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The Cookbook Collector: A Novel Paperback – July 12, 2011
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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?
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is definitly one that makes the saying true: you can't judge a book by the title.
The author has a wonderful grasp of language and I love the way she writes, the words and descriptions are such that I savored them as one would a fine dessert. Yet, the stories themselves seem almost shallow and trite in the manner they're developed. There are just too many story arcs in this novel and too many characters - the inclusion of the Hasidic Rabbis and their ties to the sisters is interesting but is never explored with depth or credibility to the extent that I felt this storyline was almost a caricature.
Then there's the disappointment at the storyline dealing with the "cookbook collector". This is what really drew me to the book, being a bibliophile myself. I felt this aspect of the story could have been dealt with more depth, particularly since it is so fascinating - a secret passion, a strange manner of collecting, etc. Yet, this story arc is dealt with in a shallow manner and I felt let down at the way this story arc was explored and resolved. There's also too many details about IPOs and the rise and bust of the dot coms - I felt these details detracted from the writing and served more as fillers with no real substance to enhance the story.
Overall, the quality of writing is above average yet the multiple story arcs are uneven and insufficiently explored. It is an easy read, but ultimately unsatisfying.
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. How hard would it have been to research the menu of a world-famous vegetarian restaurant that is practically as San Francisco institution? That glaring error seemed terribly lazy on the part of the writer and the editors to me.
Nitpicking aside, I also want to comment on the criticism for bringing 9/11 into the plot. I have no problem with that at all -- in fact, I think it really had to happen. The dotcom boom and bust is the backdrop for the story, and that era and its effects on people is certainly worth attention. 9/11 was a pivotal event of the times, and everyone was deeply affected by it. It seems very natural that the characters would be.
I enjoyed this novel while reading it, but in the end didn't feel it lived up to its potential.
Most recent customer reviews
A very well researched work.Read more