Susannah Felts

★ Wild Witchcraft

A while back I let my social network know I was interested in learning more about magic, herbalism, astrology and the like. It felt naive to group these things together, but I’ve since discovered there’s more than a little overlap. In Wild Witchcraft, North Carolina-based forager-witch Rebecca Beyer provides a well-researched history of European witchcraft and American folk healing practices, followed by a solid introduction to growing and foraging healing herbs. Readers learn how to use herbs in rituals and remedies and in harmony with the Wheel of the Year, a series of seasonal observances including the fall and spring equinoxes. Beyer covers much ground efficiently and makes a strong case for why these practices are especially necessary now. Amid rapid and cataclysmic climate change, “inspiring people to see value in plants and ecosystems can help to preserve them,” she writes, and “combat the total divorce of humans from their fellow animal, vegetable, and mineral kin.”

Booze & Vinyl 2

During the COVID-19 pandemic, vinyl record sales outnumbered those of CDs for the first time since the 1980s. This vinyl renaissance presents a timely backdrop for Booze & Vinyl 2, which builds on the genius of sister-and-brother duo André and Tenaya Darlington’s 2018 volume of album and craft cocktail pairings, Booze & Vinyl. How about a glow-in-the-dark vodka tonic paired with Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine or a moonshine-based sipper with Van Morrison’s Moondance? Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstong get a “Silver Fizz” to match Ella’s “silvery voice,” and citrus meets prosecco and brandy for two drinks inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade. There are even a few themed appetizers, such as “Deeez Nuuuts” for munching while spinning Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. The design freak in me loves how the book’s aesthetic shifts with each album, each turn of the page setting a vibe. Dim the lights, drop the needle and sip to the sounds. 

My America

In My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef, a follow-up to his 2019 memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef, James Beard Award winner Kwame Onwuachi filters the cuisine of the African diaspora through the lens of his family, his travels and peripatetic childhood, and the journeys of his ancestors. As Onwuachi notes, a close look at the cuisines of the American South, the Caribbean and Nigeria reveals many common threads and flavor echoes—from the jambalaya of Louisiana to the jollof of Nigeria. Black food tells a story—from groundnut stew and callaloo to crawfish pie and baby back ribs—and the recipes collected here tell it powerfully.

Reconnect to food, music and nature with this month’s best new lifestyles titles.

★ Refuse to Be Done

I’ve been following writer and professor Matt Bell on social media for years, eagerly tuning in for the wisdom he shares from the many (many) books and author interviews he has read, and frankly awed by his fierce, upbeat dedication to his writing practice. Bell’s new guide for aspiring novelists, Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts, gathers his wealth of knowledge and motivational zeal into a volume that deserves a spot on every writer’s desk. He advocates for a three-draft approach, while recognizing that “draft” can mean many different things. His chief goal is to keep you from giving up—to provide the fuel and structure to get you through the inevitable slog of novel-writing. As I embark upon another revision of a novel I’ve been working on for years, I’m thankful to have this book riding shotgun. 

Anna Spiro

It’s been a minute since we’ve featured the work of an interior designer. Anna Spiro: A Life in Pattern turned my head with its springy, floral-print linen cover, just the thing to spiff up a side table. Inside, the fun continues: The photographs are spirit-lifters one and all, awash in bold colors, textures and, as is Spiro’s trademark, pattern on pattern on pattern, with glorious examples of how to avoid being matchy and yet make everything harmonize. Fans of the ebullient mix-and-matching of Justina Blakeley will also delight in Spiro’s maximalist, vibrant style. If you’ve had a hankering to try a pop of wallpaper, this book will take your face between its hands and say, “Go for it, friend!” Do you love being surrounded by your precious things? Spiro understands, and she encourages shaping your personal style around those beloved objects. “Above all, your goal should be to create an environment that is reflective of you, your life and taste,” she writes. “Collect art, furniture and other items that have meaning to you.” 

