Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Except for These 5 Things . . .

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is the story of two sisters and their male friends and boyfriends.  The sisters are Emily, who is the twenty-something owner of a dot.com enterprise in the late 1990s, and Jessamine, who is younger, and struggling to finish school and/or find herself.  The men in their lives include "tree savers" Noah and Leon, young business executives Jonathan and Orion, a couple of rabbis, a book store owner, and their father.

Here are 5 things that I don't like about this book:

1.  It begins on page 1 with the simile "Like money, the rain came in a rush . . ."  Really?  Is that an appropriate simile?  I don't think that it is most people's experience that money comes in a rush or is like rain.  I think Goodman's idea here was to set the tone, by telling us that for some of the characters in this book money would fall from the sky like rain, but the simile came too early, and too obviously.

2.  At the beginning of the second chapter, George, the book store owner, is referred to without obvious sarcasm as being "old money, a Microsoft millionaire".  Now mind you, the story begins in the late 1990s.  I really don't think that someone who made their millions from Microsoft could be considered "old money" even now, a decade later. 

3.  Emily owns a business specializing in online data storage, and her boyfriend, Jonathan, owns a company focused on online security.  It is December 31, 1999.  They go to a New Year's Eve party together.  The phrase "Y2K" is nowhere in the book.  Now I know "Y2K" turned out to be a whole lot of nothing, but would the CEOs of an online data storage company and an internet security company really have been at a New Year's Eve party free from concern?  Shouldn't we at least have heard about them frantically planning for Y2K in the months leading up to the big night? 

4.  We are expected to believe that a person could not possibly win an admittedly complicated custody battle for less than $500,000 in attorney fees, and then that $1,000,000 is sufficient.  Really?

5.  Toward the end of the book, there is a relationship reveal that just doesn't work.  I don't want to give it away, but I would suggest that the reveal would be more believable and more interesting if the rabbis had known about it all along, and not told the others about it.

However, I don't hate the book as a whole.  The Cookbook Collector is a complicated story, and Goodman did her research in very specific areas including rare, old cookbooks and redwoods.  She tells the story of the dot.com boom and bust through Emily and Jonathan's examples, and her vocabulary from the era brings back memories of a more optimistic time.  There are a ton of well developed characters, but also some who are just place holders.

All told, if you stumble upon this book when you are looking for something good to pass the time, it is worth the read. 

Next up on CD:  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Still Reading:  As Always, Julia by Julia Child

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