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All Body, Mind & Spirit Coverage

The wellness industry offers a seductive promise: If you work hard, are dedicated and buy this shiny new thing, then you, too, can have the healthy, beautiful life you’ve always dreamed of. But for journalist Rina Raphael, that dream sounds too good to be true. In her new book, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care, Raphael delves into the history of the wellness industry and explores why it’s booming—and what that means for society.

With wit and a keen eye for research, Raphael explains that “the wellness industry isn’t well.” An industry that began with fad diets and exercise has morphed into a trillion-dollar behemoth that’s trying to sell health with a side of spirituality. In a world that feels totally off its axis, the wellness industry offers women (it’s almost always women) a feeling of meaning and control over their lives. Its products fill the vacuum left by a sexist medical industry that discounts and misdiagnoses women, forcing them to look elsewhere for answers. Stressed and overworked, women can’t individually fight the systemic issues facing them, but they can perhaps buy a Peloton or a jade roller. In doing so, as Raphael explains, the wellness industry convinces women that it’s possible to buy their way to a happy, stress-free life while allowing them to ignore the systemic issues that make them stressed to begin with.

But there’s more. Raphael insightfully argues that wellness and health are industry code words that cloak their real meanings: thin. The purposeful conflation of being thin with being healthy is what drives the obsession with yoga, detox teas, expensive fitness classes, “clean” eating, $135 coffee enemas and vaginal steaming kits. But as Raphael reveals, an obsession with being thin often means ignoring what’s actually healthy.

Throughout the book, Raphael attends many wellness events and speaks to industry leaders. Her descriptions of these interactions are where her writing shines most and comes alive. It’s also where the focus of the book comes into sharp view—where she shows the real human beings perpetuating the hype. All together, The Gospel of Wellness exposes the spectacle, the splendor and the emptiness behind the curtain.

Rina Raphael exposes the emptiness behind the spectacle and splendor of the trillion-dollar wellness industry.
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Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey has created a startling, generous new work in Rest Is Resistance. Grounding her debut book in Black liberation theology, abolitionist traditions and Afrofuturism, Hersey provides a blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health and social progress.

Hersey delineates American society as one in crisis. Through research and personal anecdotes, she demonstrates how our culture has systematically prioritized the generation of wealth above our health, happiness and stability—and subsequently romanticized this dysfunction as “grind culture” or “hustle culture.” For Hersey, embracing rest is an inherent rebuke of a violent system built on coerced labor and white supremacy. It is an intentional opt-out of an ideology that demands the labor of Black women while deriding us as lazy. She is also quick to denounce the modern wellness industry that has commodified and individualized self-care as something that can be packaged and sold (candles, shakes, crystals, etc.).

As part of this rejection of “shallow wellness work,” Hersey does more than just explain the problems of modern capitalism; she also provides practical methods of resistance through a variety of resting practices. Hersey argues that prayer, daydreams, sleep and intense laughter are not just enjoyable but sacred balms. But at the forefront of this work is the understanding that these spiritual practices go beyond the individual. According to Hersey, cultivating rest honors the labor of our ancestors and promises a better world for our descendants.

Hersey’s prose is exquisitely beautiful, dripping with lyrical grace and wisdom that make her background as a poet and scholar obvious. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler and bell hooks are named inspirations for her craft, and their work echoes throughout Hersey’s thinking. “I don’t want a seat at the table of the oppressor,” Hersey writes as she dreams of a better future for us all. “I want a blanket and pillow down by the ocean.” Rest Is Resistance is a book to read and reread with a pen in hand and pad beside you; one that you will find yourself wanting to give to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey provides an exquisite blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health.

When British author Katherine May released her debut book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, in 2020, the editors of BookPage became deeply obsessed. (Forming a cult was briefly discussed, but the thought was ultimately abandoned as cults require too much administrative work.) We knew right away that this was a book to return to year after year, a ritual to bring us comfort during the months when sunlight grows sparse and we need someone to remind us how to embrace the darkness.

