05/11/17 11:16am

All photos by Regina Mogilevskaya

Getting a word in with Emma Straub, author and one part of the duo behind Books Are Magic, is nearly impossible while there are customers streaming through the door. And although the Cobble Hill bookstore just opened its doors a few weeks ago, throngs of overjoyed well-wishers are already filling the store in a steady flow. “We’re definitely busy from the moment we open our doors in the morning to the moment we close them at night,” she says.

When BookCourt, the neighborhood’s beloved indie bookstore, announced they were closing, Straub and her husband Michael Fusco-Straub jumped to action immediately. They acquired the Books Are Magic space in October, but Straub says it was the election that really cemented their efforts. “We realized it was so much bigger than just a bookstore,” Straub says. “We needed an open space where people could gather, where families can feel welcome, can get informed.” Thanks to Straub’s established connections with local bookstores (she worked at both BookCourt and at Word in Greenpoint), publishers, and sales reps, the couple pulled off an impressive feat in record time.

The Fusco-Straubs obviously love books and design, and their lovely welcoming space is our new favorite word lair. From the books on the shelves to the sunlit kids room in the back, every swift detail of Books Are Magic takes inspiration from the community in which it blooms. Tulips from neighborhood florists decorate the store’s nooks, while the works of local authors are displayed proudly on recycled BookCourt shelves.

“I’m starting to explore collaborations with other places in the neighborhood, too,” Straub says. “Warby Parker reached out and we’re planning a reading series in their backyard.” In addition to being full of local goodness, the shop is wonderfully spacious, with exposed beams and brick and plenty of sunlight. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel good the second you step through the arched doorway.

Books Are Magic joins an impressive collection of indie bookstores around Brooklyn. Here are a few of our favorites for reading, listening, lounging and browsing. (more…)

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03/14/17 5:24pm

Let me be blunt for a moment. All those delicious Pi Day pies and snow day stews aside, this is the worst time of year for cooking. Late winter and early spring are a challenge in in the kitchen. The chicken pot pies, roasted vegetables and bean soups I was so excited to make in October feel heavy and boring now, and it’s going to be more than a few weeks before the first spring edibles show up at the farmer’s market.

We’re in luck though, fellow cooks. A new book came out today that will help get us all over the hump and into nettle, asparagus and pea season.

Vibrant India, Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn is the first cookbook from Chitra Agrawal, cook, writer and owner of Brooklyn Delhi. She wrote a great guide to eating all over the subcontinent by taking a day trip to Edison and Iselin, N.J. for us a few years back, and if you’ve always wanted to try your hand at cooking South Asian food, but have never quite been able to make sense of all the spice roasting and grinding, this is the book for you.

Agrawal’s recipes are not the heavy butter chicken and saag paneer type fare–which is generally Northern Indian in origin–that often represents Indian cuisine in the U.S. In the foreword she explains that her cooking is very much informed by the vegetarian cuisine of South India, Bangalore specifically, which is based around rice, beans, pulses, fresh vegetables and spices like mustard seed, hing and tumeric.

What does South India have to do with late winter cooking?

Many of the recipes in Vibrant India are variations on rice and dal, which are not just hearty, durable, winter fare, they’re also fragrantly spiced and lush with coconut, ghee and curry leaves. This combination of new flavors and cooking techniques is sure to hold your attention until the farmer’s market is full of ingredients for her spiced spring vegetable and coconut polenta recipe.

I’ve tried to wrap my head around how to build up a pantry of spices and the techniques for cooking Indian dishes at home several times, never with much luck. There are several South Asian cookbooks on my shelf and I’ve never prepared a single dish from any of them. I get overwhelmed by planning what to make, gathering the ingredients and understanding the techniques. This book feels so much more accessible and easy to understand than my past forays into subcontinental cooking. (more…)

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02/03/17 10:56am
This book dispenses common sense money advice for parents to pass along to their kids. Photo: Simon & Schuster

This book dispenses common sense money advice (like “don’t raid their piggy banks!”) for parents to pass along to their kids. Photo: Simon & Schuster

Last year when I was complaining about the cost of getting my car towed, my young son said, “Don’t worry! I can pay for it. I’ve got a cash register full of money!” I quizzically watched as he pulled out his Learning Resources toy register hidden under a pile of stuffed animals and old Lego pieces. Although we bought that toy for him in hopes of teaching him about the value of money and learning about interest through imaginary play, he had actually just assumed this was real money collecting dust in his bedroom. Epic fail.

Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), a new book by Beth Kobliner (author of New York Times Bestseller Get A Financial Life) is here to hold parents hands as they wade into uncharted conversations about cash with their kids. Beyond just receiving early entry to Stern Business School, financial talks can prevent spoiled behavior, build charitable leanings and set kids up for secure futures. Kobliner divides the book into chapters ranging from “Insurance”, “Giving Back” and “Saving for College” and further divides her chapters into age ranges. Talking to your preschooler about investing will look different than with your teenager, but from the start you can build some pretty strong scaffolding for the importance of financial security. (more…)

01/27/17 12:04pm

9781627794466 (1)

I should be upfront and tell you that I was predisposed to fall in love with Paul Auster’s hefty new novel, 4 3 2 1.

