Alison Hood

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Like much of human life, love can be messy. Add in the complications of conducting a very long-distance, mostly digital love affair, and you get a dubious recipe for happily ever after.

Jamaican American Sutanya Dacres was leading a rather humdrum, unsatisfactory life in New York City. Then one night she met a sexy Jewish Algerian Frenchman in a bar. There was instant attraction—but she lived in the Big Apple, he resided in the City of Light, and cultural and racial differences (she’s Black, he’s white) lay in the shadows. Despite these challenges, they sustained a three-year digital courtship until they decided to marry and make a life à deux in Paris. “It was us against the world,” Dacres writes, “and we would move through life’s ups and downs with ease and grace, together.”

In Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me, podcaster Dacres recounts how this fairy-tale romance went sour. Two years into the marriage, the Frenchman left. Now a heartbroken expat—alone, divorced and navigating the complications of being a single Black woman in Paris—Dacres tried to allay her fears, confusion and despair with too much wine and loveless encounters with men. But when “the deep shame that had been bubbling beneath the surface finally erupted,” she writes, “it was clear that I could no longer hide from myself.”

Dacres recounts with self-deprecating, often brutal honesty her journey to understand and connect with her true self. Like a play, Dinner for One is structured with a prologue and successive acts, ending with Dacres’ gradual and passionate awakening to the very French art of cultivating pleasure, self-worth and an appreciation for well-conceived, delicious food. When Dacres began to cook for herself in her Montmartre apartment, she formed a healing relationship with food as a means of self-care and growth—a hard-won redemption via the myriad joys of French culture.

Often humorous and uplifting, Dacres’ writing is also a bit uneven in parts, sometimes due to superfluous details or unnecessary dialogue. But her true writer’s talent shines when she relates her forays into the world of French cookery. Overall, Dinner for One is hopeful, salubrious and, like a meal served with love, a balm for the spirit.

Sutanya Dacres’ memoir about recovering from heartbreak in Paris is hopeful, salubrious and, like a meal served with love, a balm for the spirit.
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Your holiday wish list is a mere memory: it's resolution time (yes, another list). So, grab your paper and pencil and crack open any of the following books for minty-fresh, unusual perspectives on retooling your inner and outer worlds.

Dream It. List it. Do It!: How to Live a Bigger & Bolder Life, by journalist Lia Steakley and the editors of 43Things.com, is list-mania at its most entertaining. Based on the popular social networking site, it features themed lists and short "I did it!" stories drawn from site users. There's inspiration for jotting down your own list and jump-starting your life: you may be emboldened to "ride naked on horseback" or, barring that, simply to "clean out your briefcase." Even if you are allergic to list-making, this is a fun book with 43 intriguing and practical goals—from "Develop Supernatural Powers" to "Be More Organized"—and the often wacky suggestions to help you achieve them. Dream It. List It. also gives 10 simple rules for using lists effectively, such as "document your progress." So plant that rooftop garden and reach for the stars.

Feeling adventuresome? Then pick up Keri Smith's How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum. This is an interactive field guide to exploring alleys, sidewalks, neighborhoods, your local library, mountaintops, kitchen cabinets or the garbage dump—wherever your life adventures lead. Smith (Wreck This Journal), an illustrator, offers a uniquely melded artistic cum scientific approach to observing, analyzing and documenting minutia—of ourselves and our manmade and natural worlds. His 59 quirky "explorations" invite readers to be curious; to investigate cracks, smells and splotches; wander aimlessly; and celebrate trees. Full of kicky photomontages and Smith's wobbly line drawings, this field journal can lead readers into brave new worlds.

Women and girls
There are bracing antidotes within the collected essays and aphorisms of Note to Self: 30 Women on Hardship, Humiliation, Heartbreak, and Overcoming It All. This comforting book is the brainchild of editor Andrea Buchanan, who "curates famous quotes . . . snippets of phone conversation, ideas." In her touching introduction, Buchanan relates that all of her collected sayings had a backstory that might offer "joy and comfort and [an] occasional laugh." Thus this book was born, with well-told stories solicited from a diverse group of women, many of them famous. The essays address the "Big Three" of the book's title, along with "Life's Constant Complexities." Each ends with a Post-it-sized "note to self" summarizing the tale's core message. From an actress' humiliation on "Jeopardy," and a housewife's compassionate adoption of a family victimized by Hurricane Katrina, to an activist's grief over her son's tragic death, these stories hold wisdom bites to soothe and heal.

