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All Crafts, Hobbies & Home Coverage

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.

This month’s new lifestyles books are an eclectic mix that make quite a splash—from menopause advice to wild patterns of wallpaper to whimsical nudges to try new things.

 What Fresh Hell Is This?

Remember Gen X? No? That’s fine, no one does. But hey, we’re out here, and we’re heading into midlife and its many crises. Good thing we have Heather Corinna with us along for the bumpy ride, like the whip-smart, sardonic friend you used to hang with at punk shows who’s now armed with a metric ton of hard-earned wisdom about the endocrine system, advice for vasomotor freakouts and edibles. A longtime champion of feminist health, Corinna has previously written books for teens and tweens about bodies, sexuality and relationships. Their new book, What Fresh Hell Is This?, is a brilliantly irreverent and disruptive addition to the menopause survival/triumph category. Corinna writes forthrightly about their own experience, describing it as “not great in the way that, say, the 2016 US presidential election was not great.” They put their activist mojo to use in a guide that argues forcefully for new thinking about perimenopause, with a lot of laughs—and comics and Mad Libs!—along the way. Game changed.

Jungalow

Have you always been a sucker for luscious displays of color, pattern and texture in your personal space? Or, after a year of staying home, are you fed up with your minimalist, white-walled temple and ready to splash bright shades and wallpaper everywhere? Maybe you just need a gorgeous, aspirational coffee-table book to page through while you wait for the takeout to arrive. If your answer to any of these possibilities is yes, then the new Justina Blakeney will be your jam. Fans of her wildly successful The New Bohemians (I am one) will swoon over Jungalow: Decorate Wild. Never afraid to go big on a multiplicity of patterns, Blakeney asserts that “mixing is magic” and shows us how it’s done. Biophilia gets a loving nod here, too, with a chapter on how to work houseplants into your wild style. Prepare to be dazzled.

A Year of Weeks

Seven days is a short but solid amount of time to try something new—too brief, perhaps, to lead to a new habit, but sure to bring a sense of accomplishment, or at least satisfied amusement. Can you commit to doing one new thing for a single week? Sure you can, says Erica Root in A Year of Weeks. Cute as can be, this fully hand-drawn interactive workbook contains 52 prompts, from whimsical to practical, nudging us to draw, put on our thinking caps, be kind, follow our curiosity and so on. Show gratitude, notice everyday beauty, clean one thing, help someone or write someone a note. Design seven new socks or bookmarks or coffee mugs or hairstyles! In each case, you’re aiming for seven consecutive days of trying out your selected task, and Root’s drawings invite you to record evidence of your efforts right in the book. Pick up two copies: one for you and one for a pal or family member, because a little friendly accountability will only make the challenges sweeter.

This month’s new lifestyles books are an eclectic mix that make quite a splash—from menopause advice to wild patterns of wallpaper to whimsical nudges to try new things.

This month’s selection of the best new lifestyles titles offers gentle reminders to connect to the earth, ask for directions and breathe.

The Healing Garden

Two of the first things you’ll see in The Healing Garden are a close-up of a hummingbird cupped in author Deb Soule’s hand and an acknowledgment that her herbal farm occupies Indigenous people’s ancestral lands. Together, these things set a lovely tone for her new guide to herbalism. The founder of Avena Botanicals and author of How to Move Like a Gardener, Soule has cultivated healing plants and worked with them for medicine and wellness for more than four decades. Her wisdom comes with a gentle summons to mindfulness and a plea to embrace a broader awareness of nature’s cycles. She walks us through drying herbs for teas and infusions and guides us in making tinctures, vinegars, honeys, oils and more. Individual profiles of 18 healing plants dig deep into the history and properties of each, along with tips for growing and processing. Both practical and mystical, this is a beautiful, heartfelt guide to an ancient field of study that is experiencing renewed interest.

