The Unofficial Minecraft Cookbook by Juliette Lalbaltry & Charly Deslandes

Containing 30 Recipes Inspired By Your Favorite Video Game. And oh, what a perfect selection. Look, I’ve never gotten into Minecraft. I’ll play video games until my face falls into a keyboard or vice versa, but Minecraft never really appealed to me. My three kids, on the other hand, are huge fans (and fortunately my husband helps them sort out any issues they run into while playing, as he keeps a hand in, too.)

But cooking: ah yes, there is an interest my kids and I have in common. Having spent a good portion of my life oohing and aahing over the children’s Minecraft tasty-bakey-cakey machines, when I got the chance to make that same cake in real life with my kids, well. Who am I to ignore serendipity?

The Unofficial Minecraft Cookbook provided us with the recipe, and even before we get into the nitty gritty of what makes a good cookbook, can I say that this volume is perfectly designed? I love how the photos show the in-game items that inspired each recipe, often with Alex (see, I know a Minecraft character!) in the background. The photography may not be the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen, but given the blocky, pixelated inspiration, that is of little concern. What matters is how closely the styling adheres to the game items, and on that account, the food photos get an A++. My kids were super excited to flip through the book — which is handily divided into savory, sweet and drinks sections — and select something to cook with me.

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Enlightened by Sachi Ediriweera

Haha, oh wow, reading the story of a dude who’s so self-involved that he takes off on his unsuspecting wife and kid without any warning is so not what I need right now.

And that’s a shame because the story of Siddhartha — the prince who would become Gautama Buddha — is certainly fascinating, and the basic messages of Buddhism ones that should be more widely read. Author and artist Sachi Ediriweera is a Sri Lankan Buddhist who’s taken on the daunting task of putting together a young-reader-friendly graphic novel depicting the early life of Buddha, tho with admittedly plenty of poetic license. In his telling, the young prince is held a virtual hostage in his father’s string of palaces because of King Suddhodana’s grief over the death of Siddhartha’s mother, Queen Maya. Despite the occasional intervention of both Siddhartha’s aunt Pajapati and the king’s chief advisor Channa, Suddhodana is adamant that Siddhartha know nothing about the outside world and, thus, nothing of suffering.

But Siddhartha isn’t an idiot. Quick-witted and athletic, he’s also a kid with high amounts of observational skills and empathy, even if he rarely has reason to flex that last emotional muscle. Soon enough, he meets Yashodara, a neighboring princess brought to the palace. The two fall in love and marry, then have a child they name Rahula. Suddhodana, who still hasn’t allowed his son and family any freedom, throws a grand gala to celebrate the birth. Siddhartha falls asleep during the celebrations and wakes up in the aftermath, seeing for the first time what hungover people sleeping off a party look like. Realizing how little he knows and how quickly his father hides any imperfections from him, he decides to just leave now while he has the chance. Channa drives him out to the city gates and gives him some food and extra clothes to take with him, as he walks forward into destiny.

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Cosmic Detective by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt & David Rubín

Look, you hand me something with Matt Kindt’s name on it, I’m gonna read it, that’s just the rules.

For his latest graphic novel, Mr Kindt has teamed up with a dream team of fellow writer Jeff Lemire (who’s famous for a lot of acclaimed stuff I haven’t yet read. I’m SORRY, I don’t have all the time in the world and I’m doing my best to cover what I can) and artist David Rubin. And can I say that, knowing I was gonna enjoy the story because of who was writing it, I could really sit back and savor the art as I went along?

Small caveat: I had to read this on Adobe Digital Editions, which as we all well know is hot garbage. No way to properly view two-page spreads, so I had to do a lot of squinting and scrolling in an attempt to capture what the creators had envisioned for readers. Publishers Stop Putting Money In The Hands Of Adobe 2023/2024 Challenge.

Anyhoo. The book opens on a quasi-futuristic, not quite our world but close, urban street view, as The Detective reports to a crime scene. He’s not a police or city detective, but works for a special Agency. The murder vic doesn’t fit the standard profile, due in large part to the fact that the vic isn’t human and isn’t supposed to be able to die.

