People buy cookbooks for a variety of reasons. They look pretty on the bookshelf. Even better on the coffee table, depending on the book, a topic of culinary conspicuous consumption I discussed in a round table at the 2013 Cookbook Conference. Cookbooks can be fun to collect. Cookbooks represent skills we hope to learn or wish to have, meals we desire to eat, people we aspire to be.
For well known cookbook author and writer Nika (Standen) Hazelton, however, there was only one reason to buy a cookbook: to cook from it, damn it. [I’m not sure if she would approve of such phrasing, but one of her cookbooks was titled, I Cook As I Please, so I might not be too far off.] The author of thirty cookbooks and innumerable articles for major food newspapers and magazines, Hazelton had little patience for those who purchased cookbooks as “escapist literature.” Instead, in a 1963 article in the New York Times, she laid out in black and white exactly how one ought to judge if a cookbook was up to snuff.