01/09/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading Cookbooks

After the Accidental Locavore posted the review of Provence, 1970, an email arrived from the author, Luke Barr. He asked, "Shouldn't you at least deign to actually read a book before posting a review of it?" I was thinking of his question (which neglects to say; in its entirety) while admiring Vegetable Literacy, a beautiful book by Deborah Madison which was a Christmas present from my cousin, because I don't believe most cookbooks are made to be read from start to finish. There are lots of recipes I'm looking forward to trying, although to really maximize the flavors many of them will have to wait until the key ingredients are in season.

My usual method for perusing a cookbook is to open it up and see where it takes me. Then, I'll hit the index and look for some of my favorite foods. That's followed by going back to the beginning and skimming through the entire volume. No matter what the method, if something looks wonderful and the ingredients are readily available, a list (and dinner) will be made.

However, no matter how much a cookbook is loved or used, I have never read one cover-to-cover. Never, ever. As a matter of fact, reading a cookbook in its entirety sounds terribly tedious (and do we really need to have yet another pantry list?). It's probably like reading operating manuals (something I'm also guilty of skipping over -- just ask my husband), usually ignored unless dangerous power tools are involved.

There are lots and lots of books on my shelf that I've never even looked at more than a couple of recipes (usually just before buying them). Does that mean I couldn't review them? For that matter, is there anyone who reads a cookbook in its entirety?

Well, I bet my friend Zhu Zhu does. I've lent him a couple of volumes of Modernist Cuisineand I'm pretty sure he did read most, if not all, of at least the first book. And maybe after writing this and realizing that I have never read a cookbook from pantry list to desserts, I'll pick one of them up and pretend it's a novel. How about you?