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All Lifestyles Coverage

★ Refuse to Be Done

I’ve been following writer and professor Matt Bell on social media for years, eagerly tuning in for the wisdom he shares from the many (many) books and author interviews he has read, and frankly awed by his fierce, upbeat dedication to his writing practice. Bell’s new guide for aspiring novelists, Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts, gathers his wealth of knowledge and motivational zeal into a volume that deserves a spot on every writer’s desk. He advocates for a three-draft approach, while recognizing that “draft” can mean many different things. His chief goal is to keep you from giving up—to provide the fuel and structure to get you through the inevitable slog of novel-writing. As I embark upon another revision of a novel I’ve been working on for years, I’m thankful to have this book riding shotgun. 

Anna Spiro

It’s been a minute since we’ve featured the work of an interior designer. Anna Spiro: A Life in Pattern turned my head with its springy, floral-print linen cover, just the thing to spiff up a side table. Inside, the fun continues: The photographs are spirit-lifters one and all, awash in bold colors, textures and, as is Spiro’s trademark, pattern on pattern on pattern, with glorious examples of how to avoid being matchy and yet make everything harmonize. Fans of the ebullient mix-and-matching of Justina Blakeley will also delight in Spiro’s maximalist, vibrant style. If you’ve had a hankering to try a pop of wallpaper, this book will take your face between its hands and say, “Go for it, friend!” Do you love being surrounded by your precious things? Spiro understands, and she encourages shaping your personal style around those beloved objects. “Above all, your goal should be to create an environment that is reflective of you, your life and taste,” she writes. “Collect art, furniture and other items that have meaning to you.” 

Love and Justice

Model, actor and activist Laetitia Ky has amassed a significant Instagram following over the past several years, posting images of her incredible hair sculptures. She twists, bends and shapes her own hair into faces, animals, bodies, trees, breasts and other body parts, and much more. This hair art is striking at face value, but in Love and Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty, Ky frames her sculptural work within personal narratives that dig into issues of mental health, internalized misogyny, African heritage, sexism, self-care, Black beauty and other themes close to her heart. As a member of a new global guard of young creatives who refuse to separate their work from their beliefs and values, Ky is poised to become a strong role model for young people finding their way in the world. 

Let your artistic side run wild with three inspirational books about novel writing, interior design and activism.

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.

★ The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

I like to imagine the process of assembling the exquisite compendium that is The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament. What a dizzying and delightful task! London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of decorative and designed objects in the world, and in this tome, one can peruse thousands upon thousands of images adapted from the museum’s holdings. Spanning pottery, textiles, paintings, wallpaper, sculpture and pretty much any other patterned thing you can imagine, the contents are arranged into four categories—plants; animals; earth and the universe; and abstract patterns—with most pages featuring a grid of three or more images and a succinct set of captions identifying the source objects and their makers. As you page through swiftly or slowly, the effect is kaleidoscopic. It’s a veritable feast of patterns for the eyes and mind, full of color, intricate details and beautiful repetition. You’ll wish for two copies: one to keep and savor; one to cut up for collage art. Frankly, I’m besotted.

Sketch by Sketch

I recently purchased my first iPad and began exploring Procreate, a digital tool that, when paired with the Apple Pencil, opens one up to a new realm of two-dimensional artmaking. I’m finding a daily drawing practice to be a profoundly joyful and meditative pursuit. Sheila Darcey, founder of the SketchPoetic community on Instagram (@sketchpoetic), knows all about the therapeutic potential of low-stakes sketching, and in Sketch by Sketch, she encourages readers to try 21 exercises designed to help them dig deep internally and work through difficult emotions. Darcey doesn’t care how well you draw, and her exercises are not meant to build artistic skill. If you create something that makes you smile, all the better, but self-discovery, not technical mastery, is the goal. “This is not art,” she writes. “It is a visual learner’s version of freewriting.” Testimonials throughout from SketchPoetic acolytes demonstrate how the process has worked for others.