Love and Justice

Model, actor and activist Laetitia Ky has amassed a significant Instagram following over the past several years, posting images of her incredible hair sculptures. She twists, bends and shapes her own hair into faces, animals, bodies, trees, breasts and other body parts, and much more. This hair art is striking at face value, but in Love and Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty, Ky frames her sculptural work within personal narratives that dig into issues of mental health, internalized misogyny, African heritage, sexism, self-care, Black beauty and other themes close to her heart. As a member of a new global guard of young creatives who refuse to separate their work from their beliefs and values, Ky is poised to become a strong role model for young people finding their way in the world. 

Let your artistic side run wild with three inspirational books about novel writing, interior design and activism.

The Second Half

One of my favorite finds of 2021 was a newsletter called Oldster, which features interviews with people from all walks of life musing on the aging process and what age means and feels like to them. A new work from portrait and travel photographer Ellen Warner, The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty, beautifully mines similar territory. Warner crisscrossed the globe photographing and interviewing women over the age of 50, gathering reflections on change, pleasure, legacy, hope and more. She then edited these encounters into a trove of fascinating, brief narratives of life lived in a woman’s body. One woman buys a pub in her 60s; another meets her new life partner, a woman, after a 35-year marriage to a man. “Everything is a bit blurred when one is young, and then comes the second half—the time when you have to make clarity out of the blur,” one reflects. As these women and others divulge their most difficult and joyous moments, the result is a book bristling with energy and wisdom.

The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs

In terms of trusted authorities on cooking technique, you can’t get much more legit or consistently helpful than America’s Test Kitchen. (Lately, I’ve been saving nearly all of their Instagram posts.) So a new title from ATK, The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs, feels like cause for celebration. It remains to be seen whether a book designed for my 13-year-old will inspire her to prep dinner more often, but its format, with close attention paid to mise en place and the correct tools, should help her dodge frustration while widening both her comfort zone and palate. The recipes, labeled beginner, intermediate and advanced, range from the familiar (waffles, BLTs) to foodie faves like blistered shishito peppers, shiitake beef ramen and a fruit galette. My hunch, which I shall soon put to the test, is that parents, too, will absorb several valuable tips from this text as they play sous-chef to their kids. 

52 Ways to Walk

I’m not sure there’s a person on Earth who doesn’t know that walking is good for them. But how many of us know just how good, or in just how many ways? Annabel Streets presents loads of convincing evidence in 52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time, a book equally geared toward dedicated perambulators and anyone who wishes to build a new healthy habit. She gives us research-backed ways of thinking about our daily (or occasional) stroll while presenting a fun challenge: From just how many angles might we go about the act of taking a walk this year? I can walk with attunement to what I hear in the world around me, or I can walk with a focus on posture and gait. I can think about ley lines, ions or fractals as I walk; I can walk alone or with a friend or a dog or by water or at night. Apparently I can even hop up from the couch, take a brisk 12-minute walk and wring a surprising level of health benefits from it—and so, my friend, can you.

The mundane stuff of life—such as cooking, walking and even aging—gets an exciting refresh in this month’s lifestyles column.

★ Grist

James Beard Award-winning chef Abra Berens and her collaborators have created a most magical combination of aesthetics, soul and practical guidance in Grist, a cookbook focused on humble stuff: beans, legumes, grains and seeds. Let it be said that I love beans, and I really love the way Berens provides, along with specific recipes, a number of templates to follow for any combination of ingredients you crave or happen to have on hand. For example, a bean + vegetable + flavor + texture chart starts with beans (any kind), then lists four suggested ingredients for each step: add veg, add flavor, add extra texture and serve. Elsewhere, she walks us through a week’s worth of lentils without boredom, and her recipes regularly include three or more variations. Topping it all off are Lucy Engelman’s beautiful illustrations, which make this a true work of cookbook art. 