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Spooky Stories Of The World by Wendy Shearer & Teo Georgiev

I love world mythology and folklore, so books like this are right up my alley. I super appreciate how Wendy Shearer and Teo Georgiev cover all the inhabited continents and draw out lesser-known scary stories from each corner of the planet, with a little extra bit about more famous tales to round out the experience for young readers.

And this is very much a book aimed at young readers. Any scares are inevitably blunted by a moral that often skews toward the traditional happily ever after ending. There is precious little examination of the plausible reasonings, anthropological or otherwise, that popularized these stories. And that’s fine! It’s a book for middle-grade readers, and just bringing so much diversity into one volume for that audience, no matter how sanitized, is already an accomplishment in itself.

While the stories themselves might be on the tame side, there’s no denying the wild grandeur of Teo Georgiev’s art throughout. His monsters are scary and his tableaux of their encounters with people suitably atmospheric. Whether depicting a Haudenosaunee woman fleeing a vampire skeleton with her baby in the snow or a band of Yanomami hunters crossing a rickety bridge while monstrous Aun Pana lurk in the waters below, his depictions are perfect for each tale, lending extra frissons of fear that may be missing from the story itself.

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Süddeutsche Series

In early 2004, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading daily newspapers, began a new venture: publishing hardcover books. They began with a worthy and ambitious set of 50 great novels of the twentieth century, published one per week through to February 2005, when the series concluded with If on a Winter’s Night, a Traveler… It was a smashing success, with sales reaching into the millions. I lived in Munich at the time, and I remember seeing people all around time reading one or another volume from the series. In the early weeks, I could tell them apart from the different colors in the series’ distinctive design, and I enjoyed wondering what they were thinking about books that in many cases I had already read, or was reading as part of the series.

Voices of Marrakesh by Elias Canetti

I couldn’t keep up the book-a-week pace, not in German, but I liked the concept and I liked the execution. The list of 50 books was interesting, and interesting to argue with. I liked that the editors did not pretend to choose the 50 greatest, just 50 that were great. That allowed them, for instance, to choose A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man rather than Ulysses for their Joyce book. It also led to odd choices, such as Amerika for Kafka’s entry. It was by no means a perfect list. As I wrote at the time, there were only four women among the 50 authors in the first set. I didn’t find it peculiar that the list leaned toward German-language writers; I did find it peculiar that there were no authors from Africa or Aisa in the set. Science fiction was missing entirely, despite its importance to literature of the twentieth century. Despite these shortcomings, it’s an interesting set of books, and in the course of time I have read nearly 40 of the 50. It encouraged to get around to books I had been interested in but never made time for — Under the Wheel (Hermann Hesse), The Lover (Marguerite Duras), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers), The Judge and His Executioner (Friedrich Dürrenmatt). It showed me that I don’t need to bother with further books by Paul Auster or Peter Handke. I had read some Rainer Maria Rilke, of course, but I had never attempted The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, and it is such a beautiful and amazing book that I am still in awe, nearly 20 years later. Best of all, it introduced me to plenty of terrific authors who were either completely unknown to me, or whose works I probably would not have picked up except for this series. Among them are Elias Canetti (Voices of Marrakesh), Cees Nooteboom (All Souls Day), Marguerite Yourcenar (Coup de Grace), Julio Cortázar (The Pursuer), Wolfgang Koeppen (The Hothouse), and Primo Levi (The Periodic System).

As I read through the list, I developed a couple of ground rules. If a book was originally written in English, I read that instead of the German translation. If a book was originally written neither in English nor in German, then I would read it in whichever of the two was more convenient. Primo Levi in German, Marguerite Duras in English; Peter Høeg in English, Andrzej Szyczypiorski in German. And while it wasn’t exactly a rule, I have tended to read the books in German by the unedifying princple of shortest to longest.

