Friday, July 23, 2010

Review: The Cookbook Collector

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.

Bicoastal, 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. -- The Dial Press

I recently read (and enjoyed) another book that counts for the 2010 EW Summer Books Challenge that I'm hosting. This time it was THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman. This novel has received so much lavish praise and it has gathered its fair share of starred reviews from none other than Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. It was actually one of the novels that EW recommended that I was most looking forward to reading this summer.

Since I had to wait a few weeks for my turn at the library, I think my anticipation got the best of me. That's not to say that I didn't like this novel because I really did. In fact, I felt extremely satisfied when I finished this novel. I'm just saying that I wasn't always sure that I was going to appreciate THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR. It actually took me awhile to "get into" this novel. I know that it wasn't because of the characters or the author's writing style, but rather because I felt that parts of the book were bogged down with detailed information about technology start-ups and IPOs -- lots of techno jargon. You'd think as a Finance major I'd like to read about those things, but I have to admit that they just don't interest me all that much.

Despite my slight issue, I ended up really enjoying THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR. This might sound odd, but I was pleasantly surprised by everything the author was able to accomplish with this book. By that I mean, THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR had so many wonderful elements that I love to see in fiction. There were interesting (and complex) characters, love and romance, lots of drama, and some deception. And, Ms. Goodman was also able to capture the essence of a fascinating time period -- the late 1990s and the early 2000s -- with her descriptions of IT start-ups and the rise and fall of the companies' net worth. However, what I think I appreciated the most about this novel was how it demonstrated so much about human nature. The characters (along with their quirks) were extremely honest, and parts of this novel were so astute that they seemed almost like very smart social commentaries about life and people's behavior.

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR was the first novel that I've ever read by Allegra Goodman, but I'm certain that it won't be my last. I loved her writing style! She is without a doubt a fantastic storyteller, but she offers readers so much more than that. I thought her prose was eloquent, and some of her descriptions (like the one where Jessamine eats a peach) are positively beautiful. But I also liked how she incorporated so much humor into the story, especially with the back-and-forth exchanges between many of the characters. In addition, I just loved how her novel evoked all sorts of feelings in me like anger, sadness, disappointment, happiness, and most importantly hope.

I also appreciated how Ms. Goodman juxtaposed the two very different sisters, their lives and their choices. Emily appeared to have it all with a successful job, a great fiance, and tons of money. While Jessamine seemed a little lost with her "hippy" life and string of boyfriends. I think the contrast between their personalities demonstrated each character's strengths and weaknesses in a stronger light. What's so ironic is that while I definitely related more to Emily, I ended up falling in love with Jess!

After I finished THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR, I was dying to discuss it with someone. When that happens, I always think that's an indication of a terrific book club read. The characters and their motivations are fascinating, but there are also some major themes about life in general that would be wonderful to analyze. Some of the topics that I thought were discussion worthy include sisterly relationships, love, passion, environmental causes, grief, dishonesty, competition, values, and ultimately happiness. I also think the entire theme of truly living life versus just kind of standing back and watching (as referenced in the book's title THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR) is an extremely important part of this novel which will definitely cause you to think.

If you are a fan of women's fiction or literary fiction, then I highly recommend THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR. It is a beautiful novel that is also extremely smart, and I'm sure you will appreciate it as much as I did.


Beth Kephart said...

I have been wondering about this one — met the author a few years ago, have read two other of her books, have read the raves.............

Thanks for adding your voice, your thoughts.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I can't wait to read this book; sounds great.

BTW....The Japanese comment link is most likely a spam porn site. They have been appearing on lots of blogs.

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see this is so good - the cover is just gorgeous and it calls my name.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard such good things about this book. I admit I wouldn't be so into start-up talk, but I don't mind sort of skimming through parts like that if you don't actually need to know the details for the plot!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

This one sounds like an interesting read. Great review. I'm not familiar with the author.

Becky said...

Thanks for being so honest in your review. I've heard such glowing reviews of these that I wasn't sure about it. Although, I will say that I still think I'll really like it and can't wait! Thanks for a great review here!

Beth F said...

Okay, so it's not really a foodie book at all! LOL. Still, now you have me curious and it has gotten such glowing reviews that despite the parts that bogged you down, I know I'll have to read it.