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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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 Everything, Beautiful

In a world unspeakably darkened by crisis, it might seem trifling to even think about appreciating, cultivating or devoting our attention to beauty. Focusing on beauty might even read as an act of oblivious privilege. But perhaps a fuller contemplation of what beauty is, can be and has been, and what it can mean in our everyday lives, is in fact one step toward repairing massive-scale damage. Writer and illustrator Ella Frances Sanders believes it is. In Everything, Beautiful, she envisions learning to see beauty as a curative, even redemptive process, “like putting a delicate, very broken vase back together.” No matter how broken our world, it is nevertheless full of “tiny, beautiful things,” she writes. “Some are so invisible or silent that you may never see or understand them, but they are there.” Through text, illustration and guided prompts, Sanders upends and expands our notions of beauty and urges us to notice the ingredients for beauty that are all around us, such as “light, slowness, and the kind of air temperatures that feel like honey.”

Lost Places

I live in a boomtown where every old structure seems to either meet the wrecking ball or get a second life via adaptive reuse. Paging through the images in Lost Places, I’m swept into another world, one where the vestiges of America’s past are left, silent and uninhabited, to be transformed by weather and time. Heribert Niehues’ photographs of abandoned cars, houses, gas stations and other structures tell a story about our country’s past. They are also suffused with mystery: What lives did these places once contain? Who last passed through these doors? Scenes of decaying diner interiors are among the spookiest, with guests’ checks, condiment containers and fry baskets left behind. Car buffs will enjoy Niehues’ many images of rusted-out, early- to mid-20th-century models. Many of the abandoned edifices captured here fell victim to the interstate system when it rerouted travel in the 1950s and ’60; one wonders what of our present might be left behind a century from now, as climate change remaps the landscape.

Forever Beirut

Forever Beirut, a cookbook with accompanying essays and stunning photographs, was conceptualized by Barbara Abdeni Massaad as a way to help her beloved home country in the aftermath of a terrible 2020 explosion at the port of Beirut. In response to disaster and economic collapse, the book passionately preserves the treasures of Beirut’s culinary heritage, with recipes for favorites such as kibbeh, a dish of ground lamb, beef or vegetables kneaded together with bulgur; man’oushe, a traditional flatbread; mezze, small dishes served together such as chickpeas and yogurt; and semolina cake. This is the stuff of my culinary dreams: food that is aromatically spiced, uncomplicated and yet bursting with flavor, served to the reader within a deep, loving sociocultural context.

Look a little closer, and you’ll find beauty lurking in unexpected places. The three books in this month’s lifestyles column will help you spot it.
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★ Edible Plants

In Edible Plants, Jimmy W. Fike takes native North American plant specimens—such as dandelion, rocket, sassafras, spicebush and pawpaw—out of their natural surroundings and meticulously digitally photographs them against black backdrops. In each image, the stark contrast makes visible the magical potency and potential of these common living things, many of which are often dismissed as weeds. Fike colorizes the edible portions of each plant, while the inedible parts are kept a delicate, even eerie gray. These striking photographs seek to inform, similar to the horticultural photography and illustrations of eras past, perhaps making foragers of us all. But what’s more, they are painstakingly beautiful. This book would make an impressive gift for the naturalist in your life.

Cats & Books

How can we not give a shoutout to Cats & Books, a slim-and-trim, adorable celebration of felines sprawled amid TBR piles and perched on bookshelves? This is a hashtag-to-print project: The photos are crowdsourced from Instagram users worldwide who tagged their photos #CatsandBooks. Now compiled in print, short captions give glimpses of these kitties’ personalities. For example, George from Germany “is a gentle soul and the best office buddy one could ask for.” (Sweet George is shown with a paw flung possessively over a copy of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.) Any person who loves cats and also loves books obviously needs to own this small treasure.

Things You Can Do

Last night at dinner, my daughter complained about the absence of meat in her tacos, which led to a discussion of sustainable eating. She didn’t grasp the connection between a carnivorous diet and climate change, so I brought to the table Things You Can Do and read from Chapter 3, “A Climate-Friendly Diet.” I daresay I got through to her, and I imagine New York Times journalist Eduardo Garcia’s compact, well-sourced guide to fighting climate change and reducing waste will continue to help us play our small but mighty part. Grounded in science, this approachable book offers a 360-degree view of the causes and effects of a warming planet, from reliance on coal to the excesses of modern life, including the overuse of air conditioning, increased meat consumption, car culture and much more. I for one am glad to have this resource, rounded out by beautiful watercolor and gouache illustrations by Sara Boccaccini Meadows, at my fingertips for family meals and beyond.

