plagued by mysterious fires, while befriending a band of gypsies and letting go of her beloved Simon, whose health is declining (he’s been in a near-catatonic state since 1916). Maisie’s gypsy heritage comes to the fore here, and I’m amazed at her skill and compassion in divining the secrets of a village long haunted by its own shame. Stunningly well done.

Juliet, Anne Fortier
A fun, intricate, richly detailed re-imagining of the story of Romeo and Juliet – with a modern twist. Julie Jacobs is shocked to find out she’s descended from the real Juliet – and even more shocked to discover that “a plague on both your houses” might still be an active curse. She travels to Italy to find out the truth, and in the process finds out more about her family – and herself – than she ever knew. (Her story alternates with historical flashbacks.) An enjoyable, engrossing read.

A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg
I’ve read a few cookbook-cum-memoirs in my day, and I think this one is my favorite. Molly’s tone is engaging and funny, her family is endearingly quirky and her love affairs – with Paris, food, and Brandon, who is now her husband – are sweet. And her recipes are delicious – my favorites include the pesto and the Scottish scones. (I also love Molly’s blog. Deliciously entertaining.)

The Heretic’s Daughter, Kathleen Kent
Another story of the Salem witch trials, this time from the perspective of a child also imprisoned, whose mother is condemned to die. I actually didn’t like this one much; I didn’t find any of the characters very sympathetic. The history is fascinating, but perhaps I’ve read too many Puritan narratives since arriving here. And in the long grey of February, I wanted something brighter.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman
I loved this story. Splashed with color from huge flower gardens and lush with the scent of magnolia blossoms and cinnamon rolls, this was a real Southern treat in the middle of a cold northern winter. I loved watching CeeCee, transplanted from Ohio to Savannah when her mother dies, slowly find her way in this new, “perfumed world that seemed to be run entirely by women.” She eventually makes her peace with her tough childhood and begins to embrace her new friends – wise, kind, quirky women one and all. I cried several times, but I think I laughed more.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, ed. Joan Reardon
What a literary treat these letters are. Highly political, sharp, hilarious, foodish and written “in haste” amid their busy lives, this collection provides fascinating glimpses into – well, all sorts of things. Life in France, Germany, Norway and the U.S. during the 1950s and early 1960s; the evolution of a friendship; French cooking and the making of Julia’s cooking career; life in the U.S. Foreign Service; McCarthyism; the role of smart, independent women. After Julie and Julia (the film and the book) and My Life in France, these letters are the perfect dessert.

Devotion, Dani Shapiro
I’d been hearing about this book for months, and I love Dani’s lyrical blog. I enjoyed her honest, thoughtful reflections on what it means to be a person of faith, and to be a part of a family chain of faith. She doesn’t shy away from the tough questions. I was a little disappointed in the ending – it seemed a bit abrupt, and her strategy of cherry-picking bits of various faiths is quite different from my own. Still, I appreciate her courage in facing these big questions.

Rococo, Adriana Trigiani
I love Trigiani’s work – she draws perfect portraits of crazy, big, loud, loving Italian-American families. And she has such an eye for color and detail, expressed here in the main character’s love of interior design. The cast of characters in this small New Jersey town are all searching for transformation of some kind – and it goes hand in hand with the renovation of their beloved church. Hilarious, entertaining and satisfying.

Among the Mad, Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie’s sixth adventure unnerved me – stories of mental illness give me the creeps, and this one was no different. Still, Maisie and her colleagues at Scotland Yard do some brilliant work in tracing an unbalanced ex-soldier who issues a series of death threats. Winspear is probing deeper and deeper into the scars left on England and its people by the Great War.

The Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani
This was the only Trigiani novel I hadn’t yet read – so I grabbed it at the library one night. And flew through it, of course – her books are so fun, and compulsively readable. The only thing I don’t like about them is that they’re over too soon. But this tale of an Italian-American family in a mill town in Pennsylvania was funny, heartwarming and satisfying, like her others.

Julie, Catherine Marshall
I needed something to read on the T, so grabbed this old favorite. And I found the story just as compelling as ever. Julie Wallace and her father – indeed their entire family – struggle with faith, tight finances, fitting into a new town and standing up for what’s right in Depression-era Pennsylvania. Julie is one of my literary heroines, who scribbles as compulsively as I do, and I admire her sense of justice and her father’s quiet integrity. I love this book.

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Three years ago this week, I was in Paris, shivering in my old black peacoat and wrapped in a paisley pashmina, strolling narrow streets with Moose and drinking chocolat chaud in cafes with Jacque. I can’t fully explain the mystique of Paris – but I agree with Sabrina Fairchild that Paris is always a good idea. (And I long to visit the rest of France – so there are a few gems from there in here too.)

1. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
The quintessential tale of a writer’s life in Paris – I read it in Paris, which is partly why I love it so.
2. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, T.E. Carhart
A fascinating story of how the author makes friends with the owner of a Paris piano shop.
3. My Life in France, Julia Child
Utterly beautiful, hilarious and fun – I love Julia’s tales of life all over Europe, but she loves Paris best.
4. Left Bank Waltz, Elaine Lewis
This was an Oxfam find, and a brave tale of an Australian bookshop in Paris.
5. Almost French, Sarah Turnbull
An Aussie falls in love with a Frenchman and his city – and much hilarity results.
6. Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik
Lyrical tales of adapting to life in Paris with a small child.
7. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard
Just what the subtitle says. Completely delicieux.
8. A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg
Set partly in Paris – which she loves like I love Oxford – and again, utterly delectable.
9. Paris in Mind, various (ed. Jennifer Lee)
Essays on the City of Lights from various authors – I enjoyed the different perspectives.

And, not from Paris, but also beautiful:
10. The Price of Water in Finistere, Bodil Malmsten
Musings on the expat life in Brittany, and on trying to write about the unwritable.
11. Perfume from Provence, Lady Winifred Fortescue
Tales from a gentler time, of life as an expat in Provence.
12. Words in a French Life, Kristin Espinasse
A “dictionary” of French words – so fun!
13. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
The classic tale of an Englishman moving to France – home repair stories abound.

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