Susannah Felts

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Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein launched the @cheapoldhouses Instagram account in 2016, delighting followers with the boundless possibilities of starting over with a fresh—albeit dusty—slate. Even if you don’t dream of rescuing a fixer-upper, the notion is endlessly enchanting and story-rich, which is why “Cheap Old Houses” is yet another successful HGTV series. For those of us who’d rather read than stream or scroll, enter its book form: Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home, in which architecturally sound buildings priced beneath $150K are restored to livability. The Finkelsteins note that the buyers have “discovered astonishing purpose by devoting attention to a home that needs love,” a path to fulfillment I can totally get behind, despite my total lack of carpentry skills. There are how-tos sprinkled within (“Painted Woodwork: To Strip or Not to Strip?”) but the focus is on the amazing stories and images of a wide range of old buildings—from mansions to farmhouses to cabins, and even a hydropower station—and the people who gave them new life. The details and features that have survived in highly dilapidated structures are awe-inspiring but also educational: If you’ve wondered just what plaster-and-lath is, now you’ll know.

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
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HGTV’s “Home Town” creator Erin Napier’s Heirloom Rooms: Soulful Stories of Home, in which she tells stories of her own home renovations alongside anecdotes and home images from a bevy of friends. The book proceeds room by room, from front porch to back porch, with refreshingly unstaged shots of interiors, like an image of vintage cabinetry in which stacks of La Croix boxes are visible in a mirror. (Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s no shortage of enviable interiors that seem, well, at least a little bit staged.) In total, the book prompts readers to reflect on how memories and emotions are embedded in every nook of our domestic spaces. Napier wants us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives, and to treasure them as such, which is always a good idea.

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
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“Think about this: The Italians didn’t have the tomato until after 1492,” writes chef and food historian Lois Ellen Frank. “The Irish didn’t have the potato.” Let that sink in, then get a copy of Frank’s Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients. Written with Walter Whitewater, the book celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants of the Americas—corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla and cacao. The recipes are accessible, budget-friendly and entirely plant-based, such as the three sisters tamale with green chile, black beans, chocolate and chipotle; baked acorn squash with maple and pecans; and green chile enchilada lasagne. In sum, this is a fantastic introduction and tribute to Native American Southwestern cuisine.

Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants first cultivated in the Americas.
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In 2014, food historians Victoria Flexner and Jay Reifel cooked up an NYC supper club called Edible History, a perfect pairing of fine dining and intellectual stimulation. Now they’ve spun the concept into A History of the World in 10 Dinners: 2,000 Years, 100 Recipes, which includes recipes for such dishes as Trimalchio’s pig (a roasted suckling pig with sausages) from ancient Rome, and glazed whore’s farts (meringues) from Versailles. “This book will present even the experienced cook with a shocking variety of unfamiliar ingredients,” Reifel writes. “We have missed out on so many perspectives,” writes Flexner. “How do we learn about people who left nothing behind?” Their book is one intriguing answer, and I savor the thought of reading it to my teenage daughter as she makes her way through AP World History.

The chefs at New York’s Edible History share curious recipes from various periods of history in their intriguing new cookbook.
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I simply adore soup. Especially in cold weather, I could eat soup daily. I know I’m not alone. Soup lovers, let us take up our ladles and spoons and hunks of good bread: Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s Every Season Is Soup Season: 85+ Souper-Adaptable Recipes to Batch, Share, Reinvent, and Enjoy sets us up for year-round slurping. Four seasons of soups, stews, ramen, gazpacho and more are joined by a mouthwatering assortment of garnishes—frizzled shallots, honeyed feta with black and white sesame seeds and tarragon-orange oil among them. Then there are the sides: salads, focaccia, cornbread. This winter I’m determined to try Worcel’s pumpkin and white bean soup with brown butter sage, and her sweet potato and leek peanut stew. Best of all, the soups can be repurposed into other dishes, such as a spicy noodle stir-fry made from the aforementioned stew.