The natural world and all of its delicate delights take center stage in this month’s roundup of the best and most beautiful lifestyles books.
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The losses continue to mount as we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this grief is still new, weathering sorrow is as old as humanity. Four authors offer hidden paths toward healing.

Bittersweet

Like Quiet, Susan Cain’s bestselling book on introversion, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole eschews American cultural norms like mandatory happiness and productivity in favor of other more fertile traditions, such as Aristotle’s concept of melancholia. Cain asks provocative questions like, “What’s the use of sadness?” and seeks answers through academic studies, insightful interviews and vulnerable self-reflection. A standout example is her interaction with Dacher Keltner, a psychologist who helped Pixar understand the crucial role of sadness in Inside Out. Sadness, he says, is what brings people together and adds depth to joy.

Bittersweetness is both a feeling and a disposition. (The book includes a quiz for readers to determine if they are bittersweet by nature.) Experiencing bittersweetness heightens life’s poignancy, opens the door to transcendence and helps people acknowledge the impermanence of existence. It is reasonable to be sad, Cain explains, when one is deeply aware that life can change in an instant. Grief and trauma may even be inherited. But when we explore these bittersweet feelings, we begin to see ourselves and our world a bit differently, with more depth, and can finally find new paths forward. As one of Cain’s sources Rene Denfeld put it, “We have to hold our losses close, and carry them like beloved children. Only when we accept these terrible pains do we realize that the path across is the one that takes us through.”

Read our starred review of the audiobook, read by author Susan Cain.

Grief Is Love

Marisa Renee Lee focuses on how grief is actually a painful expression of love in Grief Is Love: Living With Loss. When Lee was 25, her mother died of cancer in her arms. Afterward she held a beautiful memorial and started a nonprofit in her mother’s honor, yet she found herself unable to deal with the gnawing grief that clouded her inner life. Every big moment reminded her of her mother’s absence, especially her wedding and her miscarriage. Healing came, but all too slowly.

Grief Is Love is organized around 10 lessons related to grief, touching on topics such as safety, grace and intimacy. Lee carefully considers the impact of identity (gender, race, sexuality, class and so on) on mourning, noting at several points how society’s expectations of Black women—that they’ll be strong and keep their pain to themselves—slowed her own grieving process. Readers of this memoir will get a clear sense of how Lee’s grief rocked her world at 25 and continued to reverberate well into her 30s, but they’ll also appreciate the ways of coping she’s found since then—ones she wouldn’t have allowed or even recognized during those early days. Lee describes the long haul of loss and speaks directly and compassionately to those who are experiencing it. She also takes comfort in her faith and even imagines her mother and unborn child meeting in heaven.

The Other Side of Yet

Media executive and former television producer Michelle D. Hord explores the twin griefs for her mother and her child in The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness. Hord pulls the word yet from the book of Job, which was a lifeline following her daughter’s horrific murder by Hord’s estranged husband, the child’s father. The Bible describes how Job lost everything and yet still believed. This describes Hord, too, who treasures her “defiant faith.”

In The Other Side of Yet, Hord offers readers a framework for facing life after a traumatic event using the acronym SPIRIT (survive, praise, impact, reflect, imagine, testify). Though Hord’s book is not organized around these directives, her own story does follow this path. To read Hord’s memoir is to witness a mother who lost everything and yet stood to tell the tale and dared to remain vulnerable.

Take What You Need

Jen Crow’s life also fell apart, but not because she lost someone beloved. Instead, the sudden tragedy of a house fire provided the impetus for Take What You Need: Life Lessons After Losing Everything. Crow, a Unitarian minister, may seem an unlikely candidate for a spiritual guide: She loves tattoos and the open road and spent years defying anyone who got in her way as she ran from her difficult childhood. After settling down and finally feeling safe, a literal bolt of lightning changed her life in an instant.

Almost immediately after the fire, Crow realized that the way she and her wife talked about the tragedy would impact their children. “I wanted them to hear our gratitude, not our fear,” she writes. So they took special care in framing the story they told about the fire, never describing it as a form of punishment or “proof that hardship never ends.” As Crow searched for a better way to interpret their situation, she found herself learning from her children, who comforted each other instinctively, crawling into bed together and crying. Observing them, Crow considered that grieving might be as natural to people as any other process in life, and that they might already possess what they need to persevere.

Across these books about suffering and healing, there is a practical and poetic need to surrender to what is overwhelming. Each book points to the power of faith and spiritual traditions to guide people outside of their own perspectives, where they can finally see themselves with lovingkindness, accept their losses and keep going.

Four nonfiction titles offer comfort, empathy and wisdom to those who are reeling from loss.