Since then, readers the world over have been enchanted by May’s flowing, rhythmic writing, both in Wintering and in her follow-up book, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, about walking the southwestern coast of England as May reckoned with the realization that she is autistic. Her next book, Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age, is one of our most anticipated books of 2023, and this description from Riverhead will make it clear why:

Many of us feel trapped in a grind of constant change: rolling news cycles, the chatter of social media, our families split along partisan lines. We feel fearful and tired, on edge in our bodies, not quite knowing what has us perpetually depleted. For Katherine May, this low hum of fatigue and anxiety made her wonder what she was missing. Could there be a different way to relate to the world, one that would allow her feel more rested and at ease, even as seismic changes unfold on the planet? Might there be a way for all of us to move through life with curiosity and tenderness, sensitized to the subtle magic all around?

In Enchantment, May invites the reader to come with her on a journey to reawaken our innate sense of wonder and awe. With humor, candor, and warmth, she shares stories of her own struggles with work, family, and the aftereffects of pandemic, particularly the feelings of overwhelm as the world rushes to reopen. Craving a different way to live, May begins to explore the restorative properties of the natural world, moving through the elements of earth, water, fire, and air, and identifying the quiet traces of magic that can be found only when we look for them. Through deliberate attention and ritual, she unearths the potency and nourishment that come from quiet reconnection with our immediate environment. Blending lyricism and storytelling, sensitivity and empathy, Enchantment invites each of us to open the door to human experience in all its sensual complexity, and to find the beauty waiting for us there.


Here’s what the author had to say about why Enchantment is such an essential book for our times:

Enchantment asks how we live after we’ve survived difficult times. We’re all reeling from so many aftermaths, and I wanted to explore how we can find sanctuary again. Enchantment is a book about noticing, cutting through the brain fog and despair to reconnect with our sense of delight and wonder at the world around us. As I wrote it, I felt like I was uncovering a seam of magic that I’d forgotten how to sense.”

—Katherine May

Enchantment will be available at your local bookstore or library on March 7, 2023, and you can preorder it here. Until then, feast your eyes on and whet your appetite with this beautiful cover.


Enchantment by Katherine May
Enchantment by Katherine May, to be published March 7, 2023, by Riverhead Books

Cover art by Lauren Peters-Collaer/Riverhead Books

We’re thrilled to reveal the cover of the newest book from Katherine May, bestselling author of Wintering.
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★ 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.
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The losses continue to mount as we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this grief is still new, weathering sorrow is as old as humanity. Four authors offer hidden paths toward healing.

Bittersweet

Like Quiet, Susan Cain’s bestselling book on introversion, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole eschews American cultural norms like mandatory happiness and productivity in favor of other more fertile traditions, such as Aristotle’s concept of melancholia. Cain asks provocative questions like, “What’s the use of sadness?” and seeks answers through academic studies, insightful interviews and vulnerable self-reflection. A standout example is her interaction with Dacher Keltner, a psychologist who helped Pixar understand the crucial role of sadness in Inside Out. Sadness, he says, is what brings people together and adds depth to joy.

Bittersweetness is both a feeling and a disposition. (The book includes a quiz for readers to determine if they are bittersweet by nature.) Experiencing bittersweetness heightens life’s poignancy, opens the door to transcendence and helps people acknowledge the impermanence of existence. It is reasonable to be sad, Cain explains, when one is deeply aware that life can change in an instant. Grief and trauma may even be inherited. But when we explore these bittersweet feelings, we begin to see ourselves and our world a bit differently, with more depth, and can finally find new paths forward. As one of Cain’s sources Rene Denfeld put it, “We have to hold our losses close, and carry them like beloved children. Only when we accept these terrible pains do we realize that the path across is the one that takes us through.”

Read our starred review of the audiobook, read by author Susan Cain.

Grief Is Love

Marisa Renee Lee focuses on how grief is actually a painful expression of love in Grief Is Love: Living With Loss. When Lee was 25, her mother died of cancer in her arms. Afterward she held a beautiful memorial and started a nonprofit in her mother’s honor, yet she found herself unable to deal with the gnawing grief that clouded her inner life. Every big moment reminded her of her mother’s absence, especially her wedding and her miscarriage. Healing came, but all too slowly.

Grief Is Love is organized around 10 lessons related to grief, touching on topics such as safety, grace and intimacy. Lee carefully considers the impact of identity (gender, race, sexuality, class and so on) on mourning, noting at several points how society’s expectations of Black women—that they’ll be strong and keep their pain to themselves—slowed her own grieving process. Readers of this memoir will get a clear sense of how Lee’s grief rocked her world at 25 and continued to reverberate well into her 30s, but they’ll also appreciate the ways of coping she’s found since then—ones she wouldn’t have allowed or even recognized during those early days. Lee describes the long haul of loss and speaks directly and compassionately to those who are experiencing it. She also takes comfort in her faith and even imagines her mother and unborn child meeting in heaven.

