Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Cookbook Collector - Allegra Goodman

Summary: Heralded as “a modern day Jane Austen” by USA Today, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has compelled and delighted hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, in her most ambitious work yet, Goodman weaves together the worlds of Silicon Valley and rare book collecting in a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and fulfillment.

Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Passionate, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, 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.

My Review: I waited weeks on the reserve list at the library to get my hands on this book. A new fictional culinary novel sounded, well, delicious to me. I dug into this book almost immediately only to find that it was far from what I had anticipated.

This story centers on two sisters living very different lives. The elder sister, Emily, is the CEO of a successful tech start-up. She is smart, savvy and determined. The younger sister, Jess, is an environmental activist who navigates life with her heart rather than her head. Intermingled within these pages is an odd collection of side characters; George, the rich owner of a collectors bookstore; Jonathan, Emily's finance who has his own tech start-up across the country; a couple of Jonathan's employees; the girls' father and his second wife and small children; two Jewish Rabbis and their families; and the list goes on.

Just as the characters are an odd mix so are their separate tales. The novel is composed of several stories that touch one another but never quite intertwine. Themes of secrets kept, love passed over, money gained and lost, and religion all play into this story. While all these ingredients are tasty on their own, the mix is not so appetizing (sorry, since this book lacked culinary rhetoric I couldn't resist adding my own). In case you are wondering there is a cookbook collector that makes an appearance about halfway through the book but he drops out of the story a short time later without adding much flavor.

While the author's writing is engaging and at times beautiful, it lacks balance. It seems she is either overdoing the story with frivolous details or leaving out parts that would have made the book click. Most of my time inside this novel was consumed with the wait for a story to really begin and in the end I found that what I was looking for never really takes place.

My Rating: 2 stars

To Sum it Up: This book is the equivalent to preparing a dish with a poor combination of mouth-watering ingredients and then under-cooking it.


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Taking it off my Goodreads list immediately!

Michelle Mpofu said...

I think that your review does not do justice to the book, I found it to be a metaphor on life, how we continue to collect things we think are of value and promise to use them one day, the big question being when exactly is one day? I found it to be a great read and was assailed with guilt because I collect cookbooks for the day when I'll cook - I haven't cooked yet :)A lot is said about human relationships and interactions and I found myself realising that we have come to expect everything in life to be clean and uncluttered, the author manages to make you realise that life isn't like that, though certain things come together, there are always loose ends, that's why it's called life


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