Susannah Felts

The best lifestyles books of the month will give you a creative boost from the workplace to the kitchen.

 Creative Acts for Curious People

Tell the story of your worst first date using only LEGOs. Design an ad campaign for bananas. Describe an ability you’d use to survive a zombie apocalypse. Ask someone to tell you the story of their name. These are but a few of the assignments in Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways, developed from the teachings of Stanford University’s well-respected design school (known as the d.school), where students collaborate and innovate in fresh, surprising ways for the greater good. Need a change of perspective on a project or an escape hatch from routine thinking? Want to encourage your team to loosen up, give helpful feedback or challenge biases? Look no further. “In the face of current challenges—those here today and those yet to come—we all need ways to prepare to act even when we are uncertain,” writes d.school executive director Sarah Stein Greenberg. Whether you’re an independent artist seeking new approaches to your work or a leader aiming to mentor and galvanize your people, this book has an experience for you. I plan to put it to use in my own nonprofit leadership and personal creative projects.

The Tiny Kitchen Cookbook

Annie Mahle spent many years cooking for groups of 24 in the galley kitchen of a schooner, so you could say she’s earned her small-space stripes. In The Tiny Kitchen Cookbook: Strategies and Recipes for Creating Amazing Meals in Small Spaces, Mahle gathers recipes requiring little cookware or fuss, including one-pan dinners, toaster oven-friendly bakes and small dishes that can serve as snacks or light entrees. She shares tips for making the best of your (limited) workspace and, in a genius section called “Use It Up,” offers ideas for what to do with ingredients that tend to linger, like buttermilk, cauliflower and pumpkin puree. In the tiny (vacation) house of my dream-future, this will be the only cookbook on hand, but for now it will be a welcome addition to my home kitchen, with its charming lack of counter space.

Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys

I happen to live in the same state as Sandor Katz, and he’s the sort of fellow Tennessean that makes me proud to call this place home. Katz gained an international following with his 2003 bestseller, The Art of Fermentation, the success of which took him across the globe. Now he’s back with Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques, and Traditions From Around the World, which explores microbial activity in the culinary traditions of China, Peru and other places far, far from Cannon County, Tennessee. Think tepache in Mexico, sour cabbages in Croatia, pickled tea leaves in Burma, koji in Japan and much more. Part travelogue, part cookbook, part chemistry experiment, Katz’s new book is a fascinating look at fermented foods the world over, and it aims, always, to be a respectful one.

The best lifestyles books of the month will give you a creative boost from the workplace to the kitchen.

The books in this month’s lifestyles column will deepen your understanding of the world and broaden your compassion for the humans you share it with. 

How to Suffer Outside

“If you can walk, put stuff in a bag, and remember to eat, you can backpack,” declares Diana Helmuth in the perfectly titled How to Suffer Outside: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and Backpacking. I’m not entirely sure I buy this statement, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of Helmuth’s funny, frank writing. Her perspective is a breath of fresh air on the whole fresh-air-and-nature thing. While she claims to be no expert backpacker herself, she drops all kinds of useful, earned wisdom in these pages, spinning tales from her own hiking adventures along the way. A random sample: “One of the saddest things about backpacking is that no matter how clean the water looks, you probably can’t drink it. Even deep in the wilderness, tiny dregs of civilization are there to ruin your good time.” Were I a bookseller, I would press this book on customers regardless of their interest in backpacking. I would recommend it for the voice and storytelling: Here, stay inside if you want. Turn off Netflix, and read this.

Demystifying Disability

The disabled community is vast and diverse, and society is due for a paradigm shift in thinking and talking about its members. With Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally, activist and writer Emily Ladau is a responsible guide and advocate for change, and her book is one that everyone could benefit from reading. Ladau recognizes that just as there are multitudes of disabilities, there is room for all of us to learn more about disabled people’s varied experiences and make our world more inclusive and accessible. Changes in vocabulary—like opting for disabled instead of euphemistic words like handi-capable (a particular peeve of Ladau’s), or avoiding words like lame and idiot as common pejoratives—help shift mindsets one word at a time. Changes in media norms are necessary as well. Landau explains how feel-good stories about disabled people “overcoming” their disabilities actually reinforce the bias toward able-bodied people. Right now, ableist beliefs and behaviors still fly under the radar, and Ladau’s careful treatment of this subject is a corrective that can help us all be better humans.

Forget Prayers, Bring Cake

While the title is pleasingly cheeky, Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman’s Guide to Grieving never loses sight of the fact that there’s nothing funny about the death of a loved one. Grieving is always difficult, but it can be immeasurably more painful if you’re a single woman, argues Merissa Nathan Gerson—on top of all the ways our culture is ill-suited, period, for allowing us the time and space and voice that grief demands. After learning that in other cultures there’s an individual known as a moirologist—“a non-married woman hired . . . to strike the earth, tear at her hair, scream and wail and provoke others to grieve for the dead”—Gerson offers herself, with this book, as a compassionate, experienced voice for those who have suffered a loss. Her advice and personal stories offer solace and insight for any mourner but are shared with a keen eye toward the unique experience of losing a loved one when you are young and single. 

