The Cookbook Collector follows two half Jewish sisters in their twenties, pragmatic Emily and dreamy Jess. Emily has started a dot com business in Silicon Valley, and Jess is a philosophy graduate student at Berkeley who works at an antiquarian bookstore. Jess is in a relationship with an environmental activist but is attracted to her aloof employer, a man twice her age. Drifting and confused, Jess is drawn to Jewish mysticism. Emily is having problems of her own, managing a long distance romance with a competitor while weathering the astronomical ups and downs of the dot com industry in the 1990s. The close relationship between the sisters tie the disparate narrative strands together.
The third person narration includes multiple perspectives like a late 19th century novel, allowing for full development of even minor characters. The diverse cast of characters felt real down to their exasperating personality tics, and they avoided stereotypes. I loved seeing a young woman play a stellar CEO. Workplace romances resulted in unexpected consequences.
Despite the myriad plot strings and perspectives, the narrative is coherent and flows well. The Cookbook Collector is literary fiction but as easy and pleasurable to read as commercial fiction. This book was meant to be enjoyed by the fire on a long winter’s night. The warmth comes from within the pages:
“Who could resist cracking books like these? He wanted to open them right now, one after another on the kitchen table. He wanted to shuck these books like oysters in their shells.”The Cookbook Collector also opens with one of my favorite quotations from Shakespeare's As You Like It: "I can live no longer by thinking."
Disclosure: I bought this book from an independent bookstore when it was released this summer. The author did not respond to my request for an interview.
Check out last week's post for my list of good gift books from 2010.
Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice
Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice live on Broadway
While in NYC for Thanksgiving, we saw The Merchant of Venice on Broadway. Al Pacino was phenomenal as Shylock (better than Dustin Hoffman in the same role in 1989) and Lily Rabe was an equally strong Portia. The staging was terrific too. It was one the best performances I've ever seen, as good as Sir Ian McKellen playing Richard III at BAM. The strong cast could rival the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. The Americana actors avoided English accents and spoke the lines of Shakespeare naturally with emotional resonance. I was moved to laughter and nearly tears. My teenaged children loved it too, sitting on the edge of their seat for 3 hours. This performance is well worth a trip to NYC on its own.
The Merchant of Venice is playing through January 9th at the Broadhurst Theater. If you can't make it to NYC, rent The Merchant of Venice filmed in Venice. Al Pacino is really good in the movie, but he's even better live on stage. That's rare in a Hollywood actor.