Dearie "The Remarkable Life of Julia Child"
WMBC Discussion Questions



“Dearie” by Bob Spitz

Published by A.A. Knopf, NY, 2012 but no publisher's discussion questions found.

All page numbers refer to iPad edition.

1. The title of the book includes, “The Remarkable Life of Julia Child”. Do you think Spitz was able to deliver what he felt was remarkable about Julia in this book? Do you think Julia was remarkable as well?

2. Spitz’s previous autobiography was “The Beatles”. If you read it (or plan to), could you see any similarities in the ways that Julia Child, like the Beatles, transformed herself to become an iconic cultural figure?

3. Spitz's previous autobiography was "The Beatles." If you read it (or plan to), could you see any similarities in the ways that Julia Child, like The Beatles, transformed herself to become an iconic cultural figure? How did she accomplish that status for herself?

4. Spitz opens with a photo of a solitary Julia shelling peas with her cat standing behind her. What, if anything, did this image conjure up for you?

5. Julia was truly unique – from the sound of her voice “like a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and a slide whistle” – to her extraordinary ability to change the way we cooked, “Americans were inspired and changed forever by Julia Child – even if they never saw it coming.” Did Julia inspire you? How so?

6. Spitz writes that it took Julia “half a lifetime…to harness that behavior (unconscious wicked devilish goodness) into her own unique expression” PG 22…”To master the art of cooking, French or otherwise, you first had to demystify the process, to not be intimidated by it, to be fearless, to plunge right in. Technique was essential, of course, but you had to find the pleasure in it. Without pleasure there was not payoff.” Would you say that Spitz clearly defined this as Julia's approach to cooking throughout the book?

7. Julia was raised with wealth but she had a tremendous drive of her own toward achievement and accomplishment when she could have lived a life of absolute leisure. What does that say about her?

8. Spitz describes the mood of the early 60’s on Pg 26 –with “Cooking, like sex, was practiced privately -- and, some might say, without much enthusiasm—in the home. “ How was Julia able to rise above the cooks and chefs of that decade? People like: Fanny Farmer, Jacques Pepin, Ettore “Hector” Boiardi of Chef Boyardee fame, and the trio of women who wrote the “Joy of Cooking”: Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker.

9. Paul’s work gave Julia not only the time but also the outlet to showcase her culinary skills to a greater degree. She (and he) thrived on the way she excelled. However, Spitz reveals that Julia still felt intimidated by the table’s political conversations. Given as driven as she was over cooking French food, why do you think she failed to better acquaint herself over the politics of the day, especially given her husband’s position? Was she so focused on her own pursuits?

10. Paul is presented as her biggest lifelong fan and supporter. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor, photographer, and writer, a true Renaissance man. It seems, however, that he sublimated his talent to support Julia's ambitions. Did you feel this was true and did you sense his resentment, if any? How did he influence her in ways big and small?

11. Julia came to life and discovery in Paris but in Marseille at the start, she floundered (no pun intended)...that is until she found her apartment and then everything changed yet again. It was her next step and helped her "jump-start" her work for “Mastering The Art of French Cooking”, especially for the fish chapters. Her fondest memory of any fish dish was of the sole meuniere in Rouen (Normandy) when she and Paul first arrived in France and were headed to Paris in 1948, something she never forgot. Has any dish ever left such an indelible impression on you? If so, what and can you still recall it in detail today?

12. The Childs are stunned by the change of classic haute cuisine to the more artistic nouvelle cuisine of Paris in 1974. Do you remember that change too? How did you feel the first time you were served nouvelle cuisine? Aside: if you have the chance, watch the documentary film called “El Buli” set in Barcelona Spain. It is about Chef Fernando AdriA Acosta and his scientific approach to21st century cooking. His restaurant was voted best restaurant in the world three times over and reservations were to be made a year in advance. It has since closed but at its peak, it would shut down for six months of the year so that its chefs could go to its lab to create new tapas-style dishes that would take over 5 hours to finish a meal…unbelievable too was the cost of that meal!

13. Spitz is able to show a steelier side of Julia when it came to her friends, publishers and entourage. It showed in her treatment of Louisette Berthoile and later Simca (Simone Suzanne Renee Madeleine Beck Fishbacher) the two women who originally collaborated on Mastering The Art of French Cooking. It also showed much later with her publisher Judith Jones, who was met with Julia snapping, “I don’t want to hear it! That’s why I have a lawyer!” It showed, too, when she’d had enough of everyone in her kitchen in 1986 when “enough was enough”…”There were times when one had to be harshly unsentimental, and moving on often meant first closing doors.” Paul was becoming more frail, her TV career was in transition, and she was disillusioned with “bookery”. By 1989 she says, “If I tried to take care of him (Paul) at home and people stopped coming to visit, then chances are I’d become resentful of him,” she concluded. “We had a wonderful time together, and I was very lucky, but the survivors have to survive.” Even when her new companion, John McJennett, became so ill with bone cancer she says to Judith Jones, “I think I won’t be coming down anymore.” A few weeks later, John died. Would you agree that this was a steelier side, being pragmatic, realistic, or as Spitz suggests, that she was more and more aware of her own aging and impending death?

13. Suggested reading: “My Life in France” written by Julia Child that was published posthumously in 2006 and who died at age 91 on Aug. 13, 2004, just two days shy of her 92nd birthday Aug. 15 (1912).

14. How will you best remember Julia Child?