Sitting on my desk when the 860-page review copy arrived in the mail was a stack of books that included Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience and Candide, both of which have recently seemed worth a revisit to me, and both of which figure prominently in the novel. Twice in the past I’ve interviewed Auster, who is a kind and engaging sort of writer, rather than a prickly and defensive one, despite his intense, sort of smoldering author’s photos and the intractability for which his work is known. 4 3 2 1 is a love song to New York, which is really the strongest character in the book, other than our quadruplicate protagonist, Archie Ferguson. I recently moved from New York after nearly 15 years, to Brattleboro, a small town in Vermont, which, oddly, also has a cameo in the weighty tome.

Those were my circumstances, which you should understand before you go out and get yourself involved with this book, because I fell for it hard, but for personal reasons, which I suppose is why we fall hard for anything.

All this is about me, the reader, and shouldn’t I get myself out of the way and let the text speak for itself? Remember, this is Paul Auster, a fiction writer who has long grappled with, in ways both playful and portentous, where the author ends and the character begins and how much of the content of the page is determined by the individual act of reading it. It feels fitting to insert myself, and the connections and coincidences, another Auster obsession, that contributed to  my love for this book.

The premise is goes like this: 4 3 2 1 charts the life and education of Archibald Ferguson, born March 3, 1947, in Newark, N.J., one month after Auster himself was born, in the same spot. March mirrors the calendar of February in non-leap years–if February 3, 1947 was a Monday, which it was, March 3 is also a Monday, so it’s an even deeper doubling. From that single child, four distinct narrative arcs develop and the first couple hundred pages move forward at breakneck speed as you struggle to differentiate between the hopes and dreams of four similar, but distinct small boys, and four similar but distinct New Jersey homesteads.

Auster is not gentle with us, and the novel brims with a parent’s anxiety for their child. Ferguson, as he is largely known throughout, though various nicknames and pen names emerge as all four grow older, falls out of trees, gets into car accidents, experiences loss and in fact dies, more than once. (more…)

01/25/17 11:05am

A utopian world where parenting is a communal activity sounds great, but what's the catch?

As I sit here writing this, my son is home with strep throat. I haven’t left the house in two days, and I’m inundated with having to care for, entertain and feed my little one, while also meeting work deadlines. What I wouldn’t give for another set of hands? Or how about 20 extra sets of hands?

This is the premise of Kevin Wilson’s new novel, Perfect Little World, the story of an utopian experiment that promises its participants a return on the “it takes a village” philosophy. This is not Wilson’s first foray into unusually structured kinship groups–his 2011 novel The Family Fang, which became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman, chronicled two adult children visiting the eccentric parents who had turned their childhood into performance art. 

Perfect Little World stars, Izzy Poole, a pregnant teenager who is offered a spot in The Infinite Family Project, an experiment of child and family development. Her newborn son will join nine other babies of the same age to live for 10 years in the ultimate environment. All their needs will be attended to, housing, food, and clothing will all be provided. The children are promised the best of everything: educational toys, healthy meals and enriching environments. The adults won’t be forgotten either. Scholarships for college or job training will be granted, and any hobby or interest will be funded. All expenses to be taken care of by an elderly eccentric billionaire who has a vested interest in studying and redefining the family. (more…)

01/02/17 7:51pm

thridreconIt’s winter, or at least it will be this weekend. The holidays are over. The inauguration looms. All the cookies are gone. If you’re not tempted to just crawl under the covers on the couch and spend the rest of the month watching all the dumb television you missed this fall, well, you’re a better person than me. We gotta stick together in this thing, though. Here are a few articles and books I’ve read lately that have been inspiring, or, important to stay warm all winter, infuriating, or informative in a way that will guide that fury. Onward!

• If you’re not exactly feeling happy right now, maybe you at least feel like your life has meaning? Scientific American’s blog tells us that meaningfulness, whether it comes from work, play or protest, is good for us.

• A friend recently introduced me to the interfaith work that The Reverend Dr, William J. Barber II is doing, working to reintroduce morality into politics as a way to address racism and poverty. I just got his book The Third Reconstruction and I’m excited to read it.

• Professional troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, has a book coming out in February and it guaranteed to be appalling. Here’s why boycotting publisher Simon & Schuster is not going to be effective, and could actual harm progressive writers.

• Here’s why hate speech matters, from Errol Lewis at The Daily News.

• Lewis mentions an essay that appeared in Tablet in the above article, but it’s not linked.  It’s called What to do about Trump.

 

12/19/16 10:43am
No, soup won't save Syrian, but it may humanize the conflict.

No, soup won’t save Syria, but it may humanize the conflict.

Chances are there will either be some travel, some time off, or both in your life this week. Here are a few articles and books, a novel even, to sink your teeth into.