A Year in High Heels: The Girl's Guide to Everything from Jane Austen to the A-list is London fashion writer Camilla Morton's (How to Walk in High Heels) latest literary bling. While this follow-up doesn't exactly fall flat, it does stumble: intending to be a monthly calendar of to-do's for girly fabulousness, it is instead a strangely arranged encyclopedia of historical and cultural trivia with oddly clashing suggestions (January mandates include both detox and imbibing hot toddies!), which might induce migraines in the most determined fashionista. Each chapter opens a new month with an insouciant postcard from fashion pioneers such as Giorgio Armani and Manolo Blahnik, and features a "Muse of the Month" (e.g., Coco Chanel), a "Page Turner" (recommended reading) and a "Foot Note" (short history of a shoe style). Shoehorned in between are quips from Cleopatra, tips on moonwalking and letter-writing. Much of the history and dates to note are geared toward Brits (St. George's birthday), with the occasional sop thrown across the Pond (Mae West's birthday). However, there are universal lessons, such as how to job-hunt (wear heels) and how to be a collector (inherit money). This is a dizzy, often entertaining read—if perused with slightly raised (and well-plucked) eyebrows.

You, you, you
Doctors Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz present a new book in their YOU series (You: Staying Young; You: On a Diet, etc.), namely, You: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty. You: Being Beautiful has the authors' signature (if slightly juvenile) humor, and is a holistic approach to well-being that addresses looking, feeling and being beautiful. "Beauty," they say, ". . . is health." That said, this is not a beauty guide to supermodel makeup tricks; it is a roadmap to beauty via healthy physical and mental habits, starting with a "You-Q" test to measure inner and outer beauty. The narrative is peppered with self-evaluation exercises, informative sidebars and healing tools. Part one leads readers matter-of-factly through the biology of tip-top skin, hair, teeth, finger, toes and figure. Part two focuses on body-mind sensations: energy levels, pain management, mind maladies and work-money issues. The shift here from physical feelings to emotional is slightly clumsy, but serves the book's holistic vision. Part three tackles the biology of love, sexuality and happiness, wrapping up with the "Be-YOU-tiful Plan" to elevate gorgeousness, and an appendix on how to find a good plastic surgeon (just in case).

Something to think about
If your house is crammed with stuff, chances are your cranium is cluttered, too. Organizational guru Peter Walsh returns to clutter-bust your mind in Enough Already! Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You, coming in March. "If you have ever tripped and fallen on your own belongings," he says, "then imagine what the clutter in your head is doing to you." Walsh constantly sees that lack of clear vision causes chaos in relationships, careers, finances, health and spirits, and he preaches using imagination to create a vision of your desired life, to identify and clear obstacles and to realize that vision. Walsh includes a wealth of commonsense discussion; systematic support material, such as "you are not alone" stories; self-evaluation quizzes to pinpoint life goals and obstacles; and action-oriented checklists and tips. Often, we know what we don't want in our lives, but cannot focus on that which we do. Clear space, Walsh advises, for "if you don't clear room to walk, you'll never find the path to your dreams."

Saucy seafood bites back at life
Lady-killer crustacean, Pepe the King Prawn, dispenses spicy sagacity in It's Hard Out Here for a Shrimp: Life, Love, and Living Large. If you're a Muppets fan (and you know you are), or if you need smooth talk on love, work and the social scene, Pepe's your go-to guy—um, prawn. A salute from fellow Muppet Kermit the Frog launches this raconteur's manifesto of living "La Vida Pepe" with chapters covering parties, love and money, family and friends, work, politics, therapy, style and stress. There's a slightly wicked how-to here for every eventuality, from using the perfect pickup line on "the womens" ("Is it me, or are you hot in here?") to coping with annoyances, like trips to the post office ("If you can't do the time, don't wait in line"). My favorite Pepe-ism extols meditation: "A deep spiritual experience or an excuse to take a nap. Either way you win, okay.

Your holiday wish list is a mere memory: it's resolution time (yes, another list). So, grab your paper and pencil and crack open any of the following books for minty-fresh, unusual perspectives on retooling your inner and outer worlds. Dream It. List it. Do It!: How to Live a Bigger & Bolder Life, by journalist […]
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In our conspicuously consumer-oriented culture, we can sometimes lose sight of the deeper roots of the holiday season. The minute October ticks over into November, a dizzying array of tantalizing items are dangled before us, reminding us of a December 25th deadline. Here, we offer an antidote: a calming tonic in the form of four new books that reflect segments of America’s rich diversity of spiritual traditions.

