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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.

Although sheepshearing typically involves a bit of frustrated grunting from shearer and shearee alike, when done right, the act can resemble a ballet: two bodies bending and swooping in sync, the whirring of wickedly sharp clipper blades their only accompaniment. As readers will learn in Peggy Orenstein’s illuminating, informative and often funny Unraveling: What I Learned About Life While Shearing Sheep, Dyeing Wool, and Making the World’s Ugliest Sweater, doing that dance with any grace takes a lot of practice.

It all happened during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, when the journalist and bestselling author decided that, rather than baking bread or gardening, she would fill her “indefinitely empty calendar” with a dream project: making a sweater from the ground up. The lifelong knitter was taught the craft by her beloved late mother; it “bridged the generation gap, created reliably neutral ground where we could meet,” Orenstein writes.

Over the course of Orenstein’s quest, a talented group of teachers shared their expertise and passion for ranching, shearing, spinning, dyeing and knitting. Along the way, she explores how textile creation has influenced human history and culture, from language (gathering wool and counting sheep) to politics (yarn-bombing and pussy hats) to pivotal inventions. For example, the spinning wheel “has been credited with everything from establishing trade routes . . . to catalyzing the Renaissance.”

But progress had an eventual cost. Today, “the fashion industry is an ecological disaster, responsible for more greenhouse gases than all international flights and maritime shipping combined,” Orenstein writes. Indeed, concern for the Earth’s uncertain future is woven throughout Unraveling. So, too, is the inexorable passage of time, as the author considers the “amount of sand at the bottom of my personal hourglass” and the ways her personal identity has shifted and changed.

Orenstein is an impressively intrepid figure throughout this charming and candid memoir in essays—even when her goal requires her to wrestle recalcitrant sheep and pick bugs and poop out of fleece. She even fully embraces the fact that her goal requires her to do something many people avoid: allowing “ourselves, as adults, to be in a position of being absolute rank amateurs.” Perfectly imperfect like a handmade sweater, Unraveling is an entertaining chronicle of a challenging year wonderfully well spent. Creativity and craft can soothe anxiety, encourage connection and spark joy; Orenstein’s book will do the same.

Creativity and craft can soothe anxiety, encourage connection and spark joy; Peggy Orenstein’s book about learning to make a sweater from scratch will do the same.
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Kelly Smith Trimble’s first title, Vegetable Gardening Wisdom, holds a face-out position on my bookshelves, ready for a quick consult. Her latest effort, The Creative Vegetable Gardener: 60 Ways to Cultivate Joy, Playfulness, and Beauty Along With a Bounty of Food, will give it some excellent company.

Humble in tone yet robust with expertise, this inspiring guide isn’t concerned so much with crop yields or pest control as it is with the sheer pleasure and wellness that gardening can bring. Trimble wants us to think outside the box—the quadrilateral raised bed, that is—and pursue spirals, hay bales, front yard settings and other methods for changing up our forays into cultivation. She encourages readers to garden for the mindfulness and surprise of it and counsels them to not get hung up on how many tomatoes they produce in a given year. And for most any common woe, she has a helpful suggestion. Lacking a full-sun backyard, as I am? Here’s a list of plants that will thrive under four hours of sun. Curious about permaculture or what the moon has to do with it all? Here’s your explainer.

Accessible for beginners but poised to shake up the thinking of the most seasoned dirt-gardener, Trimble’s new book covers lots of ground.

Kelly Smith Trimble’s inspiring guide isn’t concerned so much with crop yields or pest control as it is with the sheer pleasure that gardening can bring.
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If you are a fan of jaw-droppingly beautiful things, you have to check out Patchwork: A World Tour by textile designer and collector Catherine Legrand. I had never before thought about the similarities between, say, sampler quilts in the U.S. and kantha in India (cloth created out of stitched-together old garments); now I wonder how I could have missed it. From French courtepointe (patchworks of varying sizes, often used as bedspreads) to Korean bojagi (used to wrap gifts and other objects), this study crisscrosses the continents, “composed from fragments of human lives laid side by side in order to illustrate this global artform.”

