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Imagine, if you will, the ultimate swanky home tour—but with cats on display in every abode. Such are the joys of House Cat: Inspirational Interiors and the Elegant Felines Who Call Them Home, a worthy follow-up to Where They Purr, Paul Barbera’s first fur-ray into the territory of interiors featuring felines. Whereas the former title focused on the lifestyles of kitties across Europe and Australia, the new book features stateside dwellings. We meet Lady Penelope, who “runs a tight ship” in a New York City penthouse full of playful artwork, and who, having developed arthritis, relies on her “obedient human elevators.” Or how about the nine cat buddies shacked up in a Beverly Hills hacienda? The homes here incredibly diverse in style—everything from a Connecticut saltbox to a modern Miami apartment to a glass palace in the Santa Monica hills—but it’s the cats, and the care shown to capturing their distinctive selves and backstories, that really tugs my heart: “Even in her golden age, Evita Gaton has yet to relinquish her hunting habits. The 12-year-old lynx point Siamese is an independent and sometimes demanding presence in her 18th-century home.” There’s even a Q&A for each cat. (Diva or devoted friend? Lap cat or not? And so on.) 

In House Cat, Paul Barbera makes his second fur-ay into sumptuous interiors and the distinctive felines who dominate them.
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You might believe that the golden age of exploration is far behind us. Editor Jeff Wilser’s The Explorers Club: A Visual Journey Through the Past, Present, and Future of Exploration proves otherwise, revealing that we are in a tremendously exciting new era of discovery. The titular club is an actual New York City-based organization that defines exploration as “curiosity acted upon.” Among its 3,400-strong ranks are some of the world’s most intrepid and determined individuals, and Wilser offers a visually stunning front-row seat to club members’ game-changing explorations past and present. There’s storyteller Asha Stuart, looking at how the Himba people of Namibia are being affected by climate change, and Justin Dunnavant, who dives to explore sunken slave ships. Marine biologist Margaret O’Leary Amsler has revealed secrets of Antarctic krill, and astronaut Ed Lu deflects potentially dangerous asteroids. Today’s explorers both build and provide a needed corrective to the work of those who came before: Their missions ward off environmental devastation, increase conservation and alter perspectives for the better. Armchair explorers, or anyone with a curious mind, will be sucked right into the incredible stories gathered here. 

Jeff Wilser’s stunning The Explorers Club showcases some of today’s tremendously exciting scientific expeditions.
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“I am the keeper of the stories, the writer, the one who has carried the stories in my apron for so many years,” writes Crystal Wilkinson in her culinary memoir, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts: Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks. Wilkinson, a Kentucky native and author of several books of fiction and poetry, shares here the recipes and memories of her Black Appalachian forebears, including her grandmother who raised her. “I am always reaching back,” she writes, recalling her grandmother’s jam cake or imagining the life of a distant ancestor, Aggy, an enslaved woman who married her white enslaver’s son. Cooking a mess of dandelion greens, Wilkinson deepens the connection to her kitchen ghosts and reflects on the lean times her family encountered during the scarcity of winter. She finds delight and abundance in recipes for caramel cake, blackberry cobbler, sweet sorghum cookies, biscuits and cornbread. “I’ve always felt a power larger than myself while cooking,” Wilkinson reflects. We’re lucky that she’s sharing the power with us through this tender and important book. 

Crystal Wilkinson’s tender Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts collects the memories and recipes of her Black Appalachian forebears.
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Last year I told everyone who would listen about a book I was reading—Breath by James Nestor—and how radically it had impacted my thinking. Most of us breathe poorly, and it’s a real problem. Another excellent, easy-to-browse resource to get your breathing back on track is Jean Hall’s Breathe: Simple Breathing Techniques for a Calmer, Happier Life. You might think of it as the “now do this” counterpart to Nestor’s researched narrative. The breathing exercises offered here, many of which are adapted from yogic philosophy, are designed “to return the breath to its natural optimum pattern of slow, soft, steady spaciousness,” Hall writes. The outcome? Better mental and physical health (and yes, science backs this up). Some breath patterns are designed to enable sleep, others to energize or focus the mind, some to prep for meditation. If a class-based yoga practice isn’t the right fit for you, this book offers some of the basic teachings in a clear, succinct format.

