Rachel Spencer sold ads for theHouston Chronicle
after graduating from college, then had a crisis, quit her job, and took a summer position as a nanny for a rich family in Paris. She chronicled the experience in aChron
. When she got back, she turned the blog into a book bythe same name
. Quite an accomplishment for someone so young. But as many a blogger and publisher has learned by now, turning a blog into a book rarely works.
Spencer comes off as well-intentioned and sweet, but a cat-photo blog could have more of a narrative than her memoir. Very little happens during her time in France; instructions aren’t always clear and the kids aren’t always perfect, but that’s hardly enough for a good story.
One obstacle is that Spencer doesn’t have very good French, not that it matters much, since her nannying charges speak English. Her main challenge seems to be how intimidating the sophisticated, thin French women are. Watching the mothers as she picks up the kids from school, she says, “I searched for the gene that made them all so ridiculously thin…What is it about French breeding?” Again and again, she wonders at their teensy frames. To the point of tedium.
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Ironically, it’s when Spencer writes about French cuisine that she seems most energized. The book is filled with observations such as, “Perhaps the most marvelous thing about eating a poulet rôti coupé on fresh baguette is that the steam and fresh juices from the meat make enough moisture to create their own sauce.” She waxes rhapsodic about the espresso and croissants and lamb chops and soufflés and stinky cheeses, but she tries to avoid the wine, which gives her a red face and makes her look like “a Frenchman.”
Spencer seems happiest when her sister comes to town and the two spend their days tanning in Antibes. When they decide to drive up the Riviera and cross into Italy in a rented Volkswagen, Spencer gets inspired – by the car, which makes her think of the VW commercial in which “kids drove the convertible at night, listened to good music, and looked at the stars,” and by a Coldplay song. It’s enough to make you want to…
…I don’t know. Click that little X in the top right corner of the screen? Visit Gawker? Check your email? God forbid, do some actual work? Anything, really. Au Paris should have stayed a blog. – Cathy Matusow
Au Paris, by Rachel Spencer, Citadel, $12.95