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The Cookbook Collector: A Novel Hardcover – July 6, 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Allegra Goodman on The Cookbook Collector

Allegra Goodman’s novels include Intuition and Kaaterskill Falls. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories. She is a winner of the Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When I began my first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, the writers I admired most were Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. These novelists managed to write brilliantly about character and also about community. What I loved about these artists then and now is the way they interleave points of view to explore human relations in all their complexity. Love, hate, self deception, hope, jealousy, ambition, admiration--so many feelings play themselves out in 19th-century plots. Of course, each of these iconic authors has a unique style. Imagine these three as Old Master painters. Dickens is Bruegel with his lively, detailed gatherings. Eliot is Rembrandt, illuminating her characters from within. Austen is Vermeer with her exquisite control, her limpid intelligence, and her fine wit.

To have a relationship with the past means to give and take, to enter a conversation with those who came before you, but also to maintain a dialog with the writers and readers who live now. Therefore, with each book, I’ve developed new inspirations. Tolstoy inspired me when I was writing The Cookbook Collector. I was fascinated by his use of dialog, his use of history as both subject and medium, his panoramic scope and his multiple points of view. The rhetoric of the dot-com era inspired me with its futuristic, almost messianic language. The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro inspired me, because his work is so powerful and so subtle at the same time. And the language of early cookbooks inspired me. I began to meditate on the purpose of recipes for food, for potions, for poultices, for great occasions and ordinary meals. Studying early cookbooks in the Schlesinger Library, I began to meditate on the difference between cooking from a recipe and improvising in the kitchen. This becomes a central question for Emily and Jess, the sisters in The Cookbook Collector–should I seek out rules, or make up my own formula for how to live?


From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If any contemporary author deserves to wear the mantel of Jane Austen, it's Goodman, whose subtle, astute social comedies perfectly capture the quirks of human nature. This dazzling novel is Austen updated for the dot-com era, played out between 1999 and 2001 among a group of brilliant risk takers and truth seekers. Still in her 20s, Emily Bach is the CEO of Veritech, a Web-based data-storage startup in trendy Berkeley. Her boyfriend, charismatic Jonathan Tilghman, is in a race to catch up at his data-security company, ISIS, in Cambridge, Mass. Emily is low-key, pragmatic, kind, serene—the polar opposite of her beloved younger sister, Jess, a crazed postgrad who works at an antiquarian bookstore owned by a retired Microsoft millionaire. When Emily confides her company's new secret project to Jonathan as a proof of her love, the stage is set for issues of loyalty and trust, greed, and the allure of power. What is actually valuable, Goodman's characters ponder: a company's stock, a person's promise, a forest of redwoods, a collection of rare cookbooks? Goodman creates a bubble of suspense as both Veritech and ISIS issue IPOs, career paths collide, social values clash, ironies multiply, and misjudgments threaten to destroy romantic desire. Enjoyable and satisfying, this is Goodman's (Intuition) most robust, fully realized and trenchantly meaningful work yet. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 394 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; 1st edition (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385340850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385340854
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #870,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I don't write a lot of reviews but wanted to comment on this book. When I came to the review page and saw how thoroughly and how well both the good and the bad about the novel had already been covered, I wasn't sure I had much more to contribute. But maybe I'll add just a few thoughts/points.

I found the Goodman's writing style quite engaging, and lovely at times. And I got involved with the main characters --though some of them were not very likable, they were very human -- and cared about their stories.

I agree with those who have said she tried to cover too many characters and story arcs, and to pull together too many themes and ideas. There were many threads left hanging, and for some of those that were tied up in the denouement, we didn't learn enough about how things came to pass. It seems like there was enough going on here for more than one book. Some of the story lines and ideas worked together, and some felt out of place. Some were over-developed, and some under.

I also agree that some of the coincidences strained credulity, and felt unearned. Who doesn't know their mother's maiden name, for example? This detail comes up early in the book, and only someone who has never read a novel wouldn't figure out what is being set up. And as a Bay Area native, some inaccuracies really bugged me. On their date at Greens, George "had the fish?" Only if he brought it and cooked it himself. And polenta at this restaurant, chosen because Jess is a vegan, would be packed with butter and cheese -- vegetarian but not vegan. Maybe this seems like too small an issue to criticize, but much is made of Jess' veganism. The book is full of detail about Berkeley. And it's also, in part, about cookbooks, and about food and the meaning of food.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Forget the Austen comparison. Nothing compares to Austen anyway, and it obscures the many real virtues of this broadly scoped novel.

Allegra Goodman has always mixed romance, work, and Jewishness in her novels and this one follows the pattern. She's got a contrasted pair of sisters who become more like one another as the novel goes on. She's got a beautifully drawn June-November romance (neither half quite qualifies as May or December). She's got a dead mother whose life conceals a mystery, and she's got a set of quick views of different types of Jewishness - including one rather unexpected type that I don't want to spoil for you by revealing here. Her picture of bookstore life in Berkeley is fun to read, too, and if you like to read about collectible books you'll get a bellyful - semipun intended.

Best of all, she gets the tech startup stuff right. Both of the startups she depicts are familiar to this veteran of two tech startups. Some of her programmers even talk like programmers, and she paints the startup highflyer response to technical crisis just right. And she avoids the pitfall of writing overly explicit dialog for her programmers, so she doesn't get that wrong. Good judgement on her part. Her Bay Area details are right. I don't know enough to judge her Boston details.

And she manages to include 9/11 without bathos. I hope we see more books that incorporate 9/11 without exploiting it or centering on it.

There ARE some faults here. A few characters get short shrift in the shifting romances. Goodman probably tries to do too many things in one novel. There are too many up to the minute brand and culture references for a novel that has a chance of surviving and being read after this decade or century is past.
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Format: Hardcover
As a Janeite, it is impossible ignore the siren call when an author announces to the book buying world that her new novel THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR is "a SENSE AND SENSIBILTY for the digital age." Whoa! My first reaction was "this is literary suicide." Why would anyone want to equate themselves to a beacon of world literature such as JANE AUSTEN?

It is impossible to know her personal motivations, but after a bit of online research, I can't entirely blame Allegra Goodman for starting this avalanche. She seems to be the darling of the literary world ready to be embraced as "a modern day Jane Austen." Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus all gave her starred reviews, and even those highbrow literary bluestockings The Washington Post and the New York Times beamed. Swept up in the momentum of online praise I succumbed to the unthinkable. I imagined, no, dare I say I hoped, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before" that my favorite author could be reincarnated in the modern day world and I could continue to read new works infused with Austen's style, deft observations and biting wit.

I will attempt to disarm reproof right up front. I read a lot of "popular" fiction written by women. Yep, that stuff that is sadly overlooked by the good folks at The New York Times. This book is technically classified as literature which is really out of my depth as a book reviewer, so I will review it through the prism of a Janeite. Set in northern California between 1999-2002 Goodman has mirrored elements in Austen's novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY including two sisters, Emily and Jessamine Bach, polar opposites in temperament and interests struggling with love, money and fulfillment in different ways.
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