Jean Hall’s Breathe is an excellent, easy-to-browse resource to get your breathing back on track.
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Scandi words for better living have been floating around the zeitgeist for a while now, and I’m not mad about it. First there was one of my all-time favorite concepts, hygge, the Scandinavian take on cozy comfort. Then came lykke (happiness) and fika (coffee break). Now meet njuter, the Swedish verb that means “to savor the moment.” Njuta: Enjoy, Delight In: The Swedish Art of Savoring the Moment by Niki Brantmark explores njuta, the art of cherishing the small delights in life, from several angles—at work, in nature, in food and drink, in hobbies and more. Embrace the concept and you might be deemed a livsnjutare, a person who thoroughly enjoys the finer things. (Like a hedonist, perhaps, but without any negative connotation.) There’s much herein about the positives of Swedish culture. Proverbs such as “Hard bread makes the cheek red” dot the book. Brantmark offers recipes for pinnbröd (bread on a stick), gröt (porridge) and kokkafe (a “slow” coffee); she boosts the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors and adding a fulsnygg (“ugly pretty”) piece of decor to your home. While not all of the ideas here will feel new, you’ll definitely learn a lot of fun Swedish terms and customs along the way.

Niki Brantmark’s Njuta surveys the Swedish art of cherishing small delights.
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If you want to write a book, you need to know the name Jami Attenberg. A bestselling novelist and memoirist, Attenberg has gathered more than 30,000 followers for her #1000wordsofsummer project over the past several years. It’s a two-week online accountability sprint, during which she sends quick pep talks—her own and those of author friends—to motivate legions of fellow scribes, who in turn lift each other up online. Her latest book, 1000 Words: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round, collects and distills that project into a motivational volume every writer should keep close at hand. Wise and frank words from heavy-hitters such as Ada Limon, Deesha Philyaw and Min Jin Lee, and from Attenberg herself, serve to drown out the harsh inner critic, the constant external static and the crushing doubt that threatens to derail any big creative undertaking. It’s like being at a writing retreat with some of the best contemporary authors on the planet. 

Bestselling novelist and memoirist Jamie Attenberg collects and distills her #1000wordsofsummer project in a wise and frank new book.
STARRED REVIEW

Our Top 10 books of January 2024

Jami Attenberg’s guide to writing, Derek B. Miller’s World War II art heist and Abbott Kahler’s thriller debut are among January’s top reads.
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Book jacket image for The Curse of Eelgrass Bog by Mary Averling

Mary Averling bewitches with her debut middle grade novel, The Curse of Eelgrass Bog, which straddles the line between slimy and sweet, concocting a fantasy

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Book jacket image for Lunar New Year Love Story by Gene Luen Yang

Gene Luen Yang’s writing and LeUyen Pham’s illustrations blend seamlessly to introduce readers to Vietnamese American Val and her evolving relationship with love.

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Book jacket image for The Curse of Pietro Houdini by Derek B. Miller

The Curse of Pietro Houdini boasts a little bit of everything—a truly fascinating setting; rich, quirky characters; tragedy, suspense, warmth and humor. Derek B. Miller

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Book jacket image for My Friends by Hisham Matar

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hisham Matar imbues each scene of this scintillating novel with rich, nostalgic emotion, combining history and fiction as he follows a young

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Book jacket image for Where You End by Abbott Kahler

A woman loses her memory and the only person she can trust is her twin sister in Abbott Kahler’s scary, tense and provocative debut thriller.

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Deborah G. Plant’s indictment of America’s criminal justice system, Of Greed and Glory, has the power of a sermon and the urgency of a manifesto.

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Book jacket image for 1000 Words by Jami Attenberg

Bestselling novelist and memoirist Jami Attenberg collects and distills her #1000wordsofsummer project in a wise and frank new book.

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Book jacket image for The Fruit Cure by Jacqueline Alnes

Jacqueline Alnes’ memoir, The Fruit Cure, is a spellbinding, cautionary tale about falling prey to fad diets to resolve medical ailments.

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Book jacket image for The Last Fire Season by Manjula Martin

Manjula Martin’s searing memoir, The Last Fire Season, recounts her experience living through the 2020 Northern California wildfires in mesmerizing prose.

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Book jacket image for The Parliament by Aimee Pokwatka

Far more than simply “‘The Birds,’ but with owls,” The Parliament is the kind of captivating novel that comes along all too rarely.

