best lifestyles books 2024

July 1, 2024

The best lifestyles books so far this year

Writing advice from Jami Attenberg, recipes from Black Appalachia, a guide to Japanese gift wrapping and more have delighted and inspired us in 2024.

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If you are the sort of person who can’t bear to part with sentimental objects—“That belonged to Mamaw!”—this book is for you. Packed inside The Heirloomist: 100 Heirlooms and the Stories They Tell are photographs and stories of 100 items belonging to everyday as well as famous people, including Gloria Steinem, Rosanne Cash and Gabby Giffords. Their treasures might be a Rolex watch or a Rolleiflex camera—or simply scribbled notes, ticket stubs and even a plateful of spaghetti and meatballs.

After becoming curator of her family’s important items, Shana Novak turned to other people’s stuff. Her photography and storytelling business, The Heirloomist, has documented over 1,500 keepsakes since 2015. No matter their financial value, she writes, “all are priceless, precisely because their stories will play your heartstrings like a symphony.” Take, for example, the daughter of a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11. Several years after that tragedy, she and her mother opened a toy chest and found an old Magna Doodle, on which her father had written: “Dear Tiana, I love you. Daddy.”

The Heirloomist is meant to be shared with loved ones, especially those who harangue you to declutter. They may even start rummaging through basement boxes with a freshly appreciative eye.

Shana Novak’s gorgeous, poignant The Heirloomist documents 100 treasures beloved by everyday and famous people.
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How complicated can breakfast possibly get? In Zao Fan: Breakfast of China, Michael Zee writes that the enormity of Chinese cuisine is “both terrific and terrifying”—and what is usually the simplest, smallest meal of the day is no exception. Yet Zee demonstrates a knack seldom seen in English-language cookbooks for succinctly yet fully conveying the vastness and complexity of Chinese cuisine throughout the delightful recipes featured in Zao Fan. From fried Kazakh breads to savory tofu puddings, Zee provides in-depth yet accessible insight into a thorough swath of breakfast foods.

Rarely does a writer’s passion for their subject matter leap as vividly as it does from these pages, which are chock-full of recollections of personal visits to restaurants and observations of traditional techniques. Zee accompanies the recipes with his own photos of the dishes in all their gorgeous mouthwatering glory—meat pies sizzling on a griddle, a bowl of Wuhan three-treasure rice, neat rows of Xinjiang-style baked lamb buns—which provide an authentic sense of immersion, as do his portraits of daily life in China. The neat, color-coded organization of the recipes into logical categories such as noodles and breads provides a remarkable sense of cohesion, making Zao Fan an absolute must for cooks across all skill levels.

Zao Fan collects traditional Chinese breakfast recipes in all their mouthwatering glory.

If Marie Kondo inspired you to change the way you fold T-shirts, then artist Megumi Lorna Inouye’s guide to creating beautiful gift-wrapping is for you. Inouye traces her passion for this art to memories of watching her mother care for the lovingly wrapped garments in her kimono chest. In Japan, Inouye tells us, wrapping is considered part of the gift itself, a way to show respect, gratitude and love. And if your skills are confined to sticking presents into a bag, never fear. With a focus on sustainability, Inouye provides step-by-step instructions for wrapping, often making use of recycled materials or natural objects: Even a broken, moss-covered branch can add beauty to a gift. The photographs here are as elegant as the text, and useful too. And while the book is aimed at adults, it’s possible to do most of these projects with kids. The Soul of Gift Wrapping: Creative Techniques for Expressing Gratitude, Inspired by the Japanese Art of Giving is more than a how-to guide: This gorgeous book is a reminder that gift giving can bring the givers themselves joy.

The Soul of Gift Wrapping is a gorgeous reminder that gift giving can bring the givers themselves joy.
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In her 60s, Lyn Slater, a professor of social work, became internet-famous for her fashion sense. In her memoir, How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly From the Accidental Icon, she tells the story of riding that wave for a decade before deciding it was time for a move out of NYC and a life in writing. Now we can add Slater’s memoir to our essential texts that rethink aging in an image-centric world. Of her social media success, she writes, “Is it really about fashion embracing older consumers, or is it about valuing those individuals who have the capacity to adapt, remain relevant, and be comfortable with experimentation, reinvention, and an interest in culture and the world they live in? These are the folks who know what to make of a lucky accident when one happens to them. Perhaps it’s really not about age but about feeling starved by superficiality.” Mic drop.

In her memoir, "accidental icon" and fashion influencer Lyn Slater rethinks aging in an image-centric world.
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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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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.

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