The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

My older sister told me to read The Cookbook Collector, even wrapping her copy for me as a kind of loaned Christmas present this December. It stayed on the shelf for a while, but I finally delved into it last month, and I loved it. From the Goodreads summary:

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.

The book is set against the dot com bubble in the 90s and neatly incorporates that era, as well as 9/11 and its aftermath into the story. It’s a family story, but it’s also much more than that. I loved it for its honest portrayal of family and sisterhood, for taking place in Berkeley, for making cookbooks and unconventional love such a central focus of the storyline.

The book is centered around the sisters and their relationships (with each other, their boyfriends, their father, their friends…) but it never sticks with just them. You get peeks into the lives of most of the people mentioned – I adored that, but I read more than one review on Goodreads abhorring the practice, so make of that would you will. She deftly weaves storylines, alternating between treesitters in Berkeley (where else) and technical computer talk in Silicon Valley, without it seeing forced at all. You have to forgive Goodman for wanting to include everything she possibly could in the novel to properly enjoy it though.

The opening is kind of slow (which is why I’m glad I read it on a train without other reading material at hand, because putting it away would mean a couple of hours of just sitting there, doing nothing, and there’s nothing I dislike as much as too much time to think), but if you can get past that, you might just be as captivated as I was.


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