Allegra Goodman Goes to Berkeley

Next week I’m especially psyched that we’re going to host Allegra Goodman to the MJL/Jewish Book Council Authors’ Blog. Goodman is a sort of hero to science geeks, observant Jews, Jewish Hawaiians (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, wereallegra goodman it not for Damon Lindelof of Lost and some woman who calls herself the governor, Ms. Goodman would be the most famous Jewish Hawaiian  alive) as well as, well, the rest of us writers.

Take, for instance, her awesome response to the New York Times interviewer asking her about her novel Intuition in which one of the main characters is cheating on the other–not sexually, but in terms of research findings. “I’ve always found tales of adultery rather dull,” she says–and the interviewer shoots back:

Are you saying that you find research biologists more scintillating than “Anna Karenina,” “Madame Bovary” and other adultery-laden masterpieces?

Well, adultery has been done. I wanted to move into a different sphere beyond the domestic. It is certainly true that scientists do not exactly dominate literary novels. But I think we are going to see more novels with scientists as main characters now that we have entered the age of genomics and cloning.

Goodman’s new novel, the about-to-be-released The Cookbook Collector, is both a departure and exactly what we’d expect. It’s more conversational and flowy than her earlier work; it’s not nearly as introverted, and the relationships between the characters are almost chick-litty — not in a disparaging way, but in a way that keeps us readers on our toes as we’re constantly bounced between plot twists.

The book isn’t actually about cookbooks–not at first, really. The plot takes its time opening up, and as it does, we start to see the directions she’s been pushing us, from a grouchy Silicon Valley bookstore owner to environmental activists to the Berkeley, CA Chabad House rabbi (oh, okay, it’s called the “Bialystocker Center” in the book, but seeing as how the Bialystockers don’t seem like they’re about to leave the Lower East Side any time soon and Rabbi Ferris in Berkeley is every bit as charming and whimsical and mischievous as this character, we’re going to make some assumptions). Goodman writes, “I’m fascinated by the way we read cookbooks instead of cooking, collect material things instead of living,” and this book is perky, peppy, fun and unexpected–and she’ll tell you a lot more about right here, next week.

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