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Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child…

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Bob Spitz

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3761228,713 (4.05)22
Title:Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
Authors:Bob Spitz
Info:Knopf (2012), Hardcover, 576 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Julia Child, Paul Child, biography, French cooking, Smith College, Cambridge, Paris, Santa Barbara, Casa Dorinda

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Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz (2012)


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What a woman.

I've long been intrigued by Julia Child and not only because we share a name. I grew up watching her cook on public television, and her high-pitched, warbly fluting voice (a result of unusually long vocal cords, Spitz reveals) and her tall (6 feet 3 inches tall), ramrod-straight posture made a definite impression. She did not manage to inspire in me a passion to learn how to cook, sadly, but she was the beginning of my fascination in watching other people cook.

What I didn't grasp at the time, of course, was just how revolutionary she was. She along with James Beard revolutionized the way Americans look at food and food preparation — not to mention public television itself, which was in its infancy when her show, The French Chef began airing in 1963. That and her seminal cookbook [Mastering the Art of French Cooking] were unlike anything that had ever been seen before in this country. And to think she didn't even embark on that career until she was in her 40s.

Fair warning: This is a huge book, more than 700 pages when you include the acknowledgments, notes, index, etc. But it is not at all a slow read. The first 450 pages especially just flew by. I hated having to stop reading to go to work in the morning, and could not wait to get back to it at night. Author Spitz takes us from pre-birth to death with the amazing Julia, and you'd be hard-pressed to think of anything he left out.

It turns out that the outgoing personality we saw on TV was the real Julia: She was always gregarious, prone to troublemaking as a child, and fearless. But she didn't know what she wanted her life's work to be — it was easier for her to figure out what she didn't want to be, which was a conventional housewife. In the 1930s, that was a tall order. Before she latched on to cooking as her life's work (that happened when she and her husband were posted to Paris after World War II), she had a whole other career as a senior civilian intelligence officer with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA) during World War II, posted first in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then China and was in charge of processing and routing all the intelligence reports coming in from the field of the Pacific theater. Even so, she chafed against what she thought of as "filing, filing, filing" and still longed for more.

I was pleased to read in the acknowledgments that Spitz knew Julia Child personally, having accompanied her to Sicily on a trip while he was profiling her for a magazine. And she knew of his intention to write a biography of her and planned to assist him, although she died before that collaboration got off the ground. Still, Spitz interviewed many of the prominent people in the Childs' life and made extensive use of primary sources such as letters and other documents that Julia donated to the archives at Harvard University. The book is well-grounded in evidence-based fact, and he makes no attempt to sugarcoat or gloss over some of the more difficult elements in Julia's life or personality.

The only quibble I could make is that the tone is a bit too breezy and gee-whiz for my taste. He could have reduced his exclamation-point usage by one-third and still expressed an appropriate amount of enthusiasm, for example. And he occasionally got fixated on certain words or phrases that made the reading a bit odd, like "finchy," which seems to mean "touchy or sensitive" about something or someone. Again and again he refers to "Paul's finchy nature" and "audiences were particularly finchy when it came to drinking alcohol" and women who were "finchy types with degrees in stupefying disciplines." I don't really know what the word means because it's not in any dictionary I've consulted. It was a weird tic but not enough to mar enjoyment of the book overall.

Julia Child, for all her patrician accent and affinity for France, was as American as apple pie. Her life story is an amazing journey, one that I think would be enjoyed even by people who have never contemplated the proper way to bone a duck or what the "correct" types of fish are for true bouillabaisse.

Bon appétit! ( )
  rosalita | May 20, 2017 |
Fundamentally this is a lesson in how doing what you enjoy can make a life worth living. This is a great biography of the woman who, against some odds, made an indelible mark on the face of cooking (and eating) in America. Funny, charming and a natural ham, Julia Child took over as the cook who brought us out of the tired, pre-packaged age of can opening and frozen food. Though the beginning of the book is a bit dry, the rest moved me to tears several times (though I admit to being overly tearful). ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
At this point in time this is the definitive biography of Julia Child. I listened to the recorded version of this work and found it rewarding and entertaining. The narrator does a great job. She makes no attempt to imitate that distinctive voice and yet manages to convey Julia's verve and zest. Because Julia Child is such a famous twentieth century personality everybody thinks they know all about her, but this book might prove that they don't. For instance, she was the child of luxury and privilege. She was not dependent on her income from her books and TV shows. A large part of the book explores her family background and her childhood in Pasadena, CA., that I found fascinating. Her college life and her early professional career was a disappointment to her and only with the advent of WWII did she find something to fill her time and make her feel worthwhile. Her romance with Paul Child was a slow burn that provided her with a satisfying and sustaining romantic life that stayed with her until Paul's dementia became too much for her to handle.