“The making of many books is without limit,” says the book of Ecclesiastes, and that weary reaction seems appropriate when considering yet another offering on personal finance. But Paco de Leon’s Finance for the People: Getting a Grip on Your Finances is a refreshingly original contribution to this crowded field, and one her fellow millennials will find especially valuable as they contemplate the decades of decisions that will shape their financial futures.

Founder of the Hell Yeah Group, a financial firm that emphasizes service to creatives, de Leon touches all the traditional bases, from how to handle debt to saving and investing for retirement. Much of this advice (e.g., automate savings and max out contributions to a retirement account when there’s an employer match) doesn’t stray far from conventional paths. But as she leads readers on the perilous ascent of what she calls the “Pyramid of Financial Awesomeness,” several aspects of her approach stand out.

Acknowledging that we are all “weird about money,” de Leon offers an empathetic yet concrete perspective on overcoming the psychological barriers that prevent many people from dealing effectively with financial decision-making. And while she’s not averse to discipline, she disdains some of the popular emphasis on austerity (think David Bach’s The Latte Factor). Rejecting a worldview that chooses “scarcity over abundance,” she’s intent on “helping people connect to their financial power,” encouraging them to think at least as hard about generating more income as they do about saving in order to balance what she calls the “personal finance equation.”

De Leon delivers her message in a breezy, conversational style, emphasizing key points with an assortment of clever cartoons. At the same time, she is eminently practical, insisting on the need to set aside 30 to 60 minutes of “weekly finance time” as a first step toward systematically establishing sound money habits. Most notably, de Leon includes some tips—including journaling as a means of “unearthing your beliefs about money” and using mindfulness meditation to develop the muscle of delayed gratification—not likely to be found in other books of this genre. Above all, she’s an engagingly self-deprecating storyteller, illustrating her advice with tales of some of her own money missteps and their hard-earned lessons.

Dealing with money is one of life’s inescapable realities, and for most people there will always be some amount of pain associated with it. Having a friendly guide like Finance for the People can help the journey become both more bearable and more profitable.

Paco de Leon’s Finance for the People is a refreshingly original contribution to this crowded field of personal finance books.
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Focusing on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, these titles offer insight for managing emotions, handling stress and boosting communication skills. Here’s to a transformative new year!

Readers looking to cultivate a more peaceful mindset will find helpful strategies in Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Smith is a clinical psychologist, educator and writer who has been featured on CNN and the BBC. After gaining a robust social media following with her content about mental health, Smith decided to write a book so that she could delve deeper into some of the issues she often addresses with her patients in therapy.

In her warm, welcoming book, Smith focuses on weighty topics that we all contend with, such as stress, grief, fear and self-doubt, and provides suggestions for how to work through these feelings. She also encourages readers to find out what motivates them so they can use it to implement important life changes. Throughout, she takes a proactive approach, offering methods for dissolving anxiety, using stress for positive ends and managing low moods. She includes writing prompts and easy-to-do exercises to help readers explore how they respond to criticism, how they can confront anxious thoughts and more.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is briskly written and seasoned with compassionate insights. “When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way,” Smith writes, “we can not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.” Readers who are eager to achieve emotional balance and make a fresh start in 2022 will find the direction they need in Smith’s empowering book.

Popular science writer Catherine Price offers more ideas about how to start this year off on the right foot.

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, Leonard Mlodinow considers the seemingly diametrical relationship between emotion and logic and shows that these two facets of human nature are not as opposed as we might imagine. A theoretical physicist and mathematician, Mlodinow has previously co-written two books with Stephen Hawking. So what can a physicist tell us about emotional intelligence? Taking a science-supported approach, Mlodinow examines the nature and usefulness of our everyday feelings. He demonstrates that, when it comes to important processes such as goal-setting and decision-making, our emotions play as key a role as our ability to think critically.

“We know that emotion is as important as reason in guiding our thoughts and decisions, though it operates in a different manner,” Mlodinow writes. Over the course of the book, he explores the way emotions work by looking at how they arise in the brain and inform our thought processes. He also investigates the history and development of human feelings, including how they’ve been regarded by different cultures in the past. Mlodinow shares a wealth of practical advice and guidance on how to monitor, and even embrace, emotions in ways that can lead to self-improvement. The book includes questionnaires that allow readers to determine their own emotional profiles, as well.

Synthesizing hard research, lively personal anecdotes and input from psychologists and neuroscientists, Mlodinow tackles complex topics in a reader-friendly fashion to create a narrative that’s wonderfully accessible. Understanding our emotions is a critical step in the journey toward personal growth, and Mlodinow’s remarkable book will put readers on the right track.

