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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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★ 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.
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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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★ 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.
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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.
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★ 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.
Behind the Book by

One day about six years ago I was driving across the San Francisco Bay Bridge with my then three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Kenna. She was looking out the window when she asked me, in a curious yet serious tone, "Daddy, why is everyone so angry?" 

Coming from my own child, it was, at the same moment, one of the cutest and most powerful questions I had ever been asked. I stumbled for an answer but nothing came out. As I looked out at the other drivers, Kenna's observations appeared quite accurate. Almost without exception, the other drivers appeared frustrated, agitated, nervous or angry. A minute or so later I admitted to Kenna, "I'm not really sure."

The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. After all, the tens of thousands of drivers on the road that morning were all seated in reasonably comfortable automobiles. We were all getting where we needed to be, albeit slowly. I'm guessing that most drivers probably had a cell phone and/or a radio to keep them occupied. Many were sipping coffee or talking to the person next to them.

It was one of those moments that I realized that many of the things we sweat really aren't that big a deal. It's not that anyone would actually like traffic, but then again, while all of us are subject to big and painful events in life, a traffic jam, like so many other day-to-day things, isn't one of them; it's not life and death.

Both before and after that day in traffic, there have been other moments and experiences in my life that have reinforced a similar message, moments of clarity that have reminded me of the relative importance of things. I've come to realize that life is far too important, short and magical to spend it sweating the little things.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and it's all small stuff )was the first in a series of Don't Sweat books all designed to help foster this more accepting and peaceful attitude toward life. The latest in the series, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Men (out this month), attempts to guide men in the same direction. But now, it's your turn to be the author! My publisher (Hyperion) and I decided it would be both fun and useful to others to publish an entire book filled with stories from my readers' perspectives. Many people have moments of insight in their lives, similar in some ways to my traffic story above. These are moments that remind us, or teach us, to not sweat the small stuff. At times, these insights come about from a touching or funny experience. Other times, it's a moment of tragedy or a near-miss of some kind. A friend of mine, for example, had a life-changing moment as the small plane he was traveling aboard was about to crash. Another friend was neurotic about keeping her house perfectly clean. Then she traveled to a country where the poverty broke her heart. Her perspective shifted, and she had a change of heart. When she returned, her home seemed like such a gift the mess and chaos less relevant. It's not that keeping her house clean was no longer important just that it was no longer an emergency!

I'd like to invite you to share your story with us. Although we won't be able to print them all, we will certainly learn from each of them. If your story is selected, we'd love to publish it in a book of Don't Sweat Stories so that others can learn from your experience. If you'd like to participate, please send us your one or two page story along with your address, phone number and e-mail address. If your story is selected, we will let you know. Please send your story by October 1, 2001, to Lary Rosenblatt, Creative Media, Inc. 1720 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or e-mail to It has been such a joy to write the Don't Sweat books. I hope you join me in this life-affirming adventure in sharing with others how we have learned to not sweat the small stuff.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Men, is the latest entry in Richard Carlson's best-selling series of books on dealing with the day-to-day challenges of living in a stressful world. A psychologist, he lives with his family in northern California.

Winning combination for reducing stress

Women lead incredibly full lives these days, wrestling with responsibilities at work and at home. So BookPage and Hyperion, which publishes the Don't Sweat series, recently sponsored a De-stress Contest, asking women to share their ideas for reducing stress in their lives. The winning entry came from Jeanne Leffers of Richmond, Indiana, who will receive an autographed first edition of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Women and a beauty gift basket to pamper herself with. Here are Jeanne's winning recommendations:

1. Downsize Look at every thing you have from space to shoes and try to downsize. Examine all of it and consider yourself, not friends, relatives or advertising. If you downsize you will find time to smell the roses, relax, put your feet up and enjoy a good book. Your number one priority should be getting rid of the over-abundance.

2. Find humor Read the funnies, learn to tell a joke, read books cataloged under humor , and when you see a cartoon that makes you laugh out loud, cut it out and post it where you can continue to enjoy it. Share kid's jokes with the children you meet. A famous person wrote a book about how he cured his serious disease by watching comic movies. Find a Charlie Chaplin movie and enjoy a belly laugh.

3. Forgive and forget To maintain and cherish your relationships, learn to forgive others' transgressions, overlook their foibles and mistakes, and forget about the time your sister-in-law threw the mustard dish at you. (And if you have been saving the stained outfit all these years, throw it away!)

4. Prioritize Every time there is competition for your attention, stop to consider which is more important. Try to go with your heart just as often as you follow your head. If you have children at home, remind yourself frequently that they are there temporarily and many years of their absence will follow their presence. Make lists of perceived jobs; it is easier to see which must really get done and which can be ignored. When the jobs are completed, cross them off with a red pen; it is very satisfying!

5. Exercise If you can downsize and prioritize you will be able to find time to exercise. It may be the most important activity of your day. A favorite for me is an early morning power walk with a bit of jogging (I call it running!) included. If you have been a couch potato, start your exercise program slowly and work toward a goal slowly.

