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What are your criteria for adding a cookbook to your collection?

I love cookbooks, and I'm guessing you do, too.

But, lately, I've been feeling overwhelmed by my cookbook collection. I keep reorganizing my home in order to fin ways to add more shelf space, but now I've gotten to the point that I have books in so many rooms in so many little spots that I have hard time finding some of my books when I need them. EYB has certainly helped me make better use of the books I have, but it's also made me more aware of books I hadn't heard of.

I've been really trying to cut back on my purchasing lately but, sometimes, I still find myself buying books on impulse that I regret later... I think I need some strict criteria. Mine have been a loose combo of:

COTM and/or

written by an author I love and/or

meets my current cooking goals (in my case, efficient, family friendly meals)and/or

is indexed on EYB and/or

is for a cuisine or cooking method not duplicated by any other cookbook I own...

What are your criteria for adding a book to your collection?

Also, when you buy a book on impulse and regret it almost immediately, do you have the courage to get rid of the book right away or does your guilt cause you to hang onto it even though, deep down, you know you will probably seldom cook from it, if ever?

EDIT: and P.S. lately I have had the STUPIDEST reason for buying books on impulse and that is that I haven't had time to renew my library card, so I've been buying books just so I can get a look at them.

~TDQ

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  1. Haven't bought a new cookbook in years but used to be that I would justify it if there were >10 recipes I would ACTUALLY cook. Now books on food literature are a different story. It's all I read practically. Even then I buy used on Amazon. I must say I have quite the library.

    1 Reply
    1. re: letsindulge

      I'm impressed by your willpower! You know, I think my old rule of thumb used to be 2 recipes, but now that my collection is so overwhelming and so many recipes are available online, 10 seems like a good number.

      What if you can't get your hands on a cookbook to see what the recipes are like? LIke a hard to find out of print book or some of those books out of the UK and such?

      ~TDQ

    2. Get rid of an existing one. After a point one has decide if they are really using it. and if so, how much or how often. This has helped me keep the collection down to about 50 books.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mike0989

        That's a strategy I should really employ in many areas of my life, actually.

        I would love to be able to get to about half of what my collection is now.

        ~TDQ

      2. I've evolved a lot as a cook since my culinary book section took root so now I can say that I would not have bought or have outgrown many of them (that I am now culling). My criteria certainly have changed. Now the books I buy must be very different and unique, preferably encyclopedic, use challenging techniques and/or ingredients, etc. Many of them now are one specific topic such as truffles, olive oil and chile peppers. Many are are very "ethnic" for lack of a better term, including books from Persia, Libya, Croatia, Lithuania, Germany...

        My collection is now pared down to about 500 but many include food writing, too.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chefathome

          Very interesting! I should think about which books I've outgrown (and might be hanging onto for sentimental reasons, perhaps).

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            I did that exact cull a few years back. I'm glad I did it, and I didn't get rid of any books I regret, but it's amazing how quickly the vacuum was filled.

            Now I'm having serious space issues again, I've really run out of places to store books and I'm going to have to cull again. But this this time I'm dreading it. I have a huge collection, over 820 books, but I love my books and I don't know how I'm ever going to decide which ones to let go of. What I NEED is a bigger house!

        2. With so many people, and animals, in bad shape, I can't justify trite expenditures on cookbooks any more. Standing pat, getting recipes off the web and adding the new cookbook fund to the charity pile

          2 Replies
          1. re: malabargold

            >>>With so many people, and animals, in bad shape, I can't justify trite expenditures on cookbooks any more.<<<

            Two months ago, I literally donated the money I was going to spend on books to my local animal shelter. This means more to me than owning another cookbook, no more of which do I need (I'm old).

            1. re: Jay F

              Actually, I don't consider my cookbooks expenditures trite at all. What I feel guilty about is excessive consumerism if I don't use all of the books I have. (and buying a book because I'm too busy to renew my library card is completely bogus.)

              But I think books in general, and cookbooks in particular, have a great deal of value. I have traveled 5 continents and food has always been my primary entree into an unfamiliar culture. History is hard for me to absorb, but it's easy for me to learn it in the context of a cuisine. Food has also been my way of staying connected to a culture after my travels have ended.

              I literally have built connections to other ethnic groups in my community through cooking and eating together. I have also brought communities together this way.

              FInally I don't feel bad supporting writers and photographers and researchers. Where would we be without artists? Also, several of my books have been written by farmers and artisans.

              I volunteer plenty of my time and money for organizations that work to heal the earth and its people. I have served in both staff and board level positions in social service organizations. The maybe $200 a year I spend on cookbooks is a drop in the bucket compared to that, especially when I learn so much from my books.