The Other Side of Yet

Media executive and former television producer Michelle D. Hord explores the twin griefs for her mother and her child in The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness. Hord pulls the word yet from the book of Job, which was a lifeline following her daughter’s horrific murder by Hord’s estranged husband, the child’s father. The Bible describes how Job lost everything and yet still believed. This describes Hord, too, who treasures her “defiant faith.”

In The Other Side of Yet, Hord offers readers a framework for facing life after a traumatic event using the acronym SPIRIT (survive, praise, impact, reflect, imagine, testify). Though Hord’s book is not organized around these directives, her own story does follow this path. To read Hord’s memoir is to witness a mother who lost everything and yet stood to tell the tale and dared to remain vulnerable.

Take What You Need

Jen Crow’s life also fell apart, but not because she lost someone beloved. Instead, the sudden tragedy of a house fire provided the impetus for Take What You Need: Life Lessons After Losing Everything. Crow, a Unitarian minister, may seem an unlikely candidate for a spiritual guide: She loves tattoos and the open road and spent years defying anyone who got in her way as she ran from her difficult childhood. After settling down and finally feeling safe, a literal bolt of lightning changed her life in an instant.

Almost immediately after the fire, Crow realized that the way she and her wife talked about the tragedy would impact their children. “I wanted them to hear our gratitude, not our fear,” she writes. So they took special care in framing the story they told about the fire, never describing it as a form of punishment or “proof that hardship never ends.” As Crow searched for a better way to interpret their situation, she found herself learning from her children, who comforted each other instinctively, crawling into bed together and crying. Observing them, Crow considered that grieving might be as natural to people as any other process in life, and that they might already possess what they need to persevere.

Across these books about suffering and healing, there is a practical and poetic need to surrender to what is overwhelming. Each book points to the power of faith and spiritual traditions to guide people outside of their own perspectives, where they can finally see themselves with lovingkindness, accept their losses and keep going.

Four nonfiction titles offer comfort, empathy and wisdom to those who are reeling from loss.
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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.
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Jessamyn Stanley’s guide to the ancient practice of yoga turned out to be deeper and more demanding than she ever imagined. The author of Every Body Yoga shares the revelations that shaped her second mold-breaking book about yoga, Yoke.


When I pitched Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance to my publisher, I thought I knew what it would contain. I knew I would have to talk about internalized racism, sexual assault, capitalism and cultural appropriation. Mind you, this was in 2017, before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered for all the world to see and before white people were forced to stop pretending racism doesn’t exist. But when I actually started tickling the keys, the book became about much more than what a marketing pitch could contain.

I definitely thought Yoke would be about offering tips and tricks for navigating an ancient practice in modern times. But in the process of writing it, I realized the most important way to teach yoga has nothing to do with other people. The way to teach yoga is by authentically living it. Even the most gifted and inspiring teachers will only lead you to the teacher inside yourself, and they can only do that by being fully themselves.

Writing Yoke led me down a lot of philosophical rabbit holes. I ended up spending a solid year of the manuscript-writing process solely on research. I dove headfirst into American yoga’s history and theory, and I was forced to come to terms with the intersection between American history and American yoga history—how both have bloomed in the soil of white supremacy. I gained a deeper respect for the differences between American yoga and Classical yoga, and all the while, I was forced to interrogate myself.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Yoke.


For example, I was excited to write about cultural appropriation among yoga practitioners, and if I’m honest, I was excited to tell other people how to best live their lives. I’ve always been a know-it-all in that way. But once the dust settled, I realized I don’t have anything to offer readers beyond being open and honest about the ways that I appropriate other cultures. 

Similarly, I was excited to write about racism and the ways it crops up in the yoga world, mostly because I was excited to air my grievances against all the white yoga people who have annoyed me over the years. But it didn’t take long to recognize that I have nothing to say to white people that I don’t first need to say to myself. I found that I needed to accept the ways in which I embody racism—first against myself and then against others.

