Posted by: jbwuk | October 19, 2010

The Cookbook Collector

I’ve just devoured Allegra Goodman’s new novel, The Cookbook Collector. I must confess I had never read her, not even Intuition, long listed for the Orange Prize but now I certainly want to read all her backlist. As those of you who follow this blog might have guessed by now, my life is a long story of huge piles of books waiting to be read. Too many pages, not enough time….

The Cookbook Collector is all I love in fiction: a great story, characters I cared about and insights into new and different worlds from mine. To sum it up briefly, it tells the story of two sisters who could not be more different but who adore each other, all the more so as their mother died when they were still very young, tightening the link between them. Emily is twenty eight, the CEO of an internet company, thoughtful, successful and hundred percent responsible. Twenty three year old Jess is all the opposite, a Berkeley philosophy major, she is turning into the eternal student with no interest in money. She has a part-time job in a second hand bookshop, is as passionate about saving the great sequoias as she is afraid to climb them and has a tendency to fall in love with the wrong men.

Allegra Goodman is equally gifted at conveying all the excitement of the flotation of a company on the stock exchange or the discovery of an amazing stash of hidden antique cookbooks, at capturing the tender love between sisters and the sheer pleasure of biting into a ripe peach, hope and disappointment, victory and defeat. She takes us through the bubble and 9/11. There is more than a wink at Jane Austin. The book is funny, gripping, moving and deliciously romantic. And, this is Jewish Book Week, yes there is definitely a Jewish element in the book, a wise rabbi and a struggling one, their wives and one of the novel’s biggest twist.

To quote Allegra Goodman herself: “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 do invite you to visit her excellent website with the most original portrait of the artist I’ve ever seen: You will have to wait until early February to read her book in the UK published by Atlantic Books.

I am delighted that Allegra is coming to speak at JBW, do put the date in your diary: Tuesday 1 March at 6.30 pm. But who with? She says that she is a great admirer of AS Byatt, Penelope Lively and Monica Ali. Will any of them agree to share the platform with her? Find out in the coming weeks….

(Allegra’s photo c. Daniel Johnson)


  1. Hi there,

    i read this book and for the first time in ages I found myself invigorated and remembering why I fell in love with the written word. Her characters pop out of the book, they speak to you, when they cook you salivate at the morsels you eat vicariously through the pages. I love it, one of my all time favourites

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