ABAA-member Charles Roberts (Wonder Book) has published a wonderful meditation on the classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking on his blog at Wonder Books. More than a straight article about the book’s creation (although it does cover that) or its critical reception and impact on the wider culture (that, too), Roberts conveys a real bookseller’s perspective on the book, both as a cultural artifact and a physical artifact. More interesting still is his consideration of the market forces that affect physical books in unique ways, and how a bookseller can still find utility and value even in old, nondescript cookbooks that are not rare by any stretch of the imagination.
Some books tell stories in ways other than their contents. At Wonder Book, we used to rarely get copies of The Joy of Cooking in any condition. It was just a book that people would not give up. Now we are seeing more and more older copies appear in our warehouse.
The Joy of Cooking has a sad beginning. Irma Rombauer published it originally in 1931. Her husband had killed himself in 1930. Irma's children convinced her to record her recipes and cooking styles. Why? Maybe they thought it would distract her from her loss and the money problems and personal turmoil it caused.
She wrote in the forward, "It was written at the request of my children, who, on leaving home, asked for a record of 'what mother used to cook.'"
Somehow she put it all together and published the first Joy privately! She paid for a printer to print and bind 3000 copies in 1931.
Since then, the book has sold millions of copies and has gone through eight editions. For many, many people, it has been the cornerstone in their cooking library. Often it would be a wedding gift, or the first cook book a couple would acquire when they started housekeeping together….
For the full story, including Roberts’ reflections on the growing number of used copies of The Joy of Cooking coming into the shop (“I knew someone had died or left their home and kitchen forever”) and his determination to find a useful home for even the most-battered and “commercially unviable” copies, visit Wonder Blog…
The Joy of Cooking (1946)
Irma S. Rombauer
Indianapolis/New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1946. Thick octavo, 884 pages. The 1946 printing, sometimes called the Post-war edition, was an update of the 1943 War-time edition. The only cookbook to be included in the New York Public Library's list, "150 Influential Books of the Century." A very good, clean copy in the gingham-patterned, light blue cloth. In a near very good dust jacket, with a bit of light edge staining to the rear panel, and some chipping to the head and foot of the spine. Still a much cleaner copy than is usually encountered. (Offered by Rabelais - Fine Books on Food & Drink)
Irma S. Rombauer
St. Louis: A. C. Clayton Printing Co, 1931. First Edition. Hardcover. Very Good. First edition, first printing. About Very Good. Light fraying to cloth at corners and spine ends, cloth a bit soiled and stained. Edge of page block flecked with stains, pages toned with an occasional small stain. Rear inner hinge shows a 2.5-inch split at the gutter with webbing visible but intact. Initially self-published by the author with a small print run of 3,000 copies, this classic has gone on to become the most published cookbook in America. Adorned with charming illustrations by the author's daughter, Marion. (Offered by Burnside Rare Books)