              ~TDQ

            1. re: Harters

              I'm swayed by chowhounds who are swayed by media hype.

              ~TDQ

                1. I haunt used bookstores for canning books and antique cookbooks, plus any that look like I would actually use them. I like the 10 recipes criteria posted earlier. Knowing that I can find most anything on the internet, my new cookbook purchases have ground to a screeching halt.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: jmcarthur8

                    Update on the used bookstore haunting...yesterday I scored a 1969 edition of "The Escoffier Cook Book" for three bucks. This is one that I have wanted for years, and have never seen at a used bookstore before.
                    Most likely, I'll read the whole thing from front to back before it goes on the cookbook shelves.

                    1. re: jmcarthur8

                      Super, super, SUPER jealous of you!!! Where's the like button!!!!

                      I scour used book sales and antique stores for old cookbooks. I don't buy too many new anymore.

                      My last find (2 years ago) was Marcella Hazan's Essentials for $2. Brand spanking new....I love it. I also picked up a 1954 BC and and 1948 BH&G for $1 each. I read them cover to cover and marvelled at the notes made by the prior owners.

                      1. re: Dee S

                        That's funny, I have almost no affinity for old cookbooks whatsoever, with a few exceptions. Tastes have changed so much, we have access to so many ingredients that weren't availabe to people in this country in the past, most people are better educated about eating healthier, there are just so many reasons why I don't bother with very old cookbooks at all. There are too many fabulous new ones coming out all the time that are up to date, utilize the vast array of ingredients many of us are fortunate enough to be able to obtain these days and are written using techniques and equipment that most people just didn't have in the 40s and 50s.

                        1. re: flourgirl

                          flourgirl, it's kind of like the reason I love old houses. Sure, a new house is clean and lovely and everything works right, but an old house has history and life inside it.

                          As Dee S. said, it's fun to read the notes that prior owners made. And it's fun to think about who served these crazy dishes, or why they thought to put those ingredients together. And to reminisce about our childhood meals that no longer are in fashion. I suppose it's not as much about the recipes, techniques and equipment as it is the story behind it all.

                          1. re: jmcarthur8

                            I understand, and I actually do love old houses. They usually have a lot of charm that new houses just don't have. But I just don't feel the same way about old cookbooks. I guess it's because there just isn't enough hours in my day to read and use all the new cookbooks that I own and love, to waste any time on old ones. And most of the cookbooks I buy I read like novels precisely because they tell a story. A new story. I don't want to keep reading old ones. I want to know what's going on now.

                            And I don't reminisce about my childhood meals that are no longer in fashion because most of the stuff my mom made IS still in fashion.

                            I don't mean to sound like I'm criticizing people who do love old cookbooks, to each his own and obviously there's nothing wrong with it. I know that lots of CHers love old cookbooks. I'm just expressing my opinion on the issue.

                  2. Great photography.

                    It used to be the recipes, but like many, I now have the web for that.
                    I still love to curl up on the couch with a big book full of many pretty pictures. If I see something that actually inspires me to get up and cook, I head for google.

                    1. It interests me that more than a few people here already stated that they aren't really buying cookbooks anymore because of all the recipes that they can find on the internet.

                      I have to say that I almost NEVER use recipes I find on the internet. I use my books (and my magazine collection.). And I buy and read cookbooks because the best ones are more than just a collection of recipes, they teach you things - about cooking techniques, about other foodways and cultures, about food preservation, etc.

                      So that said, I have noticed that my recent purchases tend to be more single subject books, or books concentrating on a particular region and their foodways, technique books such as books on canning/preserving, making home made cheese, homemade pasta, etc.

                      My criteria? It's mostly just a combination of holes in my collection, interest in the subject, maybe prior familiarity with the author and an intution born of years of cookbook love and acquisition that guides my purchases. I am rarely disappointed by the books I buy.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: flourgirl

                        My preference is also for books vs. internet. In fact, I will not ever stop purchasing them. I am a book fiend and love the look, touch and smell of them.

                        1. re: chefathome

                          "I am a book fiend and love the look, touch and smell of them."

                          Yes, same here. I truly love books. And it's just a fantastic time to be a cookbook lover, there are so many absolutely wonderful books out there.

                          1. re: flourgirl

                            So true. They are more and more gorgeous all the time! So often I stand in front of my bookshelves and just breathe in deeply and smile.

                            1. re: chefathome

                              It's so great to find a kindred spirit. I do the exact same thing. :)

                              And I know, it just constantly amazes me how much effort and talent is going into so many books being published now. These books just enrich my life in so many ways - AND the lives of my family members, who also enjoy great food, are interested in the stuff I'm learning and, of course, are more than happy to share in the results of my kitchen adventures.