If you’ve resolved to get in touch with your feelings in 2022, then we have the books for you.
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When life handed the world lemons in the form of a global pandemic, Catherine Price found a way to make lemonade. She began researching and writing a book that would help readers define, prioritize and add more fun to their lives. For anyone hoping to make 2022 a banner year, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again provides the perfect jump-start. Instead of trying to corral the willpower and restraint that’s key to so many self-improvement plans, Price prioritizes fun, a strategy she compares to “going on a diet that requires you to eat more foods that you love.”

“We go into this self-restriction phase after the indulgence of the holidays,” Price says, speaking by phone from her Philadelphia home. “But you can make positive change in your life and have fun. In January, we feel like we have to make up for anything we did in December, instead of realizing that this is a wonderful opportunity to set a good tone for the new year by doing things that make us happier.”

Price notes that millions of people devote time and therapy to reducing stress and anxiety, but most of us contemplate fun only as an afterthought. “I’ve drunk my own Kool-Aid,” Price admits, her voice brimming with enthusiasm. “Really, fun is one of the most important things in life, and the more fun we have and the more we prioritize fun, the happier and healthier we will be.” As she writes in The Power of Fun, “It should be our guiding star.”

Read our starred review of ‘The Power of Fun.’

Price’s latest book is a natural sequel to her 2018 book, How to Break Up With Your Phone, which she wrote after realizing that she was spending hours mindlessly scrolling on her smartphone while ignoring her infant daughter. By limiting her screen time, Price created more free time—but then she didn’t know what she actually wanted to do with that time.   

For Price, her most vivid experiences of fun occurred while learning to play the guitar. Once she realized that, one thing led to another: She formed a small band, began performing at open mic nights, started drum lessons and made new friends—activities she particularly relished because her work as a freelance writer is so solitary. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Price and her musical friends had numerous outside jam sessions, sometimes in bone-chilling weather. “We did this for the entire winter,” she says, reminiscing about a keyboard that is probably still covered in campfire ashes. “The fact that all of us committed to this source of fun was so meaningful. We went beyond playmates and became friends. And it all came from having a couple other people in my life who also prioritized fun.”

For The Power of Fun, Price surveyed numerous people in detail about their own fun experiences and how they felt during those moments. She calls her writing “science-backed self-help,” explaining, “I don’t like the sort of self-help that’s just platitudes. I really want there to be some evidence. I want to know exactly why I’m doing something.” However, as she dug into the material, she was shocked to discover that there wasn’t even an agreed-upon definition of fun, nor was there much research on the subject.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to set a good tone for the new year by doing things that make us happier.”

Price eventually decided to label passive entertainment, like watching TV for hours at a time, as Fake Fun and to create her own definition for True Fun—moments of what she calls “playful, connected flow” in which someone connects with other people in a meaningful way and becomes so fully engrossed in the moment that they lose track of time. There’s a lot of middle ground between these two poles, Price notes, full of enjoyable, worthwhile pastimes that simply don’t reach peak fun. Luckily, The Power of Fun includes a Fun Audit, which Price developed to help readers identify the activities most likely to spark inner joy.

Price stresses that it’s equally important for each person to recognize activities that aren’t personally fun. For instance, Price knows that she doesn’t like charades or performing improv comedy, and that while she enjoys being part of musical groups, she’s not a solo performer. “If you’ve tried something a number of times and it never generates fun for you, then maybe it’s OK to move on to the next thing,” she says. “By saying no to that, you might open up a new opportunity that’s actually fun.”

Speaking of things that aren’t personally fun—Price faced multiple challenges as she wrote about this joyful magic ingredient “during an objectively not-fun period of history.” One moment was especially memorable, when she found herself alone for several days in the midst of the pandemic. “Imagine, if you will,” she writes in the book, “me slouched in front of my laptop with about fifteen browser windows open, each containing a different research paper about the horrible health effects of loneliness and isolation, as I sat on the couch, isolated and alone.”

If you’ve resolved to get in touch with your feelings this year, these books will help you increase your EQ.

“At the same time,” Price says, “the project had a powerfully positive effect on my own life. It allowed me to weather a difficult time with my sanity intact—and in fact, with my cheerfulness intact. It gave me something positive to focus on.”

At the start of the 2020 lockdown, Price, her husband and their young daughter headed to Price’s childhood home in New Jersey, where her parents could help with child care. “It was interesting to see my daughter playing in some of the very same places that I had played as a kid. But it was also interesting to reflect on what play means as an adult,” Price says. “Having a 5-year-old is very useful for reminding yourself that there are opportunities for playfulness and connection and flow around us all the time. We just need to learn to tune into them.”

This change of focus even improved Price’s marriage. “[My husband and I] were very playful people to begin with,” she says, “but it’s been really useful for us to reframe our own experience through the lens of fun and treat it as a priority, both as a couple and individually.”

“If you’re having fun with people . . . you’re embracing your shared humanity.”

