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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A comparison

I just finished two books I was reading at the same time.  I had to finish them off before they were due at the library.

They were both interesting reads and, while I don't want to do a thorough book review of both of them, I do want to do a bit of a comparison review.

The books had a few similarities.  They are both written by American women.  They are both generally autobiographical, but deal more specifically with a single, tumultuous year in their lives and thrust them into the spotlight, relative fame and maybe a bit of fortune.  The authors talk a bit about their families, friends and marriages, their thoughts and opinions, and the aftermath of their year of fame.

That's about it for what they have in common.

The first book I'll talk about is Julie and Julia.  I'd first heard about the Julie/Julia project when the movie came out.  Seeing the trailers, I had no real interest in seeing it.  I did, however, read a positive review about the moving on the Foodie at Fifteen (now 17) blog.  I've been following his blog for a while and figured if he liked it, I might like it, too.  So when I saw it on the list of digital 24 hour rentals our cable tv service offers, I gave it a chance.

I'm glad I did.  I enjoyed the movie far more than I expected to, and ended up watching it twice before our rental was done.  I liked it enough that we even bought the DVD recently.

The scene that did it for me was near the beginning of the movie.  Julia Child and her husband, Paul, are walking down the street.  Julia is talking about something completely unrelated to what happens next.   A couple walks by in the other direction, pushing a baby in a pram.  Julia twists around to smile and ogle the baby, as so many people do.  When she turns back, however, her face shows a mix of joy and pain.  No words are spoken, but Paul sees this and gently comforts her.  In a few moments, the actors portrayed volumes.  You knew that Julia could not have, but loved and wanted, children - why or how is never addressed - and that Paul understood her pain, sharing it in his own way, while quietly doing what he could to comfort her.

How much this reflected reality, I have no idea, but those few moments in the movie won it over for me.  In fact, I liked all the Julia parts of the movie, and really liked how the movie switched back and forth between following Julia in the past and Julie in the present.  I didn't like the Julie character quite as much (Eldest, on seeing the movie later on asked me, "are we *supposed* to hate the Julie character?" *L*).  I did find the whole project interesting, and enjoyed seeing how it played out.

So when I was at the library and saw the book, Julie and Julia, in the cookbook section, I grabbed it (along with My Life in France, which was next to it - I haven't even started that one yet).

On reading the book, I found that I actually liked the movie better, which is a big switch for me.  I liked the Julie Powell of the book even less than the Julie Powell of the movie.  There was also really very little about Julia Child in the book - no where near the even split in the movie.  I truly can't understand how any adult could have so many meltdowns.  I'm far from the best housekeeper in the world, but even I was aghast as some of her descriptions of her kitchen (maggots under the drainage tray??  Seriously!?), but I did laugh out loud when she described her calves brains soaking in the sink incident.  After buying the movie, we saw some of the extras that included interviews with Julie Powell, and she seems rather sweet, so I'm hoping the book isn't too accurate a description of what she's like.  The end of the book  was the strangest of all, though.  It actually ended several times.  The first pseudo-ending I could understand - the end of the project was not the end of her life, so a bit of follow up after that was understandable.  Then there was the weird "Reading Group Guide" section in the back.  I haven't seen such low intellect, leading questions since Junior High.  After that is a list of recommended reading titles from Powell.  Some are food and cooking related, some aren't.  Anyone who recommends The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead is all right in my books! *L*  That wasn't the end, either.  A final chapter, dated in 2008 (the Julie/Julia project took place in 2002/2003) follows Julie while she is now working as a butcher.  I was happy to read that she seems to have found her place in life - certainly a better place than working as a secretary was!  She certainly seems to enjoy her life a lot more, and that's always a good thing.

While reading the book, however, there were a few things that really jumped out at me.  Some of it was a rather eye opening look at how really quite shallow people's lives are in the book.  I'll be the first to admit that my own life isn't anything earth shatteringly interesting, but I was still taken aback by how... vacuous people seemed to be.  In fact, what seemed to pass as the highest intellectualism was making snipes at Republicans.

Which was another thing that jumped out as me as being really weird.  This was not a book about politics at all, yet there were a number of political digs made that had me wondering.  Republicans, according to this book, are evil and have no emotions.  At one point, she describes the choices on ballots as being between "Democrat, Libertarian and Pure Evil."  In the book, she describes taking a dish into the office to share, but it falls and breaks.  She brings in the dregs anyhow, puts the remains in the staff room with a sign saying "help yourself," then goes to warn the 6 fellow Democrats in her office that they might want to pass on it, as it might have shards of ceramic in it.

Wow.  Just... wow.

The comments, as blithely made as they were, reminded me of comments made by people who are completely racist, but have no idea that they are.  Like a former neighbour of ours who had no idea that there was anything wrong with calling Brazil Nuts, N****r Toes.  That's what her family called them, so that's what she called them, because that's what they were, right?  It just seemed so very weird to read a book where such obviously prejudicial comments were being made, not only as if they were the most normal thing to say, but that saying them somehow made one appear more intelligent or astute.  Maybe it's because I'm Canadian and have no day to day encounters with how people in the US behave when it comes to politics, but it just blew me away. 

Julie and Julia, from what I can tell, is meant to be entertainment.  It might be about the real life happenings of a real life person, but for someone who is supposed to be rather intellectual (there's some background explaining that in the book), is clearly well read, can write rather well and has a decent vocabulary, it's really just a puff piece.  I would hope it doesn't reflect on the real Julie Powell too accurately, because it makes her seem not much deeper than a puddle - which makes her quite a bit deeper than pretty much everyone else in her social circle, as described in the book.  Except her husband.  In both the book and the movie, her husband sounds like a really neat guy.  She says herself that he's quite the catch, and clearly she appreciates him.  It's nice to read.