A YEAR OF PRAYER
Germaine Copeland is passionate about prayer. The author of Prayers That Avail Much, this dedicated counselor and prayer advocate has crafted a day-by-day devotional, 365 Days to a Prayer-Filled Life, that aims to move the human perception of prayer as an act of asking-waiting-receiving into a more powerful vision: a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. Beginning with a herald to the New Year, Day 1 invites us to begin anew and let go of the past through a small conversational essay, followed by a thoughtful prayer—a direct conversation with God—along with related Scripture references and a suggested Bible reading. Each day of the year presents a different topic—on a Tuesday, it could be a snippet about marriage, and Friday might prompt you to think about what really constitutes an abundant life. Gentle and steadfast, Copeland’s kind presence and true devotion to a merciful Divine Father shine from each page of this guiding “prayer book.”

THE BASICS OF JUDAISM
Tradition! Yes, that familiar refrain from Fiddler on the Roof kept running through my head as I hummed “If I Were a Rich Man” and chuckled (very hard to do simultaneously) while reading The Big Jewish Book for Jews: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Jewish Jew by humorists Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman. The authors of Yiddish with Dick and Jane are back with everything everyone—Jews and non-Jews alike—needs to know about how to be “really Jewish.” All of their wisecracking humor aside, Weiner and Davilman have a clear concern: that Judaism is becoming endangered within today’s modern American culture. “There is not one facet of American life in which Jews have not made significant contributions. . . . But this very success threatens to bring about the undoing of American Jewishness itself.” Their solution is to reassert the sense of what “it really means to be Jewish” by “preserving practices and beliefs . . . lest they atrophy . . . or become entirely forgotten.” Fifty-three “lessons” (what, you wanted more?) instruct us on the essentials: how to make chopped liver, how to use the Bible to tell if your wife is cheating on you, how to make pickles, how to worry and how to give back-handed compliments. There’s a lot of information here (plus enlivening illustrations), maybe even a surfeit, but not enough to make you meshugeneh.

BLESSED MOTHER
Writer Judith Dupré (author of Skyscrapers, Bridges, Churches and Monuments), who has a longstanding interest in the beauty of and deeper meanings inherent in architecture, has carefully built a luminous book: Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life. If compared to an edifice, this would be a simple, intimate yet soaring light-filled space—an apt dwelling for a woman whom many call the Queen of Heaven.

The wonder and mystery of Mary, the mother of Jesus, has long captivated our culture and collective imagination. To this day, hordes of pilgrims converge upon holy sites, places where Mary is said to have appeared, to receive her gentle but powerful wisdom, healing and grace. Dupré explores these locales and the overall fascination with the young girl from Nazareth in 59 exquisite essays (the number of beads on a rosary) that are by turns personal, historical and meditative while they focus on the epochs and experiences of Mary’s life, from her immaculate conception through to her death. Along with Dupré’s keen insight into her own faith and thorough research, the text is enhanced with meticulously chosen artwork, both classical and contemporary, and “marginalia,” consisting of poems, prayers and historical notes.

Dupré takes us along on a journey of faith toward understanding Mary’s universal embodiment and allure, and how this tender, tragic and brave woman’s life still resonates powerfully with women and men the world over. Says Dupré of this power: “Mary’s experiences as a mother, her intense joy as well as her unfathomable grief, shed light on the unavoidable fate of all parents—to love but lack the ability to ever fully understand, or protect, their children.”

SPIRITUAL SELF-PORTRAIT
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of Tibet who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, often comments that he is “no one special.” He says this to emphasize our common humanity and the “vital need for affection” that exists within us all. This simple statement, which gives a fathoms-deep glimpse into the heart and mind of the Dalai Lama, leads off a new memoir (collected by his translator and friend Sofia Stril-Rever), My Spiritual Journey.

Organized into three parts, the book follows the Dalai Lama’s life experiences “as a human being,” “as a Buddhist monk” and “as the Dalai Lama.” A compilation of his memories, personal reflections, dharma lectures and public presentations, the book is a series of short essays, which are accompanied by commentary from Stril-Rever. Here are peeks inside the Dalai Lama’s experiences as a child, exploring the vast spread of rooms and spaces in the Potala Palace, along with remembrances of persecution and his flight into exile. He gives a loving portrait of his mother (“a compassionate woman”) and declares his vow to, with his last breath, “practice compassion.” The book is a treasure trove for both those who are well-versed in the Dalai Lama’s teachings and those new to this “simple Buddhist monk.” His reminiscences and perceptions about humanity’s need to collectively care for one another and the Earth shine with humor, honesty and kindness—all the while exhorting us gently to “never lose hope!”

