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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.

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.

Four fresh art and design books inspire, enlighten and cultivate creativity. Perfect for accomplished artists, occasional dabblers or anyone in search of a new hobby, these terrific titles provide instant inspiration.

The 99% Invisible City

Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt are the dynamic duo behind the architecture and design podcast “99% Invisible,” and their intriguing book, The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, draws upon the podcast’s concepts by picking out smartly conceived, frequently overlooked components of the urban landscape and explaining how they contribute to a thriving civic environment.

From traffic lights, public signage and historical plaques to manhole covers and city monuments, the book examines design elements big and small, revealing the ways in which they bring clarity to the chaos of modern life. The volume is organized into brief, easy-to-process sections, and it touches down in boroughs around the globe. Filled with nifty line illustrations in bold black and white, this eye-opening book will give readers a fresh appreciation for the beauty and functionality that are inherent—but not immediately apparent—in the urban world.

Open StudioOpen Studio

Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists gives readers the chance to craft along with major makers. The authors, curator Sharon Coplan Hurowitz and journalist-filmmaker Amanda Benchley, recruited a group of A-list participants for the volume (Marina Abramovic, William Wegman, Maya Lin—the list goes on), which is packed with brilliant photography, including candid shots of the artists at work.

The book’s 17 wide-ranging projects offer something for everyone. Sculptor Rachel Feinstein’s “Rococo Hut” is a small-scale architectural wonder that you can recreate with cutouts, while multimedia artist Wangechi Mutu’s “Earth Androids,” composed of paper pulp, soil, ink and paint, are simply out of this world. Painter Will Cotton’s foil-paper “The Royal Crown of Candyland” will bring out the kid in any crafter. The step-by-step instructions and how-to photos that accompany each project make staying on track a snap. Open Studio shows that getting creative is easy—especially when you can take cues from world-class artists.

Life in the StudioLife in the Studio

Stimulation, motivation and encouragement—that’s what artistic minds will find in Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity, Frances Palmer’s guide to starting—and maintaining—a creative practice. In this beautifully photographed book, Palmer, a celebrated ceramics artist, art historian and successful businesswoman, delivers big-picture advice without neglecting the small details. She shares tips on how to establish a creative routine, identify sources of inspiration and stay engaged. She also provides guidance on hands-on matters such as setting up a studio, with an overview of must-have tools and more.

Throughout the volume, Palmer reflects on how her skills and methods have evolved over her 30-year career. Through pottery projects, flower-arranging tutorials and recipes, she proves that creativity can manifest itself in unexpected ways. Both the seasoned artist and the beginner will be enriched by this stunning guide.

Truth BombTruth Bomb

Abigail Crompton’s Truth Bomb: Inspiration From the Mouths and Minds of Women Artists is as provocative as the title suggests. With a design that combines audacious colors and not-to-be-ignored graphics, the volume spotlights 22 prominent female artists—women from diverse backgrounds working in a wide range of media, including photography, video, painting and performance art.

Crompton, an artist and design-studio entrepreneur, assembled a stellar lineup for the book: Judy Chicago, Mickalene Thomas, Miranda July, Yayoi Kusama and the Guerrilla Girls are among the featured makers. She provides profiles of each, delving into their creative processes and techniques. Along the way, these extraordinary women share bits of hard-won wisdom, words of encouragement and practical advice. The book is also filled with beautifully reproduced examples of their work. Truth Bomb is an invaluable resource for anyone with creative inclinations. From start to finish, it’s a spirited homage to the artistic life.

Four fresh art and design books inspire, enlighten and cultivate creativity.

Creativity is all about letting what’s inside of us out. Whether you’re searching for inspiration, looking for a step-by-step guide to a new hobby or eager for a glimpse into the creative life, these books will light the fire within.

Cross Stitch for the Soul

While visiting my parents in Texas for Christmas in 2017, I asked my mom, a devoted quilter, if she could teach me to cross-stitch. We went to a craft store the very next day, and by the time I left for home, I was hooked. I still consider myself a novice, so trust me when I say that the exquisite designs in Cross Stitch for the Soul aren’t beyond the reach of beginners. Designer Emma Congdon applies her colorful typographic sensibility to 20 quotations and aphorisms and creates bold postmodern patterns, each paired with a short personal reflection. She also includes no-nonsense guides to the materials and techniques you’ll need to get started. Stitching, Congdon writes, is “a chance to embrace slowness and create something beautiful at the same time.” I’m grateful to have had the creative outlet of stitching my way through her book this year.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Loitering With Intent

Many novels about aspiring authors are, to be blunt, extremely obnoxious. They either portray the writing process with toothache-inducing twinkle or with such overblown and tortured sturm und drang as to make the entire thing ridiculous. Between these two poles lies Muriel Spark’s Loitering With Intent, which trots happily alongside aspiring would-be novelist Fleur Talbot as she breezes through bedraggled postwar London. Fleur is young, highly educated and underemployed, but where others would succumb to ennui, Fleur finds inspiration. Her terrible landlord, her drifting friends and romantic prospects and, most of all, her bizarre boss are prime material for mockery and fictional examination. Nothing about her life is particularly glamorous, which somehow makes it all even more wildly appealing and quietly galvanizing.