                              1. re: flourgirl

                                Wonderful! My books are like friends and I cherish them.

                              2. re: chefathome

                                Books have personality. They can be friends. The internet is a tool. Different things. Both useful. One more exciting.

                                1. re: sandylc

                                  Oh, no question that the internet is a very useful tool - It brought us Chowhound and Eat Your Books! I also wouldn't have nearly the awesome cookbook collection I have now if it wasn't for the internet because I scored so many wonderful out of print books at great prices through internet book sellers.

                            2. re: flourgirl

                              I use both. I look for recipies on the internet when I'm looking for something specific. I read my books because I'm looking for something new. And yes I do read them, not just browse thourgh the index. That inspiration I get doesn't always happen with a search engine.

                              1. re: mike0989

                                That's the thing, isn't it. A good cookbook is so much more than a collection of recipes, although it should be at least that. Sure you can lift lots of recipes off the internet, but you'll lose all of the context.

                                ~TDQ

                              2. re: flourgirl

                                I agree, a good cookbook is so much more than simply a collection of recipes... I don't really care about photos though. I mean, I enjoy them, but I'd rather the book be thinner and less expensive.

                                ~TDQ

                              3. If possible, I try to find one of the recipes from the book online and try it out before I buy a new cookbook. But for used ones I should load up on them and if they're terrible it's not big deal because they're cheap and they make good door stops.

                                1. These days, I rarely buy cookbooks anymore since most recipes are not very different than the ones you can find on the Internet. At least for American and most European cuisines which are fairly ubiquitous. The ones I do buy fill a niche somewhere. Like a certain regional style of cooking or a particular cuisine.

                                  1. I wish I could tell you I had any useful criteria. I do try very hard not to pay full price for cookbooks, taking advantage of TGC bundle sales and the amazing deals on "used" (mostly like-new) one can find online. But if it's a book--and I can succumb to hype--I'm waiting for, I'll buy it new on Amazon. I'm afraid I'm most influenced by what folks on CH say. Many times, I've decided I didn't need a book only to have my mind changed after reading what people here say. (I also generally avoid chef-authored books, but I've made several exceptions to that rule.)

                                    But as we've all noted many times, it's not awful as addictions go though it presents space challenges. And since EYB, I cook a lot more from the books I have so that site has helped me to rationalize my habit.

                                    Like many here, I love books and especially love cookbooks; I like to read them even if I never cook from them. I love the photos, the feel of pages between my fingers. I like to take them to bed with me. I just can't do that with the Internet.

                                    And I'm the worst at culling, find it almost impossible to get rid of cookbooks unless I really, really hate them--and that just doesn't happen very often . . . pretty much never.

                                    So I guess this wasn't much help : (

                                    So I

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                      Ok, and now you've gotten to the heart of the problem. I, too, pretty much never get rid of a cookbook once it's made its way to my shelves. That's why I have to be so careful about choosing the books I buy!

                                      ~TDQ

                                    2. Good question TDQ.. I almost always try to take cookbooks out of the library first (I am lucky and have access to the largest library system in NA) to read them thoroughly, look for recipes that look interesting or different, and then try them. In general, I won't buy them unless I've tried them.
                                      I tend to only collect cookbooks in one of two general areas:
                                      -healthy eating (for my regular cooking)
                                      -baking and desserts (for what I really love). I do have some exceptions.. well, just one, Nigella Lawson, but that's because I love her desserts.. I have almost all of her cookbooks.
                                      I find that used book stores are my kryptonite, because somehow that doesn't "count" as buying a book (some magical thinking there).
                                      I am pretty good at getting rid of duds, but not so good as using all of the ones that I have...
                                      I considered the "one in one out" rule, but since that doesn't work with my clothes, it not surprisingly hasn't worked with cookbooks either!

                                      1. "What are your criteria for adding a cookbook to your collection?"

                                        it's kinda like at Dairy Queen regarding a Heath bar-Snickers Blizzard~
                                        it's there and it's in front of me ;:-:
                                        I have no other criteria I juss wannit :)

                                        1. TDQ: I sympathize with you on the library card, I used to live spittin' distance from the main Brooklyn public library and their system let you reserve books before they were out. Heaven.
                                          Now I'm in the (not very) wilds of Bergen County I'm buying a whole lot more books. Our library system won't let you reserve a book if it's new (when it becomes not-new is not entirely clear to me) which is V annoying.
                                          Criteria for buying: almost anything by a writer I admire (Fuchsia, Kochilas, Malgieri...the list goes on).
                                          Baking books, as long as they seem appealing or are by someone tried and true.
                                          Asian books, particularly Chinese, and anything from a lesser-known cuisine (thank you Ms. Duguid, about whom, when I received Burma today, the better half said "but I thought you can't stand her!" Never mind, I only have one Burmese cookbook).
                                          Passing fancies (a flurry of candy books for example, the urge passed).
                                          A good TGC bundle sale (but it's only $10 and no shipping!).
                                          So many reasons...