In addition to improving interpersonal relationships, Price believes this process could even heal some of the nation’s divides. “Fun brings people together,” she says. “If you’re having fun with people, you’re not yelling at them, you’re not emphasizing your political differences. You’re embracing your shared humanity.”

Price became a science writer somewhat by accident. In high school, she believed science classes were boring, hard and irrelevant. That feeling changed at age 22, when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “That moment of having to take control of my own blood sugar for the rest of my life, lest I suffer devastating consequences, like blindness or amputation or stroke or kidney failure, was a big turning point,” she recalls.

An added influence was Michael Pollan, Price’s mentor at the University of California, Berkeley, journalism program, who helped her discover that she likes “writing about health and science in a quirky, personal, fun way.” For one assignment, Price wrote about being diagnosed with diabetes, which led to the New York Times publishing her essay “Thinking About Diabetes With Every Bite” in 2009. Eventually, she even wrote a book about nutrition called Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food.

“Writing this book made me tune into what made me want to become a writer to begin with.”

For years Price has contemplated writing a book about hormones, a subject that fascinates her, but now she thinks she’ll choose a different topic for her next project. “I want to really lean into this fun thing,” she says. “I personally feel that my books come most alive whenever I’m telling a personal anecdote, and I love writing that way. Writing this book made me tune into what made me want to become a writer to begin with.”

Price hopes The Power of Fun will likewise help readers gather with friends and “spend January or February staging their own kind of ‘funterventions.’” Once you start noticing tiny, everyday moments, she says, “it brightens up your life, and, in turn, that buoyancy can help energize you so that you can start to seek out even bigger moments of playful, connected flow. I see it as a very self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing cycle with innumerable positive effects.”

These lessons have led to a very different life, Price explains. “Realizing what I really want to prioritize as fun has been truly life-changing. And I’m so excited to share that message with the world.”

Author photo by Colin Lenton

Popular science writer Catherine Price says to stop scrolling, put down your phone and play.
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Fun “shouldn’t be an afterthought,” writes popular science author Catherine Price. “It should be our guiding star.” How’s that for good news?

After writing How to Break Up With Your Phone and following her own book’s advice, Price discovered that she had more free time, but she experienced a moment of crisis when she couldn’t figure out what to do with that freedom. Eventually she learned how to fill those moments with newfound fun and joy, a process that she describes in The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. It’s a natural sequel to her previous book, as well as a similarly satisfying—and transformational—read.

Catherine Price shares the ways her own life was transformed by learning to prioritize fun.

This naturally fun and funny writer dug her dusty guitar out of the closet and became part of an enriching musical community that has changed her life. Meanwhile, Price also began researching the subject of fun, sorting out the difference between what she calls Fake Fun (such as watching TV for hours at a time or endlessly scrolling through social media) and True Fun, which leaves people feeling “nourished and refreshed.” After devouring books on the subject and querying hundreds of people about how they experience fun, she came up with her own definition of True Fun as a “confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow.” It’s a definition that holds up well throughout her discussions, allowing readers many opportunities to see how their own activities measure up.

The Power of Fun includes a toolkit for those whose leisure lives need a boost, including a Fun Audit and practical suggestions for creating your own Fun Squad; but even those whose lives are already highly entertaining will come to view and value their pastimes in a new light. Price documents her own journey of fun failures, such as improv comedy and charades, and successes, such as playing light-up badminton at night with her husband, an absurdly humorous aqua aerobics lesson in Latvia and learning to row crew at age 40, which resulted in a dramatic capsize in Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River. Price reminds readers to cherish moments of fun both large and small—even “microdoses,” such as a quick smile or an unexpected exchange with a stranger—and to make time for fun “booster shots” like vacations or annual gatherings “that fill up your fun tank and replenish your energy for a longer period of time.”

Price is a trustworthy guide with a personable voice that stands out on each page. The Power of Fun reads like a heaping serving of a tasty yet healthy snack. You’ll enjoy every bite and feel energized afterward.

The Power of Fun provides instructions for filling your life with the kind of playful, connected fun that leaves you feeling nourished and refreshed.
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If you’ve been feeling down, take heart. Environmental icon Jane Goodall remains hopeful, so surely we readers can, too. Her wisdom, along with four additional books, fills this season with inspiration and empowerment.

★ The Book of Hope

Jane Goodall may well be Earth’s ultimate cheerleader. In The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, she professes steadfast hope for both humanity and our planet that’s rooted in “action and engagement,” not simply wishful thinking. In straightforward, easy-to-digest prose, she writes that each one of us can make a difference, and that “the cumulative effect of thousands of ethical actions can help to save and improve our world for future generations.” 