Directions

I almost let Hallie Bateman’s Directions slip past. What can I say? I’m a Taurus, and I don’t always love being told what to do, so affirmations in large quantities make me queasy. But once I started paging through this colorful, scrappy little book, I couldn’t stop, and I might have even smiled. A few personal faves:

“Dance and encourage dancing but don’t force anyone to dance.” 

“Apply lotion regularly and generously. Get old anyway.”

“Conjure specialness from thin air. Invent holidays, traditions, and surprises. (Duck Day, Ice Cream Tuesday, etc.)”

This would be a fun one to leave by the bed in a guest room or an Airbnb, since almost anyone will find a direction or two that resonates with them. Happily, Bateman’s book has prompted me to explore her larger body of work; her Instagram account is one to follow.

Simplicity at Home

I’ve been daydreaming about travel; haven’t we all? I yearn to wander a new city, to chance upon an exquisite shop where the artfully arranged goods and decor and lighting and background music all work in tandem to create an immersive experience. Yumiko Sekine’s shop in Tokyo, Fog Linen Work, would surely fit the bill, but for now we have Simplicity at Home, which presents Sekine’s “joyful minimalist” way of living and thoughtful devotion to reusing, repairing and creating harmony with the seasons. The pages are filled with neutrals, spare arrangements of housewares like small ceramic bowls and wooden spoons, neatly folded cloths, bright bunches of vegetables, tiny seeds on white plates, a clutch of flowering branches in a clear glass jar—and of course, delicately rumpled linen for days. If home is a bit suffocating lately, take a trip through this book, make some cold noodles for lunch, fold your socks and breathe.

This month’s selection of the best new lifestyles titles offers gentle reminders to connect to the earth, ask for directions and breathe.

The writing workshop, the cottagecore aesthetic and, that's right, the humble bean all get exciting updates in this month's crop of lifestyles books.

★ Craft in the Real World

Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World is a book whose time has come, and not a moment too soon. A critique of long-held assumptions about how creative writing should be taught, it is “a challenge to accepted models,” including “everything from a character-­driven plot to the ‘cone of silence,’ ” which silences a manuscript’s author while their piece is being workshopped. Salesses, who is the author of three novels, invites the reader to rethink the very notion of what constitutes craft and offers alternatives to a workshop model proliferated by, and largely for, white men. The world has changed, and the writing workshop must catch up. An essential addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in creative writing, Salesses’ text provides a compassionate approach sure to bring a new generation of authentic voices to the page.

The Mighty Bean

All hail the humble bean: Nutrient-rich, central to cuisines worldwide, inexpensive, easy to cook and with a low carbon footprint, beans are truly a power food. With her new book, The Mighty Bean, Judith Choate, author of An American Family Cooks, is our guide through the vast world of legumes, beginning with a bean glossary. (What wonderful names these little guys have: Rattlesnake! Eye of the goat! Black valentine!) With recipes ranging from Texas caviar to West African peanut soup to white bean gnocchi with bacon and cream, this cookbook travels the globe through “pulses” (another name for beans, and a tidbit I’m delighted to have picked up here) and encourages experimentation. I’m feeling inspired to shop the Rancho Gordo site ASAP. 

The Little Book of Cottagecore

I first heard the word cottagecore from my 12-year-old daughter, likely my informant for all trends henceforth. For the uninitiated, cottagecore is a way of being—an aesthetic, a vibe, if you will—exalting the soothing textures and gentle rhythms of pastoral life. “It focuses on unplugging from the stresses of modern life and instead embracing the wholesomeness and authenticity of nature,” explains Emily Kent in The Little Book of Cottage­core. A cottage­core existence might include relaxing tasks such as baking bread, gardening and pouring your own candles—though I have to wonder how truly calm one may feel when feeding a sourdough starter or smoking the hives or coping with tomato blight. (Forgive me. I’ve suffered my share of frustrations during various vaguely cottagecore endeavors.) But simply brewing a cup of proper English tea is entry-level cottagecore that anyone can enjoy.

The writing workshop, the cottagecore aesthetic and, that’s right, the humble bean all get exciting updates in this month’s crop of lifestyles books.

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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