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3.4 out of 5 stars
White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story
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44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the format of the book, with recipes after each chapter- and most of the recipes are quite good. The narrative itself, though, is fairly thinly developed. The first few chapters seem devoted to "what a quirky kid I was!" The rest of the book recounts the few years after Jenna graduated from college, and they lack a coherent narrative. The book tries to shoehorn her experiences into "young woman follows her dreams!" but I think "young woman flails about, trying to find something worthwhile to do with her life" would be more accurate- and a much more interesting read.

The book also suffers from Weber's refusal to let her readers in on the emotions she's feeling; we learn more about the devastation she felt when she got shin splits from running than we do about how she dealt with a real tragedy, and her boyfriend of many years is given the most superficial of descriptions.

As another reviewer mentioned, there are a few inconsitentcies in the narrative, which can be irritating. Worse are the details that seem left out, that I want to know more about: Wait, you were a sorority girl at University of Alabama? Wait, you're a devoted yogi? Wait, who's this best friend that you're visiting whom I haven't heard of until this page? Wait, were you happy and popular with serious boyfriends in high school or a shy new girl?

Overall, a *** read. Interesting and readable enough when you want something light, and there's a kernel of a good book there, but it's just not developed well enough- or Weber doesn't let us in enough- to make it great.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The reviewers who note the frustrating inconsistencies, erratic pacing, and lack of emotional depth are spot-on. The book is worth reading if you're a fan of the blog. Although you'll have to overlook the vast difference between the writing tone on the blog and the one in the book (among other inconsistencies). Another element that I found extremely frustrating was that many of the recipes are already on the blog and have been for years. It seems as if she tried to copy Amanda Hesser's Cooking with Mr. Latte or Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris but fell drastically short. Both the aforementioned are much more interesting reads. After enjoying the blog for years I expected more from Jenna.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Having read the author's blog on and off since its inception, I was curious to read her first book, White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story. Billed as a culinary coming of age story, it follows Weber from her decision to pursue culinary school post college to her experience actually at school to her struggles afterward to find her purpose and live a full life. The premise was one that appealed to me because as a 29-year-old the struggles of adjusting to life post-college are still pretty fresh in my mind. I also think that social media like Facebook can give you the impression as an early 20-something that your friends have it all together so if you are struggling, it can be refreshing to read the story of someone in a similar position.

Unfortunately the execution didn't quite realize the full potential of its premise. I found the book to be a nice account of Jenna's early 20-something life, but to me nice only makes for a 3-star, not 5-star read. For me it didn't really flow as a book. Her entire culinary school experience felt really flat to me. There wasn't much tension there and though I get the sense it was a trying time for Jenna, she only seems to touch on the surface of her emotions at this period in time. I was also expecting a little bit more in how she described the whole experience. Her description of food was okay at first, but became quickly formulaic as she described almost every culinary experience the same way. It lacked a lot of the depth and variety I've come to find from other food writers. If you're looking for a book that brings the culinary school experience to life I personally found The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World's Most Famous Cooking School to be a much more compelling book. While I wanted this book to be on the same level, I found Flinn's account to be much richer.

I do think we see a deeper side of Jenna and start to get a more poignant book once she explores her reaction to her brother's death. But it doesn't come until page 154 in the book. Personally I think the book would have resonated much more with me if it was more about how her brother's death made her rethink her choices and follow her passion. But it doesn't really feel connected to what came before it and since there are little more than 50 pages after I feel like we don't really understand the full effect it has on her life. The ending felt a bit abrupt to me. Not to mention for all the talk of Jenna going to culinary school to be a food writer, the book makes little nod to this dream at the end. Again, I also kept hungering for Weber to go deeper and truly talk about her emotions, but I felt like even with this tremendously tragic thing happening to her, it still felt like she was holding back. I always got the sense on her blog that she was a private person and I do think it hinders the potential of this book.

My last issue with this book was that although it was billed as a 'culinary coming-of-age story' I felt like food didn't play as big a role in the book as I expected. I thought in the first chapter she did a nice job of showing how cooking played a formative role in her childhood, but post culinary-school it stopped feeling as linked. She kept describing meals she was eating at the time, but it felt forced as if she knew she was writing a book about food and had to include them. What I've loved about food writing is that the meals described in this book often start to feel almost like characters. To me, I didn't get that. It stopped serving a purpose.

