Cookbook Collector (Goodman)

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Cookbook Collector:

1. Start with the obvious: the two sisters, Emily and Jess Bach. How are they different? Do they share any traits in common? How would you describe their relationship to one another? Do you identify or sympathsize with one over the other?

2. What do you think about George Friedman, a man who tells "his life history with objects"? What does this regard for beautiful objects—and his need to collect them—suggest about his priorities in life?

3. What about the other love interests—especially Jonathan and Leon? Describe them, their obvious differences, and their respective relationships with Emily and Jess?

4. Much has been made, by reviewers and the author herself, of this novel's likeness to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Have you read S & S? If so, what similarities do you see? Have you also read The Three Weissmanns of Westport (2010), another sendup of Sense and Sensibility? If so how does Cookbook compare with Weissmanns?

5. On her website, author Allegra Goodman makes this comment about her inspiration for the novel:

I don't cook, but I love to read cookbooks. I know I'm not alone in this, and I began to think about this phenomenon of reading instead of cooking, and dreaming instead of living. I thought—what would it be like to write a novel about hunger? Hunger to taste, to build, to collect, to profit, to love.

How do the ideas expressed here—dreaming rather than living and fulfilling the hunger for life—get played out in the novel?

6. Dismissing the benefit of hindsight, what do you think of Emily's offer to Jess to purchase Veritech's IPO stock at a reduced rate?

7. Emily, again: why does she confide Veritech's secret project to Jonathan? What consequences does sharing that secret have on their relationship? What does it suggest about trust and doubt between two people?

8. How does Jess go about attaining the remarkable cookbook collection? What makes the books so desirable? What is their symbolic significance to the theme (and title)?

9. The novel uses shifting narrators. Why might the author have used such a structure? Do you enjoy the different perspectives...or would you have prefered a single narrative voice?

10. Some readers felt Goodman tries to weave too many subjects into the plotline—IPO's and dot-coms, 9/11, Jewish mysticism, environmentalism, cookbooks, parent-child relationships, materialism, doubt, secrets.... Do you feel the author was successful in pulling all the plot strands together? Or do you agree that too much is, well...too much?

11. How does Goodman's use of co-incidence sit with you? Are the coincidences too blatant, too impossible (i.e., wouldn't the sisters know their mother's maiden name)...or do they work?

12. Do Emily and Jess become more similar by the end of the book—do their differences begin to fade? What does each character learn through the course of the novel? How do they change or grow?

13. Are you satisfied with how the book ends?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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