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            My son is a librarian in Bergen County.. In what town do u live?
                                            The BCLLS system is in process of being changed.
                                            I will ask him what their criteria is for ordering books.

                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                Before moving to Florida 4 years ago I lived for a short while in North Arlingon-
                                                my son is librarian in Northern Bergen County

                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                  my son suggested speaking to the Director

                                                  1. re: jpr54_1

                                                    Thank you, and him, for the assitance in cracking the BCCLS codes :)

                                              2. re: buttertart

                                                A great library is an amazing resource... I'm envious about the Burmese book!

                                                ~TDQ

                                              3. With just over 100 volumes, I've put out the word to relatives and friends, "No more cookbooks." I figure that, as a vegetarian, 1/3 of my shelf space is already clogged up with unread meat recipes. I also have baking books, vegetable books, noodle books, ice cream books etc. but now I just print an interesting recipe from one of a half-dozen favorite food sites and try it. If I like it, it gets the three-hole punch treatment and goes into an indexed loose leaf binder. I'm sure book publishers don't like reading this but the trend is already underway.
                                                CP

                                                  1. re: beevod

                                                    Funnily enough, I find the free ones are almost never worth keeping. I have some many cookbooks and such specific reasons for wanting a cookbook, thant even gifts of a cookbook often fall short.

                                                    ~TDQ

                                                  2. Excellent question DQ.

                                                    I find Cookbooks get added to my collection far too frequently for no apparent reason. But I strive to only add cookbooks to my collection for four reasons:

                                                    1) to inspire me - eg. My Chateau Kitchen - beautiful imagery, great writing, solid recipes...

                                                    2) to teach me something I don't already know - a new cuisine,or mastering techniques or shortcuts

                                                    3) contains a collection of flawless recipes that work - Sunday Suppers comes to mind

                                                    and while I wish it weren't true...

                                                    4) is, was or has the potential for ever being a COTM title

                                                    Now I need a similar criteria list for getting rid of books!

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: dkennedy

                                                      Is that: Sunday Suppers at Lucques? It seems my criteria is being tempted by books I read about on Chowhound.

                                                      1. re: Disneyfreak

                                                        Yes, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Flawless recipes galore.

                                                        1. re: Disneyfreak

                                                          I am certain she means Sunday Suppers at Lucques! Here is a recent post of hers detailing her favorites from SSaL http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699... If you scroll up a few posts in that same thread, JoanN lists a few of her favorites.

                                                          ~TDQ

                                                      2. I have cookbooks I've never used. One or two I've barely opened. Some things are worth doing just because is feels good at the time, even if it really isn't such a great idea.

                                                        Buying a new cookbook (particularly if I can buy a new used book!) definitely falls into that category.

                                                        1. I take cookbooks to bed and read them like they were novels - so like any other book - it has to look like it will be a good read.

                                                          1. We are supposed to have criteria? LOL Honestly I just buy what sounds irresistible. I usually have quite a few cookbooks on my Amazon wish list and I buy them as the mood strikes. I have a couple authors I follow other than that I'm more about the topic. I buy a lot of baking, canning and preserving cookbooks. I cull on a semi regular basis though.

                                                            1. Most of my books are sort of specialty books; cooking for two, Slow cooker , Pressure cooker, grilling, canning, Mexican, Italian, Entertaining, and of course some general cookbooks; BHG, ATK's Family Cookbook, Silver Palate, Mark Bittman. Current favorite and has been for some time is Dorie Greenspans "Around My French Table." I keep finding such good recipes in it!

                                                              I usually read recommendations here or on Cookaholics.org. A woman I know has a blog called "Kate Cooks the Books," and she actually goes through and makes recipes from the books and reports on them, and gives recommendations. I've gotten books because she likes them.

                                                              If you don't have room for the books, get a Kindle! The books are usually cheaper, and you can keep it with you, so if you are in the store, you can look and the recipe and get what you need!

                                                              1. I borrow before I buy. If 12 or more recipes seem like a natural long term fit for me, I'll buy the book. If not I run copies off the borrowed cookbook and add them to my file. I own six cookbooks and about 40 file binders of copied recipes....but mostly I use the Internet because the applications for keeping vetted recipes are just too darn easy and FREE.

