Across the Page: Books to help you kick off the New Year

This month’s Across the Page features three books to help kick off your new year. They’re not self-help books, necessarily, but each one offers useful tips on a range of subjects: Erin Bried’s How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew; Tabatha Coffey’s It’s Not Really About the Hair; and Nina Knapp’s collection of recipes from filmmakers and actors, Reel Food From Reel Women.

How To Build A Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew by Erin Bried (Ballantine Books)

Author and senior staff writer at SELF magazine, out lesbian Erin Bried’s new “do-it-yourself” guide, How To Build A Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew, is the perfect follow-up to her previous collection of tips, How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew.

In How to Build a Fire, Bried interviewed 10 grandfathers from around the country to get advice on everything from how to change a flat tire to how to shake a hand. In the introduction, Bried talks about her memories of the only grandfather she knew, a man who taught her how to play the guitar on his beloved Gibson: “I still wonder what else he would’ve taught me, if only I’d asked.”

As Bried illustrates, this generation of grandfathers is not thought of as the Greatest Generation without reason. Many survived both the Great Depression and World War II and have a tremendous amount to offer in terms of advice and insight. They are defined, Bried writes, as “courageous, responsible, and involved.”

The book is divided into eleven sections and features a mixture of over 100 concrete and conceptual lessons — from “How to catch a freshwater fish” and “How to hold a newborn” to “How to be a good friend” and “How to be brave.” Some of the lessons are a mixture of both, such as “How to be chivalrous,” which offers tips like “lend a hand over a puddle,” and also reminds the reader, “if your beloved is strong and independent-minded … it’s not your free ticket to lazy land.”

Just as How to Sew a Button was not intended for women only, How to Build a Fire is meant for both women and men. Who doesn’t need to know how to sew a button or how to build a fire? Bried’ s voice is thoughtful, funny and easy to follow. The lessons here are quick, well researched and worthwhile. A good read to start off the New Year.

It’s Not Really About the Hair by Tabatha Coffey (It Books)

Tabatha Coffey, out star of the Bravo series Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, is known for her straightforward and direct style. Her new book, It’s Not Really About the Hair, captures Coffey’s voice and energy as she “shares the experiences of her own life to encourage you to get in touch with your own inner bitch.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, to be honest, but from the first line, Coffey establishes that she has a story to tell: “My life was unconventional. I mean, how else would you describe a childhood spent in the strip clubs that my parents ran in Adelaide, Australia, finding friendship and a sense of normality in the offbeat company of flamboyant drag queens?”

Written with the help of Richard Buskin, It’s Not Really About The Hair is a combination of memoir and guidebook, and examines Coffey’ s life experiences and background to show how she became such a self-assured person and businesswoman.

Even as a child, Coffey was determined. Though other children ridiculed her for being different and overweight, she valued her independence: “If I was a round peg and the hole was square, well, then others would need to change the hole to accommodate me, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to accommodate them.”

In many ways, Coffey’s upbringing fit her developing sense of self and style. Her first clients included the men performing as women at the strip clubs her parents ran, “drag queens” who showed her how to make someone look on the “outside” the way they felt on the “inside.”

Coffey’s life was not an easy or simple one. Even coming out to her open-minded and gay-friendly mother was a challenge — she expected support and instead heard, “My daughter is not going to be a f–king dyke!” In one of the more compelling chapters in the book, Coffey examines how she and her mother reconnected and how the experience forced Coffey to consider her own path.

Coffey’s stories about her upbringing and her professional rise to fame are punctuated with tips on a variety of subjects, from “How to Be a Real BITCH” to the practical “The Five Things to Ask Yourself Before Opening a Business.” Much like its author, It’s Not Really About the Hair is honest, candid and full of surprises.

Reel Food from Reel Women, edited by Nina Knapp (Crone Productions)

Edited by writer and filmmaker Nina Knapp, Reel Food from Reel Women is a new celebrity cookbook featuring recipes from women in the entertainment industry, including Claudia Christian (Nip/Tuck), Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn), Stacy Codikow (Itty Bitty Titty Committee), Lori Lake (author) and AfterEllen.com’s own Bridget McManus.

The book is not only filled with a solid variety of recipes — for vegetarian and meat lovers alike — but also features notes and short essays from several of the contributors on their thoughts about women in the film industry. The recipes are divided into four sections — The Feature Presentation (meals), The Supporting Cast (side dishes), The Concession Stand (deserts) and The Wrap Party (snacks and drinks).

According to Knapp, the purpose of the book is to help fund projects for her company Crone Productions, which specializes in films by and about women and LGBT issues and stories, among others. Check it out.

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