This biography is not the same as her autobiography "My Life in France." It does not speak with Julia's voice, but it covers her life honestly and as dispassionately as possible. These are ways that only a biography can speak. All in all, a very thorough and enjoyable biography for those who want to read a biography of this fascinating arbiter of Twentieth Century taste. ( )
  benitastrnad | Oct 7, 2015 |
If you've read "My Life In France" you don't need to read this. If you'd like to read this, read "My Life In France" instead. In fact, I can't recommend this book to anyone who is not doing an absolutely, painstakingly in-depth report on Julia Child. It is more extensive than Julia's co-written memoir, especially when talking about her childhood and later years, but it also is many times more tedious. ( )
  CherieDooryard | Jan 20, 2015 |
Charming biography of food pioneer, Julia Child. Much of her history is familiar -- her time in the OSS during WWII, enduring love for husband Paul and the genesis of her magnum opus, The Art of French Cooking. This volume adds flesh to the bare bones and gives Child charming life. We learn about her rambunctious youth and party girl college ways. Her WGBH French Chef TV series broke ground with the use of cameras angles and creating a sense of accesibility with the audience. Food Tv owes just about everything to her work. Unknown was a quiet love affair giving her support and companionship at the end of her life. A favorite quote: "Julia looked at food the way some people look at their children, and when she case her adoring gaze at three pounds of ground chuck, the folks at home knew something was up." Hers was an every woman persona and her genuineness was pablable. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Apr 30, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307272222, Hardcover)

Featured Essay: Author Bob Spitz on Dearie

Because Julia Child is such a familiar and beloved presence in our culture, it is amazing how much there was left to learn about her. Julie and Julia, along with Julia's lovely memoir My Life in France only scratched the surface of this remarkable and fascinating woman who actually launched PBS (really!) and defined the American palate. For much of her adolescence and throughout her twenties, Julia was something of a lost soul. She burned with a desire to have an impact on the world but had no idea how to make that happen or what field she might excel in. It disappointed her that she was nothing more than what she called "a social butterfly," without a goal. "I felt I had particular and unique gifts," she wrote in her diary, "that I was meant for something, and was like no one else." How right she was! But she weathered many misadventures before those gifts began to materialize.

Oddly, everything began to coalesce for Julia in Ceylon, of all places. At the outbreak of World War II, still without a sense of purpose, she volunteered for government service and was shipped overseas as a member of the OSS, America's burgeoning spy agency that later became the CIA. She worked in its Registry, under "Wild Bill" Donovan, and was responsible for the location and movements of every U.S. spy operating in the Southeast Asia theater.

In Ceylon, Julia also met her future husband, Paul Child, who worked in a capacity similar to hers. Initially, Julia had had a hard time finding true love--it took her awhile. Back home, the heir to the Los Angeles Times had proposed to her on several occasions, but he struck Julia as too bland for her outsized spirit. She was a big person (over 6'3") with a big personality and couldn't be contained in the expected role of "the little woman." I found it very moving when she finally found true love, although she was still adrift about what her life purpose would be.

A lunch in France changed everything. It was a powerful moment when she hit on her true calling at the age of forty. In the book, I delve into the extraordinary path Julia followed to create eye-poppingly delicious food and introduce it to an American public that was starving for a new, imaginative and creative way to cook. From there, it was through engaging force of her once-troublesome outsized personality that she went on to have a profound impact on the way people eat--and live.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:08 -0400)

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It is rare for someone to emerge in America who can change our attitudes, our beliefs, and our very culture. It is even rarer when that someone is a middl0--aged, six-foot three-inch woman whose first exposure to an unsuspecting public is cooking an omelet on a hot plate on a local TV station. And yet, that is exactly what Julia Child did. The warble voiced doyenne of television cookery became an iconic cult figure and joyous rule breaker as she touched off the food revolution that has gripped America for more than fifty years. In this biography, the Julia we know and love comes to life. In it the author provides a portrait of one of the most fascinating and influential Americans of our time, a woman known to all, yet known by only a few. At its heart, this biography is a story about a woman's search for her own unique expression. Julia Child was a directionless, gawky young woman who ran off halfway around the world to join a spy agency during World War II. She eventually settled in Paris, where she learned to cook and collaborated on the writing of what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book that changed the food culture of America. She was already fifty when The French Chef went on the air, at a time in our history when women were not making those leaps. Julia became the first educational TV star, virtually launching PBS as we know it today; her marriage to Paul Child formed a decades long love story that was romantic, touching, and quite extraordinary. A fearless, ambitious, supremely confident woman, Julia took on all the pretensions that embellished tony French cuisine and fricasseed them to a fare-thee-well, paving the way for everything that has happened since in American cooking, from TV dinners and Big Macs to sea urchin foam and the Food Channel. Julia Child's story, however, is more than the tale of a talented woman and her sumptuous craft. It is also a saga of America's coming of age and growing sophistication, from the Depression Era to the turbulent sixties and the excesses of the eighties to the greening of the American kitchen. Julia had an effect on and was equally affected by the baby boom, the sexual revolution, and the start of the women's liberation movement. On the centenary of her birth, Julia finally gets the biography she richly deserves. An in-depth, intimate narrative, full of fresh information and insights, this biography is the story of one of our most fascinating and beloved figures.… (more)

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