The Cookbook Collector ***.* by Allegra Goodman
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, a delicious blog for readers with an appetite~ for the written word and food.
I picked this book up based on the cover and title, despite some of the reviews I had read. At the center of the story are two main characters who are sisters~Emily and Jess Bach. Motherless, at the ages of ten and five, the sisters are total opposites. Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the pragmatic, responsible, and goal-oriented older sister. A graduate of M.I.T. and CEO of Veritech, a start-up computer data-storage company in Silicon Valley, she is the perfect daughter in her father’s eyes.
At twenty-three, Jess is an idealistic Berkeley graduate student more interested in saving trees than money~ with a habit of rushing heart first into life and love. Jess works part-time at an antiquarian bookstore~ Yorick’s. Yorick’s owner, George, is a jaded Microsoft millionaire, who retired early and now passionately collects~ filling his life with beautiful objects, chief among them books, instead of people.
Set in dot-com era of the fall of 1999~ this book was filled with boom-era & IPO details, that introduced multiple secondary characters that, like a lot of other readers, I failed to care about or have any interest in. I would have preferred more detail and story behind the “cookbook collector” and more emphasis on the rare book business and story behind the passion of collecting rather that the dot-com boom story.
While I didn’t love this book, I loved the food passages found throughout and particularly enjoyed George & Jess~ their bantering and budding relationship.
George: Old money, a Microsoft millionaire returned to Berkeley where he went to school in the 70’s~
“In the eye of the Internet storm, George sought the treasures of the predigital age. He wanted pages he could turn, and records he could spin. Eschewing virtual reality, he collected old typewriters and dictionaries and hand-drawn maps. He began acquiring rare books and opened Yorick’s.”
“Jess often felt her workplace was a secret mine or quarry where she could pry crystals from crevices and sweep precious jewels straight off the floor.”
Jess and George debate about books. . .
“When I read Swift here, I’m reading him in this ink, on this paper, with this book in my hands—and I’m reading him as his contemporaries read him. You think there’s something materialistic about collecting books, but really collectors are the last romantics. We’re the only ones who still love books as objects.”
Jess’s theory about rare books:
“Rare books—any books—start to die without readers. The words grow paler and paler.”
George happens upon the rare book dealers’
A large and incredibly unique collection of old cookbooks. . .
“They worked long hours like a sequestered jury, deliberating at the tables with copious evidence before them. They were eighteenth-century German cookbooks with fold-out diagrams of table settings, late and platters arrayed like planets, little dishes orbiting larger courses. There were cookbooks small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, and others gargantuan, so that George used special foam book cradles to hold them open and protect their bindings. To assess these volumes was to consider tastes both delicate and omnivorous…”
Jess begins working on a descriptive catalog of the collection of cookbooks. . .
“The cookbooks weren’t trivial at all. They were, in and of themselves, and entirely new world. She had never felt this way. She dreamed about the books at night. Their collector haunted her. She lived in suspense, speculating about his life, his love, his strange dark handwriting. Sometimes she could hardly bear it—the edge of discovery.”
“On the third day, she smelled the fruit as soon as she came in. She followed the scent to the kitchen, and the peach was radiant, dusky rose and gold, its skin so plush she thought her fingertip might bruise it.”
“An intense tang, the underside of velvet. Then flesh dissolved in a rush of nectar. Juice drenched her hand and wet the inside of her wrist. She had forgotten, if she’d ever known, that what was sweet could also be complicated, that fruit could have a nap, like fabric, soft one way, sleek the other
“His fantasies were nurturing, not predatory. If he could have Jess, he would feed her. Laughable, antique, confusingly paternal, he longed to nourish her with clementines, and pears in season. . .
. . . fresh whole-wheat bread and butter. . .
. . .wild strawberries, comte cheese, fresh figs and oily Marcona almonds, tender yellow beets.
He would sear red meat, if she would let him, and grill spring lamb. Cut the thorns off artichokes and dip the leaves in fresh aioli, poach her fish—thick Dover sole in wine and shallots—julienne potatoes, and roast a whole chicken with lemon slices under the skin. He would serve a salad of heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and just picked basil. Serve her and watch her savor dinner, pour for her, and watch her drink. That would be enough for him. To find her plums in season, and perfect nectarines, velvet apricots, dark succulent duck. To bring her all these things and watch her eat.”
A cornucopia of foods to choose from~ I decided to roast a chicken with lemon slices under the skin for Food for Thought, since I’m not roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving :-)
“The artichoke is a sexy beast. Thorns to cut you, leaves to peel, lighter and lighter as you strip away the outer layers, until you reach the soft heart’s core.”
“Jess gazed at the apples arranged in all their colors: russet, blushing pink, freckled gold. She cast her eyes over heaps of pumpkins. . .”
Additional Food for Thought on this Thanksgiving Eve~
I have so many things to be thankful for, the obvious~ health, husband, family, food & shelter and husband’s employment immediately come to mind. . .
I’m thankful I’m not roasting a turkey on Thursday. Instead the “men-folk” are frying one, which makes the small oven FREE for all the Thanksgiving SIDES, which to me are the food stars of Thanksgiving. The beauty of frying your turkey is that you can have one ready in a fraction of the time roasting takes. Our 12 pound turkey will fry in 36 minutes, rest for 30. The oil takes around from 30 min to reach the frying temperature of 350 degrees depending on the outdoor temperature.
I am thankful for books & cookbooks, especially ones with beautiful photos. Like George, I enjoy pages I can turn~
I am thankful I was not motherless at the age of 5 or 10 & I still have two mothers around :-)
I am thankful for berries, figs~all fruit in season, as well as artichokes & chicken & BREAD~ and the proximity of grocery stores with food readily available.
And as Food for Thought is defined as “anything that provides mental stimulus for thinking” I am thankful for my two “teachers”. . .
~ for Jain at Food for Thought for providing a way to enjoy my reading even more than I did before I joined her searching for food passages and increasing my appetite for the written word.
~and for Jenny Matlock for making Aphabe-Thursday so much fun each week, where I have the opportunity to visit places & people I would never find my way to otherwise, and where I ALWAYS learn something new, which is good for my aging brain :-)
“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.”
Be sure to visit Food for Thought, and see what everyone is reading & eating :-)
I’m also joining Jenny Matlock for Alphabe-Thursday~as part of Thankful for Thanksgiving this week.