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The Cookbook Collector: A Novel Hardcover – July 6, 2010
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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)
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Top customer reviews
I am a very big fan of Allegra Goodman's novels (the marvelous Intuition is one of her best), and I found that she hadn't missed a step with The Cookbook Collector. It is a slightly overstuffed but emotionally and intellectually compelling book that draws you in, even when all of the characters aren't wholly sympathetic ones. The book definitely picks up steam after the first third, because Goodman introduces so many different characters that you just want to get back to those with whom you've already become invested, but in the end, she ties everything together fairly well, although perhaps a little too neatly. I don't know if it was Goodman's imagery (much of the book is set in Berkeley, CA, and she describes the San Francisco area quite poetically) or the complexity of her characters, but I thought this book was beautifully written and very satisfying. A terrific example of storytelling.
That said, the book was not an unpleasant read. If you're looking for a bit of fluff to take your self away from the everyday, you might enjoy this book. But, if you're looking for something even slightly meaningful, pass on this one.