The Cookbook Collector

I found this novel very interesting because it involved mixing the past with the future, by balancing rare books with technology.  Who would think that both could be featured in the novel together?  It takes place before, during, and after September 11, 2001.  Many issues are brought up in the story that weave their way around two sisters, Emily and Jess, who lost their mother at a very young age.  When the book begins, the sisters are in their twenties and are trying to find happiness in their work and relationships.  Emily is the older sibling who has an exciting position at a technology company and is engaged to be married.  Jess works at a rare books store, is still trying to finish her studies and is a very active participant for environmental rights.  Jess’ boss, George (who is sixteen years her senior), has fallen for her.
There is a focus on how the stock market rises and falls, and of Emily’s fiance, Jonathan, hoping to hit the jackpot from the success of his company.  He even finds himself in competition with Emily and her company’s brilliant ideas.  There are secondary characters in the story that we are introduced to and whom we want to follow, such as Orion and Sorel.  Rabbi Zylberfenig is also a strong character in the background and rounds up everything nicely.
Then there is the whole aspect of spirituality and how Jess is convinced from her inner beliefs of what she really feels for George.
One of the most exciting parts of the novel, to be sure, is when Jess starts looking into the rare cook books that George ends up buying for his store, from a secretive woman named Sandra.  There is a mystery as to how these books were obtained and what they meant to the previous owner, who is actually Sandra’s deceased uncle.  It is Jess’ job to catalog these new acquisitions, but she gets carried away by their history and tries to read into some of the books’ hidden messages.
Overall, I was always curious to see how the story would unfold as the book went on, and it was nice to know that some things did work out in the end.

If you are a member of the library, we have this book in the following formats:
Hard copy (F G6532c)
Downloadable audiobook
Check the catalogue for availability.

If you enjoyed this novel, we have several other works from Allegra Goodman:
Intuition (F G6532i)
Paradise Park (F G6532p)
Kaaterskill Falls (F G6532k)
The Family Markowitz (F G6532f)
Total Immersion: stories (F G6532)

To read book reviews on The Cookbook Collector, click on the links below.
For a book review from The New York Times:

From The Los Angeles Times:

For more information about the author:

If you have read any other books by Allegra Goodman, how does this one compare?  Did anyone listen to The Cookbook Collector?

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions to consider:

-How does Jess go about attaining the remarkable cookbook collection? What makes the books so desirable? What is their symbolic significance to the theme (and title)?
-Are you satisfied with how the book ends?

For more discussion questions, please click on the link provided by the Litlover’s website:

Interesting Tidbit:
For those who are curious to know, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons really was published in 1796 and it is one of America’s most significant books in history.  In fact, according to the Library of Congress, this was the first cookbook that was authored by an American and printed in the United States.  For more information about this rare book and to actually read a few pages from it, click below:

Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work by Mrs. McLintock is also a real book that was published in 1736.  You can find this book and other rare books through Alibris‘ website and also Project Gutenberg.

This book reminded me of …
Actually, nothing really comes to mind after reading this one.  The only book I thought about was Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami, only because she uses a real-life tragedy for her story as Goodman does in hers.

Favorite quote from book:
In the wise words of Rabbi Zylberfenig, “It is a very interesting fact … that few things happen by chance.  Look carefully and also look with some distance, and you will see connections and designs in everything.” (p. 387)

Most dramatic point in the story:
I’m sure you will all agree with me that even though there is foreshadowing of what might become of Jonathan’s flight, you don’t actually realize it until you read about it.  Of course, because 9/11 really happened, it just brings back traumatizing memories to some more than others.  In this book, you get to see how characters are personally affected by the disaster, especially Emily. (p. 329-335)

Next month’s title:
The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard

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This entry was posted in Women's Lives and Relationships and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Cookbook Collector

  1. Melissa says:

    I’m wondering how an online book club can survive without people discussing my posts. It would be wonderful to get some feedback!

  2. Jess says:

    I really enjoyed this book, particularly the relationship between the sisters which struck me as skillfully rendered and believable. Are there any other recent books that you can recommend that deal with relationships between sisters?

    • Melissa says:

      This is a good book that does capture the realistic view of sisterhood. I read one recently that was called “Emily and Einstein” by Linda Francis Lee. Although it doesn’t focus strictly on the sisters, there is a big part of the story that relies on their estranged relationship. I beleive they are only half-sisters, but there is still that bond you might be interested in. Other titles that I wanted to read because they sounded good, are: “The Weird Sisters” by Eleanor Brown, “The Bird Sisters” by Rebecca Rasmussen, and “The Dashwood Sisters Tell All” by Beth Pattillo. These books are all from 2011.

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