The book is framed as a series of conversations between Goodall and Douglas Abrams, a truly engaging thinker and writer who took a similar approach in the first title in the Global Icons series, The Book of Joy, in which he facilitated conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Readers will be drawn into The Book of Hope as Abrams arrives at Goodall’s home in Tanzania for dinner, bearing a bottle of whiskey. Their subsequent chats span the globe; they talk at the Jane Goodall Institute in the Netherlands, and eventually, because of COVID-19 restrictions, they connect via Zoom as Goodall gives Abrams a virtual tour of her childhood home in Bournemouth, England. 

Their discussions are focused yet wide-ranging as Goodall explains the four main sources of her hope: “the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of youth, and the indomitable human spirit.” She admits that she briefly lost her way after her husband Derek Bryceson died in 1980, saying, “Grief can make one feel hopeless.” Abrams and Goodall’s talks deepen after he unexpectedly loses his father to lymphoma and, later, his college roommate to suicide. “We are going through dark times,” Goodall says early in the book. For this reason and many more, The Book of Hope is a gem of a gift.

The Lightmaker’s Manifesto

If you’re yearning to become a true change-maker, then turn to Karen Walrond’s extremely helpful The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy for a profound nudge. Walrond definitely walks the walk, having ditched her career as a lawyer to become an activism coach. As an Afro-Caribbean American immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, she says, “my work is underpinned by an ongoing desire to fight discrimination and foster interconnectedness through the sharing of stories and images of beauty.”

After a colleague tried to pressure Walrond to break the law, she found herself at a crisis point in her career and spent months trying to figure out what to do next. She proceeded in a structured, analytical way—a process that she shares in narrative form, as well as in a “Lightmaker’s Manual” section of prompts and exercises to help readers make their own decisions. She confesses early on, “In my not-so-distant past, I had come up with a pretty extensive list of reasons why an activist life wasn’t for me.” But when she realized that she loved to speak, write and take photos, she searched for a way to put all these talents to work.

She bookends her account by discussing the beginning and end of a trip to Kenya sponsored by the ONE Campaign to fight poverty and preventable disease, describing the joyful rewards of her new career. “We can do this, my friends,” she says in her encouraging and authentic way. “There’s no end to the light that we can make.”

★ The Matter of Black Lives

The Matter of Black Lives: Writing From The New Yorker, co-edited by New Yorker editor David Remnick and staff writer Jelani Cobb, is a standout among recent books about race, notable for its historical perspective and breadth as well as for the excellent writing of its many renowned contributors. The first entry, for example, James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter From a Region in My Mind,” marked a turning point for The New Yorker’s coverage of racial matters. It is a riveting, astounding essay, describing in a highly personal way Baldwin’s meeting with Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. In a foreword, Cobb notes, “Baldwin’s essay was, for many readers, a jolt, a concussive experience. . . . As an indictment of American bigotry and hypocrisy, tackling themes of violence, sex, history, and religion, the piece continues to resonate more than a half century later.” 

The same can be said of so many of these essays. Journalist Calvin Trillin shares a fascinating 1964 account of a white man questioning Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christianity during a flight between Atlanta, Georgia, and Jackson, Mississippi. Some essays are simply pure pleasure, such as Andrea Lee’s 1983 piece “Quilts,” about her trip to see family in Ahoskie, North Carolina, and her desire to buy a handmade quilt. 

The Matter of Black Lives is a treasure chest of essays guaranteed to provoke, dismay, delight and inspire. 

Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now

Sometimes it can be equally enlightening to read the words of the not-so-famous, like congressional staffer Jasmine J. Wyatt, who had a stark realization after an oral surgeon informed her that she had fractured her jaw after years of grinding her teeth. Wyatt mused that she had “morphed into a Black wallflower, gritting my teeth to keep from saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time. A silencing of myself over and over, until I thought I had nothing valuable left to say.” Thankfully, those days of silencing have lost their power over Wyatt and many others, as evidenced by Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now: Black Women Share Their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage and Hope, which is filled with short but commanding essays written by a variety of Black women sharing their personal experiences. 

These essays—and a few poems—are grouped into categories such as “Family & Food for the Soul” and “Identity and Roots,” and each piece begins with a quotation from a well-known figure, including Michelle Obama, Misty Copeland and Audre Lorde. Some offerings are nuggets of love, such as journalist Rebekah Sager’s tribute to her father, who raised her single-handedly, his actions lighting the way for Sager to raise her son “with dignity, vision, empathy and grace.” Other pieces feature insightful yet amusing journeys of self-discovery, like Rachel Decoste’s account of moving to Dakar, Senegal, and on her first day there, suddenly belting out a song from The Lion King. “I was mad at myself for starting my journey to the Motherland with a Disney soundtrack. . . . How colonized was my mind that this was the first tune that came to my spirit?” 