In our conspicuously consumer-oriented culture, we can sometimes lose sight of the deeper roots of the holiday season. The minute October ticks over into November, a dizzying array of tantalizing items are dangled before us, reminding us of a December 25th deadline. Here, we offer an antidote: a calming tonic in the form of four […]
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The New Year is here—it's time for a fresh start! How about a fitter, happier you in 2004? Several new fitness books, each brimming with the latest nutrition and exercise research, offer positive, powerful tools for achieving glowing good health.

Fitness consultant Dr. Gabe Mirkin pampers the body's hardest working muscle in The Healthy Heart Miracle. This handbook holds a dramatic newsflash: heart health can improve in just two weeks with simple changes in diet and exercise habits. Mirkin's DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Plus ("plus" equals exercise) program promotes the consumption of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Mirkin says his plan, an eight-week journey toward permanent lifestyle change, can prevent heart attack, diabetes, stroke and premature aging. Chapters discuss the specifics of hypertension and show how to avoid or reverse it using DASH. Helpful sidebars offer tips on fitness, diet and supplements, exercise and disease prevention. Appendices give shopping lists, menu plans, uncomplicated recipes and worksheets for tracking progress. This easily navigable road map charts a steady path to a stronger, healthier heart.

Nutrient knockouts
Broccoli, blueberries and soy . . . oh my! Dr. Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews present their powerhouse prescription in SuperFoods Rx. Fourteen "super" foods each pack a hefty nutrient wallop that works synergistically to reduce heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Add regular exercise, sufficient rest and fluid intake, positive socializing and stress management, and the blueprint for health is complete. This compendium gives uncomplicated eating guidelines and devotes individual chapters to the eatables on the SuperFoods list. There is nutrition information on each specific food from salmon to spinach an explanation of its health benefits and suggestions for incorporating it into your daily diet. The book's bibliography is impressive; read a fraction of the material and you'll be nutrition-savvy in no time.

Don't sweat it
So, you're eating more veggies and fewer Krispy Kremes. But what's missing? Exercise, of course! To the rescue is Quick Fit: The Complete 15-Minute No-Sweat Workout by fitness consultant Richard Bradley. He solves the problem of squeezing a workout into your crowded day with an easy exercise plan for healthy but sedentary adults. This workout features a moderate 15-minute mix of aerobic activity, strength training and stretches that can be done anywhere in any attire. Quick Fit's friendly approach extols the benefits of physical fitness, demystifies our reluctance to exercise and offers inspiring motivational tips and testimonials. There's basic advice on hand weights and athletic shoes, creative suggestions to keep new exercisers enthused and ways to tailor the plan to time constraints or new fitness goals.

On top of the world
Joe Decker was overweight, addicted and totally out of shape. Now called "The World's Fittest Man," he presents his story and a four-week fitness plan in The World's Fittest You: Four Weeks to Total Fitness, written with Eric Neuhaus. Decker's upbeat attitude informs this positive, carefully calibrated diet and exercise program, adaptable for folks of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. He believes that success lies in making small changes slowly, in self-knowledge and in goal-setting. Fittest You states that eating right not dieting is empowering, and touts the "FIT" technique, a workout based on the latest exercise research, that "shocks" your body into shape with varied cardio, strength training and flexibility routines. The book has a diet, fitness and medical self-inventory, FIT instruction and a 28-day exercise/eating plan. Illustrated appendices show cardio, strength and stretching moves that can be done in the gym or at home.

The wholistic approach
Complete fitness, believes trainer Steve Ilg, is flexing your muscles and your mind. "Don't just work out, work within," he instructs in Total Body Transformation: A 3-Month Personal Fitness Prescription for a Strong, Lean Body and a Calmer Mind. This unusual program, "Wholistic Fitness," combines yoga with cardio and strength training, and is aimed at regular exercisers, athletes and the super fit. But whatever your fitness level, this reflective approach can enrich the spirit, stimulating physical and emotional health.

 

Alison Hood writes from California, land of the super fit, where she sneaks chocolate and pretends to like tofu.

