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As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 1, 2010
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2010: Though this collection of letters between Julia Child and her savvy friend, cook, and confidante, Avis DeVoto, may be voluminous, its narrative force is immediate. Julia and Avis shared a voracious curiosity about ingredients, gadgets, recipes, and methods that any home cook worth her salt will find wonderful to read. Their testing and tasting in large part fueled Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the now-legendary and game-changing cookbook that Avis, upon reading an early chapter, said "could be a classic and make your fortune and go on selling forever." Avis was an instant and unwavering champion of the book and shepherded its long journey towards publication stateside, as Julia and her co-authors in France worked doggedly on the manuscript, and there couldn't have been a better or brighter for advocate for the book's target audience. As a mid-century American housewife, Avis participated both eagerly and critically in the renaissance age of culinary convenience: she details her experiments with the frozen, freeze-dried, canned, and casseroled with a wonderful sense of humor and taste. These pieces are particularly fascinating to read now, as we resurrect the slow, local approach to home cooking, and her perspective on what was available to American cooks at that time is a seamless counterpart to her commentary on the cookbook itself, which she praises time and again for its classical richness and modern practicality. Julia writes to Avis early on that "people who love to eat are always the best people," and certainly nothing could be truer of these two formidable and gracious gourmandes. --Anne Bartholomew
With her outsize personality, Julia Child is known around the world by her first name alone. But despite that familiarity, how much do we really know of the inner Julia?
Now more than 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent memorably introduced in the hit movie Julie & Julia, open the window on Julia’s deepest thoughts and feelings. This riveting correspondence, in print for the first time, chronicles the blossoming of a unique and lifelong friendship between the two women and the turbulent process of Julia’s creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written. Frank, bawdy, funny, exuberant, and occasionally agonized, these letters show Julia, first as a new bride in Paris, then becoming increasingly worldly and adventuresome as she follows her diplomat husband in his postings to Nice, Germany, and Norway.
With commentary by the noted food historian Joan Reardon, and covering topics as diverse as the lack of good wine in the United States, McCarthyism, and sexual mores, these astonishing letters show America on the verge of political, social, and gastronomic transformation.
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From Publishers Weekly
Culinary historian Reardon's collection of the correspondence between Child and her pen pal, Avis DeVoto (portrayed in the film Julie & Julia by Deborah Rush), bubbles over with intimate insights into their friendship. In 1952, Child was living in Paris when she wrote to Cambridge, Mass., historian Bernard DeVoto after reading his Harper's article about knives. Her letter was answered by his wife, Avis, who soon became her confidante, sounding board, and enthusiastic fellow cook. The two met finally met in person two years later. As a part of the publishing community, Avis (who died in 1989) was responsible for securing the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, steering the book first to Houghton Mifflin and then to its eventual home at Knopf. Their letters span a wide range of topics, from cookbooks, menus, recipes, and restaurants to Balzac, sex, goose stuffing, gardening, learning languages, the political climate, Sunday afternoon cocktail parties, and proofreading. Witty, enlightening and entertaining, these letters serve as a compelling companion volume to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Dec. 1)
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Top customer reviews
This is a "book of many colors". It is historical. It is political. It is about relationships. It contains elements of hope; frustration; despair; persistence; and,ultimately, triumph over what at times must have seemed like overwhelming odds.
I am only 21% of the way through these fascinating letters be Julia Child and Avis DeVoto so this is but a very brief review of this work, however, it is also the only time I have been so engrossed in a book that I find it valuable to write a review as a "work in progress".
As an amatuer cook given to experienting will numerous styles of cuisine, I am not sure what I expected when I ordered this book in Kindle format but I assure those who read this that what I received is far more than what I believed the book would be. I guess I expected, well, a cookbook. To this point in my reading I have come to see this work as something far more important and, for those interested in history and travel, something totally unexpected.
If you are familiar with Julia Child through her cookbooks and PBS shows, then you, like I, don't know Julia as a person outside of her known field of expertise. Born in the mid-1940's, much of what is discussed in the letters relative to the political climate of the United States, post-World War II resonates with what I, and every other "Baby-Boomer" grew up with in the 50's and beyond. It provides an interesting perspective of what Julia and Avis (both obviously staunch Liberals) see as dangerous within the U.S.; Julia as an American living abroad with her husband working for the State Department, and Avis living in the U.S. married to a successful, if too liberal, author.
Highly recommended for cooks and those who aspire to be cooks; historians and those who think history is boring.
The preceding 4 paragraphs are from the original review.
Throughout these letters and Reardon's commentaries, we see a progression as the "pen-pal" friendship blossoms. The letters become more intimate. Attitudes and prejudices surface revealing much about both Julia and Avis. Julia loves France but seems, at times. to dislike the French. Avis mentions friends with a "certain condition", namely, that they are lesbians - revealing the deep-seated prejudice against gays and lesbians prevalent up until very recently (when viewed in the context of history). The use of the word "gay" in some of the letters is quickly explained to mean the true definition of the word as opposed to the sexual orientation it has come to represent.
Nothing in these letters serves to diminish the accomplishments of Julia, Simca, and Avis in the authorship and publication of Julia's and Simca's recognized masterpiece; nor, Julia's success as a star on PBS. These letters show what life was like from the late 40's through Avis' death and, in the Epilogue, beyond to further discuss (in commentary) Julia's continued success as an author and television personality.
Deserves more than 5-stars but that's all that are available.