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To Walk It Is To See It by Kathy Elkind (EXCERPT)

subtitled 1 Couple, 98 Days, 1400 Miles On Europe’s GR5.

At age 57, Kathy Elkind and her husband decided to take 2018 off from “real life” and take a 1400 mile hike following the Grande Randonnee Cinq across the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Her travelogue is absorbing, observant and honest, and we have an excerpt to share with you!

Walking the Andalusía Coast to Coast Trail

If you’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and you’re looking for a new path and a new challenge or if you want to avoid the crowds on the Camino, check out the Andalusía Coast to Coast Trail located in southern Spain. It’s more work to follow the trail and to organize lodging, but the diversity of terrain, increased challenge, and cultural experiences are worth the extra effort to plan this trip.

In November of 2021, between Delta and Omicron, Jim, my husband, and I flew to Barcelona, then on to Malaga on the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean.

We stayed in Nerja, two hours by car up the coast from Malaga and six miles from the beginning of the trail, for two days to adjust our sixty-year-old bodies to the time change—and we wanted one last swim in the sea before winter.

Parador de Nerja, a government-sponsored inn right on the beach, provided rest and relaxation. Breakfasting on the terrace, we watched the sunrise shimmer over the sea with palm trees on the margins, and we knew we were not in Vermont’s stick season any longer.

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Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Jozef Czapski

World War II in Europe began when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in the early days of September 1, 1939. Sixteen days later, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Less than three weeks later, the Nazis and the Soviets had conquered all of Poland. They divided the country between them according to the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Jozef Czapski (pron. “Chop-ski”) was over 40 when this war came; he had previously served in World War I, been a pacifist for a time, thought better of it and fought against Soviet Russia when it invaded Poland in 1920. Between the wars, he had lived in Paris and pursued painting, his true passion.

Lost Time by Jozek Czapski

Czapski did not discover Proust until 1924, after the writer’s death, and he did not take to the writing right away.

I was too little acquainted with the French language to savor the essence of this book, to appreciate its rare form. I was more used to books where something actually happens, where the action develops more nimbly and is told in a rather more up-to-date style. I didn’t have sufficient literary culture to deal with these volumes, so mannered and exuberant … Proust’s lengthy sentences, with their endless asides, myriad, remote, and unexpected associations, their strange manner of treating entangled themes without any kind of hierarchy—the value of this style, with its extreme precision and richness, seemed beyond me. (p. 12)

One would think that picking up, by chance, the next-to-last volume of À la recherche du temps perdu would be the way to ensure estrangement for good, but no. “[A]ll of a sudden [I] read from the first to the last page with increasing wonder.” (p. 12) That wonderment spurred Czapski’s interest in the rest, and by 1928 he was already contributing to the secondary literature. Eric Karpeles, the translator of Czapski’s lectures, writes that he was one of the few Poles at that time who had read the whole novel in French. He had also read most of Proust’s correspondence that had been published by then, as well as numerous commentaries including one that apparently stayed so strongly in Czapski’s memory that a passage from it forms the conclusion of his last lecture.

Because the thing about the five lectures that comprise the main text of Lost Time is that Czapski composed them entirely from memory.

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From Page To Screen: Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

I am extremely boring with my relentless crowing over the fact that I read all of Agatha Christie’s published works the year I was 13, but one thing about having done that is it 100% sticks in your head when kids play a pivotal role in her proceedings (hello, the magnificent Crooked House.) Hallowe’en Party was always memorable to me because it’s about a kid who was my age at the time telling everyone at the titular party that she saw a murder, only to be subsequently drowned in an apple-bobbing tub before she could provide further detail. Not that anyone really believed her, at least not until after she died.

Another thing about reading all the books so quickly and so young is that I’ve had my leisure to peruse the derivative media in the many years since. Y’all, so much of it is terribad*. I think one of the greatest disappointments for me was watching a version of Murder On The Orient Express where they fucked up the ending so bad, I swore off screen adaptations unless I had a really, really compelling reason to go. Unsurprisingly, that reason did not appear until very recently, with the trailer of Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting In Venice, based loosely on the afore-mentioned Hallowe’en Party.

