Julie, Julia, and the case of the missing smoke

AudioFile describes Julie & Julia as a “seamless abridgement” of the book by the same name. When I listened to it a few months ago, I thought so too–or rather, I thought it was quite good–since I hadn’t read the book, I couldn’t make a comparison.

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen is the book that developed from The Julie/Julia Project, a blog written by a New York City secretary named Julie Powell who decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. I ordered the audio version for the library because it got great reviews, and I listened to it on the way to and from ALA. It’s great–funny, full of arresting, slightly repugnant, but dead-on observations, like the one about trussed chickens looking like sex-crime victims.

Earlier this month, the book showed up in the rotation to our library. (There are three branches of the Park County Library System. A few books we all buy copies of, but when a book is purchased by only one or two of the branches, it rotates to the other libraries before coming home to rest. While you can always get a book from another branch sent to you, it’s nice to get a new collection to browse through on a regular basis at your home library. Since I liked the audio version, and since I was curious to see what had been abridged, I decided to check it out.

The audio book is 5 discs; the book is 309 pages–I didn’t think that much could have been left out. And indeed, I was right. There are two main things left out of the audio version: some occasional imagined scenes between Paul and Julia Child during their courtship and early marriage, and, well, how do I put this?–the debauchery.

There’s quite a bit of cigarette smoking in the book. There’s none, or almost none, in the audio book. There’s some drinking in the audio book, but there’s more in the book. Ditto mentions of extra marital sex.

The audio book is great–Julie Powell is a vivacious but exacting reader, which is good when you have to read a lot of French. I enjoyed listening to it; I laughed, I cried, the whole thing. But when I read the book, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been oddly cheated–that my experience had, in some way, been censored. You don’t really miss any of the major story in the abridgement, nor do you miss out on how well Powell can frame a scene:

Over a period of two weeks in late December of 2002, at the exhortation of Julia Child, I went on a murderous rampage. I committed gruesome, atrocious acts, and for my intended victims, no murky corner of Queens or Chinatown was safe from my diabolical reach. If new so f the carnage was not widely remarked upon in the local press, it was only because my victims were not Catholic school girls or Filipino nurses, but crustaceans.

But you do miss, well, something. I finished reading with the odd feeling that the anti-smoking lobby has somehow teamed up with Time Warner AudioBooks–which, given news of late, might not be that surprising.

3 thoughts on “Julie, Julia, and the case of the missing smoke”

  1. This reminds me of when I was evaluating textbooks for the department I used to teach in. There was a new edition of a poetry anthology out, and we had advance copies of it. It looked like a good addition to the approved booklist, overall: it would be inexpensive to students and give a solid collection of readings. It even had “Song of Myself” in it. Not all of “SoM,” mind–that was clear from the text, anyway. But I went back to check what parts had been taken out, and you guessed it: the sexy ones. The section with the naked boys swimming, gone!

  2. Oh, yeah–what happened? We approved the book in spite of the cut. But I felt like the abridgment elided the parts of the poem that were most interesting, and have been read more carefully than others these past few years….

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