Overall, this book was just okay. I wanted to like it a lot more than I did because of all the struggles Weber has been through and the amount of time I'd spent following her life on her blog, but I just didn't. I almost felt like she might have been better off saving this book for a few years until her perspective on the situation and her writing style had matured a bit. Right now the quality of it feels more like a well written college essay than a notable piece of non-fiction.

That said, I do think most current and especially long time readers of her blog will like it. Though it didn't go deep enough for me, it still does share more of Jenna than she wrote on her blog as these events were happening. Plus I think when you already have an established fondness for someone I think you're often willing to overlook more than someone would if they previously had no history with an author. I'm less convinced that this is a book that will appeal to those who haven't read her blog. It just seems to me there are so many other pieces of food writing that are better developed and have a more cohesive flow to them.

So in short, I would recommend it for die hard fans of her blog, but others may want to pass or at the very least, get this at the library vs. investing in the book itself.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was a bit disappointed with this book, despite loving the premise behind it. The writing is pretty bad - or perhaps it suffers from poor editing. Phrases like "The crumbs melted on my tongue...", or "I felt lighter..." are repeated a couple of times, making the whole thing feel quite unimaginative and plodding. I was expecting luscious descriptions of food and interesting cooking anecdotes, but sadly these were missing.

While the recipes sound delicious, most of them I think can already be found online. I would have thought to make the book extra-special, the author could have included all new recipes, to make us readers feel like we're getting value for money.

It's an easy read, however, so good for a holiday I guess.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The pacing is not that great and the stories weren't well-developed/written. Got this as a gift as I am a huge fan of the blog, however maybe more time should be spent in writing sessions rather than food photography? I can understand this is what it is (a food blogger that got the chance to write a book), but as long as you understand that, your expectations shouldn't be too high.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I wouldn't recommend this book.... it's very simple with erratic pacing. I think this is a good example of someone who blogs shouldn't assume they will make a good author. Jenna really should map out the events and people in her life much better to allow proper flow and answer lingering questions.
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67 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
'White Jacket Required' is depicted as heartwarming narrative of Jenna Weber's culinary journey and begins with how she discovered her passion for the culinary arts as a kid, giving us a sneak peek behind the face of the blogger we have come to know well.

However, one doesn't have to read beyond the introduction before discovering a tale of two Jennas. On page three in the first paragraph the key points in this episode is in direct conflict with her blog's version of these years. Similarly, one doesn't need to go beyond her first blog post to see that something is up with Jenna - we just don't know if it's Jenna or Jenna 2.0.

According to her book, it was Jenna's lifelong passion for cooking and becoming a food writer that fueled her desire to attend culinary school, something she considered "strange to me, coming from a family where everyone worked in PR and marketing. It was always assumed that after I finished college... I would... get a job at an agency..." (page 2). Earlier, she had felt disgruntled and out of place in the traditional college setting, and it was during a nervous breakdown in the school's psych office when she called her parents, tearfully begging to be allowed to drop out and attend culinary school instead. Her parents convinced her to stick it out, though, which Jenna thanks them for later as pursuing her degree in English helped her develop her skills as a writer. Unfortunately for Jenna, once in culinary school she finds the challenge of the program daunting and begins to doubt herself... again. During the holiday break three months into her studies, Jenna discovers her great-grandmother's recipe box hidden deep in her closet; her mom had placed it there at some point (page 89) and had forgotten to tell Jenna about it. This occurs in 2007. While perusing through the recipes, Jenna says she felt inspired to bake her way through them and write a book about the experience. This revelation encouraged Jenna to switch to the baking and pastry arts program (page 90). Each of these accounts is in direct conflict according to either time or circumstance as noted into her blog.