The New Year is here—it's time for a fresh start! How about a fitter, happier you in 2004? Several new fitness books, each brimming with the latest nutrition and exercise research, offer positive, powerful tools for achieving glowing good health.

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If the summer fiction offerings aren’t tempting enough to tote to the seaside, pick up Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by husband-and-wife journalists Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. This is the incredible, gripping story of British con man John Drewe and his partner in deception, art forger John Myatt. It is nonfiction, but its hair-raising investigative reporting reads like a thriller that just might knock you right out of your beach chair.

Provenance is a masterpiece of research fashioned into a well-written, tautly paced tale of a strange scandal in the art world. For nearly 10 years, “Professor” John Drewe, a truly self-invented man who laid claim to many names and occupations (including physicist), pulled off a complex, twisted art fraud that involved forgery—not only of paintings, but also of their provenance. Provenance, in the art world, is the record of ownership—aka the “paper trail”—of an artwork from the minute it leaves the artist’s hands.

The cast of characters in this drama is broad: the book begins with a list of the dramatis personae, which includes Drewe and Myatt (the main perpetrators) and extends to museum archivists, art dealers, Scotland Yard art and antiques squad detectives, and a host of innocent bystanders.

John Drewe was brilliant. He also was a charismatic (and dangerous) psychopathic liar with an uncanny ability to pick up downtrodden individuals, like struggling artist John Myatt, and bend them to do his bidding. He conned Myatt into creating fake paintings in the style of modern masters, such as Giacometti and Ben Nicholson. Often, these paintings were truly poor imitations—a sad fact that led Drewe to do a little forging of his own: he made individual pieces of provenance to authenticate the fakes. Charming his way into the higher echelons of the international and British art worlds, Drewe gained access to prominent museum archives, like the Tate, both stealing from and altering their formerly sacrosanct records. The results were chaotic, cataclysmic and downright murderous—not your typical day at the beach.

Alison Hood writes from Marin County, California.

If the summer fiction offerings aren’t tempting enough to tote to the seaside, pick up Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by husband-and-wife journalists Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. This is the incredible, gripping story of British con man John Drewe and his partner in deception, art […]
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In the introductory essay of Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, Jessamyn Stanley relates the time a reader, who happened to be a freelance editor, found a mistake in the early pages of Stanley’s first book, Every Body Yoga. Stanley was attempting to define the Sanskrit word for yoga, which means “to yoke” or “to join together the light and dark of life, the good and the bad . . . to marry breath, thought, and movement, to connect the body, mind, and spirit.” Instead of writing the word yoke, however, Stanley had inadvertently written yolk. Oops.

Anger and shame ensued—a welter of feelings that propelled Stanley to her yoga mat for some calming breaths. Thus, Yoke was born, a collection of 13 autobiographical essays that are brash (with salty language aplenty), outspoken, funny, insightful, honest and occasionally spiced with dashes of self-deprecating melodrama.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Jessamyn Stanley shares how her guide to the ancient practice of yoga turned out to be deeper and more demanding than she ever imagined.


The essays in Yoke explore Stanley’s belief that “everything is yoga, every day,” and that fully entering yoga/yoke means integrating the light and dark of life with the hardscrabble work of everyday living. “My yoga has many intersections and edges,” she writes, “because like the universe, I’m always unfolding. My yoga is finding out what it means to be a Black queer woman in a world that doesn’t want me to be.” Her reflections on topics such as meditation, imposter syndrome, wealth inequality, racism, cannabis use, sexual abuse and the sacredness of music are heartfelt and often searing. She is strongly declarative, and this makes for a narrative that allows readers to really know this author, which is, after all, what many readers want: connection.

While the writing occasionally meanders or goes a bit off point, any discomfort readers might feel in response to Stanley’s blunt-edged anger can give rise to self-reflection and stir compassion for our collective human frailty and suffering. But this honest chronicle of a journey toward self-acceptance and purpose wraps on a bright note. As Stanley writes, “I’m enough. Exactly as I am right now. I don’t need to know more or do more or be different at all.”

The 13 autobiographical essays in Yoke are brash, outspoken, funny, insightful, honest and occasionally spiced with dashes of self-deprecating melodrama.
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“This book is a diary of my parents’ decline.”

