Editing down: Just 10 cookbooks


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I was having dinner with my friend Angela, a book agent and one of the best cooks I know, and somehow the conversation drifted to cookbooks and I guess clutter. She casually mentioned that a few years ago she’d decided to purge her cookbook collection, allowing herself just 10 books. Ten!

How did that work out?

She’s been incredibly disciplined, actually. When a new one comes in, an old one has to leave the house. I’m impressed.


I must have hundreds of titles, and many more stashed in my office at the Times. Many I intend to read. Many I have never read. Some I have on hand just in case -- I need to know the history of 18th century bread baking in Paris or the spelling of a Lithuanian dish. Many I consult often -- Larousse Gastronomique, an Italian food encyclopedia, cheese primers, wine books.

Still, I could use more shelf space for other books and maybe get the piles of art books and novels off the floor. But edit my library down to 10 cookbooks? I know I can’t do it.

I have given away some books in the past, and inevitably a few months later I’m searching frantically for that very cookbook. But the idea of going through them and saving the very best, the most useful, the most learned won’t leave my head. Realistically, I should ask myself, am I ever going to crack this particular book again? I don’t know, honestly.

Can I make a list of essential reading? Or essential cooking? Author’s voices that soothe and encourage? I’m not going to do anything rash. I’m just going to think about it. How about you?

-- S. Irene Virbila