Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

cookbook collector On the surface, this could be a novel which perfectly captures the height of the dot com boom, where new technology was not only a path to global communication, but also changing the definition of success. Or it could be a story of two very different sisters;older sister Emily, a computer program developer who owns Veritech and Jess, the younger, who works in a book store between philosophy classes and environmental activism. But focusing only on the plot would be to miss some truly wonderful writing.The descriptions of place were among the best I’d ever read and incredibly vivid.
Emily and Jess live in California, though they grew up in Massachusetts, where their father still lives, remarried after their mother died when the girls were young.For Emily, she is a touchstone, her letters guiding her through adulthood. For Jess, who barely remembers her, she is a remote mystery. The sisters are close, though they don’t completely ‘get’ each other.Their boyfriends and coworkers are nearly all as fully developed as the two sisters, which adds a richness.The characters are complex and flawed, most are likable and some I felt ambivalent about until quite late in the story.The title refers to a deceased person whose activities ripple out to affect strangers and relatives in startling ways.There are several big twists in the plot, including a shocking one.
But back to the beautiful prose, which includes metaphors like a building which is “low slung, like the jaw of a baleen whale”. And the technique of changing the narrative viewpoint with digressions detailing a person’s interest, which could be interesting (antique books) or dull (wine) and gave a sense of intimacy with the character. I found these digressions, which could go on for pages, a unique construction the way this author used them and the magic of her writing sneaks up on the reader. This led to an absolutely perfect ending; the setting, the wording, it was one of the finest, ever. Goodman has created a truly splendid book.

The Dial Press 2010 394 pp. ISBN-13:978-0385340854

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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