                                                                14 Replies
                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                  Holy moly you're strict. Twelve recipes? How many of those do you actually cook during the "borrow" phase before you buy? I wish I had your discipline and would like to work towards it...

                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                    Spoiled more likely. None of my relatives used cookbooks and Mom bought books and rarely used them. My sister and I kept what we wanted when Mom passed but sold the rest. My gf and colleagues are like you TDQ, they LOVE cookbooks..and so I borrow theirs. I actually cook all the recipes over maybe a six month period before I decide to buy. If the recipes lie for long it's an indicator I got over it too quick. Then I buy on sale or via Amazon sellers anyway. I spend money on certain books...but not cookbooks. My recipe files are gold tho. I cherish every recipe that "makes the cut." :)

                                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                                      Ah, yes, that is wonderfully lucky to live near people with extensive cookbook collections! I am fortunate to have access to a good library, but even with two extensions, the maximum I can have a book out at any one time--assuming no one else has placed a hold on it-- is 9 weeks (which is quite long, actually). And new books have a long waiting list (and, therefore, once I get my hands on them, I'd have a max of 3 weeks, no opportunity to extend or renew).

                                                                      As far as purchasing books, I don't mind purchasing used books through an Amazon third-party seller for a well-established chef such as Bobby Flay or Mario Batali, but for an up and comer, I buy my books new. As a writer myself, I'd appreciate it if people bought my book new. Writing is a hard living and even if you're doing on a hobby/labor of love basis, it's often a tax write-off. If we want people to keep writing books and music, we need to keep paying for it. I believe intellectual property has value.

                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                        I feel the same way about my professional photo archive; which resides on three continents...but I'm too old and too jaded to hold such thoughts dear any longer.

                                                                        I also treat music pretty much the same way. Dh and I have a music room, an album collection of 40 years. But today access to music, old & new, comes to us a variety of ways. We adapt.

                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                          And..then there's the sheer volume of collecting 'anything' really..I came to the point (fairly recently) that owning and enjoying ARE two diff things and holding onto lots and lots of hard copy stuff can become a heavy around your neck. My life is a lot lighter these days...collections begin to mean something else.

                                                                    2. re: HillJ

                                                                      HillJ, can I ask how your organize your file binders? I've got one folder that is absolutely bursting with photocopied & printed "keepers" from over the years, and it's getting to the point where they desperately need to be sorted out so that we can actually find what we are looking for.

                                                                      1. re: geekmom

                                                                        Sure! Staples sells these soft binders (come in navy blue & white) with 12-36 pages of clear sleeves. No rings, no tabs, just clear sleeves. The front of the binder has a pocket to slip in your recipe file list for each binder. I keep my recipes in alpha order always. The printed & magazine tear sheets get slipped into the pages back to back. The recipe file list gets updated as new recipes enter the book.

                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                          Thank you - I will try this idea when I am next at Staples. Do you categorize the recipes in any way or are the binders strictly alphabetical?

                                                                          1. re: geekmom

                                                                            Way back I tried the category-thing but frankly I don't keep to category when I eat. I could enjoy fish in the morning and oatmeal at night..savory/sweet kinda blend for me and my style of menu planning. I experiment alot. Most recipes serve as a jumping off point...so geekmom-go with what works for you best...but the binders provide alot of flexibility and the clear sleeves are water-proof (bonus!).

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              I do something similar with my recipes, except that my binder has rings so I can remove recipes to cook from. (And put back when I'm done of course). Since your binder has no rings, are the sleeves permanently bound in the binder and, therefore, can't be removed? So you have to have your entire binder with you in the kitchen when you cook? Is that a little scary (all the special recipes in one place!) or unwieldy?

                                                                              I love your index idea and think I shall adopt it.

                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                I use a large metal clip (those heavy, monsters of the crafting world) to clip the page and clip it to my overhead island cabinet. Works great!

                                                                                Nothing overpowering because I strive to vet the recipes I really want. Each binder has no more than 24 thin, 2-sided pages. Easy to manage.

                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                  So, the pages come out of the binders?

                                                                                  I use a magnetized clip with a and stick mine to the hardware of my various cupboards, each recipe in the order in which I plan to start cooking them. Sometimes I clip the menu, too, so I can remember what I'm doing if I have a lot going on. It's quite a site.

                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                    Sorry, I didn't answer that--no they do not come out of the binder. The binder is hot glued and plastic stitch.

                                                                                    I clip the page to the spot the recipe falls to the front or back of the entire binder to hold it down and then hook it in front of me. The binder itself is soft flexible plastic and very thin.

