Reading cookbooks for pleasure

Open books

In yesterday’s post I declared that I read cookbooks like other people read novels. I enjoy getting to know the author’s voice, and learning about different cultures and locales through the foods of the area. I am sometimes asked by friends or acquaintances if I have read any good books lately. My response, “Yes, I’ve read several excellent cookbooks,” is often met with a raised eyebrow. 

I am not the only one who has used cookbooks in this way. James Beard award-winning restaurant critic Tejal Rao has too, but for a slightly different reason. Rao started reading cookbooks when she moved with her family to France when she was nine.

It began as a way to hold on to her language, but it morphed into something much larger. Says Rao, “Maybe I would have learned this reading anything, but I learned it reading cookbooks: Words can be used to make an idea more precise, or more vague, to make something clear or to blur its edges. Some writers are good at imagining people who don’t live a life exactly like their own, and others seem incapable.” Rao goes on to describe how the cookbooks she read filled her with joy during a difficult time. After reading this charming article, I am better equipped to explain my why I read cookbooks like novels. 

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  • manycookbooks  on  July 2, 2017

    I feel vindicated! I, too, read cookbooks as others read fiction (I don't DO fiction). There is so much to glean from cookbooks, other than trying the recipes. History, social and cultural influences, climate and food sources, personal and religious preferences, trends and "fads", and so much more. I have gotten the "raised eyebrows" more than once, when I tell people I read cookbooks. With my collection approaching 6,000, I have a vast source of information to draw upon for writing my blog, as well as research into food history. Fascinating stuff!

  • Analyze  on  July 2, 2017

    It makes complete sense to me why people would love reading cookbooks, but for some reason, maybe due to some unhealthy thinking patterns, sometimes they just make me feel sad that I won't be able to try all of the delicious recipes in them. They remind me of how short life is and that I can't try everything in the world, or eat as much as I want to, or even just have a favorite recipe every day. I know, I'm weird; this must be a glass half-empty point of view! I guess the closest analogy is looking through a store catalog and all of the sudden you want everything that you didn't want just 5 minutes ago, and maybe can't afford.

  • Frenchfoodie  on  July 10, 2017

    Thanks for this signpost to Rao's lovely article. I too am an anglophone living in France and the only books I ever take my on daily commute are cookbooks. Happily, online shopping means I'm not restricted to those already in the house ('if only' cries my husband). I have learnt so much of other cultures – particularly those of Georgia and Armenia, rarely reported on in Western Europe – from cookbooks. A writers voice is more important than any pictures though the photography of some of my books is truly mouthwatering.

  • lgroom  on  July 27, 2017

    Thanks for sharing that article — very interesting read.

  • GiselleMarie  on  August 4, 2017

    Like Analyze, I too read cookbooks and sometimes feel sad that, even if I live to be old, I will never have enough time to try all the recipes I would like to. I think about all the wonderful recipes I have already enjoyed and I know there are many more in my collection that I will never try because I won't live long enough. I'm only 57 and in great health, and I am actually a very optimistic person, so I don't know why my cookbook collection calls to mind how temporary life is.

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