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Jami Attenberg’s guide to writing, Derek B. Miller’s World War II art heist and Abbott Kahler’s thriller debut are among January’s top reads.
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Brandon Stosuy is a master of pulling together the inspiring words of artists: He has gifted us with the stellar online magazine of interviews The Creative Independent, and three elegantly designed creativity guides. Now he returns with Sad Happens: A Celebration of Tears, a book of reflections, illustrated by Rose Lazar, about the experience and catharsis of sadness and weeping, a “collective, multifaceted archive of tears.” As in his previous books, Stosuy sources from his vast artist network: Many contributors here are music-biz folks, including The National’s Matt Berninger and the ultimate #sadgirl Phoebe Bridgers. “The shared emotion of Sad Happens has real power,” writes Stosuy. “It gives us permission to open up, let down our guard, embrace those things that make us feel vulnerable. By sharing, we see that crying is universal, and that tears should, in fact, be celebrated.” Tears come when they will, like it or not: during the “emotional exorcism” of massage for writer Nada Alic, while singing for Gelsey Bell, and while flying for Hanif Abdurraqib. The effect of reading these candid takes on sadness may elicit your own, and maybe that’s a good thing. While paging through the book, I remembered once texting my teenage daughter to see what she was doing, and she said, “Listening to the boygenius album and crying. Don’t worry, I’m making the conscious choice to cry.” And I felt a little sad, then, that I rarely cry. I used to, a lot; but now an SSRI suppresses the tears. There should be a word, I think, for “feeling like crying, but thanks to medication, you can’t.”

Brandon Stosuy collects candid takes on sadness from Phoebe Bridgers, Hanif Abdurraqib and a bevy of other luminaries in Sad Happens.
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“I’m rooting for, uhmmm, everybody Black,” said actor/writer/producer and “Insecure” creator Issa Rae at the 2017 Emmy Awards. The essential Black TV: Five Decades of Groundbreaking Television from “Soul Train” to “Black-ish” and Beyond, from Washington Post reporter Bethonie Butler, does the same, showcasing prime-time television shows of a “new era in Black television: one in which viewers would have more say in what they watched and Black writers, producers, and talent would have more creative control over the stories they brought to television.” Among these noteworthy series, Butler highlights Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” Quinta Brunson’s “Abbott Elementary” and Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” swiftly surveying their impact on the industry. Along the way, Butler visits the Jeffersons and the Cosbys, Arsenio Hall and Richard Pryor, the Fresh Prince and the ladies of “Living Single,” and many other icons of television, showing how Black creators opened doors for one another to find success. 

Bethonie Butler’s glossy coffee table book Black TV highlights the impact of Black creators on the entertainment industry.
STARRED REVIEW

September 29, 2021

The five cookbooks that will keep you warm this winter

By Susannah Felts

These cookbooks are packed with recipes sure to satisfy culinary beginners, history buffs, comfort-seekers and beyond.

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Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook aims to be a comprehensive, entry-level guide to cooking. It is mammoth, much like the Joy of Cooking my mom gave me when I moved into my first apartment. There’s a strong emphasis on technique—searing, poaching, browning, all the ways to prepare eggs, pastry 101—and clear indication of expertise required for any given recipe. The design reminds me of how recipes are presented on the internet: full-color, with tags and photo tutorials throughout. But many dishes feel elevated, far from basic, even when they fall under “easy,” such as watermelon chaat, jammy egg tacos and a quinoa crunch salad. I suspect a lot of newlyweds will be adding this one to their kitchen shelves. 

Sohla El-Waylly’s mammoth Start Here is a comprehensive, entry-level cookbook that elevates easy-to-master recipes.
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I simply adore soup. Especially in cold weather, I could eat soup daily. I know I’m not alone. Soup lovers, let us take up our ladles and spoons and hunks of good bread: Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s Every Season Is Soup Season: 85+ Souper-Adaptable Recipes to Batch, Share, Reinvent, and Enjoy sets us up for year-round slurping. Four seasons of soups, stews, ramen, gazpacho and more are joined by a mouthwatering assortment of garnishes—frizzled shallots, honeyed feta with black and white sesame seeds and tarragon-orange oil among them. Then there are the sides: salads, focaccia, cornbread. This winter I’m determined to try Worcel’s pumpkin and white bean soup with brown butter sage, and her sweet potato and leek peanut stew. Best of all, the soups can be repurposed into other dishes, such as a spicy noodle stir-fry made from the aforementioned stew.

Soup lovers will delight in Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s cookbook that offers soups, stews, ramen, gazpacho and more for every season.
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In 2014, food historians Victoria Flexner and Jay Reifel cooked up an NYC supper club called Edible History, a perfect pairing of fine dining and intellectual stimulation. Now they’ve spun the concept into A History of the World in 10 Dinners: 2,000 Years, 100 Recipes, which includes recipes for such dishes as Trimalchio’s pig (a roasted suckling pig with sausages) from ancient Rome, and glazed whore’s farts (meringues) from Versailles. “This book will present even the experienced cook with a shocking variety of unfamiliar ingredients,” Reifel writes. “We have missed out on so many perspectives,” writes Flexner. “How do we learn about people who left nothing behind?” Their book is one intriguing answer, and I savor the thought of reading it to my teenage daughter as she makes her way through AP World History.