Soup lovers will delight in Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s cookbook that offers soups, stews, ramen, gazpacho and more for every season.
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Gennaro’s Cucina: Hearty Money-Saving Meals From an Italian Kitchen by Gennaro Contaldo focuses on cucina povera, the traditional cooking of rural Italy, where seasonality and a “waste not want not” lifestyle deliciously intersect. If you love to buy loaves of artisan bread but often find them stale before you can eat them up, grab this book. Numerous recipes incorporate past-its-prime bread—you’re probably familiar with panzanella, but here we’re introduced to ribollita, a Tuscan bean and bread soup; cooked bread with rocket and pancetta; and many more dishes that make me want to go out and buy a loaf just to let it sit until I’m ready to cook. But meat and fish are hardly overlooked here, nor is pasta (after all, what is it but a bit of water and flour?) and sweets such as mini ricotta doughnuts and Sardinian sweet ravioli. 

Highlighting the cuisine of rural Italy, Gennaro’s Cucina is a zero-waste cookbook that makes every scrap of food delicious.
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Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook aims to be a comprehensive, entry-level guide to cooking. It is mammoth, much like the Joy of Cooking my mom gave me when I moved into my first apartment. There’s a strong emphasis on technique—searing, poaching, browning, all the ways to prepare eggs, pastry 101—and clear indication of expertise required for any given recipe. The design reminds me of how recipes are presented on the internet: full-color, with tags and photo tutorials throughout. But many dishes feel elevated, far from basic, even when they fall under “easy,” such as watermelon chaat, jammy egg tacos and a quinoa crunch salad. I suspect a lot of newlyweds will be adding this one to their kitchen shelves. 

Sohla El-Waylly’s mammoth Start Here is a comprehensive, entry-level cookbook that elevates easy-to-master recipes.
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I almost missed out on Flower Philosophy, thinking it just another pretty floral design guide; then I spied a mushroom altar within its pages. A mushroom altar? Curiosity piqued, I discovered florist Anna Potter’s gorgeous writing about the solace of returning to the wild, the gifts that come with close observation and the wisdom of bending our lives further toward the seasons. Potter’s flower-forward project ideas are first-rate, too—there is a sunburst mandala made of dried flowers, leaves and other summer plants that kind of blows my mind—but even if you never clip a section of floral wire, there is such sweetness and beauty to discover in these pages, along with well-chosen quotes from writers and thinkers and stunning photographs by India Hobson.

Floral design books sometimes make me feel left out, because who but a professional has these kinds of materials at their fingertips? But the beauty of this book earned my attention.

There is such beauty to discover in Anna Potter’s Flower Philosophy, along with quotes from writers and thinkers, stunning photographs and first-rate project ideas.
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Anita Yokota is both a licensed counselor and an interior designer, and she marries the two paths ingeniously in Home Therapy. I’ve seen a lot of “happy home” guides seeking to give readers more serenity through organization hacks and design principles, but none pulls in the teachings of therapy to the degree that Yokota’s book does.

As Yokota writes, “We all attach limiting beliefs to our homes, which could be holding us back from ultimately achieving our goals.” She then goes deep on how to counteract such cognitive distortions through the physical spaces we occupy, and it’s hard not to sit up and pay attention. For example, Yokota suggests creating an “individual domain” in certain rooms to support a personal goal. “Try coming up with some physical cues that will send the right signals to your brain,” she writes. If your goal is to begin your day with exercise, put your yoga mat in sight so your brain knows everything is ready to go; otherwise, design spaces that encourage eating healthy, creating art, wrestling with difficult emotions or anything else you’d like more of in your life.

Not everything here will apply to all homes or families, of course, but I dare you to read this book and not come away with an actionable tip that serves your mental health as well as your house.

Anita Yokota is both a licensed counselor and an interior designer, and she marries the two paths ingeniously in Home Therapy.
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As any visitor to my home may note, I’ve long been drawn to the simultaneously bold and delicate look of linocut art, a very hands-on type of relief printmaking wherein ink is transferred to paper via a carved linoleum block. Perhaps it’s time to make a few prints of my own.