One day about six years ago I was driving across the San Francisco Bay Bridge with my then three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Kenna. She was looking out the window when she asked me, in a curious yet serious tone, "Daddy, why is everyone so angry?"  Coming from my own child, it was, at the same moment, one […]
Behind the Book by

I've never been a Francophile. As a student I spent a long, painfully boring year at the Sorbonne, spoke French well enough to fool the natives (you are from Belgium, non?), and smoked Gauloises in countless cafes, pondering the dismal continental weather with great heaps of fashionable young ennui. But when I moved back to California craving sunshine, I was ready to put away my Gallic existence and get on with real life. Real life happened in France, anyhow. Back in Los Angeles, I met a French man and (begrudgingly at first) followed him back to Paris. I got married, had two kids and settled once again into life with the irascible and inscrutable French. In the blink of an eye, 10 years passed.

Perhaps Charles de Gaulle summed it up best. "How can one be expected to govern a country with 246 cheeses?" he lamented. Indeed, despite the prevailing stereotype of the French woman (you know her: the svelte Euro goddess in high heels, equal parts Catherine Deneuve, Brigitte Bardot and Madame de Pompadour), the reality is that French women are as diverse as Bries and Camemberts. They come in different sizes, shapes and tastes. They're complex, elusive, a composite of delicious paradoxes. Who they are has little to do with their shoes, their lipstick or their lingerie. Which is why nothing irked me more than articles trumpeting the virtues of the mythical stereotype of the French woman and how to become her. So you wanna be a French girl? Wear haute couture! Eat haute cuisine! Strike a pose! The material was always thick on clichés, thin on essential insight. Lots of Ooo-la-la. Very little Aha!

In writing Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, I wanted not only a place where the diversity of French women could emerge (a place, for example, where my friend Nadine, a plump yet ravishing seductress with a modest home in the countryside, could co-exist beside Frederique, a wiry career woman who lives in the heart of Paris). I wanted, more specifically, to describe the collective values and mindset that unite them that way-of-being or essence that defines not the stereotypical French woman, but the archetypal one: Her incredible sense of self-possession. The sensual satisfaction and tactile pleasure she experiences in the seemingly mundane. Her discretion. Her languorous relationship to time. Her focus on quality, not quantity. Her preference for authenticity, not imitation. Her ability to have a life, not just make a living.

I wrote Entre Nous only months after returning to the States. I've been back for two years now. In France, I felt American. Back in America, I feel French. "That's called expatriatis," an American friend once told me. (She'd been living overseas for decades.) That said, I'm happy to be at least back in California and I relish the friendships I have with American women. Many of these friendships bloomed in an almost instantaneous and inspired burst of sisterhood. My French friendships, on the other hand, took years to develop. You'll find the words "maternity" and "fraternity" in the French vocabulary, but not the word "sisterhood." It actually doesn't exist. It takes time (lots of it) to know a French woman. If Entre Nous can help speed up the process (an American imperative, to be sure), so be it. But if it suggests what we, with our particular Anglo-Saxon baggage, might cull from more intangible but far more real aspects of the archetypal French woman, all the better. A lofty ambition perhaps, but pourquoi pas?

A veteran writer and contributor to such publications as Harper's, Salon and Le Monde, Debra Ollivier recently moved back to Los Angeles with her French husband and Franco-American children after living in Paris for 10 years.

I've never been a Francophile. As a student I spent a long, painfully boring year at the Sorbonne, spoke French well enough to fool the natives (you are from Belgium, non?), and smoked Gauloises in countless cafes, pondering the dismal continental weather with great heaps of fashionable young ennui. But when I moved back to […]
Behind the Book by

My new book, Physical: An American Checkup, probably sprang from an Abe Lincoln quote I first came across many years ago: I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right. And from crazier notions I came up with on my own, such as: The truth is, I don’t think I’m going to die. Not today, not tomorrow, not in 2067. Not me.

As I reached my late 40s, I thought things like that more and more often. In April 2002, a stitch along the left side of my abdomen suddenly graduated into an aching throb. I’d turned 51 in late March and was just beginning to get my feet underneath me again after the death of my son James from a drug overdose. I had tenure as a lit and writing professor, my second marriage was flourishing, and my book about poker (Positively Fifth Street) was scheduled to be published the following March. I felt pretty good about things, as long as you didn’t count the abscess in my soul where my son lived. But within a couple of days the thorn in my side, as I thought of it, had me walking hunched over like a little old man with bad knees and end-stage cirrhosis, not exactly the image I like to project to the world. As the throbbing intensified, I gulped down more Advil and worried.

I’d been taking Zocor to lower my cholesterol for almost two years, this while neglecting to get my liver function tested. Lynn Martin, my primary care physician, had told me to have it checked after three months because the possible side effects of the medicine included nephritis and liver damage, but I somehow forgot. I knew I’d been dosing myself far too liberally with Advil for headaches and hangovers, so my self-diagnosis was liver failure, though the phrase I used with my wife, Jennifer, was some liver thing. It was only at Jennifer’s insistence that I finally made an appointment to have my liver enzymes tested. I also stopped drinking and, in spite of the crippling pain, as I phrased it to myself, stopped taking Advil, even though I understood the damage was already done. Oh, and another thing, Braino, Jennifer said after wishing me luck and dropping me off at the lab. Your liver’s on your right side, not on your left.

