Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman

One of the great things about this summer has been that I am reading like crazy. Depending on the book, I'm reading a book every day or two, which means that I'm keeping a pretty even pace with my review books (although keeping up with writing all of those reviews is a different story!). I've been reading a few books that have been patiently waiting on my own shelves, but for the most part I've been taking advantage of what my library has to offer! The kids are enjoying visiting the library at least once a week (they have their summer reading program on now and the boys always love the chance to participate and get some great prizes), so I've been requesting books like mad!

One of my recent library selections was The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. I haven't read anything by her before, but I read a glowing review on a blog that I enjoy and thought that it sounded good. It's hard to summarize this one because there is just so much going on, but at its core, it's about sisters Emily and Jessamine Bach. Emily is the serious one, the CEO of an Internet start-up and Jessamine (Jess) is the flighty one, a post- grad student wrapped up in saving the trees and hanging around questionable characters. It takes place in the 90's, when the Internet was filled with possibility and the potential for wealth, and 9/11 had not yet happened. Emily and Jess lost their mother to cancer when they were young, and their father has remarried and now has two other daughters as well. He doesn't factor into their lives in a huge sense, but he is still present and accounted for. There are a ton of secondary characters mentioned throughout- Jonathan, Emily's boyfriend, George, the owner of the rare book store that Jess works at, Orion, a childhood friend of Emily, and Rabbi Helfgott, a man who meets Jess and befriends her, to name a few.

Despite the fact that I gave The Cookbook Collector my best shot, it just didn't work for me. I've tried to pinpoint exactly why it didn't, and this is what I've come up with. I found that I didn't relate to the period of time that it was set in. In the 90's I was too busy being a high school student to care about what was going on with Internet start-ups and stock prices. I also didn't connect to any of the characters in particular. I found that Emily came off as being rather cold, the sections about the rabbi's were confusing at times, and there were just too many characters and too many storylines for me to enjoy any one in particular. Jess's boyfriend at the beginning was kind of creepy, as was the "treehouse" that she lives in for a period of time. I found that the story dragged at times, especially when it concerned a minor character that I just didn't like enough to care about.

I did enjoy the last 100 or so pages of the book. This is when things start to happen, and some of the characters reveal a bit more about themselves and their motivations beyond money. It was at this point that I found myself almost connecting with the characters of Jess and George, and I found their portions of the story the most interesting.

As good as the end was, this book just didn't work for me. USA Today calls Goodman "a modern-day Jane Austen", which is some pretty high praise, but even that couldn't make me like this book.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Recommended to: Anyone who enjoys books set in the 90's at the beginning of the boom
Challenges: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge 2010, 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge


  1. I have this one at home as well, but I am not a fan of books with lots of minor characters. Sorry it did not work for you, and I am suspecting it might not work for me either.

  2. This book didn't do anything for me either. I was in college in the 90s, so I thought I would connect to the story but I didn't. Even Jess kinda bored me and she was supposed to be an interesting character. Oh well. I'd still probably read another book by Allegra Goodman to give her another chance.

  3. I stuck it out but was bored at times and skipped chunks of the text. Unfortunate - one of those books where the title may be better than the story it encapsulates.

  4. Eek! Books with too many characters are a major pet peeve of mine. The novel I'm currently reading, The Other Mothers' Club, is suffering a little bit from that same malady.

    Sorry you didn't like this one -- I've heard great things about it and will probably still give it a shot, but I appreciate your review tempering my expectations a little! :)