Sunday, February 23, 2014

Here is the last word from me (for the moment, at least) on Julia Child. I wrote this up when I was in the midst of As Always, Julia and then never managed to post. Wanted to get it out of the drafts folder, so here it is.


There are so many things I like about the Julia Child/Avis DeVoto letters that I would not even know where to begin to list them all, but one of the things I especially appreciate is that they each have such a great “voice” in their letters, it’s such a conversational style of writing, you really do feel like you’re listening to two people having an extended conversation.

It’s interesting to think of them pounding away on their typewriters, no computers or “word processors,” just sit down and type, and when you’re done, put in the mail. I feel like we’re so used to being able to go back and edit and change. In theory, it’s great, and usually in reality, too, but sometimes it just feels like a burden. Like how in Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling Upon Happiness, he talks about how people are happier with irrevocable decisions. The idea that you could make a change to things later seems like it should make you feel better, it takes some pressure off, but really it makes you feel worse because then you spend time thinking about whether or not you should make a change. If you can’t make a change then there you go, you’re done.

So aside from making me wish people still wrote letters, and making me think fondly of typewriters, I also love some of the expressions they use.

One of the criticisms of Julie Powell, both her books and her blog project, was her language, which made liberal use of the f-bomb. In general, foul language doesn’t bother me, I don’t have a problem with swearing, but I did notice it in Julie Powell’s writing, but mostly because I think it’s a sign of a lazy writer. Not so much with a blog, you’re doing that day by day and it’s a record of what happened, that’s kind of anything goes, but in a book, there’s really no excuse. There are so many words in the English language, and so many different ways to convey what you are thinking and feeling. Leaving aside the fact that some people are offended by cursing — which I think is actually a big part of the appeal for Julie Powell, she wants to show how much she is not bound by convention — I would argue that curse words are one-dimensional. They just don’t say very much. Try harder.

Neither Avis nor Julia relies on that particular crutch, and they mix some great expressions throughout their correspondence.

Julia is particularly fond of “phooey” which is a great word, especially written out like that. And both of them tend to get worked up about things and start off on a rant and go for a while then realize they need to cut things off and move on to something else, which they often execute with a one-word sentence: “Well.”

Like this, from Julia, when expounding on the difficulties of determining how long any given turkey will take to cook, and what she should say about it in the cookbook .

Whom is anyone going to believe in this business, anyway. And furthermore, I don’t like turkey! And furthermore, I have just had the Turkey section typed up. Well.

Or Avis, when discussing the challenges she faced with her older son, who had returned from the Korean War and was trying to figure out what to do with his life:

His determination to move out of the house is crystallizing  … but he has not got the vaguest idea how much it costs to support himself. Well, he’ll find out. The weakness of my position is that I can’t let him starve, or be really up against it, and here is the house, ready for him if he goes down and out. If I weren’t reasonably well off, and if I lived in a two room apartment, he would be forced to face life, and no fooling. Which is no logical reason for my selling the house.

Well. Children!


That just says it all.

Next topic.