Since everyone is spending a lot of time at home this April, I’ve compiled a list of books to use to learn a skill while staying at home. Please keep in mind that everyone handles stress differently, so you definitely don’t have to “make the most of” of your time at home, but some personality types (where are my other enneagram type 3s?!) keep their heads above water through the feeling that they have accomplished something. So if that’s you, here are some books for you and the new skills you might tackle.
Cook at Home
Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
This approachable book breaks down the basics of cooking into its four main elements, the eponymous salt, fat, acid, and heat. You learn about how salt enhances the flavor of your food, how fat brings out flavors and betters textures, how acid contrasts and betters other flavors, and how heat transforms food.
It is a perfect cookbook for amateur cooks because it teaches you the basics and is more of a cooking “philosophy” text than it is a recipe book. I think this method will actually teach you how to cook, not just how to follow cooking instructions. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has also been made into a Netflix show, so if you don’t have the mental energy to read right now, you can watch it!
The Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
This is a great book to read if you want to work a daily yoga practice into your routine. Iyengar is a respected yoga teacher who developed his own yoga philosophy based on “strength, endurance, correct body alignment, as well as flexibility and relaxation.” This book is a great way to deepen your practice and understand the “why” behind the exercise if you’ve been going to yoga classes for a while.
But it is also accessible to new yogis. Yoga with Adriene, who is one of my favorite YouTube yoga instructors, said this is the first book she read when she was in yoga instructor training.
Start a Home Vegetable Garden
The Essential Urban Farmer by Willow Rosenthal and Novella Carpenter
Novella Carpenter is the author of Farm City, an urban farming memoir. When she met Willow Rosenthal, they were both living on urban farms in Oakland, California. Both grew vegetables, had bee farms, and raised chickens and ducks on tiny urban plots.
This essential guide takes the gardeners through every step they need for raising vegetables, fruits, and/or animals in a city garden. No urban farm plot is too small to adapt their advice—it is scalable for front and backyard gardens, abandoned city lots, and even balconies.
Take Care of Your Houseplants
Darryl Cheng is the creator behind the account @housepantjournal, and his philosophy behind plant care is to teach the reader to learn about plant care by observing the plant, rather than trying to stick to certain rules for water and light based on the plant species.
This way, if plant has issues, you can confidently figure out how to right the balance and make the plant better. Like with Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this book will actually teach you to know plants and care for them, not just to troubleshoot.
Make a Comic
Making Comics by Lynda Barry
The cartoonist Lynda Barry is also a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and she uses the lessons in this book to teach students all the elements of making comics, including both the drawing and the storytelling aspect.
At the heart of this book is a belief that anyone can be creative. I would love to read the comic books you make while isolated at home!
Start a Bullet Journal
I can understand the urge to want to build some mindfulness and productivity into your days, so maybe you want to learn the method behind bullet journaling. A bullet journal can be used for rapid-logging daily tasks, making long term plans, or simply taking notes. This guide describes the author’s (and inventor of the bullet journal) method, which includes: creating an index in your journal, and spreads for future, monthly and daily logs.
Write That Novel
Bird by Bird by Anne LamoTt
Anne’s philosophy behind writing is one she’s used since childhood: the writer should break humongous tasks down into smaller bits and pieces and take it step by step. This writing memoir is full of good advice about breaking writers block, and how to leave perfectionism behind you and get your “shitty first drafts” down on the page.
Anne Lamott is also hilarious, and her wise-cracking resonated as much with me as her wisdom did.
Keep Your Hands Busy With Macrame
This isn’t your grandma’s macrame book. Emily Katz (@emily_katz) is the artist behind the brand Modern Macrame, which has been one of the most iconic brands of the macrame renaissance that’s come about in recent years. Emily Katz has taught macrame workshops around the world, and actually knows how to teach the craft, in addition to making beautiful aspirational pieces.
Consciously Declutter Your Closet
The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth Cline
If you’re in the mood to spring clean or minimize your closet while stuck at home, read The Conscious Closet before you get started. Resist the urge to clean out your closets and leave the discarded clothing in the Goodwill parking lot, and instead learn how to consciously declutter your closet.
This book will teach you used clothing etiquette, like how to clean and repair your clothes before you donate them, and that you should never leave your donations unattended. And after you do the difficult work of minimizing your closet, please consider the chapters on giving up fast fashion and supporting a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry. For more resources on this, check out this Book Riot article.
The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum
Kombucha is fermented tea full of probiotics and antioxidants that can kill bad bacteria in the body. Kombucha can be expensive to buy at the store, but you can actually make your own at home! In this book, you’ll learn how to make a bacteria and yeast culture (called a “SCOBY”), and then how to combine it with tea and natural flavors to make different kombucha recipes.
This book is perfect for beginners because it’s step-by-step and very straightforward, but the second half of the book has lots of more experimental recipes if you have made kombucha for a little while and want to play around with making cocktails or experimenting with flavor.
Bake Sourdough Bread
Are you also seeing an influx of photos of sourdough starters on your social media feeds? That’s because it takes a bit of time and maintenance to get a sourdough starter, well, started. All you really need to make a sourdough starter is flour and water, but it is hands on and takes some time.
Josey Baker Bread is a great beginners guide to making sourdough and baking bread at home. It is very step-by-step and includes photos with every instruction that are easy to follow.
And if you are past the beginner stage, the second half of this cookbook has lots of bread recipes you can tackle at home once you’ve raised your sourdough starter.
Learn About Plants and Botany
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and an Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is knowledgeable and experienced in the indigenous wisdom of animals and plants, but also trained in a traditional academic sense to be an expert in environmental science.
If you’re interested in the natural world, this book is an important one because it shows us how much we can learn from nature and from those who live harmoniously with nature.
I hope these books to use to learn a skill bring you comfort and knowledge during this difficult time. I can’t wait to see the macrame creations and sourdough starters you all come up with! For more books on writing, check out this Book Riot article, and for more cookbooks check out this one!