The Cookbook Collector
By Allegra Goodman
The Dial Press July 2010
From the library
Jess is a graduate student in philosophy who works at an independent bookstore specializing in rare books and spends her spare time campaigning to save the trees. Emily is the CEO of a computer corporation in Silicon Valley and spends any free time with her boyfriend Jonathan, who is in management of another emerging business. The two sisters are very close, but often have difficulties understanding the other’s decisions. Their relationship is the heart of this novel. “Of course Jess knew that. She knew what Emily kept hidden, and so their time together was difficult, and also sweet.”
This is a really enjoyable read, especially after my less than stellar experience with my previous book. Ms. Goodman attempts to cover a lot of ground with her novel. Emily is caught up in the tech boom of the 1990s and we get an insider look at how a company grows from start-up to top of the stock exchange. It’s also fun to see Emily and her colleagues discuss ideas for digital products that are a part of our day-to-day lives at this point. Jess becomes close to her boss, George and through her eyes we learn about the intricacies of the market for rare and valuable books. On top of these intensive plot lines, we watch the girls struggle with the death of their mother several years before and experience tragedy on 9/11.
I loved the story of Jess and George, as she tries to reconcile her growing love of old books and the man who teaches her about them with her love for the environment and Leon, the charismatic leader of the movement. The relationship between Jess and Emily is excellently rendered. (I can state this with authority because I have three sisters of my own). But there are just too many threads to follow. Goodman introduces too many characters and then sporadically gives the reader a sentence or two to explain what is happening with them. It’s impossible for the reader to connect with all of them.
As the book draws to a close, the conclusion seems just a little bit too perfect. This book is often compared to the work of Jane Austen, which I can’t comment on very much because I am still working my way through the cannon. I wonder if Goodman decided to tie up all of the loose ends so nicely in a nod to the happy endings of old. But in a book with a dead mother, crises of both relationships and business, and planes crashing into buildings, I wish that we had been given a more realistic, messy ending. Despite the fact that Goodman tries to pack too much into this novel, the story of Jess and George’s discovery of love through books is wonderful and they are characters that I would love to meet again.