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Powell’s Q&A: Allegra Goodman

[Editor's Note: Don't miss Allegra Goodman's reading at Powell's City of Books on Tuesday, July 13, at 7:30 pm. Click here for more information.]

Describe your latest book.
The Cookbook Collector is a novel about two sisters: pragmatic Emily, the CEO of a successful Silicon Valley start-up, and romantic Jess, who works for an antiquarian bookseller named George. Set during the dot-com boom and bust, the book is about hunger: for money, for material things, for food, for fame, for knowledge, for companionship, for love.

Which fictional character would you like to date, and why?
I have a few ideas, with some requirements for each character. I'd like to date Mr. Darcy, if he'd take yoga. Mr. Rochester, if he'd get a divorce, install smoke alarms, and read Cold Comfort Farm. Lydgate, if he'd leave Rosalind and apply for a tenure track job.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Croissants with butter and jam in a small hotel in Paris on a trip there with my family when I was a little girl.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
Ecco sandals. I grew up in Hawaii, so I'm a sandal girl.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration.
Rembrandt, for his characters, his brushstrokes, his powers of observation, his technique and his tenderness. Van Gogh, for understanding of color, for his imaginative response to the world, for his determination even when others didn't understand him. Osvaldo Golijov, for working as a Jewish artist and a world artist at the same time.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage? Where?
I went to Samuel Johnson's house in London. It was tiny, completely dwarfed by the office buildings around it. Writers' houses aren't nearly as important as their books.

What was the last good book you read, and how did it end up in your hands?
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. Found it while browsing the nonfiction table at my neighborhood bookstore, Porter Square Books.

Why do you write?
I write to capture just a little of the beauty and complexity of the world. Writing fiction is my way of studying people. I am a natural philosopher, exploring intention as well as behavior.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Great Novels by Women:

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

÷ ÷ ÷

Allegra Goodman's novels include Intuition and Kaaterskill Falls. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories. She is a winner of the Whiting Writer's Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For more information, visit or become a fan on Facebook.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Intuition
    Used Trade Paper $4.50
  2. Kaaterskill Falls Used Trade Paper $3.50
  3. The Cookbook Collector
    Used Hardcover $6.95
  4. Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Classics)
    Used Trade Paper $7.50

  5. Mrs. Dalloway
    Used Trade Paper $4.95
  6. Middlemarch (Wadsworth Series in... Used Mass Market $4.50
  7. Mansfield Park Used Hardcover $6.95
  8. Suite Francaise: A Novel
    Used Trade Paper $4.95
  9. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic...
    Used Trade Paper $10.00
  10. Middlemarch (Modern Library Classics) Used Trade Paper $7.00
  11. Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics)
    Used Trade Paper $2.95

Allegra Goodman is the author of The Cookbook Collector

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