Mama always said you can’t judge a book by its cover. While my mama is always right about these things, it seems we should be able to judge a book by its title. The title should at least have some kind of tie to the book’s main plot.
Not so with Allegra Goodman’s latest offering, “The Cookbook Collector.” While the cover is a mouth-watering painting, Still Life of Peaches, by Henriette Ronner-Knip (1821-1909), cookbooks are part of a minor subplot.
For the life of me, I can’t understand how the author settled on the title – and I’m certainly puzzled how the title made it through the editorial process.
Goodman’s story actually revolves around two sisters, Emily and Jessamine Bach, trying to find their way in the late 1990s.
Emily is the career-minded CEO of Veritech. She’s on the verge of taking her high tech company public.
Jessamine is the free-spirited sibling who floats through life, a graduate student who can’t seem to pull it together enough to get a thesis started.
Emily’s adventures in Silicon Valley are a great study on the heady days during the dot.com boom. Millionaires were born on a daily basis. On the day Emily’s company makes its debut on the stock exchange, she’s a multi-millionaire – at least on paper.
Although they’re in love, Emily and her boyfriend, Jonathan, can’t seem to take their relationship to another level. Jonathan’s too busy with plans to take his company public and Emily doesn’t want to move back East to be with Jonathan.
In the meantime, “Jess” struggles to pay rent. She works part-time in Yorick’s Used and Rare Books. Her employer, George Friedman, who was in on the dot.com craze, made enough money to buy a beautiful Maybeck home in the San Francisco hills and indulge his passion for books.
Jess gets involved in a group of conservationists who want to save the redwoods of Northern California.
When her employer comes upon an extensive collection of cookbooks, he asks Jess to help him catalog them.
While both girls are busy with their lives, the calendar inches closer to 9/11/01.
Goodman is a gifted writer, and I enjoyed Emily and Jess’ stories, but I never quite recovered from the the absolute disconnect between the story and the title.
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