                                                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                                                      ok, I can visualize your binder now. I have a business card file like that and LOVE it.

                                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                    3. 4 or 5 years ago we did a whole house remodel. One of the things that required was that we pack up the entire house and that meant going through ALL our books, cookbook or otherwise, and deciding what to keep and what not to keep. I used this opportunity to cull out my cookbook collection. Because it was a daunting task, I needed a set of criteria that was easy and would get me through a whole bunch of books pretty quickly.

                                                                      Since I have been a serious student of Mexican cuisine for nearly 30 years the first, and easiest, criteria was that all my Mexican cookbooks (in English & Spanish) would stay

                                                                      I love to bake so the second criteria was that I'd keep all my baking books except those that were old, outdated, never used or I couldn't remember when the last time was I made a recipe from it.

                                                                      The remainder of the books I kept were chef books, those that supported a PBS cooking series, or those that I had used a lot or had an emotional attachment to.

                                                                      I ended up culling out well over 200 cookbooks.

                                                                      Which brings me to what I buy now. The process of culling out the cookbook collection and setting up some criteria for what stayed and what didn't, has spilled over into what I buy now. And some things never change...

                                                                      1) I still have an almsot incurable weakness for Mexican cookbooks. I once took a two weeks road trip from Veracruz to Mexico City. By the time I got to Mexico City I had purchased so many cookbooks I had to buy another suitcase (roll aboard size) to get them all home!!

                                                                      2) I still buy baking books too and I make it a point to cook at least 2-5 recipes from each new baking book. I've got 3 more coming - in fact they shoudl arrive today - so it will be sweet treats around the house and at work for a while.

                                                                      3) The remainder of the cookbooks I buy are special interest or things that catch my fancy. For example, I don't think I do fish very well, so I've bought a couple fish/seafood cookbooks this year.

                                                                      Basically, I've limited my cookbook purchases over the last 4-5 years to the two things I cook alot...Mexican food and baked goods. Anything else needs to strike my fancy or fill and need.

                                                                      12 Replies
                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                        I have recently culled over 200 cookbooks, as well, to sell our house and prepare for a cross country move. However, since I still have over 1300 books it seems not to have made a dent - ok maybe I have bought several recently to fill the void left by the books that went : ) My weakness is definitely baking books and those are the ones I keep buying and have the hardest time letting go of. Generally speaking, I do not miss the ones I have gotten rid of and I am trying to get rid of additional books to justify the new ones I am adding to my collection. Additionally, when we purchase a new home, I will have to allow for places to keep all our bookshelves. I also find myself getting rid of more fiction books to make room for cookbooks. I really need to be more cut throat in my culling criteria. maybe, we need a thread for that! nadia

                                                                        1. re: nadiam1000

                                                                          It is comments like this one that makes me feel like I can keep buying. I have somewhere between 200-300 books, barely more than the amount you have culled. I don't know if I should go on a book diet or binge!

                                                                          1. re: nadiam1000

                                                                            Just reading your comment made me flush, nadiam1000. Not in a jagged way by any means. I've never owned that many cookbooks or books but our family music collection (in every format; including reel to reel) has its own room.

                                                                            We play the music. We don't just collect.

                                                                            So I'm very curious to learn how much time you've spent cooking/baking from those books and/or if the collection ever was about using the recipes.

                                                                            Really fascinated to understand your collection thoughts.

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              I think cookbooks can also be for reading and for reference, not merely for cooking/baking from the recipes. In fact, the best ones are... If a cookbook is nothing more than a collection of recipes, it will be easy for me to discard it. I just copy out the recipes I need and pass the book along. But if the book is more than that, if it goes into detail about technique, or ingredients, or history, or cultural relevance etc., then it's hard for me to let that kind of book go.

                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                I definately understand that. I'd like to hear nadiam's reply too. 2nd part: do you buy every book new, retail? I'm a collector, I also have many reasons for collecting but I've bought large volumes of music for pennies on the dollar; at the bother of a few I'd resell and discard in order to get my hands on the gems. All good condition to new but not all bought new @ retail.

                                                                                The method of collecting aspect does interest me.

                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                  If it's a new author that I want to encourage and support, yes, I buy the book new. I want artists to be able to make a fair living through their creative work, which is a value I've supported in other ways, too (though my work with various nonprofits that support artists).

                                                                                  If it's a cookbook from a celebrity chef like Batali or Flay; the book has been published many times over, (e.g, Joy of Cooking) and I believe the author has probably received reasonable compensation for her effort; or if the author is dead and the monies are just going to his or her estate (e.g., Julia Child) and won't support or encourage future creative endeavors; or the author has several big-selling books under her belt, e.g., Amanda Hesser, then I buy it used.

