Meredith's Reviews > The Cookbook Collector

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
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's review
Sep 27, 2011

bookshelves: 2011, austen-esque, contemporary-fiction, literary-fiction, did-not-finish
Read from August 25 to 28, 2011

I won't give this a star rating b/c I didn't finish, but a full explanation is below (originally posted on The Librarian Next Door):

From the publisher: 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.

I started reading Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector as part of my participation in Austenprose’s Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. Goodman’s book has been compared to Austen’s Sense & Sensibility thanks to its focus on the complicated relationship between two very different sisters. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this novel, so I had high hopes upon starting it. Alas, it turned into a “did not finish” book for me.

On the one hand, Goodman writes with incredible and exacting detail, making you believe in the minutiae of her characters’ lives. Her descriptions of the book’s Northern California setting are beautiful and every little piece of the book, from George’s antique bookshop to Emily’s gleaming high-tech offices, leap off the page and into the reader’s imagination. Unfortunately, this focus on detail slows the pace of the novel down. I finished about 100 or so pages before giving up because nothing much had happened – I could picture the bookstore perfectly, down to every last shelf, but I couldn’t tell you what the book was about because very little action of consequence had taken place.

The other major factor in my decision to stop reading was Goodman’s ever-growing cast of characters. Each chapter introduced two or three new players into the mix, all of whom are, apparently, of equal importance to the plot (or at least to the author). The book kept wandering off on tangents about different people and I kept getting confused as to why I was supposed to care about these characters when I thought I was reading a book about the relationship between two sisters. I kept wishing Goodman would get back to Emily and Jess, the two characters I wanted to know more about.

I’m disappointed I didn’t feel compelled to finish The Cookbook Collector, because I did have such high hopes for it. And maybe, in the end, that was my undoing – my high expectations made it difficult for the book to measure up. I read a few reviews and saw a couple of critics refer to Goodman as “a modern-day Jane Austen.” That’s both high praise and something of a burden. Perhaps if I had approached The Cookbook Collector without the comparisons to Austen in mind, I might have given it more of a chance. But that was not meant to be, and this is one book I did not finish.

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Reading Progress

08/26/2011 page 24

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