The books in this month’s lifestyles column will deepen your understanding of the world and broaden your compassion for the humans you share it with.

Connect to nature through humor, embroidery and art with the three wonderful books featured in this month’s lifestyles column.

 Subpar Parks

Everyone’s a critic nowadays, and you can find a one-star online rating for even the most unassailable things—including the United States National Park Service. Finding this curiously funny, national park enthusiast Amber Share set out to apply her hand-lettering and graphic design chops to a series of art prints that poke fun at the shortsightedness of those dismissive and disappointed reviewers. First shared via Instagram, the project is now in book form, expanded with juicy facts about the parks. Subpar Parks is a clever adaptation, both playful and earnest in its appreciation for these storied landmarks. Did you know that Katmai National Park hosts an online competition called “Fat Bear Week” or that NASA has tested lunar rovers at Great Sand Dunes National Park? Share’s delightful book will make a terrific gift for anyone who loves our country’s natural wonders—and has a sense of humor about them.

Mystical Stitches

“Stitching by hand slows down the body and, over time, slows down the mind. It brings us . . . into the calmer, more restful alpha brain wave state,” writes Christi Johnson in Mystical Stitches, an embroidery guide with an emphasis on the power of symbols. Johnson first provides the fundamentals of the craft: a range of stitches and the sorts of design work they’re handy for. A treasury of symbols follows, including moon phases, Zodiac signs, animals and many other images from the natural world. The whole volume centers embroidery within spiritual practice, and if you’re already drawn to the mystical, you’ll likely reach for the floss soon after exploring these alluring pages. “By working with images and forms that correspond to the feeling and emotion we’d like to bring about in our own life, we are acting upon the idea that all things are interrelated in this tapestry of existence,” Johnson writes. “We can speak to our subconscious through the symbols in our immediate world, and get the subconscious aligned with the conscious mind.”

The Atlas of Disappearing Places

The Atlas of Disappearing Places beautifully harnesses the powers of art and metaphor to get urgent ideas across. Through maps and other works made from ink on dried seaweed, Christina Conklin illustrates the damage wrought to coastlines and what we could still lose to climate change and rising sea levels. Along with these visuals, Conklin and her collaborator, Marina Psaros, co-founder of the King Tides Project, present the stories of 20 hot spots around the globe, each ending with a “speculative vignette about the future.” Throughout, they emphasize an understanding of the ocean as a body, “so that we can more closely identify with—and possibly empathize with—the ocean, our original home.” The result is a striking and deeply researched work of art and environmental activism.

Connect to nature through humor, embroidery and art with the three wonderful books featured in this month’s lifestyles column.

Whether you’re brightening up your space or toning it down, you’ll need a sandwich after all that hard work. These three lifestyles books have you covered on all fronts.

 The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less

Christine Platt never imagined herself as a minimalist. A deal-hunter? A clotheshorse? Yes and yes. But when circumstances demanded she pare down, Platt found that a conscious, intentional approach to consumption had its pleasures—and didn’t have to mean white paint everywhere and surfaces whisked free of treasured belongings. In The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less, Platt, who has amassed more than 50,000 followers on Instagram, shares her story and espouses living with less, starting with doing the tough work of examining one’s deeply ingrained feelings about spending, saving, self-worth and joy. Another aspect that makes this a standout in the world of minimalism guides: Platt speaks directly to and for her fellow Black readers in sections throughout the book labeled “For the Culture.” As she notes, the “simple life” has been projected as white for too long—in more than one way.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: For the audiobook edition, Christine Platt’s calm, careful narration is both relatable and reassuring.

Just a Few Miles South

Who doesn’t love a really good sandwich? At Wallace Station, the Windy Corner Market and others in the Ouita Michel family of Kentucky restaurants, guests come back again and again for the life-changing sammies, and now they can create them at home. Just a Few Miles South features next-level fixings such as pimiento blue cheese, bourbon white cheddar cheese spread, Benedictine (a Kentucky staple) and bourbon mayo, sure to jazz up even the most desultory work-from-home lunch. Also in these pages are recipes for biscuits and gravy, po’boys, burgers, quiche, quick breads and other sweets, as well as for the sandwich bread itself. Brenna Flannery’s line drawings make this a strikingly beautiful book in black and white, but it’s also as deliciously down-to-earth as can be.  

A Room of Her Own

A Room of Her Own is something of a fever dream dance through luxurious trappings, a lush portraiture of the “personal and professional domains” of 20 extraordinary women, all of them powerhouse artists who “share a drive to infuse all aspects of their lives with their creativity.” With author and photographer Robyn Lea as your guide, step into their colorful palaces, ateliers, closets and studios. Gasp quietly at wall murals, enormous picture windows, rococo furnishings, gardens and courtyards. Imagine yourself into these rarefied settings in Milan, London, New York, Florence and Auvergne. This is a look at great privilege, to be sure, as much as it is a showcase of artists’ habitats, though many of these women have lived through great trauma, some facets of which are revealed in short narratives. The book’s feast of visuals—pattern, color, texture, light, symmetry, juxtaposition—suggests, in the end, the regenerative energy of the creative spirit.

