Fresh Eats: How to Read a $625 Cookbook, for Free

You probably missed the Modernist Cuisine reading at Omnivore Books last week. Most of us did. The cost of attendance: purchasing a copy of Nathan Myhrvold's six-volume, 2,400-page magnum opus — one of the most talked-about, controversial books of the year — at a steeply discounted price of $500 (the suggested retail price is $625). In a couple of months, however, San Franciscans will have a chance to read the book for free, courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.

According to Mark Hall, the fourth-floor manager at the Main Branch who oversees the purchasing of its cookery books, the library has already ordered two copies of Modernist Cuisine. One is destined for the reference section, but a second copy will circulate. Although it's currently listed in the library catalog (available online at as a single book, Hall says patrons will be able to reserve and check out individual volumes. The staff in charge of acquisitions, he adds, is considering buying a second circulating copy for the branches. That will probably happen if enough people reserve copies — the library catalog automatically notifies staff when the hold list reaches a certain length.

Part of the reason the library ended up ordering two copies of the $625 book is that several patrons made recommendations via the library website's "suggest a book" feature (you'll find a link on most catalog pages).

How often do you buy books that people suggest? SFoodie asked Hall. "If someone suggests it, we generally get it," he replied, "unless someone suggests their own self-published book." Which, we imagine, happens a lot.

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