Where They Purr

A bedroom decked out in lush linens and pillows—and a cat, luxuriating on the bespoke duvet. A kitchen with floor-to-ceiling windows—and a cat, nonchalantly surveying the room from atop the dining table. This is the fabulous world of Where They Purr: Inspirational Interiors and the Cats Who Call Them Home, in which images of sleek interiors foreground the homes’ feline overlords. Photographer Paul Barbera got the idea for a cat-centric home design book while working on a previous project, Where They Create, and the result takes those “how they styled it” shots we’ve all seen while shopping online—a sofa, say, captured with the owner’s pet proudly lounging—to the next-next level. The homes featured here are mostly high-end and very modern, full of sharp angles and long lines. You might be inclined to call some of them cold, except how could you when fluffy Pud or Pippi or Gustov is lurking or perched or sprawled in their midst? As a cat lover, my only quibble with this purrfectly delightful book is that there are too few orange tabbies in the mix. I suppose we all, like our cats, have our own prefurences.

Wanderess

As I prepare for a solo journey to the Southwest, I’m happy to have in my pocket Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo, a guide for women, by women, and geared toward solo travelers. Whether you’re going it alone for the first time or planning a girls’ trip, the editors from Unearth Women have assembled in this colorful book all the resources, hacks and advice you could ask for, including tips for traveling while pregnant and specific recommendations for women of color and travelers who are trans, lesbian or queer. The writers also offer an outline for creating your own Feminist City Guide, which centers women-owned businesses; if you like, you can pitch your guide(s) to Unearth Women for possible publication.

From the humble bean to the high and mighty feline, the books in this month’s lifestyles column colorfully celebrate the joys of food, art and travel.

★ The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

I like to imagine the process of assembling the exquisite compendium that is The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament. What a dizzying and delightful task! London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of decorative and designed objects in the world, and in this tome, one can peruse thousands upon thousands of images adapted from the museum’s holdings. Spanning pottery, textiles, paintings, wallpaper, sculpture and pretty much any other patterned thing you can imagine, the contents are arranged into four categories—plants; animals; earth and the universe; and abstract patterns—with most pages featuring a grid of three or more images and a succinct set of captions identifying the source objects and their makers. As you page through swiftly or slowly, the effect is kaleidoscopic. It’s a veritable feast of patterns for the eyes and mind, full of color, intricate details and beautiful repetition. You’ll wish for two copies: one to keep and savor; one to cut up for collage art. Frankly, I’m besotted.

Sketch by Sketch

I recently purchased my first iPad and began exploring Procreate, a digital tool that, when paired with the Apple Pencil, opens one up to a new realm of two-dimensional artmaking. I’m finding a daily drawing practice to be a profoundly joyful and meditative pursuit. Sheila Darcey, founder of the SketchPoetic community on Instagram (@sketchpoetic), knows all about the therapeutic potential of low-stakes sketching, and in Sketch by Sketch, she encourages readers to try 21 exercises designed to help them dig deep internally and work through difficult emotions. Darcey doesn’t care how well you draw, and her exercises are not meant to build artistic skill. If you create something that makes you smile, all the better, but self-discovery, not technical mastery, is the goal. “This is not art,” she writes. “It is a visual learner’s version of freewriting.” Testimonials throughout from SketchPoetic acolytes demonstrate how the process has worked for others.

Snails & Monkey Tails

Speaking of details . . . it’s an interesting time for punctuation, isn’t it? Texting has completely upended the rules, such that a period now suggests a hostile vibe to some (my teenager confirms this), and even the meaning of certain emoticons seems to be shifting with the generations. But these symbols persist in print matter, and they are lovingly and fetchingly celebrated in Snails & Monkey Tails, graphic designer Michael Arndt’s spiffy salute to the “tiny designs that run interference among the letterforms.” If you don’t know what a grawlix is, you sure as $@%!* will if you read this book. Afterward, you may never call @ an “at” symbol again. Rather, try “little duck” as they do in Finland, or “cinnamon bun” like the Swedes. From silcrows to pilcrows to guillemets and the dinkus, Arndt’s book will up your word-nerd quotient, and it will do so with impeccable style.

Design takes center stage in this month’s lifestyles column, from intricate filigrees found in museums to the elegant curve of a silcrow.