Many of these fabrics’ and textile arts’ creators have humble origins; as Legrand notes, “patchwork is a practice that brings women together in a context of social exchange and community.” Taken as a whole, the fascinating works presented here celebrate human creativity, ingenuity and determination to use and preserve what we’ve got. You can’t possibly feel unmoved by the connections this book reveals and assembles, stitch by visible stitch.

The fascinating textile arts presented in Catherine Legrand’s Patchwork celebrate human creativity, ingenuity and determination to use and preserve what we’ve got.
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Lately I’ve been dabbling in watercolor, which makes Painting Calm feel like a gift from the gods. It’s full of exercises and tips for creating delicate paintings of leaves, flowers and various nature-inspired patterns.

Author Inga Buividavice’s own artwork is aspirational, to say the least, occupying a dreamy space between the detailed and the abstract, with gorgeous variations in value and color that blend seamlessly one into the next. Simple exercises, such as creating color swatches, reassure a beginner like me, and these can be enough on their own if what you’re wanting from watercolor is the meditative process. If you’re ready to create full-scale paintings, her instructions also cover specific brushes, brushstrokes and color palettes. I suspect I’ll be consulting this guide for years to come.

Inga Buividavice’s Painting Calm is full of exercises and tips for creating delicate watercolor paintings of leaves, flowers and various nature-inspired patterns.
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Have you ever created a leaf rubbing? Or painted one side of a natural object and then pressed it to paper to make a mirror image? If so, you’ve engaged in nature printing, an ancient practice that marries scientific documentation and art. Fossils are a kind of nature print, and leaf prints were featured on early American currency. Relief printing, intaglio, cyanotype—all are types of nature printing.

Capturing Nature: 150 Years of Nature Printing examines this art form through two centuries and across continents, illustrating no fewer than 45 types, compiled by Matthew Zucker and Pia Ostlund from the Zucker Collection, the largest collection of nature prints in the world. The resulting volume is a “wondrous mix of nature, technology, and the human desire for learning,” and it’s a stunning addition to any nature lover’s library.

The two centuries’ worth of nature prints contained in Capturing Nature would make a stunning addition to any nature lover’s library.
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When I was a kid, bubble letters were very on-trend, and I spent hours perfecting my ABCs in bubble form. How I wish I’d had Huyen Dinh’s How to Be a Rule-Breaking Letterer: A Guide to Making Perfectly Imperfect Art back then to goad me into becoming a bona fide word-artist, or at least to nudge me toward further experimentation.

Dinh’s personal story is of the “good girl gets fed up and flees corporate malaise, follows passion” variety (one I’m rather partial to). Now, after years of struggling, she is no longer afraid to make what pleases her. While she neatly breaks down lettering fundamentals—developing your typographic eye, mastering brushstrokes, talking the talk (ascenders and descenders and swashes, oh my!)—her bigger agenda is to encourage free thought, to open up readers to their own preferences and to the wealth of ideas just waiting to be plucked from thin air. She’s quite candid about her own process and clunky first drafts, too, which is always a plus.

Huyen Dinh neatly breaks down hand lettering fundamentals, but her bigger agenda is to encourage free thought and open up readers to their own preferences and ideas.
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U.K. artist James Brunt “works with what nature gives”: only what is found on the ground, in natural settings like beaches and woodlands. Imagine great spirals, mandalas, grids and other patterns composed of rocks, twigs, seeds, fern fronds, petals or leaves upon sand or forest floor. In Land Art, Brunt familiarizes us with his creative terrain—also famously explored by land artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson (“Spiral Jetty”)—and invites us, too, to “get outside and play.” He provides exercises that first coax us into engagement with our natural surroundings and then into the act of art-making. For starters, find 10 of anything, such as pine cones or other seeds; then arrange them in a pattern of your liking. Brunt’s work, presented with infectious enthusiasm through full-color photographs, is gorgeous and mesmerizing.

Made from found natural objects like rocks, twigs and seeds, James Brunt’s gorgeous and mesmerizing art is presented with infectious enthusiasm through full-color photographs.
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STARRED REVIEW
September 10, 2023

Our favorite lifestyles books so far this year

From psychedelics to pasta, nature, grief and more, here are the books we’ve loved about living well in 2023.
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Book jacket image for Company by Amy Thielen

Company

Chef and author Amy Thielen’s buzzy cookbook simmers cozily with very fine food writing and a particular Midwestern nonchalance.

