We noticed this week that the pretty vegetarian cookbook Plenty is #2 on the Northwest Independent Bestseller List and that it doesn’t make an appearance on the national list.
This was also interesting because we (specifically the editor who is our resident veggie) splurged on this book last week as a little post-holiday-I-wanted-this-for-Christmas-but-hey-Happy-January, Me!-kind of gift. We say splurged because it’s $35. We saw raves for Plenty all fall, but it was a Facebook post from Green Apple Books (San Francisco) last week that pushed us over that intangible consumer ledge. The Green Apple bookseller posted a photo of his or her version of the chard and chickpea sauté from page 211, right next to the photo from the book. They looked identical. They looked like something we could make. We called The Literary Duck to ask if they had the book, wording our request in a such a way to avoid a butchering of the author’s name (Yotam Ottolenghi), and two days and some borrowed caraway seeds later, the sauté was making our house smell really good.
When we found out later that our purchase was part of some kind of NW cookbook zeitgeist, we asked a few booksellers and the publishers’ sales rep for the Northwest why they thought the book was so popular in our region.
Almost everyone mentioned the book’s beauty, with its soft, padded hard cover and vibrant full-page photographs. But, as Clodagh Reeves, the store manager of Seattle’s new cookbook store, The Book Larder, says, a lot of cookbooks can make that claim. “We hear various reasons from our customers,” she says. “They’re wanting to have inventive recipes to use with their CSA veg basket shares, or to eat more healthfully, or to entertain with the more glamorous recipes (eg. Puy Lentil Galettes) or are wanting to make a recipe from the book that they enjoyed at a friend’s house. We hear that last one often.”
Suzanne Droppert, owner of Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, says Plenty was the store’s bestseller in 2011 (Read about LB’s overall great 2011 in Shelf Awareness). That’s due, in part, to her enthusiasm for the book. “We had it sit on the front table and when anyone asked about a cookbook we just handed it to them,” Droppert says. “Then I’d tell them to look at the photos and would explain what I’ve made from the book and how everyone liked it.” The store would have sold even more, she says, if they hadn’t run out at the end of the year. Chronicle had a stock shortage at the end of 2011, which might account, in part, for the bump in sales in early 2012.
Asked why she thinks the book is so popular in the Northwest, Droppert says: “The rest of the country is weird, maybe they don’t eat vegetables.”
Reeves, of The Book Larder, says that meat eaters are enjoying the book, too. “It doesn’t have a strong vegetarian ‘tofu-in-everything’ vibe and doesn’t mention health or make any judgments. The recipes can be served as vegetarian main dishes or as vegetable side dishes . . . These recipes are satisfying, elegant and delicious. Who wouldn’t want baked eggs with yogurt & chile?”
The Northwest Chronicle rep, Courtney Payne, says she’s surprised Plenty isn’t on the national list as it was on so many best-of lists for 2011 and continues to get a lot of love in the blogosphere. She credits some key NW booksellers for their passionate connection to the book and their evangelism, which they likely caught from her.
“From the moment that the advance arrived at my house I have been in love,” she says. “In fact I had fallen and hurt my back early last year. A few days into my Vicodin haze I received the advance and was compelled to send out a Jerry Maguire-esqe ALL STAFF email declaring my love of the book, how proud we should all be to have this on our list and the special care we should give it as we sold in the spring list. Just to put it into context, I have never sent an ALL STAFF email before or since.”
And then she made us promise to make the carmelized garlic tart, which she says she’s made about 15 times in the last eight months. We’re on it, Courtney!