Writing Yoke made me examine parts of myself I’ve never wanted to acknowledge and generally prefer to ignore. I didn’t know what it would take to get real about this shit. I didn’t realize there’d be so much crying. I didn’t know writing the truth would feel like disemboweling myself. I thought the whole thing would be a little more dignified than bawling into my laptop for weeks on end. But accepting my shame was the price I paid in pursuit of my truth. 

I will say, though: It’s one thing to accept that you’re a messy bitch. It’s completely different to ask other people to read about it.

“I didn’t know what it would take to get real about this shit. I didn’t realize there’d be so much crying.”

Some of Yoke cuts very close to the bone for me. Yoga may be about accepting the truth of yourself, but the truth I tell in Yoke is one I was always told not to tell. The truth that I’ve been running from. The truth that no one wants to see in the light. And reading the truth without rose-tinted glasses can be painful. 

I think Yoke will be inspiring even to people who have never practiced yoga, people who are not Black, fat or queer and people who’ve never been sexually assaulted. No matter your background, we all embody contradictions and feel pain. We all find identity at the heart of intersections. But our intersections are also founts of compassion—first for ourselves, then for others. This is true now more than ever, when we’re being asked as a society to reckon with the sins of our collective past in order to move forward. Yoke is a microexample of a process that’s needed on a very macro level.

I wrote this book because I had to tell the truth, even if I came out on the other end looking like an asshole. That’s who I am. I am problematic. I say the wrong thing. I am offensive. But I think that by letting my stank-ass baggage hang out, I can make space for other people to accept themselves as well.

 

Author photo © Cornell Watson

Jessamyn Stanley’s guide to the ancient practice of yoga turned out to be deeper and more demanding than she ever imagined. The author of Every Body Yoga shares the revelations that shaped her second mold-breaking book about yoga, Yoke.
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Got goals for 2018? Yeah, we thought so. For gentle motivation, practical guidance and fresh ideas on how to make this the best year yet, check out the inspiring books below.

FIX YOUR FINANCES
January is the ideal time to size up your fiscal situation. If the prospect of looking at your checking account puts you in a panic, then pick up a copy of Chelsea Fagan’s The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money. This handy manual is packed with concise, clear advice on fundamentals like maintaining a personal budget and building credit. Fagan, a journalist and successful blogger, strikes a breezy, cordial tone on the page. Untangling knotty topics such as investing and retirement planning, she delivers a crash course in economics that’s informative and—yes!—enjoyable.

Featuring invaluable insights from a wide range of financial experts, The Financial Diet also includes economical recipes, tips for getting more mileage out of your wardrobe and smart suggestions for stretching that paycheck. “Saving money isn’t about depriving yourself,” Fagan says. “It’s about deciding you love Future You as much as you love Today You.” With a nifty layout by designer Lauren Ver Hage, this appealing book can help you make 2018 the year of spending—and saving—wisely.

BE YOUR BEST SELF
Does your 2018 to-do list include learning to love yourself? If the answer is yes, then here’s your next need-to-read title: Sarah Knight’s inspiring You Do You: How to Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want. An author with attitude (her 2015 book was titled The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck), Knight uses humor and a bold, cut-to-the-chase style to lay out strategies for avoiding what she calls Lowest Common Denominator Living—a follow-the-crowd mindset that smothers individuality.

Knight instead champions learning to identify—and successfully express—your needs and letting go of the expectations of others. And the concept of perfection that permeates our culture? Knight can show you how to tune it out and turn your weaknesses into assets. A self-esteem essential, You Do You will empower you to take risks and take charge of every aspect of your life. Self-love (not to mention like) can’t be achieved overnight, but Knight’s book will get you started.

REFINE YOUR CHARM
French femmes—self-possessed and effortlessly elegant—are the envy of women around the world. What gives them that extra edge? According to bestselling author Jamie Cat Callan, it’s charm, a quality the French appear to have perfected. In Parisian Charm School, Callan shows you how to cultivate the trait through a transformative take on life that includes practical steps for nurturing your own unique appeal.