Snails & Monkey Tails

Speaking of details . . . it’s an interesting time for punctuation, isn’t it? Texting has completely upended the rules, such that a period now suggests a hostile vibe to some (my teenager confirms this), and even the meaning of certain emoticons seems to be shifting with the generations. But these symbols persist in print matter, and they are lovingly and fetchingly celebrated in Snails & Monkey Tails, graphic designer Michael Arndt’s spiffy salute to the “tiny designs that run interference among the letterforms.” If you don’t know what a grawlix is, you sure as $@%!* will if you read this book. Afterward, you may never call @ an “at” symbol again. Rather, try “little duck” as they do in Finland, or “cinnamon bun” like the Swedes. From silcrows to pilcrows to guillemets and the dinkus, Arndt’s book will up your word-nerd quotient, and it will do so with impeccable style.

Design takes center stage in this month’s lifestyles column, from intricate filigrees found in museums to the elegant curve of a silcrow.

New Native Kitchen

Perfect gift for: Your foodie spouse who loves gardening and open-fire grilling

In New Native Kitchen, Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie, previously of the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, celebrates the cuisines of Indigenous cultures while respecting and revering “hyperlocal” regional distinctions in these foodways and traditions. Bitsoie, who came to cooking via cultural anthropology and art history, aims to tell “edible stories that allow people to appreciate the living artifact of food.” Here, with the help of James Beard Award-winning author James O. Fraioli, Bitsoie introduces readers to key elements of the Native pantry, such as nopales (cactus paddles), Navajo steam corn, sumac powder and tepary beans, many of which can be ordered online or found at specialty spice shops. From a sumac Navajo leg of lamb with onion sauce, to a Makah crab boil, to Choctaw bison chili, Bitsoie covers the vast North American continent and its islands in this important book.

Wild Sweetness

Perfect gift for: Your boho friend with a shortbread obsession

With full-page photographs of winter branches, gently wilting roses and foggy ponds, Thalia Ho’s Wild Sweetness is as much a moody evocation of nature’s evanescence as it is a sumptuous celebration of dessert. Grouped by season, the recipes range from comfy American standards like cinnamon buns and gingersnaps to frangipane tart and a fig clove fregolotta. All possess a delicate quality and some flower, spice or other ingredient redolent of the natural world. Cream seems a visual motif, showing up, for example, in a juniper ice cream, a frosted chamomile tea cake, a lemon curd streusel cake and amaretti. But deep, dark chocolate is at play too—in ganache thumbprints, drunken fig brownies and a beetroot mud cake, among others sheer delights.

À Table

Perfect gift for: The hip newlyweds next door with the adorable dog

Is anything sexier than a good French cookbook? Rebekah Peppler’s À Table reveals and revels in the charms of long, casual French dinners with friends, and Peppler leads with blithe wit as she shares a modern take on entertaining. (She won me over instantly with the words “Hemingway was a supreme ass” in a recipe for Chambéry cassis, an aperitif.) Women are at the center of Peppler’s vision, one in which we dispense with yesteryear’s formalities in favor of long, carefree nights of smart conversation, mismatched plates and zero pretension. Ouais, cherie. On to olives with saucisson and roast chicken with prunes! On to daube de boeuf and (vegan!) French onion soup with cognac! You’ll love the mellow-but-decadent vibe, even if you feel un petit peu jalouse of Peppler’s Parisian coterie.

Black Food

Perfect gift for: Cultural mavens, globetrotters and aesthetes

Chef and Vegetable Kingdom author Bryant Terry assembles a large all-star team for his glorious new Black Food, “a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora.” I love this trend of cookbooks that are so openly ambitious, with essays and poetry, visual art and historical context, all of it standing strong alongside the food. Structured by themes such as motherland; Black women, food and power; and Black, queer, food—each with a corresponding playlist—this vibrant, immersive book pulls from many foodways and regions of the globe, with Black chefs, intellectuals and tastemakers leading the way. We encounter dishes as diverse as Somali lamb stew, Bajan fish cakes, Ghanaian crepe cake, vegan black-eyed pea beignets and, at last, for the perfect finish, Edna Lewis’ fresh peach cobbler. Terry also shares a recipe for Pili Pili oil, which adds an herbaceous, spicy kick to anything you drizzle it over.