                                                                                  I do have a personal conflict between supporting artists by buying their works at retail and over-consumption/saving the planet. I've been seriously considering switching to buying books electronically but I haven't really done much research on what's more harmful to the planet--owning a few hundred books or buying an e-reader that will have to be replaced every few years. Also, I don't like that the electronic rights don't seem to be transferrable. I'd like to see some more evolution in this area before I commit to going digital.

                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                    Fascinating, TDQ. I really love your answer and your personal thought process on being a responsible collector. Does that also translate into attending chef events, supporting cooks on tour, taking a deeper interest in their other professional pursuits? Or, only in relation to their printed work/books.

                                                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                                                      I do follow and support local authors in several other ways (aside from buying their books), though, honestly, that's been on hiatus since I became a mother. Don't have time right now.

                                                                                      I don't attend national author events anymore. First of all, not many of those folks come to Minneapolis. And, the last two times I tried to attend a cookbook author event 1) the event was so chaotic and poorly managed I ended up walking out (and securing a refund) and 2) my husband' was in a car accident (non-injury, thankfully) and I had to cancel.

                                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                                                        P.S. what I find surprising in my own reply that once I decide to buy a book, I have a very well-defined criteria for how to do so. (although, I've been falling down on my own criteria by not getting my library card renewed...maybe I'll do that this week so I can stop having that excuse). But, I don't really have a well-defined criteria for when I should go ahead and purchase a book. I think part of it are the values I grew up with: books were always precious in our household and I always had as many as I wanted. We purchased most of them used and used our library heavily.

                                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                          I grew up attached at the hip to our hometown library. Mom would drop me off for hours while she shopped in town (way before such behavior would be judged as troubling) and I would spend a few hours in the cookbook section and the music room listening to tapes.

                                                                                          It's interesting how early rituals can stay with you. Libraries today make me tear up...as they struggle to reinvent and validate how important they are.

                                                                              2. re: nadiam1000

                                                                                Well, to be fair my collection comes from a lifetime of adding and culling books but no doubt about it, it is sizeable. I use eatyourbooks.com which I really like and I do try to use my books for the recipes, as much as possible. Working full time, in the food industry BTW, allows me less time than I would like to pursue as much cooking and baking as I would like. Like many here, they inspire me and I enjoy perusing and reading them. I have them all over the house, organized on shelves and a very understanding husband.

                                                                                My criteria for adding is very subjective and I have very little willpower when it comes down to it. I do get books out of the library all the time which helps me decide if I want to buy a book - our library has a very extensive cookbook selection. TGC bundle sales, bookcloseouts.com and Half Price books are my weakness, as are used bookstores. I rarely pay full price for any books - at the least I will buy on Amazon at a discount.

                                                                                I try to get rid of some when I add new, but unless a book is really bad, I can find a reason to keep it and maybe I need better criteria for that. Clearly, I do not NEED all these books, but since I have the room, I let them stay. Once we move, depending on our space, I may be more motivated to cull some more. I do have a small stack ready for donation and I have put several boxes in storage in preparation to sell our house. Honestly though, it would be better to have fewer books and make better use of them all - less overwhelming.

                                                                            2. I tried to get a sense of my actual criteria by looking over the books I've added in the last two or three years (about 12, a relatively rapid clip for me). Hoping to slow down to no more than two or three annually in the next few years. I like the idea of cooking at least three recipes from each book on the kitchen shelf before buying more, as I have a feeling that will result in the removal of several duds.

                                                                              Membership in Eat Your Books and reading this forum has exposed me to many more cookbooks than I'd have run into otherwise, so that I now have large but somewhat structured wishlists (ones I want to read, ones I think I'd like to own, and the short list).

                                                                              The first cut, sparking initial interest in a cookbook:
                                                                              - Covers authoritatively a cuisine or cooking area that I want to explore, or a new angle on an existing interest. Ultimately, it seems that more cooking gets done and I learn more with a couple of approaches to a cuisine rather than just one: Bayless and Kennedy, Uvezian and Ottolenghi (& Wolfert), Chang and Kuo.

                                                                              OR - A high-quality reference that is not duplicated by anything else. Pepin's La Technique, Flavor Bible, Herb Society of America Essential Guide.

                                                                              Big general collections of recipes have almost no appeal, because I have my basic bibles already (Joy, Veg. Cooking for Everyone, Peterson Essentials). The only recent big collection of interest is NYT Hesser, but I really don't want to own it, just hope to read through it from the library someday.

