2020's “Huge Spike” in Cookbook Sales

Plus: West African and East Asian Cookbook Collections

Howdy cookbook fans!

And welcome to Tuesday’s email, Saturday edition. It came to my attention last night that this didn’t go out on Tuesday as planned, so here we are! (Let me know if you like this on Saturdays?) We’ve got a bunch of stuff to get through today so I won’t chat too much up here, except to say that I have mostly been cooking out of the current SPN Book Club pick, Simple French Food by Richard Olney. We’re only on week two of eight, so there’s still time to become a paid subscriber and join us!

And now! News!

2020 Book Sales Up; “Huge Spike” in Cookbook Sales

A post shared by Somizi (@somizi)

Let’s check in on book sales, shall we? NPD BookScan has released data showing 2020 was the best year for book sales in the US since 2010, having grown 8.2% year-over-year. The release cites the truly bonkers political cycle and home schooling as two catalysts, and specifically cites “huge spikes in sales of cookbooks and do-it-yourself books, which helped people stay entertained and engaged.” (As always when talking about the 2020 spike in book sales, a reminder that your local independent book store did not necessarily benefit from it and needs your support more than ever.)

While there weren’t any cookbooks in the top 10 bestsellers last month, BookScan places Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia Table, Volume 2 as the #10 bestseller for all of 2020.

And above, television presenter Somizi Mhlongo-Motaung celebrates hitting #1 on the Food & Drink charts in South Africa with his book Dinner at Somizi’s: I Am Not a Chef. In doing so, he knocks Jamie Oliver’s 7 Ways to #2, a big deal in most of the English-speaking world outside the US.

Digital Library of West African Cookbooks Launches

Stumbled across this in one of my Facebook groups: Nigerian culinary anthropologist/food historian Ozoz Sokoh has launched the Feast Afrique Digital Library, a collection of links to full-text cookbooks focused on the culinary traditions of West Africa. The files are scattered across the internet in various archives and academic websites, but having them collected all in one place is a great resource. Sokoh writes she’ll be expanding the list as she discovers more titles. Do check it out!

Baking With Lucy Author Dies at 97

Pennsylvania 97 year-old Facebook baking sensation and cookbook author Lucy Raneri has died due to complications from COVID-19. Raneri’s Facebook page, run by her daughter Mary Ellen, became a viral hit after lockdown began in the spring thanks to her comforting, old fashioned baking style. The book Baking With Lucy: In Her Cozy Kitchen, which I wrote about when it was announced, is for sale now; a portion of proceeds go to Helping Hearts and Healing Tails Animal Rescue in honor of Raneri and her beloved dachshund, Lilly.

Recipe writing is not infallible, and one of the greatest lessons I ever learned from a former boss is this: It’s a living, breathing style of writing that must adapt with the times. Some parts of the process make sense to the creator and readers alike — “Bring a large pot of water to a boil.” Others don’t fit our digital world any longer — writing in shorthand that is meant to save space in a print format — or they include ingredients such as “1 whole chicken, butchered into 8 pieces,” which assumes a skill that most novice cooks in 2021 probably don’t have. Regardless of whether things change, knowing the reasons why there are rules to begin with is half the battle.

Ben Mims shakes up the style guide (and then some) at the LA Times.

Wisconsin Libraries Receive Grants for East Asian Books

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for East Asian Studies gave a total of $32,765 grants to libraries across the state for the purchase of books on East Asian cultures. According to a press release, Madison Public Library received a $1,000 grants and will use the funds exclusively to purchase cookbooks focused on the cuisines of East Asia; per the release, “estimates indicate 9% of the Madison population is Asian, but only 2% of the cookbook collection at Madison Public Library falls into the category of Asian Cooking.” (DISCLOSURE I did not attend the University of Wisconsin but I did have a Madison Public Library membership for most of the first 18 years of my life.)

That’s all for today! Friday folks, get pumped for SPRING COOKBOOK PREVIEW in Friday’s issue, now coming on Sunday! Hope to see you then.