In her very first blog post, armed with a degree in English and the completion of a writing workshop in Paris, she desired to become a writer of healthy cookbooks and a personal chef, specializing in nutrition - eatliverun.com/welcome-to-my-site/ . In her blog, it's not until she discovers her great-grandmother's recipe cards in either '05 or '06 (depending on which blog post you read - eatliverun.com/kindred-spirits/ and eatliverun.com/faq/ -) that the idea of attending culinary school is birthed. According to her blog posts, the recipes never inspired her to write a cookbook. Instead, she figures that to write about food well in general, she must learn as much about food as possible. Thus, she must attend culinary school to do that. Come to think of it, her book was pretty much already written before she first started talking about these recipes and cooking from them in 2011 - eatliverun.com/chocolate-peanut-butter-mounds-bars/. (Her first blog post of them is dated October 9, 2010, where she says she discovered them in 2005 - eatliverun.com/kindred-spirits/). Sadly, there are more discrepancies.

The beginning years of her blog served as a food journal, logging her daily healthy eats complete with calorie count and exacting portion measurements, which contradicts with her smug attitude towards health freaks (page 12) and seemingly carefree, Parisian attitude towards food (page 118). I could go on and talk about other conflicts, like her on again-off again running; her anti-meat phase during culinary school - when in the book she tells the chef she's not a vegetarian; that she fails to mention the creation of her blog, which was the catalyst for her book deal; yada yada yada... Sacrebleu!

I love food because it's real, and real easy to tell what's good from what's bad, what's homemade and what's processed, what's real fruit versus wax fruit. With Jenna, I just can't tell what's real from what's false. I don't know if this says more about Jenna herself or the publishing world in general, but either way, it's disingenuous to pass something off as an autobiography when it's full of questionable truths. I would give 'White Jacket Required' a thumbs down. Save your $20 for your gas tank or a cappuccino... in France!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The bottom line is, the review entitled "a tale of two Jenna's" is entirely accurate. The book is very inconsistent and jumpy. I am a reader of the blog but I was disappointed by the book and the obvious discrepancies from what is written on the blog. Clearly Jenna is a talented woman with many things to be proud of, the review is obviously not an attack on her as an individual. Those of us who read blogs appreciate the realness of getting to know someone on-line, it is a let down when they author a book that leaves the reader feeling confused as to what is really true. I'm not sure if Jenna was swayed by her editors or publisher to change the facts in the book to make it more appealing or if what is written in the blog is inaccurate, but either way, there are too many instances where her stories don't jive, even down to the dates. I can't imagine none of them, Jenna included, would think that the blog readers wouldn't notice this. That said, even if these inconsistencies did line up, there are other things that were to me, wonky about the book. For example, there is absolutely no mention of blogging whatsoever until around page 100 when suddenly she says she appreciated all of the comments on her blog regarding her brothers death. Blog? What blog? I mean, the blog is why she got the book deal so you would think in a memoir there would be more than one sentence about it, especially one that comes out of nowhere. Either way, this sort of left me feeling disillusioned about the blog itself. I sort of wish Jenna would have waited until she was in her 30's to write a memoir. I think at that point she would feel more comfortable in her own skin and allow herself to be truly honest with her readers; in this book that isn't the case.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
There are many inconsistencies in this book, as evidenced by the author's chronology of events detailed in her blog - it seems much of this was manufactured for the sake of selling a memoir - still, there's not much here worthy of a book. She comes off (both on her blog and in this book) as a spoiled brat. No one can fault her for her intent: to inspire. But, there's nothing remarkable about Jenna's story, despite her attempts to manipulate facts and events and chronology - it's still a bland and one dimensional coming of age story, with mediocre writing, highly editorialized. I am surprised that any publisher would think there's anything profound enough to merit a memoir here. I found it frustrating to read this tale that didn't ring true to what Jenna has previously shared about these same events.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
A mid-twenties woman might not be the best author of a "memoir," particularly of one she doesn't have that much experience in. Her short stint at cooking school didn't provide enough interesting material to suffice for an entire book. It's hard to connect with her and the other "characters" in the book, and I often found myself disliking the display of her personality, which is sad considering I'm a long time blog reader and happen to like her blog persona. The recipes in the book are not well connected with the stories, and are very "safe" recipes. You'll find much better ones-- for free-- on her blog, without having to suffer through her awkwardness.
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