Aljazeera published this explainer on Syria’s civil war last week and it’s incredibly helpful if you’re trying get your head around what’s going on there, who the players are and why this has become such an intractable and bloody conflict.

• No, a cookbook won’t rebuild Syria, but Soup for Syria is a project that both raises money for Syrian refugees and humanizes the war, reminding us that Syria is a place with a culture, a place where people live, where they cook and eat and go to work and have families.

• Ivanka Trump has played a protean role in her father’s campaign and pre-presidency, at once an arm charm who normalizes and balances his bluster, and an alleged policy shaper, pushing for paid maternity leave (though not for fathers, gay couples, adoptive parents or anyone else not fitting the gender normative nuclear family mold). A very smart Elle editorial argues that she is no friend to women who are not as privileged as she is–so basically no friend to women at all.

• At the grocery store this weekend my two-year-old waved and said hello to the Obamas on the cover of a magazine, which was equal parts adorable and heartbreaking. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article “My President Was Black” on the history and meaning of the Obama administration in The Atlantic to really feel all the feelings and appreciate our 44th President.

• Finally, lose yourself in Americanah the wonderful, wide ranging novel from Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We included it in a favorite books of 2013 round-up a few years ago and I finally picked it up a few weeks ago and it’s big hearted, funny and addictive, while also concerning itself with race, class and immigration. This is a sweet little bit of escapism that will also expand your worldview.

12/12/16 1:06pm

just_mercy_stevenson_bryan_002

This week’s Action Trumps Hate, writing a letter to the Electoral College, may not be for everyone. You may not have a connection to someone in a state where these letters have the most sway. You may not believe that a letter writing campaign will make any difference when electors cast their votes on Monday, Dec. 19. That’s okay, we’re playing the long game here and there is always plenty to do.

Here’s my #actiontrumpshate reading list for the week:

12/06/16 9:46am
Bruce Springsteen (GabboT/Wikimedia Commons); Nina Simone (By Kroon, Ron / Anefo/Wikimedia Commons); Brian Wilson (Takahiro Kyono/Wikimedia Commons); Johnny Marr (Jon Shard)

Bruce Springsteen (GabboT/Wikimedia Commons); Nina Simone (Kroon, Ron/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons); Brian Wilson (Takahiro Kyono/Wikimedia Commons); Johnny Marr (Jon Shard)

Maybe it’s the popularity of memoir, maybe it’s the passage of time, but the past few years have produced a bumper crop of books written by and about musicians. This year is no exception as several legends, including a Boss, a Beach Boy and a Smith, have released long-awaited memoirs. Even if you’re not into rockers dishing the dirt about drugs, sex, horrible band mates and other personal demons, there are some fine books on music history and criticism for the more cerebral-minded among us. There’s a little something for every serious fan of rock and roll, pop, soul and dance–it makes holiday shopping at your local book store almost too easy.

Born to Run
by Bruce Springsteen

What else needs to be said? It’s the Boss in his own words.This memoir, which runs over 500 pages, has been compared to Springsteen’s epic concerts—an incredibly detailed, earnest and satisfying affair that you never want to end.

Not Dead Yet
by Phil Collins

The self-deprecating title is a reference to Collins’ reemergence after a period of semi-retirement that had people questioning whether he gave up music for good. The accomplished Genesis drummer and popular solo act chronicles his amazing career and some of the rough patches he’s gone through. Collins even owns up to the infamous incident in which he faxed a divorce to his second wife.

Testimony
by Robbie Robertson

The driving force behind the Band through his songwriting, Robertson offers his take on being part of that iconic group, from their early years backing both Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, to their final hurrah with The Last Waltz in 1976. (more…)

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11/15/16 11:48am
You'll want to add at least one of these to your most-used cookbooks shelf.

You’ll want to add at least one of these to your most-used cookbooks shelf.

The holidays are upon us. We’ve already started spotting Friendsgiving photos on Instagram and Facebook and Thanksgiving is next week. Whether you’re looking for a dish to wow your family with, planning a dinner party, or just storing away recipes for the January hibernation, you’ll find something wonderful in one of these new cookbooks.

Dinner at the Long Table, by Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn

No restaurateur has shaped the Brooklyn dining scene quite like Andrew Tarlow. When he opened Diner on New Year’s Eve 1998, on a stretch of Broadway in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, it was one of the only places to eat in the area. The restaurant quickly became a neighborhood anchor, and the restaurants he’s opened since then have all served a similar purpose: to bring people together over food.

Dinner at the Long Table is (unsurprisingly) concerned with that same idea. The recipes in the cookbook, co-written with Anna Dunn, are collected into meals for different occasions. This is not a book organized by season or course. Instead, the celebration (with food as the star!) takes center stage–lunch for eight, a birthday dinner for 15, a Harvest Moon supper.

The recipes are wild: not in that they are untameable, but rather they feature the seasonal ingredients you’ve come to associate with the new Brooklyn cuisine: beets, tomatoes, fennel and herbs appear frequently. There is a Mediterranean streak running through it, too, with plenty of tapenade and green gazpacho. (more…)