BOOK REVIEW: The Tenth Muse, by Judith Jones

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BOOK REVIEW: The Tenth Muse, by Judith Jones

Postby Jenise » Sun Nov 17, 2013 3:57 pm

Anybody else read this yet?

Judith Jones is the Knopf editor (and now Vice President of that publishing house) most of us knew nothing about until the Julie/Julia movie made us aware of her existence and the significant role she played in getting Mastering The Art of French Cooking published. This is her memoir and it details, in not very much detail at all, the years she spent in France where she became fascinated with food and met her husband, and then the career she came back to. A career, one has the impression, that was more or less guaranteed her through familial connections. I mention that not to trivialize her long and impressive career, but simply to point out that this is not a tale of hardships, unless getting kicked out of a countess's palacial apartment is such a thing. It's not everybody who lands in Paris with letters of introduction to Sartre and Camus.

IOW, the name-dropping starts pretty much right off the bat. And never stops: the book is less an inspired, insightful view into a rare and wonderful world than a self-congratulatory litany of "I did this book with So-and-So, we cooked in his kitchen. The book was a great success. And immediately afterward I did another book with Somebody Else, and we cooked in my kitchen. Everybody was amazed." As another reviewer put it, "The bits about Julia Child are the shining moments, but they're fleeting." The chapters after Julia quickly get formulaic and repetitive. In short? It's not a total snooze, but it's soulless. Fairly impersonal and surprisingly cliché-ridden for someone in the business of editing other people's work.

Too, parts of it seem less personal memoir than press packet. Here's a good example: on page 122, there's a photo of James Beard and Marion Cunningham. The caption reads: "Jim and Marion picnicking together (they both adored picnics)." Now let's take a closer look at this so-called "picnic". They are outdoors somewhere sitting at the other end of large red and white checkered tablecloth. On the cloth, in the foreground, is lots of food. What are they feasting on, pray tell? One baseball bat length stalk of raw Brussels sprouts, a laundry-sized woven basket of bread loaves, a whole Dungeness crab, several gourds, a raw cauliflower, a giant salad in a giant wooden bowl you'd need a Sherpa to carry, and two roasted birds, each with a bundle of two-foot-long feathers sticking out of its butt. Sure sounds like every picnic I've ever been on--NOT! Obviously, it was a staged photo op to promote something by one or the other--so why risk looking phony, why not just say so?

By the point that I was about 2/3 of the way through, I found her to be as scrounging for something more to say as much as I was struggling to be motivated to continue reading. Only a peevish curiosity about how in heck she could fill another 100 pages kept me there. And then I turned a page and found out: recipes! That last 100ish pages are just recipes. To someone not expecting that, it's an abrupt even if welcome end to a story that wasn't half as interesting as I, for one, expected it to be.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: BOOK REVIEW: The Tenth Muse, by Judith Jones

Postby Christina Georgina » Sun Nov 17, 2013 11:44 pm

So glad I have not read it and after your review will have no reason to seek it out.

On the other hand, I am reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen and can only say it is the best food memoir I can remember reading. Full of cultural, historical, political, social and personal reflections referenced to food. Even if you don't know anything about the Soviet Union she is able to evoke a sense of it's culture in such an engaging way. This is a book I would highly recommend.
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Re: BOOK REVIEW: The Tenth Muse, by Judith Jones

Postby Jenise » Mon Nov 18, 2013 2:28 pm

Christina Georgina wrote:So glad I have not read it and after your review will have no reason to seek it out.

On the other hand, I am reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen and can only say it is the best food memoir I can remember reading. Full of cultural, historical, political, social and personal reflections referenced to food. Even if you don't know anything about the Soviet Union she is able to evoke a sense of it's culture in such an engaging way. This is a book I would highly recommend.


Another of her authors. She certainly had an eye for talent (it was Judith who, before she took on cookbook editing as a specialty, which was in itself pioneering, caused The Diary of Anne Frank to get published), she just isn't that good a storyteller herself. However, most of the reviewers on Amazon disagree with me. Lots of four star reviews there. Just a tiny handful who didn't love it, and those that didn't love it had the same issues I did.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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