The first appointment I could get was with Dr. Martin’s partner, Dennis Hughes. Tallish, maybe 40, all business, Hughes glanced at the blood test results, felt around where I’d told him it hurt, asked a few questions, then told me I probably had diverticulitis. Your liver’s functioning perfectly. Hughes e-mailed scrips for painkillers and antibiotics to my Walgreen’s and recommended a CT scan of my abdomen, which would confirm his diagnosis. The colonoscopy two weeks later will confirm that it’s all healed up nicely. I nodded. Had I missed something? The practice had just been computerized, and Hughes was happy to demonstrate how my records, medications, etc., were all in the system. The referrals for your scan and colonoscopy are already at Evanston Hospital. Terrific. The antibiotics killed the infection, or at least the symptoms, in a couple of days, so I was able to squirrel the unused painkillers into my party stash. When I called to report the good news, a nurse reminded me I still needed to get a colonoscopy. I’ll make the appointment as soon as I hang up, I told her, then sat down to breakfast, all better.

Days went by. Maybe a week. The pain was long gone, and I’d heard all about colonoscopies. You fasted for two or three days while slurping battery acid; step two involved a fully articulated four-foot-long aluminum bullwhip with a search light, a video camera and a lasso at the tip getting launched a few feet up into your large intestine. Not to worry, however. They used really super-duper lubrication. While discussing some unrelated business with Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper’s, I happened to mention my gastrointestinal adventure. Next thing I knew, Lewis was proposing that I go to the Mayo Clinic for what he called their executive physical, then write a big story about it. Now, this was a guy who had already changed my life by sending me to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker, so I had every reason to trust him. Yet the Mayo proposal triggered a whirlwind of panic. Accepting this plummy assignment would more or less guarantee I’d be told things I did not want to hear. The good news, Mr. McManus, is you’ve got almost five weeks to live. The bad news is, we started counting over a month ago. What if the Mayo clinicians discovered a tumor the size of a Titleist wedged inoperably between my pons and my creative left hemisphere? What if as they certainly would they made me swear off alcohol, tasty food and my nightly postprandial Parliament Light? It wasn’t that I didn’t understand how lucky I was to be offered a free Mayo Clinic physical, I just had too many other things on my plate turf and surf, garlic mashed potatoes, baked ziti, the take-out Mekong Fried Pork from the Phat Phuc Noodle Bar. But no! Not only would I have to drink gallons of icky stuff before I got reamed, they’d make me give up all the good stuff! To say nothing of my terror that the verdict might not be all that rosy.

Bottom line? I couldn’t get more medical treatment unless I followed up like I’d promised: my referral was already in the system, gosh darn it unless I got a colonoscopy as part of the Mayo thing. That way I could get everything checked in 72 hours, all under one roof, by the best of the best of the best. It was time to cowboy up and take my medicine.

Poker columnist for the New York Times and author of the bestseller Positively Fifth Street (2003), James McManus has also written four novels. He teaches writing and literature at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

My new book, Physical: An American Checkup, probably sprang from an Abe Lincoln quote I first came across many years ago: I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right. And from crazier notions I came up with on my own, […]
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Staying on track At first glance it looks something like a proud parent’s “Baby Book.” But appearances can be deceiving The Cancer Patient’s Workbook: Everything You Need to Stay Organized and Informed by Joanie Willis is actually an excellent resource for the cancer patient who prefers a hands-on approach to dealing with illness. Well illustrated (it even has cartoons) and thoughtfully designed, the workbook supplies readers with information on treatments, healthful eating and more questions to ask oncology, radiation and surgery experts than one would ever think of on one’s own, not to mention a place to record the answers. Some cancer writers counsel developing a spirit of detachment and observation. The Cancer Patient’s Workbook (complete with a cover that can be removed along with any outer reference to cancer, so you can carry it anywhere) certainly offers the wherewithal to achieve some measure of objectivity. It also provides inspirational material, even jokes (unrelated to cancer) to lift the spirit. However, be warned, this workbook skips nothing! It also has sections on writing obituaries and wills, planning funerals and bequeathing one’s precious things to others. Still, the overall air of the book is hopeful, courageous and enabling and by the end even the little cartoons that seem incongruous at the start have turned into familiar icons for doing what must be done to survive trouble with grace and dignity.

Staying on track At first glance it looks something like a proud parent’s “Baby Book.” But appearances can be deceiving The Cancer Patient’s Workbook: Everything You Need to Stay Organized and Informed by Joanie Willis is actually an excellent resource for the cancer patient who prefers a hands-on approach to dealing with illness. Well illustrated […]
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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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In Southernmost, novelist Silas House tells the story of Asher Sharp, a young preacher living in rural east Tennessee with his wife, Lydia, and their adolescent son, Justin. After a violent flood tears through their town, Asher provides shelter for a gay couple despite the religious conservatism of the area. Asher’s generosity is influenced in part by the immense guilt that remains from rejecting his gay brother, Luke, many years prior.

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