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Walking on Water

If you’re looking to spark your creative side, Madeleine L’Engle’s book about spirituality and the creative process is both flint and tinder. Though it uses Christian language (L’Engle was devoutly Anglican), Walking on Water offers artistic nourishment for anyone who feels there’s something mystical taking place when humans make art—the mystery of how ideas come to us, the miracle of making something where there was nothing before. Reading L’Engle’s flowing prose feels devotional, as she meditates on the relationship between faith and art, art and artist. By her estimation, the artist’s responsibility is merely to show up to the page, the canvas or the studio and be open to the work. The work already knows what it wants to be; all we have to do is follow its lead. In this way, the artist’s role shifts from director to humble servant, freeing us up to participate in the collaborative art of creation.

—Christy, Associate Editor

The New Way to Cake

This year I joined the hordes of people coping with anxiety by mixing it, beating it and throwing it in the oven. For me, baking has become a way to touch base with loved ones—outside, at a distance—and, almost as importantly, a way to stay creatively inspired. This cake cookbook from Benjamina Ebuehi (whom you may know from “The Great British Bake Off”) is all about exploring flavors, ingredients and textures in unexpected ways. Many of her recipes have me dreaming of the future: spiced sweet potato loaf, hot chocolate and halva pudding, date and rooibos loaf, cardamom tres leches cake and more. The lemon, ricotta and thyme mini-cakes are on permanent rotation, and I’ll never make carrot cake ever again without adding some breakfast tea. Each bake is a chance to learn something new, find out what an unknown ingredient is like and discover how to do it better next time.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

Susan Sontag: Essays of the 1960s & 70s

The 2019 Met Gala didn’t do camp any justice. A gaggle of elites trying to understand the intricacies of this strange, whimsical, dynamic aesthetic was sure to end in failure, but one can’t help imagining Susan Sontag smiling at their attempt. Sontag coined the term in her essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” published in 1964 during a drastically different cultural moment. This collection of essays showcases the brilliant mind of one of the 20th century’s most important writers and invites you to think about everything from aesthetics to death to feminism. Whatever the topic, Sontag is cool, compassionate and clear, not to mention impossible to be bored by. Reading this book reminds me of my favorite quotation of hers: “My idea of a writer: someone interested in everything.” She certainly was, and her writing moves me to be, too.

—Eric, Editorial Intern

Creativity is all about letting what’s inside of us out. Whether you’re searching for inspiration, looking for a step-by-step guide to a new hobby or eager for a glimpse into the creative life, these books will light the fire within. Cross Stitch for the Soul While visiting my parents in Texas for Christmas in 2017, […]

From fashion to flowers to foodie comforts, this month's best lifestyles books are here to inform, delight and soothe.

★ Mend!

I am not a big sewer (OK, I am not a sewer at all), but I can’t stop poring over Kate Sekules’ Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto. A seasoned travel editor and writer, Sekules brings a refreshingly fierce voice to an assemblage of topics: the wastefulness and exploitative practices of the fashion industry, the sustainability of slow fashion, the history of clothing, stars of the mending scene and more. Visible mending, or VM, is her chief cause. “To stitch or sport a VM is to declare independence from consumer culture with a beautiful scar and badge of honor,” she writes. A prim sewing guide this is not, and I am here for it. If you want sewing basics, Sekules does offer them, but along the way she will school you on where fashion has been and where it’s going (to the grave?).


For some time now I have been a big admirer of Jessica Roux’s illustrations, which feel rooted in a time that’s decidedly not the present. So I was thrilled to discover her new book, Floriography, an A to Z of flowers and the meanings they were given by flower-mad Victorians. Back then, people weren’t so quick to emote socially; rather, they let petals do the talking for them. Roux provides a brief but fascinating history of this coded discourse and then shows us the flowers, in her distinct style, from amaryllis (pride) to zinnia (everlasting friendship). A final section illustrates bouquets—for new beginnings, bitter ends, warnings and more—and an index lists the flowers by meaning.