The chefs at New York’s Edible History share curious recipes from various periods of history in their intriguing new cookbook.
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Gennaro’s Cucina: Hearty Money-Saving Meals From an Italian Kitchen by Gennaro Contaldo focuses on cucina povera, the traditional cooking of rural Italy, where seasonality and a “waste not want not” lifestyle deliciously intersect. If you love to buy loaves of artisan bread but often find them stale before you can eat them up, grab this book. Numerous recipes incorporate past-its-prime bread—you’re probably familiar with panzanella, but here we’re introduced to ribollita, a Tuscan bean and bread soup; cooked bread with rocket and pancetta; and many more dishes that make me want to go out and buy a loaf just to let it sit until I’m ready to cook. But meat and fish are hardly overlooked here, nor is pasta (after all, what is it but a bit of water and flour?) and sweets such as mini ricotta doughnuts and Sardinian sweet ravioli. 

Highlighting the cuisine of rural Italy, Gennaro’s Cucina is a zero-waste cookbook that makes every scrap of food delicious.
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“Think about this: The Italians didn’t have the tomato until after 1492,” writes chef and food historian Lois Ellen Frank. “The Irish didn’t have the potato.” Let that sink in, then get a copy of Frank’s Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients. Written with Walter Whitewater, the book celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants of the Americas—corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla and cacao. The recipes are accessible, budget-friendly and entirely plant-based, such as the three sisters tamale with green chile, black beans, chocolate and chipotle; baked acorn squash with maple and pecans; and green chile enchilada lasagne. In sum, this is a fantastic introduction and tribute to Native American Southwestern cuisine.

Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants first cultivated in the Americas.

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Recipes from Gennaro Contaldo, Sohla El-Waylly, Edible History and more will get you cooking with gas in no time.
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As I’ve become interested in observing pagan holidays, or sabbats, such as Yule and Mabon, Raechel Henderson’s The Natural Home Wheel of the Year: Crafting, Cooking, Decorating & Magic for Every Sabbat feels right on time. “The sabbats give us a new station roughly every 45 days, at which we can pause and notice the world around us,” she writes. Rituals, special meals and craft projects give meaningful shape and heft to that attention, and can be as simple as a dinner table place setting for a departed loved one, or as ambitious as a homemade oil lamp. As the holiday Imbolc hints at the coming spring, making a bird feeder or a batch of oatcakes with honey butter could brighten the last weeks of winter. In late summer, Lammas marks an ideal moment to forage for berries or bake bread. Henderson also provides journal prompts for a check-in with our internal selves in accordance with the cycle of nature, a way to connect the inner and outer worlds. Decked out in color photos and including helpful templates for some of the crafts, this book is a beautiful year-round resource.

The Natural Home Wheel of the Year is a guide to rituals, special meals and craft projects that give meaningful shape to pagan holidays.
STARRED REVIEW
December 14, 2023

Four books to make you feel at home

Design books by Bobby Berk, Erin Napier and others are sure to inspire, instruct and make you tremble with sheer want.

By Susannah Felts
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Right at Home

Bobby Berk of Netflix's "Queer Eye" channels his designer’s mind into a beautiful new book that urges us to follow our instincts to create homes ...
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Book jacket image for Mountain House by Nina Freudenberger

Mountain House

Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House illustrates sumptuous interior designs that may make you tremble with sheer want.
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Book jacket image for Heirloom Rooms by Erin Napier

Heirloom Rooms

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
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Book jacket image for Cheap Old Houses by Elizabeth Finkelstein

Cheap Old Houses

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
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These four design books are sure to inspire, instruct and make you tremble with sheer want.
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Despite the fact that I adore each of the Fab Five, when I watch “Queer Eye,” I’m most dazzled by the transformations masterminded by Bobby Berk. What a delight, then, to have his effervescent designer’s mind channeled into beautiful book form. In Right at Home: How Good Design Is Good for the Mind, he leads us by the hand on a quest to make our homes work for, not against, our lives. “Your home needs to be a safe space for your mind,” he says, going on to banish all lofty talk of “design aesthetic” in favor of focusing on specific things you love, letting form follow function and honing our instincts. “We’ve all got instincts! Which means: We can all be designers,” he promises. I have my doubts, but . . . might I know myself and my instincts a bit better, having spent time with this book? Yes. Might I discover ways to improve my space without buying a bunch of new stuff? Also yes. Might I continue to wish Berk & co. would upend my life for the better? That’s a given.

Bobby Berk of Netflix's "Queer Eye" channels his designer’s mind into a beautiful new book that urges us to follow our instincts to create homes that bring us joy.

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