The Cookbook Collector



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’

Holy Grail~  

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.


Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family~

Wishing you Safe Travels this weekend :-)

  16 comments for “The Cookbook Collector

  1. Carolyn Dunn
    November 24, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Great photo shoot. I want a bite of that bread right now!

  2. November 24, 2010 at 11:07 am

    We enjoy frying a turkey at our cottage. Your bread looks wonderful! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  3. November 24, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Your gratitudes are so genuine.


    I love how FFT is so much fun for you..
    I can’t tell you how alike I find your style w/ Jain..bounty..books..words..

    It’s really charming.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you~ photos.

  4. Carolyn
    November 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Another post abundant with vivid color and mouthwatering foods. I am sure that your family’s Thanksgiving table will be resplendent with your talents for embellishments. I know they are “Thankful For You”. Happy Thanksgiving
    to you and your big family. CGE

  5. November 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Your luscious photos really are “eye candy!” I enjoyed every one so much that now I have to go on a diet!!

  6. Lola
    November 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Such yummy pics – off now to the kitchen!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    XOXO Lola:)

  7. November 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Oh my, delish! the bread looks like comfort food.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. November 24, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    What a feast for the eyes! I may just read the book, based on the title alone…given the fact that I may have to build an addition on to my house to store my cookbook collection!

    Happy Thanksgiving~

  9. November 24, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    oh i am glad you read this book, it had mediocre reviews so i skipped it, but i kept thinking i was missing something… your cover shots are just GORGEOUS! i didn’t want to read it because i was a day trader for years, when i read ipo, dot.coms etc. it left me cold since i lived it for to many years :(

    look at all your cookbooks, i love book shots :) i am guessing those are not library books either… no wonder your such a good cook!

    there you go again, making me utter aloud again and your pictures, its almost guttural, you just cut to my quick… your fruit shots are exquisite… LUSH, sensual, tactile…

    but slice off that lemon chicken breast please…

    wow, i didn’t know how fast you could fry a turkey!

    you are so sweet to mention me… i am so thankful you play with your food and read wonderful books that spawn you imagination and encourage you to share the bounty of your beautiful life. its been an absolute treasure getting to see you all year, i know we have both grown tenfold with our love for reading and sharing~

    thank you and have a very happy thanksgiving :)

  10. November 24, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Great review! I must say your pictures are just stunning! Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. jo
    November 24, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    wonderful … your photos are just stunning …. and yummy looking!!!

  12. November 25, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Awesome photo extravaganza!!! Happy, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!!

  13. November 25, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Mary, I looked at this earlier today, but was called away just as I was about to leave a comment. I’ve been thinking about these gorgeous photos ever since. What beauty! You and Jain have an abundance of produce. LOL
    I smiled when I saw all your cookbooks too. My husband had shelves and shelves, but a few years ago decided to give them to a good friend who has five restaurants and a catering business. The books are all kept at his office which is just five minutes from our home. So if we need to use one of the books, we just go over and “check it out”. His chefs have appreciated the resources and it freed up shelf space for us. Actually I’ve now filled those shelves with dishes. Image that!
    I , too, applaud Jain and Jenny as excellent teachers, but I count you among the best as well. I, my friend, am thankful for your friendship and your generosity of sharing your creative spirit.
    Enjoy your turkey! ~ Sarah

  14. November 25, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Those are amazing photos! They’re totally making me hungry the more I stare at them :) Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Jingle
    November 27, 2010 at 6:10 am

    wow, how thoughtful.
    love the bread and peaches.

  16. November 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    What a lovely, pleasureable stop on my little journey through Thankful this week.

    Your pictures were sublime and delicious. Your review was amazing. I think you should send a link to it to the author of the book…it was really, really well done!

    On a busy Saturday after Thanksgiving this peaceful post was exactly what I needed to reflect on the loveliness I shared with the family this year.

    Thank you.


Comments are closed.

Discover more from Home is Where the Boat Is

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading