“What kind of beast is your salamander?” asked the Prince. “It is hard to tell their kind, your Honor,” said Golg. “For they are too…
Every fall TNT showcases some of the newest books written by local authors, or connected to our local landscape. We are blessed to have an extraordinary variety of writers in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, and this year is a great year for new releases in a wide variety of genres. There is a lot to choose from, for anyone looking for the perfect holiday gift, or a welcome diversion from the stress of the season.
Pascal Baudar, Wildcrafted Vinegars: Making and Using Unique Acetic Acid Ferments for Quick Pickles, Hot Sauces, Soups, Salad Dressings, Pastes, Mustards, and More
Pascal Baudar is a familiar presence in Topanga, where he forages for plants and fungi and shares his wealth of wildcrafting knowledge. His newest book, Wildcrafted Vinegars, is fascinating and beautiful, with clear instructions and inviting photography that makes the process of fermenting vinegars and preserving food less daunting.
The book features more than 100 recipes that show how to use homemade vinegars to make a wide range of foods, from quick pickles to desserts and jams, and uses fascinating ingredients, like mugwort and locally foraged seaweeds. Even for those of us who may not be ready to start fermenting spruce needles and pickling walnuts, this is a beautiful and interesting addition to the kitchen bookshelf.
Wildcrafted Vinegars: Making and Using Unique Acetic Acid Ferments for Quick Pickles, Hot Sauces, Soups, Salad Dressings, Pastes, Mustards, and More is published by Chelsea Green Publishing, and is available for $24.95. https://www.urbanoutdoorskills.com
John S. Couch, The Art of Creative Rebellion: How to champion creativity, change culture and save your soul
John Couch is a Topanga resident who is the former head of product design at Hulu and is now a consultant, but he’s also an artist and a writer, and he brings that perspective to his new book, which answers the question “can a creative mind thrive in a corporate landscape?” with a resounding “yes!”.
“The Art of Creative Rebellion encapsulates insights and wisdom collected over a life of creative and professional prosperity,” the publisher’s description states. “In these frank and insightful reflections, John S. Couch shares with young free thinkers the uncompromising principles needed to thrive in a world that seems to reward conformity.”
Couch practices what he preaches, writing each morning before dawn, and making time to paint each evening.
“A career is doing something that you love with passion, without concern about monetary return,” Couch writes. “And the irony, of course, is that done with truthfulness and courage, most of the time your passions will bear monetary rewards.”
His book is full of inspiration, practical advice, and the kind of encouragement that is actually useful to creative minds. Couch is an advocate for honing active thinking, and for learning from one’s mistakes. This is a refreshingly direct self help book that actually delivers what it promises.
The Art of Creative Rebellion is published by Page Two, and is available for $19.95. https://www.john-couch.com
AJ Jordan, with Tony Jordan, Eerily Wrinkling and the Prodigal Return
16-year-old Topanga author AJ Jordan wrote his debut novel, with help from his brother Tony, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Eerily Wrinkling and the Prodigal Return is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy that introduces Wrinkling City to the world. Wrinkling, a nationalistic society created to shield its residents from harmful radiation due to weapons testing, is a place of both splendor and horrors.
The Jordans sent TNT the following summary: “For the past eleven years, Alan Ritson has lived and studied abroad while attending Cambridge University. Now he is dreading the return to his childhood home in Wrinkling City, a place where twelve keys hold the secrets and destruction of a majestic place separated from the outside world and the supernatural is not only possible but the norm.”
This is, “an antiheroic tale of discovering one person’s perception on how others choose to live can be very one sided and diluted with prejudice that even the simple truth is clouded by the past.”
AJ has created a richly detailed world, while Tony has helped his brother to breathe life into the novel’s characters. It’s a darkly imaginative narrative, crafted with skill and attention to detail.
Eerily Wrinkling and the Prodigal Return is available online for $24.99, at https://eerilywrinkling.com
Richard Knapp, American Dreamers
Portrait photographer Richard Knapp has an extensive portfolio from his work in the entertainment and advertising industries, but his new book, American Dreamers, is very different from his commercial work. He left his studio behind for what he describes as “a year-long, cross-country journey to document the everyday people he met along the way.”
Knapp says he used the project as an educational opportunity for his two sons, providing them, and the viewer with a window into the current American moment—one that highlights our community, and dreams, rather than our differences.”
Knapp and his wife Scarlet took their two sons out of school and set out on a photographic journey that would take them to 48 States.
“The recipe was simple. A Volkswagen camper van, a camera, a sense of curiosity and complete lack of judgment,” he writes. “For the boys, it was the biggest social studies experiment a grade schooler could have. My true interest has always been people, and not just notable personalities,” says Knapp.
“I grew up shy and when I started taking pictures, it was my way to engage, to start a conversation with people who were different from me. I wanted to give my sons the same chance to explore.”
Knapp opted to use only natural lighting for his subjects, and every one of his American Dreamers was someone he connected with on a personal level, however briefly.
“It’s not hard to find people who are willing to share a part of themselves,” says Knapp.
The portraits are completely unadorned, the focus is on each individual, not the background. They possess beauty and dignity in their simplicity, whether the subject is a butcher shop worker in Philadelphia or a Houston girl dressed in a gown for her quinceanera.
There are no lengthy captions here. Each image portrait speaks for itself. “It’s not my job to sum people up,” Knapp says. “It’s more about presenting the subject with an honest, open lens. I hope it starts an internal dialogue within the audience.”
In a world increasingly obsessed with appearances, this is a refreshing look at the true face of America, one without filters.
“America’s not what’s on social media—it’s a lot more than that,” says Knapp. “The reality is much more beautiful, and everywhere I went, it was more filled with hope.”
This is a stand out photography book that captures a unique moment in America’s evolving history.
American Dreams is published by Brilliant Press, and is available for $75.
David McGiffert, Best Seat in the House
Longtime Topanga resident David McGiffert has had an amazing career in film as assistant director on projects that include the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Rain Man, and many more. He brings his experiences to his recently released memoir, Best Seat In The House.
McGiffert began the book as a way to share his experiences as a filmmaker with his children. He recounts anecdotes from more than three decades in the film industry, and the book reads like a conversation, as if one was sitting in the McGifferts’ living room, listening in person to the author’s recollections.
McGiffert reflects on his experiences working with Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton, Cameron Crowe, Sydney Pollack, Milos Forman, Peter Weir, Steve Zaillian, Jon Avnet, and Terry Gilliam, and top actors like Tom Cruise, Michael Fox, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Newman, Natalie Wood, Christopher Walken, and Robin Williams. Photos from McGiffert’s personal collection illustrate the narrative. Our favorite photo is one of the book’s author catching a ride atop the train from Back to the Future, Part III. This is a fascinating read for film enthusiasts.
Best Seat in the House is published by Bear Media and is available for $42 at Amazon or directly from the author’s website: https://www.davidmcgiffert.com/
Matt Ritter, Halo Around the Moon
Matt Ritter is a biology professor at California Polytechnic State University with a love of all things botanical. Here at TNT we know him from his amazing botanical account on Instagram, but he’s also a writer with a new thriller, Halo Around the Moon.
The book’s publisher describes it as, “a modern-day-mystery of chance encounters, old family secrets, and a tangled history of coincidental past and present events set in the danger and turmoil of a Los Angeles crime investigation,” but it also dips into history and natural history, and is rooted in the author’s love of the natural world. Ritter isn’t a local resident, but his book is very much connected to our local environment, and it’s a compelling read. We aren’t quite finished yet, but so far, it is easily one of our favorite mysteries of the year.
Ritter is also the author of several award-winning books including natural history guidebooks, adult fiction, and children’s literature, all highly recommended.
Halo Around the Moon is published by Pacific Street Publishing, and is available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble or through the publisher. Learn more at www.mattritter.net
Louesa Roebuck, Punk Ikebana
Ojai resident Louesa Roebuck, the author of Foraged Flora, has an inspiring new book for anyone with a garden or a love of plants. With Punk Ikebana, Roebuck takes the principles of the venerable Japanese art of “the way of the flowers” and applies them seasonal, foraged and gleaned plant materials to create floral sculptures that celebrate local color and texture. She finds beauty in decay and value in things others have cast off as green waste. Each sculpture, photographed with clarity and beauty by photographer Ian Hughes invites the viewer to reflect on the beauty of the impermanent.
“Aligning her deep commitment to the environment with her love of foraging, gleaning, and sourcing regionally, Louesa inspires you to cultivate your own vision and invite the wonders of the natural world into your home,” the publisher’s description states. But it’s a pleasure just to look at the textures and colors of the arrangements presented in the book. Punk Ikebana is $60, and is published by Abrams Books. http://www.louesaroebuck.com