August 28, 2015
Spitz, Bob. Dearie. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print.
Once. I saw her just once, for a mere five seconds as my boyfriend surfed television channels. My next encounter was through Dan Akroyd during his Saturday Night Live French Chef skit. So when I started reading about Julia Child in Spitz’s biography Dearie, I was unprepared for how swiftly and strongly I became a follower and fan of this amazing woman.
Bob Spitz writes incredibly well, so well that he would make anyone’s life enthralling. But Spitz doesn’t know everyone; he did know Julia Child, and he was a fan, so do expect some bias. Yet there’s enough balance in Dearie to provide many sides of Child’s character—her occasional bigotry and her hardline self-interest, to her open door policy and fearless pursuit of justice. Who knew that she came from a wealthy ultra-conservative family in California? That she was an administrator in espionage in the Office of Strategic Services during WWII? That she started to take a serious interest in food only in her 30s? That her peculiar voice was genetic, handed down by her mother and her mother before her? There’s so much in Dearie about Child’s home life and politics that you almost forget that she was a famous French chef.
Almost. Child is fierce about cooking, specifically, French cooking. She devotes her life to transforming American kitchens through translating and teaching exact, reliable methods. Once her first cookbook is published—Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and once she goes on air on educational television in Boston (WGBH), she’s unstoppable. And Spitz records it all. Using Julia’s archives (donated to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard), letters to and from Julia from friends and family, and his own traveling experiences and conversations with her, Spitz documents her life in a chronological but leisurely manner. This is a story he doesn’t want to finish, and in the end, neither do I.
So I did what any person with Internet access does these days whose interest is piqued—I tracked down and watched one of her French Chef shows on YouTube, the one where she makes omelets. And I entered a request through our library for her first cookbook. Sure she died in 2004, and I’m way late in learning about her. But the great thing is that her legacy still stands. That’s what Bob Spitz does for us. He reminds all that she’s still worth discovering.
Lisa Kent, Access Services Librarian, Author of Peace Cottage