“I threw out the cookbooks.”
I just looked at her. I could not, first of all, understand why anybody would do such a thing or, having done it, admit to it. And, since I was hauling books out of her apartment, I was aware that one box of books was filled with cookbooks. I nodded in the direction of that box.
“Oh, not the REAL cookbooks.” The books in the box were certainly real cookbooks. Stained and battered, with loose pages and coupons sticking out at odd angles, she had the classics: Joy of, Better Homes and gardens, New York Times, Microwave Gourmet, and so on.
She held her hands about two feet apart. “Those big coffee table cookbooks: the ones that are all pictures and celebrities. People give them to me as presents and most of them I never look at except to leaf through. No one would actually ever COOK from them, so they’re useless.”
“Ah,” was my comment, I believe, as I continued to stack boxes.
We have discussed this before, butter mint casserole. Any book for which I can get money is not useless. Any book for which I can get five or six bucks is actually useful. Coffee table cookbooks may not be much use in the kitchen, but they do have their uses, as this happy vandal had herself stated. Though she didn’t realize it, these cookbooks are largely intended to be given to people (or book fairs) as examples of one of the bestselling book genres of all time: Big Books With Plenty of Pictures.
Whenever I don’t know what else to put on the carts outside the A.C. (Awesome Carts) McClurg Bookstore in the lobby, I know I can always fall back on cookbooks, cat books, and big books with plenty of pictures. Whenever they are setting up a major exhibit in one of the galleries NEAR the carts (look up from that cat book; they’ve been there all along), curators need only consider an example from the Newberry’s collection of fifteenth century Big Books With Plenty of Pictures. This compulsion goes back to our prehistory: because they hadn’t invented books yet, our ancestors invented Big Caves With Plenty of Pictures. If you don’t believe me, come July I can sell you a big book with plenty of pictures of them.
You have a nephew and you need to think of a birthday present right quick: you forgot this is the end of May. All you really remember is that his dad said he was really interested in the Civil War. The safest present is guess what? A big book with plenty of pictures of the Civil War. Your best friend’s sister’s kid is getting married and you’ve been sent an invitation. The bride is an architect, and that’s about all you know. What better gift than a big book with plenty of pictures of buildings.
One thing about them is that they have all those pictures: they’re fun to browse, even for people who never get around to reading them. The other thing about them is that they look expensive. I know: it’s the thought, not the price. But don’t you, personally, feel that if you were maybe a bit off in the thought, the price might make up for it? (“Aunt Mable sent us another big book with plenty of pictures of cats.” “Well, send her a nice thank you: looks like she spent a bundle on it.”)
If you needed any other confirmation of the concept, think about all those books which have become watchwords as tedious required reading in school. It’s not right, at the Newberry, to use Moby Dick as an example, so let’s consider, say, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Sartor Resartus, or Pamela. What are these? Big Books With No Pictures. I rest my case.
Don’t throw away any cookbooks this weekend, by the way: just don’t bring them over. We’re locked up tight for three days, and I will be at home trying to decide what goes into a butter mint casserole.