The many voices featured in I’m Speaking Now rise up like a powerful choir, offering melodies that will stay with you. 

Shedding the Shackles

British textile artist Lynne Stein admits that when she plans vacations, instead of craving beaches or cuisine, she seeks out local craft traditions, hoping to get a firsthand look at Yoruba tribal beadwork or Middle Eastern metalwork. She eventually decided to investigate the narratives surrounding the craftwork of female artists in Indigenous and marginalized communities, and the result is Shedding the Shackles: Women’s Empowerment Through Craft, an around-the-world-tour that showcases a variety of talent, traditions and history and provides an enlightening look at the transformative powers of female creativity.

The book begins with short entries focusing on individual artists and specific craft techniques, such as the increasingly popular Boro and Sashiko forms of Japanese stitching. There’s a profile of English artist Lauren O’Farrell, who coined the term “yarnstorming,” a type of knitted street art that has become wonderfully widespread. Readers also learn about arpilleristas, Chilean women who create three-dimensional appliqued textiles to document their lives as well as to shed light on human rights abuses and violence, especially during the regime of Augusto Pinochet. Vibrant photographs accompany each entry, focusing on both the artists and their exquisite craftsmanship. 

Stein includes longer discussions of female enterprises that are not only art but also a means of survival, such as Monkeybiz South Africa, founded in 2000 to empower underprivileged women as bead artists. Their funky 3D creations quickly became a worldwide hit and have been included in numerous international exhibitions. 

After perusing these pages, readers may adjust their own vacation plans to allow time for learning about and appreciating local art traditions.

Four books guide readers in building a better world, with wisdom from Jane Goodall, activist Karen Walrond and many more.
Interview by

In You Are Here (For Now), artist and author Adam J. Kurtz is vulnerable, wise and hilarious as he doles out advice and comfort to anyone who’s really going through it.


What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Sometimes the worst advice comes from the people who love us the most. I won’t go into it (oops, bad start to an interview), but someone who loves me was enabling me when what I really needed was a full reset. 

Advice is always going to be highly subjective, even when it comes from the most intuitive and special people in our lives. I make sure to be especially transparent about that when dispensing any myself, including within my books.

What motivates you to motivate others? Is motivation even the right word for it?
I don’t think it’s motivation so much as me continually searching for a way to be OK—yes, me, an infamously (to myself) not OK person—and then wanting to share it with as many people as possible. In the last few years, and particularly as I did more speaking, I realized that my weirdo-brain way of thinking through shit actually sounds a lot like other peoples’ inner monologues, and so I began to think that maybe there’s power in opening up the conversation to others.

Do you remember the first time you reached a “vibe equilibrium” (when good vibes and bad vibes can coexist)? How sustainable is such a state?
“GOOD VIBES ONLY” is tone-deaf at this point because we’re all in the jello now! It’s pandemic year two, and everybody is simultaneously struggling through very real hardships and loss while still experiencing moments of joy and celebrating milestones in spite of everything. That’s the vibe equilibrium I’m talking about. Turns out, it’s pretty sustainable. In fact, it’s the only thing that works, because pure ignorance is dangerous, but focusing solely on the news cycle makes it impossible to feel good at all.

“Pure ignorance is dangerous, but focusing solely on the news cycle makes it impossible to feel good at all.”

When you sit down to write, who do you imagine you’re talking to? What role does the idea of an audience play in your process?
This is literally SO mentally-ill-gay-Jew of me, but at least half the time I’m just talking to myself. I mean, aren’t we all? Even our most objective advice and anecdotes are still rooted in our own lived experiences. I think about a younger version of myself, or a friend sitting across from me on the couch talking through their current mix of stress and insecurity. 

I am totally a secret-keeper and confidant for people, and it’s an honor to be “that friend” for the people I love. I imagine my readers as friends who are going through it right now, and since it’s not always appropriate to instigate a heart-to-heart, I thought about this book as a way for readers to opt-in to talk about all the stuff we don’t usually talk about—like failure, shame, anxiety and death.

What is it about being glib that helps you cope? Is this a way to reach deeper levels of honesty?
I mean, yes, in the way that my favorite deadpan, self-deprecating humor is often incredibly honest. It’s also the kind of deep-level honesty that this poor barista did not ask for. So it’s about finding the funny silver lining for yourself, but also making sure that you have and respect boundaries.

Has the shift in how we talk about self-care changed our lived experience of it? If so, do you think this change is for the better?
Yes yes yes yes yes. I am so grateful for the way this conversation continues to change, and I try to be very intentional about my use of the phrases “self-care,” “mental health” and “mental illness.” It’s so necessary for us to allow ourselves and one another to acknowledge mental well-being in a mainstream, practical, actionable way. 