So opens novelist Elizabeth Berg’s new biographic memoir, I’ll Be Seeing You. Yes, her prologue speaks bluntly, but don't be deterred. Though this book does bear witness to the inevitability of aging and loss, it is nonetheless a small gem shining with Berg’s signature largesse—generous gifts of poetic insight, close observance, vulnerability, honesty, humor and grace.

Berg’s father, a tough U.S. Army “lifer,” is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, while his wife of more than 67 years tries to cope. Though he's always been autocratic and demanding, Berg’s father unconditionally adores his wife. “She was the place where he put his tenderness,” Berg writes. Eventually, his gradual descent into dementia, along with his wife’s advancing age, force the couple to move from their longtime home into a two-bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility.

Berg and her sister try to negotiate and navigate this upheaval with their parents’ best interests at heart, but complications arise. Their father is increasingly confused and isolated, and their usually even-tempered mother becomes angry—an understandable reaction to her two-pronged grief over losing her husband to dementia and leaving a beloved home. “My mother was enraged," Berg writes. "Her heart was breaking because her house was being taken from her, which is to say that her life was.”

From the fall of 2010 to the summer of 2011, short diary entries focus mainly on the events of Berg’s aging parents’ lives, as the author and her sister step in to be their parents’ loving—and often frustrated—family caregivers. “It’s hard to know how to rescue someone. It’s hard to know how to help them in the way they need to be helped,” she writes in one entry. Such rueful reflections are blended with an appreciation of ordinary moments, making each entry a story in miniature—cameos of the joys and pains of family life, and the challenges and rewards of caregiving for loved ones.

Readers familiar with Berg’s novels know that her stories wonderfully encompass the comforts of beauty and wry humor, but they never sugarcoat life’s hard truths. The same is true of I'll Be Seeing You, which mines the wisdom hidden in difficult times. “Life is a minefield at any age," Berg writes. "If we’re smart, we count our blessings between the darker surprises. When I look at my parents’ lives, I know they were lucky. And still are.”

“This book is a diary of my parents’ decline.” So opens novelist Elizabeth Berg’s new biographic memoir, I’ll Be Seeing You. Yes, her prologue speaks bluntly, but don't be deterred. Though this book does bear witness to the inevitability of aging and loss, it is nonetheless a small gem shining with Berg’s signature largesse—generous gifts of poetic insight, close […]
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“Recovering” Buddhist priest and “vegetable whisperer” Deborah Madison reveals the heart and mind of the chef behind an iconic San Francisco restaurant and numerous vegetarian cookbooks in her honest, beguiling memoir, An Onion in My Pocket. The title is derived from an opening anecdote: After spending the day making pizza with her ex, Madison attended a Spanish class and, searching her pockets for pen and paper, pulled out an onion leftover from pizza-making and plunked it on her desk. “People started to laugh. To me, it was utterly normal,” she writes.

Madison relays her life in a swingy style, moving from her childhood in Davis, California, to her college days, to her post-college migration to the San Francisco Zen Center amid that city’s counterculture heyday. She lived in the Zen community for 20 years and started her culinary path as their head cook. Later, she did a stint at Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse and eventually helped found (then helm) the acclaimed vegetarian restaurant Greens. An Onion in My Pocket offers a layered, intimate look at Zen life, the making of a soulful, artful chef and the genesis and growth of a writer. It’s also an ode to nourishment, sustenance and gratitude for the earth’s bounty, vegetal and otherwise.

“Recovering” Buddhist priest and “vegetable whisperer” Deborah Madison reveals the heart and mind of the chef behind an iconic San Francisco restaurant and numerous vegetarian cookbooks in her honest, beguiling memoir, An Onion in My Pocket. The title is derived from an opening anecdote: After spending the day making pizza with her ex, Madison attended […]
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Bill Buford (author of Heat) again chooses a single-word title for his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking, a funny, irreverent and obsessive account of his five-year odyssey to discover everything about French food—from learning how to cook it to exploring the medieval origins of the much-revered cuisine. France, he writes, “was secretly where I had wanted to find myself for most of my adult life. . . . But I could never imagine how that might happen.”

