Have a little compassion for the memoirist

No self-respecting blogger who hopes for a New York book deal for her memoir would neglect to read Julie & Julia, the story of how secretary Julie Powell cooks and blogs her way through 524 recipes in Julia Child’s legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.

Yet I did.

Julie & JuliaHow? Well, the book was sitting on my bookshelf for a long time, probably years, fooling me into thinking I’d get around to it “soon.” I finally picked it up so I could watch the movie (because I’m a book-before-movie girl whenever possible), and I’m so glad I did.

Fat BrideI enjoyed seeing how Powell turned her funny, well-read blog into a narrative, character-driven book that was more than just a bunch of blog entries strung together, which pretty describes Laurie Notaro’s Autobiography of a Fat Bride: True Tales of a Pretend Adulthood, if you substitute “funny personal essays” for “hilarious blog posts” (I wasn’t very impressed with that memoir I also read recently, I’m sorry to say).

In fact, I liked Julie & Julia so much, I decided to look up Powell’s second book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat & Obsession.

Oh, boy.

What I found was a memoirist’s worst nightmare … horrible reviews that rip on not just the book, but the author and her life choices. Oh, God. After liking Powell so much in Julie & Julia, I felt horrible reading what haters had to say about Cleaving: “uncomfortable,” “horrific,” “I couldn’t stomach finishing it.”

Ouch.

One of the rules of fiction that applies to memoir writing is to create a likable protagonist. I put Cleaving on my Goodreads To-Read list anyway. Because I feel compassion for the real person who had the courage to put it out there.

But back to Julie & Julia. After I read the book, I rented the movie (and made my husband watch it with me). I would have told I had seen the movie, but until I watched it, I realized I’d only see the extended previews. It was definitely one of those “based on” movies that played fast and loose with the book. The biggest difference was the emphasis but on Julia Child, who gets a much greater role in the movie than in the book. But then, any role played by Meryl Streep in a movie deserves front-and-center attention, I guess. I enjoyed the movie, too, even though it was different.

I hope Powell is surviving the poor reviews on her second book, and I hope the fact that she was played by adorable Amy Adams in the movie and now has both Streep and Adams on the cover of reprints of her paperback heal a lot of insults.

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