Shelf Awareness with Julia Engel logo

Several months ago, I wrote about my reading goals for the year. Now that we’re halfway through the calendar I thought I would update on my progress.

Unsurprisingly my initial fervor has dwindled a bit. My husband and I recently bought our first home so the excitement of the home-buying and moving process had pulled me away from the routines I had established in the first few months of the year. I generally have been able to maintain my daily habit of reading most days for at least 15-20 minutes but have not met some of my other reading goals. Rather than getting upset or frustrated, I see this as an opportunity to get back on track.      

The Summer @ Your Library program has been a great instigator for me to get back into my reading routines. It is a reminder to set aside time each day to read and to return to (or maybe even re-evaluate) my reading goals. One way I have been able to sneak in a little extra reading is by finding nontraditional or unexpected reading materials like cookbooks and gardening books.  

With the beautiful weather upon us, once again I find myself having difficulty sitting and reading for long stretches. Busy with outdoor activities and chores, and now more opportunities for social events, reading begins to fall by the wayside for many of us. Nevertheless, we can discover stories to read hiding in every nook and cranny of our daily lives.

My husband has been thrilled to utilize the kitchen in our new home, and I have been reveling in the joys of tending a garden in our new raised beds. I have been able to use these activities as a springboard for more reading. Cooking and gardening books have now worked their way into my regular rotation of reading materials.  

You may not be surprised to hear that there are many books designed to guide us through day-to-day activities like cooking and gardening, but what some folks may not have discovered yet is that these books can be entertaining as well as informative. I have found that a good cookbook, gardening book, or sometimes even a beautiful coffee table book can be a fun and unique way to read for pleasure while learning new skills for our regular day-to-day tasks.    

Until a few years ago, I would never have thought to sit down and read a cookbook just for fun. However, in recent years, many cookbooks have emerged that are not only filled with delightful recipes and information about how to construct exciting new dishes, but also include stories that give you a fuller picture of the history of the food. This has helped me to enjoy the full experience of the ritual of cooking. I am reminded that it is not just about preparing nutrients to sustain our physical bodies, but that food is a way we connect with each other and the world around us. It can be a conduit between history and cultures far removed from our own experiences. It can remind us of the past and those we have shared it with before, or make us think about the process that brought the food to our table. 

I also find these to be very relaxing and meditative reads when I just need something soothing after a long day, especially now that the weather begins to heat up. Some days I just go home after work and want to melt into my hammock with a cool glass of lemonade and a book with lots of pretty pictures and a sweet story. I still find it difficult to read anything with heavy subject matter so these can be the perfect choice for those quiet evenings after my brain has been working hard all day.    

So to help get you started I have compiled a couple lists of suggested items that tell stories or just make for relaxing reading. All of these items are part of the library’s collection and I have linked each title to our catalog. You can put them on hold through the catalog then come pick them up at the library or have them delivered. Some of them are available in both print and downloadable ebook format. You can also come to any of our branch locations to browse the collection and check out materials.  

The first list is a general assortment of cookbook suggestions. Many of the titles toward the end of this list are what I call “tweezer cookbooks.” Some of these are cookbooks for the not-so-casual cook, but most are easy to follow and are opportunities to learn how to make a delicious new kind of food. I enjoyed looking at the photos of meticulously plated culinary creations even if I will probably never make one of these recipes. These selections open a window into a completely new world for people like me who are not in the elite circle of purveyors of molecular gastronomy. 

On the other hand, if you are more adventurous and ambitious than I am, you may like to try out making some of these more complicated recipes with elaborate plating and garnishing. Even if you’re not so adventurous, these books can provide a window to a new food and culture.

The second list is a compilation of interesting and fun gardening books that may make for some entertaining reading this summer. With all of the lovely sunny days to come, many of us are probably spending time outside in the garden. These selections will hopefully not only educate you in how to care for your garden or houseplants but may also provide you with a bit of entertainment or relaxation. Then once you’ve grown your veggies in the garden you can go back to the cookbooks and find some interesting ways to prepare them!  

The Philomath library is now open for browsing on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m.- 8 p.m., and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.! As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me or other staff at the Philomath library by calling us at 541-929-3016.   Happy cooking, gardening, and READING!

(Julia Engel is a reference librarian at Philomath Community Library. She can be reached via email at or by phone at 541-929-3016.)


In Bibi’s Kitchen: the Recipes & Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean by Hawa Hassan

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Heritage by Sean Brock

Taste of Persia: a Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman

Salt & Silver: Latin America by Johannes Riffelmacher

Jerusalem: a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi

My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen by Asha Gomez

The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus by Bryant Terry

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes by Hooni Kim

Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South by Vivian Howard

The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories with Recipes edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson

Dinner at the Long Table by Andrew Tarlow

Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes From a Disappearing Bayou by Melissa Martin

Matty Matheson: A Cookbook 

Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand by Andy Ricker

La Buvette: Recipes & Wine Notes from Paris by Camille Fourmont

From the Land of Nightingales & Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Maryam Sinaiee

Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes by Joe Yonan

Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish

L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi

Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes From a Refugee Chef’s Isan Thai & Lao Roots by James Syhabout

The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh and Classic Recipes From My Lebanese Kitchen

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi

Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller

Alinea by Grant Achatz

Gardening Books

Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf

The Education of a Gardener by Russell Page

Back in the Garden with Dulcy by Dulcy Mahar

The Kinfolk Garden: How to Live with Nature by John Burns

On Garden Style by Bunny Williams

Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces by Michelle Slatalla

A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era by Robin S. Karson

Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants by Hilton Carter

Green Home: The Joy of Living with Plants by Anders Røyenberg

Foraged Flora: A Year of Gathering and Arranging Wild Plants and Flowers by Louesa Roebuck and Sarah Lonsdale

The Layered Garden:  Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty From Brandywine Cottage by David L. Culp

Planting the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf

A House in the Country by Peter Pennoyer

Terrain: Ideas and Inspiration for Decorating the Home and Garden