In chapters enlivened by warm personal anecdotes and inspiring quotes, Callan provides assignments that will nudge you out of your routine and get you engaged with others. She offers instruction in charm-related undertakings, like how to plan a world-class dinner party (and command attention at said fête) and how to flirt effectively (yes, it’s possible to do this without sacrificing your dignity). She also recommends easy wardrobe adjustments with advice on wearing the bold colors you’ve always loved but may have been too much of a wallflower to try. Stepping out of your comfort zone will put you on the path to attaining Parisian allure. “Trust your heart,” Callan counsels. “Say yes. And bring the flowers.” Très charmant!

PICK UP A HABIT
Meditation: It’s one of those polarizing practices that seems to have as many detractors as devotees. ABC News anchor Dan Harris was a longtime doubter of the discipline—until he experienced a panic attack on live TV. In an effort to manage his anxiety, he turned to meditation, and it was a choice that transformed his life. Harris chronicled his conversion experience in his bestselling 2014 memoir, 10% Happier. In his new book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, co-authored with meditation teacher Jeff Warren and journalist Carlye Adler, Harris aims to find out why so many folks are resistant to the ritual. Hopping aboard the 10% Happier tour bus with the free-spirited Warren as his sidekick, Harris tours 18 states and talks to people from all walks of life about what keeps them from taking the meditation plunge. The reasons range from lack of time to boredom with the routine. Harris counters these and other impediments with practical advice on starting—and sticking with—a meditation regimen, and he offers easy techniques for neophytes. Harris’ book will revise your ideas about the ancient exercise and help you feel more focused in the months to come.

CHEAT ON YOUR DIET
Taking a more mindful approach to nutrition is a post-holiday objective many of us set for ourselves. Whether you’re trying to break a serial snacking habit or focus on long-term weight loss, you should take a look at Aaron Carroll’s The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully. In this informative, accessible book, Carroll, a doctor and healthcare expert, sifts through the research, advice and straight-up hype surrounding diets to reveal that some of the foods we view as off-limits aren’t as awful as we think.

According to Carroll, we can once again make room on our plates for red meat, eggs, dairy and bread. He discusses these and other controversial culinary categories in the book, stressing the significance of moderation along the way. “More important than what you’re eating is how you’re eating it—especially how often and how much,” he says. The book has plenty of sensible tips for maintaining a healthy diet, such as cooking nutritious dishes at home and making each meal a communal affair. After all, Carroll says, food is meant to be enjoyed. Here’s to a delicious new year!

 

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Got goals for 2018? Yeah, we thought so. For gentle motivation, practical guidance and fresh ideas on how to make this the best year yet, check out the inspiring books below.

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In this month's roundup of new lifestyles books, witchy recipes, spooky treats and meat-eating plants provide the seasonal escapism we all crave.


★ A Kitchen Witch’s Guide to Recipes for Love & Romance

Food gives us energy; food is energy. This framing of cooking as a blend of mindful practice and energy work, right alongside reiki and acupuncture, is at the root of Dawn Aurora Hunt’s A Kitchen Witch’s Guide to Recipes for Love & Romance. Adding witchcraft to the mix—think candles, smudge sticks, essential oils, mantras—takes things from healthy and delicious to sensual sorcery. Bow tie pasta with lemon and artichokes, when paired with the practice of “creating a sacred space for enriching love and togetherness,” becomes a way to rekindle the flame and honor a season of new beginnings. Peaches and cream? Way sexier with a sigil carved into the peach flesh. Grab your wooden spoons, some white sage and a box of matches, and make some kitchen magic for—and with—your partner.

The Wicked Baker

The Wicked Baker is Helena Garcia’s celebration of all treats spooky and strange. If you take even the eensiest dram of pleasure from Halloween, you’ll enjoy every page. A Cousin Itt made of shredded phyllo wears round green spectacles of gingerbread dough. A cake resembling a black candle drips blood-red “wax” icing. Many of these complex creations are not for the faint of heart. But hey, the Brain Cinnamon Rolls sound manageable, and I’m game to whip up the pale green Slime Pudding that’s little more than Greek yogurt, condensed milk and citrus. This book brings the holiday escapism we all crave.

Killer Plants

Killer Plants is your go-to for carnivorous cultivars like bladderworts, pitcher plants and Venus’ flytraps. “The plants in this book present a bit of a challenge to their keepers,” author Molly Williams tells us upfront. That is, they’re pretty persnickety when it comes to care—they insist upon distilled water and special potting mix, for starters—but are possibly worth it for the weird-and-rare factor if you’re a plant-hound. Williams even goes a step further in a section on “Rare Carnivorous Plants You May Never Find,” which reads like an episode of “Nature.” Niche though these plants may be, entire shops and societies around the world are devoted to them. A list of contacts rounds out the book, so you can go forth and find your fellow killer-plant people.

