Monday, January 22, 2007

House O' Cookbooks

The ad on was enough to make any bookseller salivate:
50,000 COOKBOOKS!!!
Collection from a gourmet chef east of Houston Texas who filled her home with approximately 50,000 cookbooks
Dali Cookbook
Some 1800's
Many early 1900's including church and Jr. League
Later 1920's to present Jr. League, church, hospital etc.
Lady traveled - All regions of the country are well represented.
Pepin, Child, Claiborne, Beard, Rombauer
Many country cookbooks
Something for everyone
Priced just like a Friends of the Library sale

I called made an appointment and headed toward east toward Baytown – home of the refineries and oil processing plants. I pulled up to a very ordinary brick 3 bedroom tract house, built in the 1960s with small rooms and low ceilings. House consisted of a living room, with dining room off the living room, which opened into the kitchen, family room across the back and 3 small bedrooms. The house was almost devoid of furniture – a shabby couch, an enormous big screen TV, dining room table and chairs and an off limits bedroom. And of course bookshelves.

There were a lot of books. A whole lot of books. A whole, whole, whole lot of books. There aren't enough adjectives in the English language to describe how many books there were.

The collection was a combination of a labor of love and an out of control case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder crossed with Hoarders Disease gone wild. Many, many, many reaching to the ceiling bookcases most of which were the grey metal steel shelving variety used in garages . The carpet was gone and the shelves stood on the bare slab - which had cracked under the weight of the books. They lined the walls and made paths through in the middle of the rooms - the aisles were barely wide enough for one person. The rooms looked like mouse mazes (complete with mouse droppings). The books were double and triple stacked. It was an archaeological excavation of books.

After an hour or two, I wasn’t to sure about the “Gourmet Cook” tag. The owner loved Southern Living, Betters Homes and Gardens, Cookbook book clubs and Readers Digest. Every cookbook published by those folks was there. In triplicate. Or quadruplicate. Or quintuplicate. Or who knows how many triplicate. I stumbled across 5 copies of 1 book - in 5 different places. Many of the books were still in their shrink wrap and had never been opened. There were books, phamplets, card sets, community cookbooks, here a cookbook, there a cookbook, everywhere a cookbook.

There is no way to look for books in a systematic manner. I decided if I was meant to find it I was meant to find it and just sort of wandered around pulling off titles that looked promising.

The gentleman running the sale said the owner was “encouraged” to move to an assisted living facility. I told him I'd like to come back in a couple of weeks when the first layer was gone so that I could have a look at the second layer. And that still leaves the third layer!

Oddly, the kitchen was rather small and the appliances were outdated. There were none of the accessories of a serious cook – no knife sets, no Kitchen Aide Mixer, no Pasta Maker. I think the lady was so busy collecting that she never had time to cook!


VWB said...

G---you just have the most wonderful adventures. I am so glad I get to read all about them...I can not imagine that many books in one home...much less all of one type! I do hope you stumble across a gem or two if you make a return trip.

misajane said...

somehow or another, I had heard about this sale (maybe through my h-texas history list? I honestly don't remember). how overwhelming it must have been! And how to find the gems?

Teena said...

Wow! That's amazing! I've never seen so many books in one place (other than a library)!

Julie said...

Holy cow! That's actually a little scary...