Book bits

Food writer Lauren Shapiro

Celebrity chefs are hard at work all over cable TV these days, but there's yet to emerge an icon the equal of Julia Child. In her compact but insightful new biography Julia Child (the latest addition to the Penguin Life Series), food writer Laura Shapiro takes a thoughtful look at the life and work of America's best loved French chef. Shapiro spoke about Child in a recent interview.

I understand you had a chance to meet Julia and dine at her house. What was that like?

I was a food writer at Newsweek for 15 years. I knew her slightly from food conferences and so on.... When [one of her books] came out, I called to ask for an interview and she said, "Would you like to stay here?" I said, "Of course!"... She made me this lovely, simple dinner – completely in character for her, a gracious thing to do.... She made a rack of lamb with fresh peas and wagon wheel pasta. To this day I can see her, this giant standing over the stove, dropping in the wagon wheel pasta.

What were Julia's best qualities?

Her lack of pretension. With Julia, what you saw was what you got. She didn't know how to be a phony.... She had an ego, but she was not a narcissist. Everything she did didn't come back to her. It was the opposite: it came back to you. In an interview, talking about herself, she managed to convey the feeling that what she loved was being able to tell this to you.

What were her weaknesses?

Two things. First, she had a streak of homophobia that was apparent in her letters and conversation.... But she did outgrow this later in life.... The other thing was her dislike of anyone who was immensely fussy about food. Animal rights activism, vegetarianism, organic food production – she couldn't stand any of it.

Paul and Julia Child had a marriage many would envy. What was their secret?

Paul was the very image of the thinking, curious, engaged person that Julia wanted to be with.... They came together as friends first and carved out a common area of interests and pleasures.... Also, they both believed very much in working as a team. You work for the other person.

What deeper lessons did Julia bring to the US public?

Julia trusted food. She felt that if people could really connect with good food, that food would lead the way to all that was meaningful in life.... For Julia it was all about giving. With the TV chefs today, it's all about showing off. For Julia, it was all about the people around the table who would enjoy the meal.
–Marjorie Kehe

Three books about retirement

In 2005, Barry and Thia Golson sold their Manhattan apartment, packed their SUV, and headed for retirement in Mexico. In Gringos in Paradise Barry Golson humorously recounts how the two built their dream house in a tiny city on the Pacific coast and – in the process – learned to know and love their new neighbors.

What sweeter next chapter could there be for a golfer? George Peper, former editor of Golf Magazine, tells in Two Years in St. Andrews of retirement to a 150-year-old flat beside the famed Scottish golf course. There, he and his wife remodel their home, hobnob with celebrities, and, of course, play golf.

New experiences are the last thing Marie Sharp wants as she approaches the age of 60. No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club! by British journalist Virginia Ironside is the witty fictional diary of a woman who grew up in the 1960s and now finds herself embracing grandmotherhood and pining for a bit of peace and quiet.

Readers' picks

Falling Through the Earth by Danielle Trussoni tells of a daughter's persistent, loyal, and loving relationship with her troubled Vietnam vet Dad – and her efforts to understand him by exploring, experiencing (as a tourist, decades later), and studying the life of a grunt "tunnel rat" in the unforgiving swamp near Cu Chi.
– Judy Weaver, Merrill, Wis.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler is about his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in China during the late 1990s. He taught English to youth primarily from farm (peasant) families. The book is full of insights into both individual lives and a society struggling with changing regulations and roles.
– Kate Belt, Portland, Ore.

The Solzhenitsyn Reader, New and Essential Writings 1947-2005, edited by Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney. Having read everything published in English by Solzhenitsyn, I hesitated to buy this new volume. Now I'm enjoying every page, and the judicious comments and the introduction by the editors. There have been great writers publishing in the past 50 years, but none better than A. S.
– Gordon Jewett, Cincinnati

The Americanization of Edward Bok by Edward Bok. This 1921 Pulitzer-Prize winner offers good advice to today's students about how to treat non-English-speaking classmates.
– Martha Barkley, Charleston, S.C.

I have just finished reading Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I was transported back to the bucolic 1800s English countryside and the life of the landed gentry. I relished the elegant prose and the leisurely pace. Such a welcome relief from the world of today!
– Judy Park, Gig Harbor, Wash.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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