In this month's roundup of new lifestyles books, witchy recipes, spooky treats and meat-eating plants provide the seasonal escapism we all crave. ★ A Kitchen Witch’s Guide to Recipes for Love & Romance Food gives us energy; food is energy. This framing of cooking as a blend of mindful practice and energy work, right alongside reiki […]

Many gourmands are restless from hunkering down these past several months, and the added cold weather is enough to make anyone a bit stir-crazy. But never fear—we’ve rounded up five books that are sure to warm hearts as well as ovens.

Bread Therapy

Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art of Baking Bread couldn’t have come at a better time. Ever since quarantine renewed people’s interest in making home-cooked food for themselves and their loved ones, baking supplies have been flying off the shelves. Yeast is a rare and precious commodity. Sourdough starters are the stars of Instagram. As a university counselor, Pauline Beaumont understands the therapeutic qualities of baking, which takes people out of their comfort zones and allows them to make mistakes. This book’s seven chapters highlight these ideals, intertwining words of wisdom with some interesting bread recipes, such as spinach flatbread and dill and beet bread. As much a self-help book as a cookbook, Bread Therapy is a welcome instructional guide to practicing self-acceptance, staying grounded and making something delicious.

A Field Guide to Cheese 

And what better to top your bread with than cheese? A Field Guide to Cheese: How to Select, Enjoy, and Pair the World’s Best Cheeses is a cheese lover’s dream, educating aficionados through gorgeous pictures and fun, colorful graphics. Cheese expert and journalist Tristan Sicard lays out the book nicely, starting off with “A Quick Chronology of Cheese” that spans from 5000 B.C. to the present day. This is followed by a diagram of dairy breeds—not only cow but also goat, sheep and even buffalo. The 11 families of cheese are also outlined, including information about color, texture, recommended serving tools and emblematic varieties. Finally, each cheese gets its own entry, with over 400 individual profiles in all, including the dairy breed, region of origin, an enticing illustration and a brief description. Further information is given about pairing, preparing and serving cheese, and there’s even a section about how to properly wrap cheese for storage. 

Very Merry Cocktails

Although cheese is usually paired with wine, a creative connoisseur might enjoy a slice with some of the fun drinks featured in Very Merry Cocktails: 50+ Festive Drinks for the Holiday Season. Food writer Jessica Strand (Cooking for Two) provides several helpful cocktail hints, including a list of useful bar tools (stocking stuffer ideas, anyone?), syrup and garnish recipes and tips on how to rim a glass with sugar or salt. Five chapters of holiday cocktail recipes follow, including champagne sippers, holiday party punches and nonalcoholic libations. The recipes are innovative and easy to follow, such as Christmas in July, a tropical-inspired drink featuring crème de coconut, pineapple juice and rum for “when you’re craving warm summer days.” There are also festive twists on old favorites, such as the Moscow Reindeer, a riff on the gingery Moscow Mule. All are complemented by stylish midcentury-inspired photos that capture the season’s celebratory sparkle. 

Hungry Games

Perhaps the most unique spin on a cookbook for this holiday season is Hungry Games: A Delicious Book of Recipe Repairs, Word Searches & Crosswords for the Food Lover, essentially a cookbook of 50 recipes that each contain 10 mistakes for the reader to find. These “puzzles” are ranked in difficulty from easy (such as an apple crumble pie that instructs the baker to toss the apples with pears) to hard (a peach galette that says to mix water with red wine vinegar to make the dough, when it should actually be white distilled vinegar). Luckily there’s an answer key to check your culinary skill, as well as lots of food-themed crosswords and word searches. The result is an unusual and fun gift for the foodie who has everything.

The Best American Food Writing 2020

The 25 short essays in The Best American Food Writing 2020 were actually written in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t make them any less thoughtful or relevant. This year’s editor, the chef and author J. Kenji López-Alt (The Food Lab), writes that although he’s afraid “the book will read like a time capsule,” the pieces he’s selected are still significant to the future of food writing. Topics from substance abuse in restaurant kitchens and the burgeoning global market for baby food, to Jamie Oliver’s eccentric stardom and how spring water is bottled are tackled with humor and consequence, as well as a bit of history mixed in to provide a touchstone between the past and present. All of these wide-ranging pieces were originally published in sources typically known for provocative food writing, such as Eater, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Having them all in one place is a boon for the Epicurean reader.