Seeing Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, two incredible Black women at the top of their games, speak openly about mental health and even deprioritize their passion, pride and income to focus inward is so incredible. It means a lot to me to have a small part in this conversation that continues to unfold around all of us.

“I thought about this book as a way for readers to opt-in to talk about all the stuff we don’t usually talk about—like failure, shame, anxiety and death.”

It often feels like it’s becoming increasingly hard to be a human being. Is there reprieve from this? If so, where do you find it in your own life?
I think we’re simply seeing more ways of being and are subsequently faced with far more comparisons and possibilities than before. It’s hard for me to realize I’m unhappy if I don’t know how happy I could theoretically be! But many of the same tools that hurt us (hi, social media) can also bring us comfort, inspiration and community. I always think of my art as a breadcrumb trail left out in the universe to attract my people. Sharing this process has brought incredible friendships, and my husband, into my life. Not to mention a book deal . . .

What music has helped you stay alive? What’s the soundtrack of your life right now?
Michelle Branch’s “The Spirit Room” meant absolutely everything to me as a teen. It came out around the same time that my family moved from Canada to the USA and I was coming to terms with my sexuality and how it conflicted with our Jewish religion. “Goodbye to you, goodbye to everything that I knew,” sung in such literal terms, meant the world to me as a 13-year-old. It’s that album’s 20-year anniversary this year, and she’s rerecorded it, so I’ve had that in rotation, a fresh take on the words and melodies that are hard-wired into my brain.

Alanis Morissette’s “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” also must receive credit for being an incredible, dense, vulnerable look into a young, intelligent and complex mind. Sometimes I think that if Alanis Morissette could find joy and success in her art on a complicated path through teen fame and pain, I can do my thing and have that be enough.

Speaking of musicians, did you mean for the handwritten parts of the book to look like the cover of Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”?
Oh my god, get away from me!!!!!!! I’d been doing this thing for many years, and when that album came out, so many people asked me if I worked on it. That type was actually created by the street artist JIMJOE, and when I first moved to New York, he had tagged the door downstairs “OK OK OK OK NO PROBLEMS.” I wish I had written THAT first, but I’ve saved the photo and still might get it tattooed some day.

Author photo © Michelle Mishina

Meet Adam J. Kurtz, a mental health guru you can actually relate to.
Feature by

In How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment―The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life, mystery and thriller author Sophie Hannah looks at the positive aspects of grudge-holding and how they can lead to personal growth. Drawing on her own experience and the input of psychotherapists, Hannah urges readers to stop trying to suppress negative feelings and offers advice on how to use grudges to strengthen relationships. She discusses forgiveness and the importance of letting go in a dryly funny, refreshingly down-to-earth tone in this guaranteed conversation-starter.

Shannon Lee passes on the philosophies of her famous father, action movie legend and cultural icon Bruce Lee, in Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee. Grounded in martial arts, a practice that Lee faithfully followed from an early age, the teachings shared in this inspiring book are geared toward self-realization and inner growth. The author emphasizes her father’s “be water” mantra and explains how it can help us be more flexible, adaptable and at ease in our daily lives. Highly relevant subjects such as living with change and defining yourself and your identity will get book clubs talking.

In You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, New York Times contributor Kate Murphy delivers tips on how we can improve our listening skills, stop getting sidetracked and focus on the present. In a brisk and lively narrative, she talks with professional listeners (including a CIA agent) and checks in with psychologists and sociologists for insights into the process of listening. A rewarding selection for reading groups, Murphy’s book offers numerous discussion topics, including technology’s impact upon communication and the human need for connection.

Readers who are seeking a sense of purpose will find a helpful guide in Casper ter Kuile’s The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities Into Soulful Practices. Ter Kuile feels that even as traditional notions of community change, we can still find meaning, connection and (yes!) joy in our daily routines with pastimes like yoga, journaling and reading. Through these simple pursuits, ter Kuile believes we can cultivate contentment. His hopeful book will guide readers on their individual journeys, and his thoughts on the meanings of community and personal fulfillment will trigger lively dialogue within reading groups.

These truly inspiring self-help books will energize and refresh your reading group.

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Leif Enger’s third novel, Virgil Wander, centers on the eponymous protagonist who lives in the quaint, rustic town of Greenstone, Minnesota. By day, Virgil begrudgingly works as the town clerk, but by night, he is the proprietor of the Empress, a fledgling movie theater that specializes in projecting its exclusive and illegal film collection. During a drive one snowy evening, Virgil’s car skids off the road and crashes into Lake Superior. Luckily, he is a saved by Marcus Jetty, the owner of the local junkyard. Virgil emerges from the accident with a fleeting grasp of language and flickering memories of his former life.

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