So I got MY LIFE IN FRANCE, by Julia Child, as a Christmas gift. I’m not a foodie. I’m not, in fact, much of a cook at all. In her memoir, when Julia waxed eloquent, oft times partly in French, about pressed duck (ew) or some such exotic dish, I tended to skim the gory details.
So why did I love this book so much?
When Julia and her husband Paul moved to France, she had not found her calling and in fact, did not even know what a shallot was, much less how to cook, much less cook French food well enough to become one of the most famous cooks in the world.
Here’s the kicker. She was thirty-six when she moved to France. That’s my age! My age exactly!
I should have realized she was no dewy adolescent when she learned to cook, based on the film Julie and Julia, from Julia’s memoir and another by Julie Powell, who blogged her way through MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. The film starred Meryl Streep as Julia. (Side note: Meryl Streep can play a 36 year old any time she wants to. She could play a grizzly bear and I’d pay $8.50 to see her.)
I already feel over the hill in some ways.* Minutes ago, I read that the chick who played Andrea on 90210 turned fifty. Granted, she was an implausible 29 years old playing a high schooler back then, but still.
Even in book publishing, a business where you’d think good looks and youth don’t matter so much, there does seem to be extra excitement over wrinkle-free wunderkinds. The National Book Foundation each year chooses its “Five Under 35” writers of fiction recognized by previous National Book Award winners. (I’m out). The New Yorker released its list of “Twenty under Forty” in 2010 “who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction.” (It’s been more than ten years since they last did this. I missed the window here, too.)
I’m not a fresh, debut novelist anymore, either. My first two books, REAL LIFE & LIARS and THE LIFE YOU'VE IMAGINED, did well. They did well enough in fact to land me another book deal, for a total of four novels now under contract. But I’m hardly a household name. Without wanting to say it out loud, I’ve been worrying… what if it’s all downhill from here?
And then I get my hands on Julia Child’s memoir. Her life was just beginning at thirty-six, and at the time she couldn’t have imagined the heights she’d eventually reach. As for myself, with each book I write – THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY comes out in June, and I’m working on a new novel for 2012 – I get a chance to find new readers who won’t care if I’m 36 or 26 or 96 as long as I can spin them a story.
We’re lucky, Julia and I, that you don’t have to be young and gorgeous to cook a beautiful boeuf bourguignon or write a kick-ass book. So in that case, I’d better get busy…
*I can imagine my older friends preparing to lob tomatoes at me. But age is relative, right? I’m the oldest I’ve ever been!