Which Cookbook Makes Cooking Novices Feel Less Helpless?

The Postmates ad last week that featured a man so incapable of cooking for himself that he chopped a finger off inspired some discussion among Takeout staffers. Like, of course a man was featured in the ad. We compared stories about men we knew who were rendered helpless in the face of the simple act of preparing a meal.

It also reminded me of a man who came into the bookstore where I was working a few years back and said he needed a book to learn how to cook. He was older, a bit nervous. What did he need to learn how to cook? He just needed to learn how to cook, he said. What kind of food did he like to eat? He wasn't sure. What kind of kitchen equipment did he have? He was clearly getting annoyed with this line of questioning, so I picked out a few of the most basic cookbooks and left him to it. The only one in the pile I can remember now is Better Homes and Gardens, which I chose because it had a complete list of pantry staples, but I think if I were helping him out now, I would choose The Joy of Cooking because it, too, has the list of pantry staples, plus instructions on how to cut up ingredients and explanations of what everything is. Most of all, though, I like its opening instruction: "Stand facing the stove."

Which book would you have given him?

(For the record, he never told me why he needed to learn to cook so desperately and why he had no kitchen equipment. He was the subject of discussion during our evening shelving. The favorite theory was "His wife threw him out.")