U.K.-based artist Sam Marshall’s Linocut makes the process feel approachable, with friendly, precise instructions and projects that build in degrees of complexity. That’s not to say Marshall oversells the ease of this medium. She admits she struggled with it at first and is open about the fact that it’s not unusual to earn a cut or two when you’re starting out—so have Band-Aids on hand! But the act can be meditative once you’ve mastered the feel of the tools, and it’s an art form that can be practiced right at your kitchen table.

Even if I don’t take up a knife and block, the book is a beauty, full of both Marshall’s own prints and those of a few printmakers she admires.

Sam Marshall’s book makes linocut printmaking feel approachable, with friendly, precise instructions and projects that build in degrees of complexity.
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As we enter Oscars season, here’s a chance to take a deep, luxurious dive into the history of red carpet fashion and fame. Dijanna Mulhearn’s Red Carpet Oscars chronicles the biggest celebrity event of the year from its beginnings in 1929, “a quiet black-tie dinner,” to the 94th edition in 2022, when the slap seen ’round the world overshadowed the dresses by a long shot. (That said, Mulhearn keeps her gaze steady and makes no mention of the debacle.)

Photographs offer an incredible parade of silver-screen talent throughout. Modern viewers may find the many black-and-white candids from the first three decades of Hollywood especially intriguing; I personally love the 1970s coverage, too. Mulhearn’s text helps tell the couture story, providing social context and a taste of each evening’s drama and the actors’ personalities. “[Joan] Fontaine’s black midi-length dress,” she writes, “felt mournful, possibly reflecting Fontaine’s mood as she imagined watching [Olivia] de Havilland snare the Oscar.” In sum, what we have here is a fascinating, particular angle on American culture.

Dijanna Mulhearn offers a chance to take a deep, luxurious dive into the history of red carpet fashion and fame.
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For a literary spin on the movies, there’s But Have You Read the Book?, a compendium of 52 stories taken from print to screen. You won’t be surprised to discover titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Blade Runner here, but did you know Jaws was first a book? Goodfellas? The Social Network?

Author Kristen Lopez succinctly parses differences between the versions of each story, pointing out actor credits and box office facts for the movies and themes explored in the books. Rarely are the book and film notably similar; in the case of No Country for Old Men, Lopez writes that the Coen brothers “brought their patented blend of dark humor to [Cormac] McCarthy’s wild Texas landscape, transforming the book from a noirish, cynical take on the degradation of the country post-Vietnam into a melancholic look at the Western genre.”

So is But Have You Read the Book? for film buffs or book nerds? Both, I suppose, with its sweet spot in the Venn diagram overlap of the two.

Is Kristen Lopez’s But Have You Read the Book? for film buffs or book nerds? We say both.
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Color: We can’t not see it, and yet we’re frequently unaware of the power of its strategic use, even as we feel the effects. But you’ll never take color for granted again after perusing Charles Bramesco’s Colors of Film, which explores the palettes used in 50 iconic films through four eras of cinema.

Bramesco’s discussion dives into technical developments in color reproduction as well as the symbolic and emotional currency held in the color choices for pivotal scenes. For each film, a small grid of color blocks printed adjacent to film stills, along with hex and RGB codes, makes the case visually. For 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain, “the Technicolor reds, greens, and yellows portray Broadway as a playland of exuberant fakery,” Bramesco writes, “its colors bewitching not in spite of their unnatural pop, but because of it.” A garish Pepto pink steals the show in Jamie Babbit’s queer cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader, while the soft pink of cherry blossoms characterizes Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

This book provides a fascinating object lesson in how visual information wields power. As Bramesco puts it, “Color is the perfect hiding place for significance, most powerful when left unstated.”

You’ll never take color for granted again after perusing Charles Bramesco’s Colors of Film, which explores the palettes used in 50 iconic films through four eras of cinema.

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