I have mixed feelings regarding Kenneth Branagh: he is very much an ACTOR and sometimes his grandstanding (e.g. in Emma and in the wizarding series) makes it very clear that he IS Kenneth Branagh in the role of whomever. I didn’t bother with his version of MotOE because I had no compelling reason to be disappointed again. There was also no way in hell I’d watch Death On The Nile, which is mean girl garbage that only works on-screen if you have an actress who can make you feel sorry for Linnet Doyle. Gal Gadot is gorgeous and charismatic but vulnerable is not (yet) in her wheelhouse.

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Potatoes For Pirate Pearl by Jennifer Concepcion & Chloe Burgett

The best time to enjoy tales of pirates is when you’re a kid, when it’s all about the romance of the high seas, with no thought as to the terror, rapine and death left in the wake of these often exceedingly violent criminals. I mean, who doesn’t dream of sailing away from their troubles, swaggering through life free as a bird? I absolutely understand the appeal, even as I find adults who’re seriously into this lawless pirate stuff to be a little, if you’ll excuse the pun, unmoored from reality.

But kids should absolutely dream of exploring the world care-free, as our protagonist Pirate Pearl does in the company of her “rainbow chicken” Petunia. Pearl is actually in the middle of a voyage when she’s beset by that greatest enemy of all travelers: hunger. Hardtack just won’t cut it any more, so she and Petunia drop anchor and head ashore on an epic quest for food. Just as she’s about to expire from hunger, she’s rescued by the kindly Farmer Fay, who not only resuscitates her with some potato soup but also introduces her to the miracle that is my favorite vegetable. Best of all, Fay shows Pearl how to grow potatoes herself, whether on a farm like Fay’s or aboard a pirate ship like Pearl’s.

This seems like a simple enough story but Jennifer Concepcion and Chloe Burgett have teamed up to create something entirely magical, with help from their publisher’s sponsoring body, the American Farm Bureau Foundation For Agriculture. Pearl is an utterly charming main character who is fully committed to the (pirate) bit in the way of all imaginative children. Fay is her good-natured mentor who is happy to play along but also knows when to guide Pearl’s piratical ways back to the strait (lol, I’m sorry, I love pirate jokes and puns) and narrow.

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Art Brut, Vol 1: The Winking Woman by W. Maxwell Prince & Martín Morazzo

with colors by Mat Lopes, backup colors by Chris O’Halloran, and letters & design by Good Old Neon.

This is easily one of the most intelligently artistic graphic novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. You don’t have to be an art history major to enjoy this book but a passing familiarity with the most famous artworks of our time does help, especially if you want to spot all the art references and in-jokes our creators make along the way. And oof, some of the design choices on the interstitials are just luscious. I love how this goes from fine art to modern comic to pop art parody and back, all in a matter of (absolutely gorgeous) pages.

And that’s just the visuals! Once you get into this surreal but intensely thought-provoking, if not outright moving, story, it’s impossible to put down. The title Art Brut isn’t just a reference to the notion of outsider art, as opposed to the high-minded academic institution of fine art. It’s also the name of the Dreampainter, a consultant used by the Bureau of Artistic Integrity to help solve their most bizarre cases.

BAI’s new Director Margot Breslin certainly knows it’s time to call in the big guns when the Mona Lisa suddenly appears to have one eye closed. No one has come in to the Louvre to paint over Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece: one moment she was as usual, the next she was winking. If that was the only issue, Breslin would probably leave Art to keep painting in his padded cell. But a rash of gruesome deaths has broken out worldwide that all seem to be linked to the changed Mona Lisa. The strange and possibly demented Art may very well be the only person capable of preventing more carnage. With the help of his artist’s mannequin, imaginatively named Manny, Art agrees to leave the safety of his sanatorium to help Breslin figure out what’s going on.

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