                                                                              OR - It's by an author I already enjoy and have confidence in (Anna Thomas, Paula Wolfert, Jerry Traunfeld). The forthcoming Smitten Kitchen is in this category. It's the only blog cookbook I'd consider getting.

                                                                              Moving into possible buy zone:
                                                                              - It's at least a year old, and preferably two or three. Allows time for the hype-dust to settle, and the assessments of other users to become known. The book may appear on bargain shelves or at book sales, or at the library. There are exceptions (e.g., Smitten Kitchen), but at this stage of my cooking life and resources, significant improvement in my kitchen library is more of a priority than encouraging or rewarding writers.

                                                                              - There are at least five recipes I'd make. These days, a lot can be learned without ever holding a cookbook in your hands: editorial reviews, Amazon 'look inside' and user reviews, recipes indexed in EYB, excerpts in Google Books, chow COTM. EYB helps a lot here: you can bookmark recipes of interest, and add personal notes. As a buying criterion, this availability of information is a double-edged sword, one that probably increases interest in more books than it rules out.

                                                                              Closing the deal, or not:
                                                                              - Is it physically manageable and modest rather than overwhelming? Is it appealing and enjoyable to use?

                                                                              Here's where it's almost essential to be able to check it out from the library, borrow from a friend, or pore over it in the bookstore. I'm not a cookbook collector, I'm an enthusiastic and globally-interested home cook with a reasonable but limited amount of space, already filled with books I love and use. Will this one fit in?

                                                                              Whether I'm going to cook from a cookbook or enjoy it as reading, it has to be easy to take off the shelf, handle, and re-shelve. A surprising number of otherwise desirable books are way too big or too heavy.* Other fails: annoying layout, hard-to-read typeface, skimpy or error-filled index. A personal quirk, possibly, but I'm put off by photos of the author anywhere but on the inside dust jacket; the focus should be on the food and the cooking.**

                                                                              *Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home, Around My French Table, Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian...
                                                                              ** This flaw is rare in in 20th-century cookbooks, but almost rampant now. I'd probably have bought Mourad (new Moroccan) if it weren't for the numerous, unavoidable shots of the chef and his unappetizing tattoos on the cover and throughout. The food Rick Bayless makes is much more attractive than his face; I find myself setting his books face down when they're out, or reluctantly ditching the dust jacket. The jacketless slick wipe-down type of cover is normally my favorite, but I'll have to pass on Melissa Clark's Cook This Now if that cover photo turns out not to be removable.

                                                                              The library has saved me from dozens of curiosity purchases, and revealed the must-haves (hint: if you're checking it out for the third time, you should probably buy it). The bottom-line question is: will I read this or cook from it again and again? If not, find a way to read once at minimal expense, and move on.

                                                                              1. With the exception of special books like modernist cuisine/modernist cuisine at home or charcuterie/salumi, I pretty much only buy books from highly regarded restaurants and chefs (eleven madison park, keller books, alinea, noma etc), or books that specialize in an ethnic cuisine that I am curious about.

                                                                                1. I buy them for a diverting, noncontroversial read, as a memorialization of key bits of history, for inspiration, and almost never for actual recipes. It is fascinating how things we view as so basic that surely there must be a clearly right way to do them vary. There are recipes in my Mother's Fanny Farmer from the 40s that are quite different from mine from the 70s.

                                                                                  1. I'm realizing after reading all the replies in this thread that I don't actually have good criteria for buying cookbooks and should probably develop them so that I can keep my bank account from draining. :-) I seem to have all kinds of random reasons why I suddenly decide I absolutely MUST own some cookbook; I didn't realize how impulsive I was.

                                                                                    1. My criteria is relatively simple.
                                                                                      A cuisine either I like or would like to know more about
                                                                                      Credibility of the author (TV hosts are way down on the list...except for a few)
                                                                                      Instructional as well as entertaining (Cook's Country/ATK informative and National Geographic stories)

                                                                                      1. I seldom buy cookbooks anymore unless...

                                                                                        at least 3 recipes catch my fancy and are in my ability range (spun sugar nests are out of the question LOL) and I have previewed it by borrowing it from the local library and there is run on my bookshelf for it without stacking it on top of the others LOL

                                                                                        or

                                                                                        it is a souvenir from my travels...local fundraiser cookbooks can be less expensive and more fun than the T-shirts and keychains I used to buy. :-)

                                                                                        FWIT, I haunt the local library's used book store, and the volunteers there have been known to give me "first peek" at the latest donations. One of the perks of living in a small rural town! ;-)

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: buzzardbreath

                                                                                          oopsies...Meant to type "room" on my bookshelf, not "run", as FWIT should be FWIW. The fingers got ahead of the brain. LOL ;-)