Thursday, February 18, 2010

Books I'm Reading: Cookbooks and Penguins

I went to our local bookstore recently--that would be Copperfield's, in Santa Rosa's Montgomery Village--to find a copy of one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, seeking the actual recipe for the lemon and butter prawn pasta I mangled not too long ago trying to make it from memory. They didn't have the book, but I ordered a copy.

I got to talking about cookbooks with the woman helping me. We laughed at all the copies of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking on the shelves. Apparently, it's been selling like hotcakes (what else?) because of interest prompted by the film Julie & Julia (reviewed here). The Joy of Cooking is selling well, too. That makes considerably less sense considering the disdain the film heaps upon the book and its author. I have nothing against the Joy of Cooking. I own a copy. I use it from time to time. There's been a copy in the family for decades. I just don't see Julie & Julia as a recommendation for it. People are interesting.

There was a sale going on. Inevitably, I bought things. I had a big stack of books in just a few minutes that I eventually pared back to four--three of the four books published by Penguin. When books are on sale for just a few dollars--as some of these were--I never hesitate to buy a Penguin edition, even if it's on a subject I have little interest in or by an author unknown to me. Is any publisher on the planet more consistent? I don't think I've ever read a book with a bright orange Penguin spine that wasn't worth the time. In this case, however, I wasn't buying on the strength of the publisher's name. The books caught my attention for various reasons.

I picked up Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Geld Gigerenzer, which suggests that logic and reasoning may be overrated--or at least that we have highly evolved powers of intuition that sometimes serve us better than rational thought; A Summer of Hummingbirds, by Christopher Benfey, a book with a rather long subtitle that obviates the need for further explanation from me--Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade; Desire: Where Sex meets Addiction, a book by Susan Cheever (only daughter of John Cheever) that appears to explore the idea that addiction to people (sex, that is) has characteristics rather unusual among addictions, which seems an idea worth delving into; and Mary Cantwell's Manhattan Memoir, being a collection of her three memoirs--American Girl; Manhattan, When I Was Young; and Speaking with Strangers. This will be my first reading of Mary Cantwell, but she comes very well recommended.

And so, my bookshelves--I need more bookshelves--get a little more crowded. When will I get around to these four new books? I don't know. I buy books when the opportunity arises. I get to them as I can. Buying them (rather than going to the library) is a habit from my many years in Tokyo, where it was often hard to get English-language books at all, and anything worthwhile had to be snapped up. Some of the books I buy I sit on for years, waiting for the right mood to strike. Some I start reading the day I acquire them. I treat them rather like wine. Some are waiting to reach maturity, some are for drinking young. I just began a collection of essays by Isaiah Berlin--Four Essays on Liberty. I bought it at least 15 years ago, in Tokyo. And when I'm finished with that? We'll see. Maybe one of these. Maybe not.

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