If you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for the gastronome in your life, these books will keep them engaged long after the table’s been cleared.

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In this strange and difficult year, we’ve all learned how to seek out and find silver linings. Here’s one: At a moment when we could all use a gift that says “Everything is going to be OK,” these five books thoughtfully send that message.

Get Out of My Head

Sized perfectly for a stocking or a shoulder bag, Meredith Arthur’s Get Out of My Head is like a soothing visit with a therapist who’s there to take your call at any time. This one is for the overthinkers, those of us who let our thoughts take us down the wrong rabbit holes. People can experience physical symptoms like headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea as a result of stress and anxiety. The challenge, which this little book gently helps us meet, is to recognize the signals of a stress-based physical reaction, then deploy specific moves like visualization, breathing techniques and other thought and sensory controls. Maybe lasting calm is more difficult to achieve, but trust me, this book has the right idea. Leah Rosenberg’s cheerful illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this digestible and portable guide.

The Panic Button Book

Taking a different but no less tidy approach to stress, anxiety and typical relational woes, The Panic Button Book is set up as a series of flowcharts in response to questions like “Do you and your partner have different standards when it comes to housework/ambition/money/other?”, “Are you dreading an upcoming event?” and “Are your muscles feeling tense?” The questions, which author Tammi Kirkness organizes into categories such as work, socializing, relationships and parenting, pinpoint both difficult feelings and physical concerns while reminding us that there’s a shared awkwardness to being human, and we can take some solace in simply acknowledging that commonality. There’s also comfort to be found in paging through this book and thinking, nope, that’s not my problem right now. When you find a question that rings true to your current concern, the facing page will guide you, step by step, in coping constructively so you can move on.

★ Wintering

There are times in life, however, when you may just have to sit with the struggle. This is what writer Katherine May calls a wintering, “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.” May tells the story of one such period in her life in Wintering, which begins when her husband falls ill with appendicitis, setting off a chain of events that leaves her sidelined from work and her usual industrious lifestyle. In beautiful prose, she shows us that there are benefits to leaning in to these difficult times, even though our culture is set up to resist them. “An occasional sharp wintering would do us good,” she writes. “We must stop believing that these times in our life are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. . . . We must learn to invite the winter in.”

May’s story follows the course of the actual winter months, so that it’s about both a time of loneliness and the challenge of the chilliest, most barren season. She is a poetic observer of the natural world, and quotable lines abound. “The cold renders everything exquisite,” she writes of a morning frost. “Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.” I want to share Wintering with all my friends who experience the winter blues, and keep a copy close at hand for the inevitable winterings of my own life.

Plant Therapy

One thing that brings me cheer during winter is my collection of happy houseplants, and science backs me up on this. Plant Therapy dives deep into research that shows we could all stand to be more connected to the natural world; indeed, distance from it may be one of the chief causes of our discontent. Bringing some green into our homes is one small but significant step toward nourishing a relationship with nature. Therapist Katie Cooper begins by presenting the environmental, physiological, cognitive and affective benefits of proximity to plants, then shows us how making houseplants part of our indoor lives is a study in positive reciprocity: As we care for them, they will care for us.

Be Water, My Friend

Once you’ve got your new plant buddies positioned nearby, consider curling up with Be Water, My Friend from Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee. The martial arts icon is remembered and revered for his philosophy as much as for his physical prowess, and here, readers are given the opportunity to learn from the legend. “The idea of being like water is to attempt to embody the qualities of fluidity and naturalness in one’s life,” Lee writes. “Water can adjust its shape to any container, it can be soft or strong, it is simply and naturally always itself, and it finds a way to keep moving and flowing.” Lee shares stories from her father’s life and her own to illuminate how curiosity and a graceful flexibility can serve us all, no matter what life throws our way.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Love audiobooks? Check out Be Water, My Friend and other nonfiction audiobook picks.

At a moment when we could all use a gift that says “Everything is going to be OK,” these five books thoughtfully send that message.

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