The Art of Cake

Alice Oehr’s The Art of Cake is not a cake cookbook—just a whimsically illustrated book about cake, with precise physical descriptions of and historical and cultural context for 50 cakes, such as Pavlova, linzertorte, charlotte and pound cake. “I am not a professional baker by any stretch of the imagination,” Oehr writes in a note about the final section of the book, in which she provides recipes (the only ones in the book) for six cakes. I’m intrigued by Oehr’s inclusion of banoffee pie, a dessert that she describes as “pie” twice in addition to its name. But particularly in these times, such quibbles are minor, and we could all use a bit more cake.

From fashion to flowers to foodie comforts, this month's best lifestyles books are here to inform, delight and soothe. ★ Mend! I am not a big sewer (OK, I am not a sewer at all), but I can’t stop poring over Kate Sekules’ Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto. A seasoned travel editor and writer, Sekules […]

The holidays are famously stressful. Arm yourself ahead of time with one of these relaxing reads.

The world is a tad intense these days. While books can’t make everything better—well, actually, who says they can’t? This holiday season, don’t hesitate to give your loved ones (or yourself) a helping hand in the form of these surefire finds.

The Poetry Remedy by William Sieghart
Some years ago, poetry enthusiast William Sieghart developed a project in which passersby could share a topic of concern and be “prescribed” a poem in response. The Poetry Pharmacy, as it was known, was a huge hit. “Suffering is the access point to poetry for a lot of people: that’s when they open their ears, hearts, and minds,” Sieghart writes in The Poetry Remedy: Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind, and Soul, which brings the pharmacy home. In it, he gathers poems for numerous struggles of the human spirit, from loneliness and glumness to social overload, one-sided love and everything in between, each with a brief introduction. With this book on your shelf, you’ll never be at a loss for comforting words. Pair with herbal tea and a comfy blanket.

When You Kant Figure It Out, Ask a Philosopher by Marie Robert
Is there any consolation quite like finding your modern-day woes reflected in the writings of ancient minds? We can’t help but feel less isolated when the ancient teachings of Spinoza, Plato and others seem to speak directly to our innermost questions. In Marie Robert’s slim, digestible When You Kant Figure It Out, Ask a Philosopher: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Dilemmas, she presents typical bummers and sticky situations, then reveals how philosophy can help you reframe and move on. Got a super-surly teen? Squandering your life on social media? Had to part with a beloved pet? The words of Levinas, Epicurus and Heidegger may not solve these problems per se, but they can give you refreshing insight, and sometimes that’s all you need. “Philosophy should make our lives more meaningful,” Robert says, and this down-to-earth book paves the way. Pair with a gift card to a favorite coffee shop and a new journal.

Good Mornings by Linnea Dunne
For some, mornings are best when started with a bang—a three-mile run or a vigorous yoga class. Others wake happily with quiet time among plants and furry friends. No matter your personal preference, thinking carefully about small daily rituals and fine-tuning them can be a step toward a healthier self. Linnea Dunne helps us see the potential for ritual everywhere (Face-washing? Yep. Journaling? Of course) and shares ideas for creating a valuable sense of ritual in your mornings, whether you’re “time-rich” or “time-poor,” in Good Mornings: Morning Rituals for Wellness, Peace and Purpose. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to rituals. The trick—and pleasure, particularly with this pretty book as your guide—is in discovering which rituals are meant for you. Pair with a basket of fresh fruit and granola, facial cleanser and a Turkish towel. 

The Official Bob Ross Coloring Book by Bob Ross
From the department of “Why Is This Just Now a Thing?” comes the coloring book to end all coloring books—The Official Bob Ross Coloring Book: The Colors of the Four Seasons. The coloring book trend may be on the down slope, but there will never not be room in our hearts and on our coffee tables for Bob Ross and his happy little trees and clouds. With this book, you can forgo painting technique, if that sort of thing stresses you out, and simply create green trees, blue skies and brown cabins to your heart’s content. Best of all are the Ross quotes on every other page. To wit: “Anything we don’t like, we’ll turn it into a happy little tree or something, because as you know, we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents.” Or: “Let’s put a few little highlights in here to make them little rascals just sparkle in the sun.” Or: “Let’s just dance in a happy little sky today.” Don’t you feel better just reading those words? Pair with colored pencils, CBD oil and a forest-scented candle. 

The world is a tad intense these days. While books can’t make everything better—well, actually, who says they can’t? This holiday season, don’t hesitate to give your loved ones (or yourself) a helping hand in the form of these surefire finds.

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