Sometimes it's good to be told what to do.
No matter how great you are at cooking, inspiration isn't always going to be right at your fingertips. I find that mine comes and goes in waves. One day I'm incredibly inspired to cook, and all the separate pieces of a dish fall together perfectly with little or no planning. The next day, I'll look at the ingredients in the kitchen and can't see them as anything but ingredients. At those times I can barely work up the energy to Google a recipe, or look one up on Epicurious.
That's just the trouble with recipes on the internet. It's easy to find something you're looking for. Want Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon recipe, or maybe something containing butternut squash? One click and a couple of words in a search engine will get you thousands of results.
But for those days when you don't have the slightest clue what you're looking for, books are there to save the day.
There's something comforting about glossy pictures of food on the pages of a cookbook. Even though I know that I could never make the recipes look as pretty (because let's face it, I have neither the designer plates nor the professional lighting to do that), the pictures remind me of how beautiful food can be, even without the taste and smell. Sometimes just looking at pictures gets me excited about cooking again.
But if the pictures were all I was looking for, I could find that, too, online. Foodgawker comes to mind (if you like to look at food, don't miss it). My recent favorite cookbook, How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman, has no pictures, only illustrations.
My favorite thing about cookbooks is the many different ways you can read them. They are, at their heart, reference books. The chapters are organized by type of ingredient or meal, and the index is good for looking up the ingredients you have — not as fast as Google, but it doesn't take that much more time.
And if you're not in any sort of hurry, the recipes you find along the way to what you're looking for can be just as intriguing as the one you're looking for. Cookbooks provide the story of the food — not just one recipe, but many recipes that all, somehow, relate to each other. Every cookbook has a pattern. It tells the story of the many ways ingredients can combine to make something you'll want to eat. Whenever I leaf through a cookbook, skimming the recipes, I find ingredients I've never looked for and combinations I've never imagined.
For me, cookbooks aren't about finding a recipe as quickly as possible, or even about finding one particular recipe. They're more about remembering the pattern, or finding a new one, for the ways food fits together. So at the end of the day, it's always good to have a cookbook there to hold my hand and lead me back to culinary inspiration.