Through a connection at New York’s French Culinary Institute, Buford comes to know many influential French chefs, among them Michel Richard, Daniel Boulud and the legendary Paul Bocuse. What follows is a familial move to Lyon, the terrors (or, shall we say, “terroir”) of parenting twin toddlers in a gritty French city, sadistic “stagiaires”—essentially apprentice chefs—in famed Lyonnaise restaurants (pot-throwing, anyone?) and food-sleuthing expeditions to remote areas in France, where Buford comes to appreciate the soil that grows the unique wheat responsible for the country’s finest bread. Dirt sometimes ventures into the weeds in its excavation of culinary history and lore, but this may be forgiven in light of Buford’s honest hunger for knowledge and personal evolution: “I wanted to re-examine my assumptions about the kitchen, to restart my education, to get as elemental and as primary as possible. Heat. Water. Labor. Place. And its dirt.”

This book doesn’t offer any recipes, per se, but if perused closely, readers can find instructions for assembling perhaps the grandest concoction of them all: a life well and fully lived, seasoned with curiosity, perseverance and humor—and a dash of adventure.

Bill Buford (author of Heat) again chooses a single-word title for his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking, a funny, irreverent and obsessive account of his five-year odyssey to discover everything about French food—from learning how to cook it to […]
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Breathing: Most of us don’t even think about it as we go about our daily doings. Every day, 24 hours a day (and every four seconds), each of us 7.5 billion humans on planet Earth takes a breath in and then expels it. But what exactly are we breathing in and where does our breath go when released? And who cares?

Science writer Sam Kean cares, and, with fizzy (sometimes irreverent) humor and an exuberant enthusiasm for scientific ephemera, he entices us to explore the alchemy of air and atmosphere in Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us.

Kean kicks off the expedition with the intriguing thought of an intimate human interconnection—that “the ghosts of breaths past continue to flit around you every second . . . confronting you with every single yesterday.” He asks, “Is it possible that your next breath—this one, right here—might include some of the same air [molecules] that Julius Caesar exhaled when he died?”

Not content to limit his dissection to stories about breathing, Kean moves beyond the mere tracing of how air molecules travel and transform to “tell the full story of all the gases we inhale.” In three sections, each packed with three chapters, interspersed with historical vignettes, the author explicates the nature of gases (and why we should care about them), our human relationship with gases (from the first air balloon flights to the use of gases in World War I), and how our relationship with air has evolved in the past 30 years (read: atomic warfare). For good measure, Kean appends voluminous, quirky end notes to each chapter, ensuring that we are fully briefed on the competitive science around steam power and, in a nothing-is-sacred tell-all, the story of French entertainer Joseph Pujol, the “fartomaniac,” who flabbergasted audiences with his Moulin Rouge nightclub act in the 1890s.

Caesar’s Last Breath is a rollicking, zigzag romp through the science of air—one that gives us pause to consider our immortality beyond an earthly existence: “Some tiny bit of you—molecules that danced inside your body . . . could live on in a distant world.”

Science writer Sam Kean entices us to explore the alchemy of air and atmosphere in Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us.

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Theoretical biologist Josh Mitteldorf and writer and ecological philosopher Dorian Sagan have teamed up to give us a thorough examination of human aging in Cracking the Aging Code: The New Science of Growing Old—And What It Means for Staying Young. The subtitle is somewhat misleading, though: This is not a book on how to reverse aging or achieve immortality. Rather, the authors show us how various life forms age and offer a reflective look at how aging serves as a biological means of maintaining species survival (read: zero population growth).

“Aging,” Mitteldorf writes, “is built into our bodies. . . . Aging doesn’t just happen, but is regulated and controlled by our genes.” This fact, which evolutionists have a hard time making sense of (why, after all, would the body produce a process of weakening and dying that runs contrary to humans’ more robust genes for growth and sexual reproduction?), is the engine of the book, which is also fueled by the tension between what we now know about genetics and the various postulations about human evolution and longevity.

Mitteldorf and Sagan convincingly defend the positive argument for natural selection. The “death program” in our genes prevents limitless life spans, thus circumventing unsustainable population levels, a teardown of ecological systems and eventual species extinction. But there is a secondary, paradoxical theme upon which the book revolves: Though aging is inevitable (despite all the human genome tinkering now going on in many quarters, such as California’s J. Craig Venter Institute), “clever humans can defeat nature’s death program and gain . . . much longer and healthier lives.”

Though modern medicine and science are gaining ground against the delay of debilitating disease and frailty, we humans, the authors say, must address “the fundamental mortality of our physical bodies: Infinity is not part of physics, let alone biology.”

Theoretical biologist Josh Mitteldorf and writer and ecological philosopher Dorian Sagan have teamed up to give us a thorough examination of human aging in Cracking the Aging Code: The New Science of Growing Old—And What It Means for Staying Young.

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