I cannot remember a time in my life when I haven’t loved books. Many of my happiest memories seem tied to books. There I was, on my 5th birthday, when my parents surprised me with a set of 13 Hindi storybooks. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still relive the excitement I felt then. Reading and re-reading them wasn’t enough, I had to smell them, treasure them and act out the wonderful animal stories in my imagination. Both my parents loved to read & loved encouraging me to read, so it was only natural that I developed such affection for books.
My first ever subscription was to Champak, a kids’ magazine in Hindi. When I outgrew that, I moved on to Target, aimed at older children. No matter where we moved or what our circumstances, magazine subscriptions were one of the first things to be taken care of. In school, my favourite time of the week was when we could go to the library and borrow books to take home. Even the mean librarian with a predilection for pinching (very hard) any child who dared to breathe too loudly in ‘her’ library didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.
In my late teens, I got interested in cooking. And my collection of books gradually stretched to include cookbooks. I would pore over them, reading the recipes, imagining how they might taste and shortlisting the ones I’d like to try. I was hungry, if you’ll excuse the pun, to read everything I could about food – but didn’t know what I was missing until I came across Nigel Slater’s writing. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about the recipes any more. It was the way he used words to evoke such a vivid portrayal of food that you could almost taste it, the way he was writing wonderful food poetry through his prose. Soon after, to my utter delight, I gradually discovered other writers whose writing was equally amazing – Nigella Lawson, Laurie Colwin, MFK Fisher to name just a few. These immensely talented people often made it hard to decide which was more beautiful – the food or their descriptions of it.
Over the years, I have built up a considerable collection of cookbooks – I tell myself it’s a weakness, but occasionally fear that it might be some psychological condition, no doubt with a very long name.
To those who wonder why anyone would buy cookbooks when there are gazillions of free recipes on the Internet, the answer is, it’s not always just about the recipes alone. It’s often about the context, the story or the personality behind a recipe. The unwavering popularity of cookbooks just goes to show that there’s still something intangible within those pages that clearly can’t be found online.
So, while this section is ostensibly meant to help you discover new cookbooks, in reality, it’s just my excuse to talk my head off about my favourite topic.