You won't learn anything about Julia Child's erotic adventures in My Life in France (Knopf, $25.95), her memoir, but you'll begin to understand how, in middle age, this ''rather loud and unserious Californian'' remade herself into America's high priestess of French cooking.
Written with her grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, and published after her August 2004 death, the charming narrative begins in 1948, when Child and her diplomat husband, Paul, moved to Paris. ''I suspected that France was a nation of icky-picky people where the women were all dainty, exquisitely coiffed, nasty little creatures, the men all Adolphe Menjou-like dandies who twirled their mustaches,'' Child recalls. In fact, she fell madly in love with everything French, above all the cuisine. Child enrolled in cooking classes and devoted herself to boning chickens and whipping up soufflés, taking notes as she went. ''What a revelation!'' she writes. ''How magnificent to find my life's calling, at long last!''
This sweet, inspiring volume has been illustrated with photos of Child in her humble Paris kitchen, Child teaching, Child with Paul. In virtually all the shots, Child, at 6'2'', towers freakishly over everyone else. This is a woman who today might feel compelled to record the trauma of being enormous, of having feet so big she could fit only into sneakers, of never feeling chic. Instead, she sat down at her Underwood, hammered out the epochal Mastering the Art of French Cooking (''clickety-clack like a determined woodpecker''), and became a legend.