In general, I liked the movie better than the book.  In the book, I would have liked more Julia, but it's not really about Julia, it's about Julie, so that's as it should be. I don't know that I'd recommend it all that strongly, but it wouldn't be a waste of time to read it, either.  Borrow the book from the library, but you might want to buy the DVD.

So what's the other book I was reading?

Why, a book written by one of those "evil Republicans."  Sarah Palin's Going Rogue.

What a difference!

Now, I've mentioned before on my blog that I first encountered Sarah Palin before she was selected as McCain's running mate.  I'd read some of her editorials and found her to be thoughtful and intelligent, well researched, and thoroughly practical.  When it was announced that the McCain team had selected Palin, my first thought was that it was a good choice.

The fall out of that choice was mind boggling.  I couldn't believe how vociferously she was attacked and slandered.  Everything about her was twisted and portrayed in the worst possible way.  The hatred people developed for her completely escapes my understanding.  She could do nothing right.

What also seemed clear to me was that, when the Republicans chose her, they had expected her to be little more than a prop.  She was to be their token female, who was supposed to stand there, look pretty, and mouth platitudes.  What they instead got was someone who was articulate, intelligent, and had a backbone of her own.

So of course, she was portrayed as being an ignorant, backwoods, redneck.

For the people who already hate Sarah Palin, this book is unlikely to sway them, but then they're unlikely to read the book, anyhow.  Palin talks openly about her faith; she talks about God as part of her life in the same way she talks about her husband or kids.  Yet the closest she comes to proselytizing is in the very last paragraph of the book, and it's pretty darn mild at that.  She talks about her thoughts on abortion and abstinence - her positions on both having been completely misconstrued in the media.  She even talks about her position on evolution and Creationism, which was also misconstrued.  In all of these areas, folks who already hold her in contempt will still do so.  For those who still manage to still keep even a hint of an open mind about her, it does a fair job of demonstrating just how badly she was misrepresented in the media.

Palin covers her life from when her family moved to Alaska, through her childhood, meeting and marrying Todd Palin (I found her description of their wedding rather funny, reminding me somewhat of my own elopement).  She describes her entrance into official politics as mayor and the road that lead to her becoming Governor.

Though Palin is a registered Republican, she makes no bones about the fact that she doesn't hold to labels.  She doesn't demonize Democrats, either.  She talks about the Republican corruption she encountered while in Alaskan politics, and in many areas, Democrats were her allies.

Then she was selected by the McCain team, and all hell broke loose.

Reading about her time on the campaign trail was very interesting, and confirmed a lot of my own suspicions.  Things got even worse after the election.  That there was an orchestrated attack on her and her family was obvious to anyone with half a brain, but she gives more details on just how bad it was.  No one connected to her was exempt.  Herself, her family, her friends, her team as Governor, all were included.  Perhaps most disturbing were the attacks on her kids - some of which she didn't even mention in her book, but I remember reading about in the news (like the sicko that offered Bristol Palin $25,000 to get an abortion and move away from her family).

It didn't really end when she left the Governor's office.  Of course, even after doing everything possible to achieve just that, her opponents immediately condemned her for leaving. 

What Palin doesn't do is speak ill of people she certainly could have gone all out on - like Bristol Palin's ex-boyfriend, who doesn't even get named.  (It was interesting to find out that the official statement released in the name of the family when word got out about the pregnancy was not only not endorsed by them, but she had changed it significantly, only to have the original released, anyhow.)  He's mentioned only briefly.  While she was critical about the treatment of her by the media, including giving the other side of the story about her infamous Katie Couric "interview", as well as how the campaign people handled things and so much more, she could easily have gone all out and torn them apart.  She didn't.

Palin's book has an open ending.  At this point, she didn't really know what was going to happen next, but her attitude was very positive and hopeful.

I would definitely recommend reading Going Rogue.  She doesn't seem to be trying to convince anyone or change anyone's mind about her.  As I said before, it's not going to change the mind of those who already hate her beyond reason, but for those who haven't gone quite that far over the deep end, I think it would be very enlightening to get her side of the story.  After that, it's up to the reader to decide how much they accept.

While the two books have their similarities, in the end they are completely different.  What I find interesting is that the book written by the person who, if one were to take the media's representations of things, is the more human, intelligent person (namely, a Democrat) is the one that's the puff piece.  Attempts at being deep or intellectual - if that's what they even are - fail to do so.  Meanwhile, the person who is portrayed by the media as completely inept, that many people outright call stupid, and is hated by so many, is the one that wrote the more intelligent, thought provoking book, and the one that was the least judgemental about those of differing opinions.

Both books were worth reading, if for completely different reasons.  If I had to recommend only one of them, it would definitely be Sarah Palin's Going Rogue.

Additional thoughts:  After reading over my post, something else came to mind that I wanted to add.

Autobiographies, by their very nature, are self-centered.  They're all "I, I, I, me, me, me..." which is the whole point.  It wouldn't be an autobiography, otherwise.  How it's done can be very different, however, and that's something else I find interesting in comparing these two books.  Julie and Julia was a book about Julie Powell and her project.  It was about her and her thoughts and feelings, warts and all.  Going Rogue, however, seemed quite different.  Though the book was about Sarah Palin and her life in politics, it somehow managed to not be only about Palin.  Instead, it was more about Alaska, America, and life in general.  There is no real naval gazing in Palin's book.  Somehow, her autobiography seems to be about so much more than just her and what happened to her, but more about her country, her state, and the great confidence she has in humanity.  Perhaps it's the difference between fame with and without responsibility.

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