Julie & Julia

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Tonight, I finally saw Julie & Julia. My appreciation of the film is biased enough that it’s almost not worth mentioning if I liked it or not, although I did. Meryl Streep nailed Julia’s voice, Amy Adams was deeply palatable and Susan Spungen’s food styling made both Mike and I immediately go home and look through the fridge.

Mike and I were in Paris last summer and stumbled onto filming for Julie & Julia along Rue Mouffetard, just around the corner from a friend’s flat where we were staying. I stood a few feet from Nora Ephron and watched Meryl Streep come and go on the set. (At present, a television network will be airing a film version of my book shot on location in Paris.)
I read Julie & Julia before it was published in the galley format, back in 2005 when my own book was being shopped around to publishers. I had already poked through some of the Julie/Julia Project online when I was 37, like Julia, and attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Forever I’ve harbored a fierce and abiding love for Julia Child. I met her back in 1994 at the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers. Randomly, I met Amanda Hesser then, too. She later went on to be a food writer for The New York Times who helped create a sensation around Julie Powell’s blog, and she makes a cameo appearance as herself in the film.

But clouding the whole thing has been this crazy “controversy” around whether or not bloggers “hate” Julie Powell. Seriously.
Newsweek ran a story headlined “Stop Hating Julie Powell.” The Huffington Post even felt compelled to run a “summary” about the controversy.

Food writer Virginia Willis is arguably one of the people in the culinary industry I respect the most. She aired her thoughts in a much-reported post on the subject. Willis’ main beef about Powell was that she took on a tone of disrespect, questioning one of Child’s chicken recipes, and fair enough. Roast chicken represents sacred ground to a lot of cooks, including me.

But for the rest of it, Willis seemed more critical of the media and the publishing industry than of Powell directly. In today’s world, food writers aren’t rewarded for their expertise; rather it’s all about “platform.” Food Network stars sell lots of books, even if they aren’t necessarily trained or knowledgeable cooks. What Willis aired was not sour grapes, but the frustration that many writers feel when someone without a writing background such as Powell gets a big-deal book contract and a national forum to write op-ed pieces in The New York Times while other perhaps more deserving food writers are left hungry, so to speak.

Powell doesn’t seem to disagree. In 2003, she noted “I am, in fact, officially What’s Wrong With Publishing Today,” when first disclosing her book deal.

Aware of all this, the day before the film opened, I went for a good comrade gesture and posted a comment on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The gist was that I liked the book Julie & Julia. I’m proud to have Julie Powell is my Facebook friend. (We’ve never met in person.)

The response? I was hated on via Twitter, and via email. Nearly 20 people stopped following me immediately on Twitter. “Did you know that she called 9/11 victims whiners?” or “How could you defend her? She HATES bloggers, she said so.”

On my Facebook entry, a noted culinary icon took Powell to task and pair had a bit of tete-a-tete over the weekend. In over-simplified terms, the older woman took offence to Julie’s swearing and drinking, Julie replied back that it’s her life, so whatever. In the end, it appeared more of a generational gap than anything else. They both graciously noted that when you’re a public person, sometimes people just harsh on you. The exchange came to a concilatory conclusion, which made me like them both even more.

To me, it seems that if Powell offended bloggers it’s been more out of ambivalence than malice. She never considered herself part of the club, and once reported she found a lot of them boring. One site reported that she found bloggers evil and clannish, and sure, that’s not nice, but she quickly added that she, too, could sometimes be evil and clannish. (Added on 11th July: I think that she was making a joke taken out of context – KF)

The biggest issue seems to be that in asserting herself as an author, she rejected the role of blogger, and that’s what irks people the most. But titles are complex these days. I don’t consider myself a blogger per se, but here I am writing on my blog. I don’t consider myself a chef, either, even though I’m usually billed that way.

As someone who has penned a memoir, I’ve suffered through unpleasant personal attacks in Amazon reviews and discussed intimate details of my life with inane interviewers who never cracked my book. I once had a vapid TV host ask me on the air — live — whether I planned to have kids, just weeks after wrenching reproductive surgery.
It’s my hope that now that the film has released, the herd will shift and this will all die down. I don’t know Powell, so it’s not about defending her personally. I feel a bit of kinship with any author or blogger who has had to deal with bad reviews, nasty comments or just the sometimes unflattering glare of the spotlight.
Misery loves company. Writers should stick together.

(Photo of Meryl Streep and the Paris on-location set by Mike Klozar; photo of Julie Powell by Ken Lambert of The Seattle Times)

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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