Wednesday 11 July 2012

Review:- The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

This is not a review of any of the things I *should* be reading, but just of a book that I picked up totally on spec from the library and fell in love with. You have been warned. 

I've recently discovered that I'm truly awful at writing synopsis (synopses? plural?), so here's one I borrowed from Goodreads:
Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much.
National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has written a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

The Cookbook Collector was one of those books that I saw on the shelf and suddenly knew I just had to read, and I knew that if I didn't take it home with me then I would start seeing it everywhere until I did. So I did, and I started reading it, and about three quarters of the way through I stopped and added everything Allegra Goodman has ever published to my wishlist. That's how much I loved this book. 

It isn't that the plot of the novel was entirely outstanding or totally unique, or that the characters were the most impressive I've ever come across, but just that this was the first book that I've read in a while where it all just came together seamlessly and felt true. I had no disbelieving moments with The Cookbook Collector, and that is very rare for me. I could envisage everything that happened, and the fact that I have little to no knowledge of internet security companies, which form pretty much the entire background to the Emily half of the story, didn't matter. 

I liked the Jess/George parts of the story most, even though I could predict the ending pretty much from the beginning, because I liked how much Jess was fighting the predictability. Also, they involved a rare book store, and a huge number of old cookery books, so obviously that appealed. Also, most of you will know that I am a little obsessive about books containing lots of descriptions of food, and this had them in abundance! 

The relationships in the novel were really well developed and three dimensional – there was a lot to keep track of. Although the ‘everybody persecutes Jess who is just trying to live the dream/work out what she wants to do with her life’ model is a little overused, I didn’t mind it here. Mostly because I do like the idea of being an ‘eternal student’, but I can’t afford it, so at least through books I get to live vicariously. Which is kind of the entire point I’m making I think; for me, The Cookbook Collector was just under 400 pages of vicarious living. Jess has the ideal job. Getting to spend all day reading old books in a beautiful house? Yes please!

I love that people in this novel got to get up in the morning and sit under a blue sky, without backache or sleep deprivation, and eat beautiful food (not a leftover Cadbury Brunch Bar because the milk went out of date yesterday and they forgot to buy more yet), and feel that the world was full of discoveries and possibility. Bitter about the side effects of pregnancy? Me? Never... 

But in all seriousness, the book dealt with some difficult issues as well; the fallout of 9/11 for one, and issues with family identity, and did it in a very sensitive way, so that these huge events just blended in to the already existing story rather than standing out from it in a hysterical manner, as has been the case, especially with 9/11, in some things that I've read. I felt a little sorry for Emily, as she kind of gets the rough end of the deal, but in the end I felt that it was a more accurate representation of real life because of that. Not everything goes well all the time for everybody. Sometimes things are really bad, and then when you think they can't get worse, they do. Other times, everything is totally brilliant, like this book. 

So there we go. The Cookbook Collector; go read it :-) 


  1. I read a review of this aaages ago in The New Yorker, and added it to my amazon wishlist where it has languished ever since! After your review? I'm a LOT more inclined to actually buy it and read it and everything! Sounds pretty awesome :)

    ps If you're looking for another book that feels real, I read The Private Lives of Pippa Lee yesterday, and actually FORGOT that it was a fiction book, and had a little 'oh!' moment when I was like, yeah, these things didn't actually happen dear! So yeah, I recommend that :)

  2. I had the exact same experience with this book. I randomly grabbed it from the library, and unexpectedly fell in love with it. I'm glad you had the same experience!

  3. OK, you have successfully sold this book to me - I hope my library has a copy!

  4. From the first time I laid my eyes on the title, all I am thinking was food. But then, I was fascinated when I found out that this is a novel. A novel about two sisters and their differences. A must read book. Thanks for sharing it with us Bex.

  5. There is no such thing as 'should be reading!' I'm as guilty as you - there are loads of challenge and review books I need to get round to, but I was killing time in the library the other day... and, yeah.

    Added to wishlist! I'm going through a bit of a cookbook phase myself at the minute, so it might not be the best idea - ah well, never mind :)

    1. I have cookbook phases all the time.. My collection is getting a little bit out of hand (so what's new?) considering that I've made a maximum of one recipe from each that I own :-/

      I love the library, it may actually be my favourite place!