Title: The Cookbook Collector
Author: Allegra Goodman
Genre: Fiction, with a bit of non-fiction and Psychology mixed in
Publication Date: 2010
Purchase Price: $26.00
Emily and Jess Bach may look a lot alike, but the two sisters have almost nothing in common. Practical, hard-working Emily is making a fortune with her start-up company, and Jess is an environmental activist, graduate student in philosophy, and works part-time in a musty bookstore.
I could give a big long-winded summary (it’s a hefty read at almost 400 pages), but I think the publisher gives a really good short synopsis:
“The Cookbook Collector is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.”
A Slow Start
I was pointed toward this book by a friend, and I must admit that it sorely tried my 50 page rule. When I got to page 59 and there was no mention of cookbooks or collecting, I was starting to wonder if all I was going to hear about for the next 350 pages was the struggles between Veritech (Emily’s company) and ISIS (her boyfriend’s company); I was also afraid that all I would learn about Jess is her various philosophical and religious musings.
While I’m sure all of that would be fascinating to other readers, I was still waiting for something more. I was tempted to abandon the book, but something made me persevere — somehow Goodman was able to make me care about the characters even though I didn’t really care about their problems. Still not sure how that happened.
But then…ah, then, it finally bloomed into a book that I was genuinely able to enjoy. It still had its moments of philosophy and religion, business and techie speak…but it slowly became more enjoyable.
Especially once I learned more about George, the owner of the bookstore where Jess works. George is in love with books, and it is through him that Jess begins to fall in love with books as well.
The cooking lovebug
I never thought of myself as a person who would enjoy reading about cooking and cookbooks. So I found it strange that I didn’t start enjoying The Cookbook Collector until George and Jess discover an enormous stash of cookbooks.
And like Jess, I found myself getting a bit obsessed. There’s something so decadent about reading books that talk in so much detail about recipes and cooking. I couldn’t stop reading, glutting myself with creamy words, tangy sentences, sweet and light instructions.
So to make a long story short*, even though Allegra Goodman’s novel started off a bit slow, by the end I was gobbling up every word. Combining humor, philosophy, psychology, books, cooking, recipes, love, hate and loss, The Cookbook Collector is an excellent read that will work its way into your dreams — and possibly into your kitchen.
And it never hurts to have a love story.
“And the strangeness of it all, the perversity of substituting cookbooks for utensils, domestic treatises for pots and pans, words for cups, recipes for spoons and spatulas and cutlery…Books piled even here, arrayed in boxes on cookie sheets! The collector had converted oven racks to stacks.” (p. 178)
“He did not believe her. Who could resist cracking books like these? He wanted to open them right now, one after another on the kitchen table. He wanted to shuck these books like oysters in their shells.” (p. 179)
” ‘Where do we find Hashem when He is so great, transcending our comprehension? Where do we look for Him?’
George looked at Jess.
‘We find Him in each other.’ …
‘We find Him in each other,’ Helfgott repeated, gazing at George and Jess… ‘And this is why love is sweeter than wine, finer than gold, rarer than the rarest spices.’ ” (p. 390)