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howtosaygoodbye

How to Say Goodbye

Wendy MacNaughton’s gentle drawings are followed by a deep well of resources for the dying and those who love and care for them.

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Book jacket image for The Psilocybin Handbook for Women by Jennifer Chesak

The Psilocybin Handbook for Women

Jennifer Chesak’s guide to psilocybin for women is an empowering, enlightening read, full of evidence-based information on the therapeutic uses of psychedelic mushrooms.

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languagetrees

The Language of Trees

Artist Katie Holten has gathered a stunning range of writings that celebrate all things arboreal, from recipes for acorn flour to reflections on catalpa trees.

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atozpasta

An A–Z of Pasta

In An A–Z of Pasta, witty and knowledgeable author Rachel Roddy introduces readers to 50 essential pastas and the recipes you might use them in.

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From psychedelics to pasta, nature, grief and more, here are the books we've loved about living well in 2023.
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★ From Harvest to Home

Let me be a voice in passionate support of relishing all things fall: Pile those pumpkins! Bust out the mums! Go big on apples and cinnamon! I am here for it. With From Harvest to Home, lifestyle blogger Alicia Tenise Chew speaks right to the deepest autumnal cravings with recipes, low-key crafts and lists of scary movies and top Thanksgiving TV episodes. Nachos get a fall twist (and healthy upgrade) with sweet potatoes, French 75 cocktails go goth with the addition of activated charcoal, and there’s a pumpkin gnocchi with cinnamon sage brown butter sauce that I most certainly will be requesting of my home-cook husband. Chew provides checklists of activities you might enjoy during each of the three fall months, a welcome inspo tool for us easily overwhelmed types, as well as self-care tips for the return of short days and cold weather. You don’t have to do all the fall things, of course. But you can more deeply delight in a few faves with the help of this book—and feel not a shred of shame for loving flannel and pumpkin spice lattes. 

An American in Provence

Perhaps you’ve heard this story: Highly successful urban professional departs the rat race, decamps to the countryside and achieves a slower, simpler, even more beautiful life. But you’ve never seen rustic expatriation evoked quite so lusciously as it is in An American in Provence, artist Jamie Beck’s pictorial memoir. Beck is a photographer, and alongside romantic self-portraits, still lifes, sweeping landscapes and tablescapes, she shares generously of her expertise. There are tips for photographing children, getting the most out of your smartphone camera and working with natural lighting. Along the way Beck writes of settling in the small French town of Apt, giving birth to her daughter, Eloise, and leaning into the seasonal rhythms of the region. Recipes are sprinkled throughout like herbes de Provence: a violet sorbet, daube Provençale, wild thyme grilled lamb. In total, the effect is bewitching and immersive, and quite the motivation to save for one’s own dream trip to the hills, fields and ancient villages of southeastern France.

How to Be Weird

In high school, I was often told that I was weird. I took it as a point of pride, and still do. Weird is a thing to strive for in my book, as it is in Eric G. Wilson’s How to Be Weird, which amounts to an Rx for the rote life, an antidote to crushing mundanity. The small actions and thought experiments compiled here, 99 in total, are intended to disrupt dull thinking, to help us see our world and ourselves in fresh ways. They could be applied usefully in many settings, from classroom to cocktail party to corporate retreat. And as the veteran English professor he is, Wilson connects many of the actions to history, philosophy, literature, the sciences and so on. If you don’t end up weirder in the best ways from sniffing books or inventing new curse words, you’ll at least have gleaned some solid knowledge along the way.

Set up the perfect gourd-themed tablescape, photograph it like a pro, and then invite all your weirdest friends over to partake of autumn’s bounty. If this sounds like your definition of a good time, read on.
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eathering your nest for spring The nesting spirit is contagious. Who can sit still with a backyard full of birds zipping around collecting twigs and bits of string to weave into proper places for raising a family? The “get busy” signal comes through loud and clear. The rest of the animal kingdom groundhogs, grizzlies and grownups alike, some just waking up from their somnolent state and rubbing their sleepy eyes see all this frenetic activity and figure they too had better get busy. Even Sydney, our ever-industrious though misguided blue heeler puppy, has caught the nesting spirit this spring. With the tenacity of a bluejay and the work ethic of a robin, she is tireless in her efforts to improve her territory. For weeks she has been proudly carting in assorted bottles and cans, pieces of rubber hose, rug remnants, socks, plastic toy parts and other items too numerous to mention, to enhance her eclectic “nest.” (She even smuggled in a baby a soft-bodied doll from the two-year-old across the road which we made her return, of course, much to her chagrin.) If you’ve also caught spring fever, and your thoughts have turned to building, refurbishing or repairing your own nest, here are four books to help you keep pace with the woodpeckers. A warm and inviting place to start is with Creating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home, by Sarah Susanka. If you need inspiration before actually picking up a paintbrush or hammer, this visually impressive book with its sumptuous and soothing photographs will give you a good excuse to do a little more research from the couch before undertaking any projects. The follow-up text to Susanka’s influential book, The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live, Creating the Not So Big House showcases 25 very different, small to moderate-sized homes from across the country, from a tiny apartment in New York City to a hillside home in California, each sharing a combination of beautiful design and innovative use of space. If you’re interested in designing a dwelling that meets, not exceeds, your needs, this volume fits the bill. Floor plans for these homes are included, so you can visualize the whole layout. Creating the Not So Big House makes a great coffee-table book keep it in easy reach for inspiration, motivation or just to feed your artistic sensibilities.

If you’re already well ensconced in a house of 2,500 square feet or less, Better Homes ∧ Gardens Small House, Big Style, offers sound advice on decorating and remodeling to get the maximum from minimum space. Beginning with the basics, Small House opens with chapters on understanding space and identifying a style that’s right for your home. Then it’s on to bigger, hands-on issues like adding space and arranging furniture all to help you make the most of those precious square feet. With more than 200 photographs of beautiful interiors, Small House offers tips on everything from choosing the right colors and textures for rooms to working within a decorating budget. Examples of successfully remodeled homes are featured, including a 1930s cottage, a 1940s Cape Cod and a 1950s ranch, accompanied by detailed how-tos. Rich visuals and great organization complement Small House‘s clear text. The book is a must-have for anyone looking to give their small space a spring makeover.

If you’d rather live with clothes draped around the house than even look inside your dryer, if the only thing you know about air conditioning is that, come July, you’ve got to have it, or if the words, “the sink’s clogged” make your eyes glaze over and your knees knock, Home ∧ Garden Television’s Complete Fix-It will give you newfound confidence. Each section begins with an easy-to-grasp explanation of how the appliance or system works. There are plenty of realistic yet uncluttered illustrations, and the bulleted text is clear and concise. The book covers everything in a home from the sub-floor to the roof ridge and all the “fix-it” problems (replacing ceramic tile, lighting a pilot-light, weatherstripping windows and doors, etc.) between them. The volume opens with a chapter on tools and ends with one on home safety, making Complete Fix-It a great selection for the novice repair person, whether he or she owns their own home, rents or lives in an apartment. True to its name, Home Book: The Ultimate Guide to Repairs, Improvements ∧ Maintenance is the most exhaustive text in the group; it includes detailed sections about almost anything you can think of relating to the home foundations, furniture, cabinetry, lawns. Even fences and gates are covered in this ultimate home “encyclopedia.” It contains over 300 do-it-yourself projects with step-by-step instructions and over 3,000 sharp, pertinent photos or drawings to help illustrate the steps along the way. The Home Book even includes ways of “expanding your nest” converting unused space like a garage, attic or basement into usable storage areas or additional living quarters. With any or all of these books in your toolbox, you’ll find it easier to make your home into a more enjoyable haven this spring and for many springs to come.

A former realtor, Linda Stankard has built, renovated and remodeled several homes.

eathering your nest for spring The nesting spirit is contagious. Who can sit still with a backyard full of birds zipping around collecting twigs and bits of string to weave into proper places for raising a family? The “get busy” signal comes through loud and clear. The rest of the animal kingdom groundhogs, grizzlies and [...]

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