Whether you’re brightening up your space or toning it down, you’ll need a sandwich after all that hard work. These three lifestyles books have you covered on all fronts.

In The Lonely City (2016), Olivia Laing traced a connection from her own experience of loneliness to the work of artists such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. The result was a tapestry like no other, a tender exploration of art-making and human experience cast through an empathic prism. 

Everybody: A Book About Freedom finds Laing taking a similar approach as she masterfully shares stories of fascinating artists and historical figures. This time, the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich is at the cosmic center of an even more wide-ranging inquiry that looks, with hope, at the idea of freedom from oppression related to skin color, sexual identity or gender.

Reich, a protégé of Sigmund Freud, believed that “the past is interred in our bodies, every trauma meticulously preserved, walled up alive.” Later in life he became known for his orgone boxes, pseudoscientific devices that attracted the attention of the FDA and led to his imprisonment. Which is to say that his legacy is a complicated, even tainted one, but Laing treats him with the same gentle perspicacity she extends to her other subjects, which include Susan Sontag, Kathy Acker, sexual liberationists in Weimar Berlin, the artist Agnes Martin, Bayard Rustin and Nina Simone.

Her net, in short, is breathtakingly, ambitiously wide. Her stakes could not be higher—freedom for all bodies, “unharried by any hierarchy of form.” Along with Reich, Laing’s consistent interest here is the human body and its quest for pure freedom. How did each of these cultural and intellectual figures fight to liberate their body? How did the prevailing forces of the time work against them? These questions link Laing’s journey, which is as concerned with bodily freedom as with the way trauma can operate, years past its inception, as a barrier to said freedom. Along the way she peers inward to her past as an herbalist, environmental protestor and child of gay parents in the 1980s.

“I still don’t believe in orgone boxes,” Laing concludes, “but I do think Reich found his way to durable truths. I think the weight of history abides in our private bodies. Each of us carries a legacy of personal and inherited trauma, operating within an unequal grid of rules and laws that depends upon the kind of body we were born into. At the same time, we are porous and capable of mysterious effects on each other’s lives.” Everybody is a nonpareil study that delights the intellect.

Olivia Laing casts a breathtakingly, ambitiously wide net, and the stakes of her subject—freedom for all bodies—could not be higher.

Take a journey around the globe via the bookstores, recipes and fruits featured in this month’s lifestyles roundup.

 Bookstores

For a bibliophile, it doesn’t get any better than Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers, a coffee-table stunner featuring images by London-based photographer Horst A. Friedrichs. With every turn of the page, you’ll take a journey around the globe and through the stacks—from Spoonbill & Sugartown in Brooklyn, New York, to the curious Baldwin’s Book Barn in Pennsylvania, to idiosyncratic shops in the U.K., Germany, Austria and more. Along the way you’ll meet the owners who have made bookselling their lives’ work and art. They share how they came to the trade, what makes their shops unique and why the work—and the books themselves, of course—continues to matter so darn much in an age of, well, you know. I want to visit every single one of these bookstores, but that’s probably a tall order. Just knowing they exist, and holding this gorgeous artifact in my hands, feels like enough.

The Kitchen Without Borders

The other night my husband fixed a delicious Syrian meal: ma’areena soup, a bit like pasta Bolognese but decidedly different thanks to a seven-spice blend common to Middle Eastern cooking. We found this dish in The Kitchen Without Borders, a cookbook from Eat Offbeat, a New York City-based catering company that works with immigrant and refugee chefs. Eat Offbeat honors and shares the “special food memories our chefs have brought with them,” write Wissam Kahi and Manal Kahi, Lebanese siblings who began their careers with the simple wish to share their Syrian grandmother’s hummus. The book features dishes from Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and more. Profiles of the chefs appear between recipes for dishes such as fattoush, musabbaha (chickpea salad) and chicken shawarma. It feels like a true global community endeavor.

The Book of Difficult Fruit

Twenty-six fruits, A to Z, form the basis for poet and pie-maker Kate Lebo’s lovely, meandering essays in The Book of Difficult Fruit. Beginning with aronia, or chokeberry, Lebo weaves personal stories with facts from nature and science, resulting in a difficult-to-classify literary and culinary exploration—the best kind, in my opinion. Ever wondered what exactly a maraschino cherry is? Lebo will tell you, and then she’ll tell you about the almond flavor of stone-fruit pits, and then about cherry trees in her backyard, and about a strange brush with new neighbors, and about how to make real maraschino cherries. And on you go, through durian and elderberry, through Norton grape and Osage orange, all the way to zucchini—a curious, lyrical, alphabetical adventure.

Take a journey around the globe via the bookstores, recipes and fruits featured in this month’s lifestyles roundup.

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