New Native Kitchen

Perfect gift for: Your foodie spouse who loves gardening and open-fire grilling

In New Native Kitchen, Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie, previously of the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, celebrates the cuisines of Indigenous cultures while respecting and revering “hyperlocal” regional distinctions in these foodways and traditions. Bitsoie, who came to cooking via cultural anthropology and art history, aims to tell “edible stories that allow people to appreciate the living artifact of food.” Here, with the help of James Beard Award-winning author James O. Fraioli, Bitsoie introduces readers to key elements of the Native pantry, such as nopales (cactus paddles), Navajo steam corn, sumac powder and tepary beans, many of which can be ordered online or found at specialty spice shops. From a sumac Navajo leg of lamb with onion sauce, to a Makah crab boil, to Choctaw bison chili, Bitsoie covers the vast North American continent and its islands in this important book.

Wild Sweetness

Perfect gift for: Your boho friend with a shortbread obsession

With full-page photographs of winter branches, gently wilting roses and foggy ponds, Thalia Ho’s Wild Sweetness is as much a moody evocation of nature’s evanescence as it is a sumptuous celebration of dessert. Grouped by season, the recipes range from comfy American standards like cinnamon buns and gingersnaps to frangipane tart and a fig clove fregolotta. All possess a delicate quality and some flower, spice or other ingredient redolent of the natural world. Cream seems a visual motif, showing up, for example, in a juniper ice cream, a frosted chamomile tea cake, a lemon curd streusel cake and amaretti. But deep, dark chocolate is at play too—in ganache thumbprints, drunken fig brownies and a beetroot mud cake, among others sheer delights.

À Table

Perfect gift for: The hip newlyweds next door with the adorable dog

Is anything sexier than a good French cookbook? Rebekah Peppler’s À Table reveals and revels in the charms of long, casual French dinners with friends, and Peppler leads with blithe wit as she shares a modern take on entertaining. (She won me over instantly with the words “Hemingway was a supreme ass” in a recipe for Chambéry cassis, an aperitif.) Women are at the center of Peppler’s vision, one in which we dispense with yesteryear’s formalities in favor of long, carefree nights of smart conversation, mismatched plates and zero pretension. Ouais, cherie. On to olives with saucisson and roast chicken with prunes! On to daube de boeuf and (vegan!) French onion soup with cognac! You’ll love the mellow-but-decadent vibe, even if you feel un petit peu jalouse of Peppler’s Parisian coterie.

Black Food

Perfect gift for: Cultural mavens, globetrotters and aesthetes

Chef and Vegetable Kingdom author Bryant Terry assembles a large all-star team for his glorious new Black Food, “a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora.” I love this trend of cookbooks that are so openly ambitious, with essays and poetry, visual art and historical context, all of it standing strong alongside the food. Structured by themes such as motherland; Black women, food and power; and Black, queer, food—each with a corresponding playlist—this vibrant, immersive book pulls from many foodways and regions of the globe, with Black chefs, intellectuals and tastemakers leading the way. We encounter dishes as diverse as Somali lamb stew, Bajan fish cakes, Ghanaian crepe cake, vegan black-eyed pea beignets and, at last, for the perfect finish, Edna Lewis’ fresh peach cobbler. Terry also shares a recipe for Pili Pili oil, which adds an herbaceous, spicy kick to anything you drizzle it over.

Tables & Spreads

Perfect gift for: Your sister-in-law who loves to host and is always leveling up

I am not a big entertainer, but I love a good snack-meal. And there’s something delightful about artfully arranging a table full of nibbles for guests: curious cheeses, spiced nuts, tangy jams, decadent dips and a handful of rosemary sprigs plucked from the garden. Whether this sounds fun, anxiety-producing or a bit of both, Tables & Spreads is here to help you party. Shelly Westerhausen, master of Instagram-worthy tablescapes, shares themes for every occasion, from dips for dinner, to a savory focaccia party, to a Christmas morning Dutch baby party. Special attention is given to what Westerhausen dubs the “wow factor”: decorative and mood-setting details such as color themes, decanters and candles of varying heights, along with floral arrangements. Informational charts abound with practical assists; my favorite may be “Portioning a Spread,” right down to tablespoons of dip or pieces of crudites, so you don’t over- or under-buy.

This holiday season, whether you’re hosting or showing up with a single covered dish, let one of these outstanding cookbooks be your guide.

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