Just for show

When you have several hundred cookbooks (or even over a thousand, as I know some of you EYBers do!), it’s hard to admit that some of your books aren’t for actual cooking. But it’s true, isn’t it?  There’s at least a half-dozen books on my shelf that are strictly for looking at.  I’ve never even contemplated attacking one of the recipes, which would be like assaulting a citadel with a peashooter.  I guess I’m talking about the books that would be coffee-table books, if I had a coffee table.

When I was growing up, my dad, a graphic designer, worked on a couple of the first glossy food books.  One was called “Glorious Food!” (1982), after the New York catering company its author ran.  Another was Giuliano Bugialli’s Foods of Italy (1984).  These were gorgeous productions, photo-filled and mouthwatering, but I only remember my stepmother cooking from them maybe once.  They were strictly for display, in other words, and you certainly wouldn’t want to splatter the coated-stock interiors with tomato sauce.

These days, my favorite just-for-show books are also intensely visual, but they usually have some other kind of appeal as well.  One of my absolute favorite browse books is What I Eat, the fascinating documentary by Peter Menzel and Faith d’Aluisio, which travels the world looking at daily meals ranging from 800 to 12,300 calories (Also fascinating, if somehow less shocking, is the same team’s  Hungry Planet).

I also have a known weakness for cake books, in particular Colette Peters’ daft and surreal Cakes to Dream On, filled with cakes that look exactly like mattresses!  Fabergé eggs!  Sofa cushions!  Marble fountains!  And I love looking at wedding cake books like Toba Garrett’s, even though they’re far beyond my budget to buy or capacity to make.

I’m also fond of mini-books like They Draw and Cook, with each little whimsically drafted recipe an artwork in itself.  The recipes are practical enough that it could be a working cookbook too, but every time I open it I forget about cooking and just feel like leafing through the colorful pages.

Which books are your just-for-show ones?  And did you buy them for yourself, or were they gifts?  Is it enough to take them out once a year or so, look at the pictures and read the stories?  Or do you feel an obligation of sorts to put them to work?

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