Tables & Spreads

Perfect gift for: Your sister-in-law who loves to host and is always leveling up

I am not a big entertainer, but I love a good snack-meal. And there’s something delightful about artfully arranging a table full of nibbles for guests: curious cheeses, spiced nuts, tangy jams, decadent dips and a handful of rosemary sprigs plucked from the garden. Whether this sounds fun, anxiety-producing or a bit of both, Tables & Spreads is here to help you party. Shelly Westerhausen, master of Instagram-worthy tablescapes, shares themes for every occasion, from dips for dinner, to a savory focaccia party, to a Christmas morning Dutch baby party. Special attention is given to what Westerhausen dubs the “wow factor”: decorative and mood-setting details such as color themes, decanters and candles of varying heights, along with floral arrangements. Informational charts abound with practical assists; my favorite may be “Portioning a Spread,” right down to tablespoons of dip or pieces of crudites, so you don’t over- or under-buy.

This holiday season, whether you’re hosting or showing up with a single covered dish, let one of these outstanding cookbooks be your guide.

★ Tarot for Change

Times being what they are, an uptick in conversation around self-care and coping with grief feels appropriate. We’re all, it seems, looking for ways to make sense of, or at least soften, our experience of the everyday, and in this climate, interest in the ancient practice of tarot is resurgent. I’m among the curious dabblers who are digging deeper, and I’m glad to learn from Jessica Dore’s Tarot for Change: Using the Cards for Self-Care, Acceptance, and Growth. Dore, a licensed social worker, roots her study of tarot in psychology, but she also pulls from folk traditions, personal anecdotes, mythology, literature and much more for a depth-charged exploration of the major and minor arcana. Tarot, her book suggests, deserves to be seen as a therapeutic modality like any other. “Efforts to boil the study of the soul down to a science have led to great strides in the treatment of mental illness,” she writes, “but have relegated mystery and magic to the edges.”

Edible Flowers

I knew one could make jelly from violets and sprinkle nasturtiums into salad, but I had no idea just how many flowers were safe to consume until I cracked open Edible Flowers: How, Why, and When We Eat Flowers, which showcases more than 100 nourishing blossoms—and that’s counting only specimens from North America and Europe. But let’s not get hung up on stats. The key word for this gorgeous book is, as author Monica Nelson puts it, immersive. Color photographs by Adrianna Glaviano capture the striking presence and ephemerality of each bloom, and along with enticing recipes and historical and cultural context (“In Ancient Egypt, [calendula] was considered the ‘poor man’s saffron,’” for example), there are short essays by contemporary writers, summoning the reader deeper into the flower-eating experience. Even the petite trim size is by design, “allowing the book itself to also be lived with.” This one is a true sensual experience between two covers.

The Cocktail Workshop

Many boozy-beverage books have come this column’s way in recent years, but the clarity and spiffy organization of The Cocktail Workshop caught my attention and didn’t let it go. I’m an amateur when it comes to mixology, so the “first, the basics” approach holds appeal. Yes, please do give me the how-to (and nerdy details!) of classics like the Manhattan, margarita and Negroni. Not that connoisseurs won’t also find much to love here: The recipes grow far more complex with spirit-swapping, homemade tinctures and flaming garnishes. For each of 20 stable “banger” drinks, you’ll learn three spinoffs, plus a “workshop” recipe for the extra-ambitious. Mix a perfect martini, say, then try a vesper or a bijou before graduating to brewing your own vermouth. Or just, you know, splash some bubbly, seltzer and Aperol in a glass and call it a spritz.

Tarot cards, check. Flower-garnished salad, check. Negronis, check. This month’s lifestyles column has all the ingredients for a lavish night in.

If you think minimalism is a one-size-fits-all lifestyle and aesthetic, you clearly haven’t encountered Christine Platt, known on social media as the Afrominimalist. In her clearly written, approachable guide, The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less (5.5 hours), Platt traces her journey—including plenty of initial resistance and more than a few missteps—toward deliberately choosing to live with fewer objects. The author’s calm, careful narration is both relatable and ressuring, and it’s punctuated by real-life, sometimes humorous anecdotes delivered by a cast of additional narrators. 

Platt’s guidance is enriched by sections titled “For the Culture,” in which she acknowledges how the history of racial oppression and systemic racism has, in many ways, made Black and other historically marginalized people of color more vulnerable to overconsumption and conspicuous consumption. She also notes that the Scandinavian aesthetic that permeates most mainstream minimalist guidebooks doesn’t come close to representing everybody. Platt’s friendly, flexible approach urges listeners to embrace a minimalism that celebrates cultural heritage and comes in all colors.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of print edition of The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less.

Afrominimalist Christine Platt’s calm, careful narration of her journey toward living with less is both relatable and reassuring.

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