Work and other matters have been keeping me busier than usual, so I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done much reading lately, other than the occasional Entertainment Weekly. A few things managed to hold my attention, however, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen

Area farmers markets are going strong and my herb garden has been planted, which means the growing season is upon us. From a vegetarian’s perspective, this time of year is a dream.

Vegetarian or not, you should find inspiration in this cookbook. If you’re unfamiliar with American’s Test Kitchen, you should check them out. There is a magazine (Cook’s Illustrated), a PBS show, a call-in program on public radio and an entire line of wonderfully instructional cookbooks, covering everything from cooking equipment and techniques to the best recipe for a particular dish.

Whether you’re just starting to explore your cooking abilities or you can handle a knife like a professional chef, there is something in this book for you. It is divided as many cookbooks are, with separate chapters covering grains, salads, sides and main dishes, sandwiches and so on. As with every America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, there is a great deal of helpful information preceding the recipes. Sections I found particularly useful were “Flavor-building ingredients for the vegetarian cook” and “Vegetables from A-Z.”

One quibble: The authors could have addressed the challenges inherent in maintaining a strict vegetarian diet – among them, getting the right amount of protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium. However, many of the dishes use dairy and eggs — which does make them vegan unfriendly — and there is an entire chapter devoted to beans and soy.

Many of the recipes are familiar to me – Eggplant Parmesan, Gazpacho, Greek Salad, Huevos Rancheros – but there are new ones I am eager to try, such as the Stir-fried Eggplant with Garlic-Basil Sauce (although I would add tofu, which the recipe omits), Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup, Korean Barbecue Tempeh Wraps and Kale Caesar Salad.

In recent years, I have all but stopped buying cookbooks because my collection has gotten out of control, but this America’s Test Kitchen volume is one that I’m seriously considering purchasing.

C.O.W.L., volume 1, Principles of Power, by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel

I try to read most graphic novels that the library purchases. Some blow me away with their writing or artwork, while others leave me unimpressed. Occasionally, I’m ambivalent, as is the case with “C.O.W.L.”

Set in 1962 Chicago, this adult graphic novel features the Chicago Organized Workers League, a group of superheroes who team up with “unpowered” individuals to fight organized crime and super villains. In Volume 1, the league is in contract negotiations with city leaders and attempting to prove its value to a disenchanted public. Despite some internal struggles, the heroes – some of whom qualify as anti-heroes – begin a crackdown on mobsters and search for a potential mole in their midst.

I loved the artwork. It’s dark, atmospheric, very noir; much of the action takes place at night, in alleys, nightclubs and warehouses. The heroes are a motley assortment, with enough problems — family troubles, alcoholism, sexism — to distract them from their mission. They’re intriguing, sharp and witty; some of the one-liners had me laughing out loud.

My major complaint? I had difficulty following the story. Too many plot points and characters were crammed into this introductory volume. I repeatedly found myself referencing the list of characters on the first page to keep myself on track. Overall, however, I’m interested in finding out what happens next, so I hope the library purchases Volume 2 when it becomes available in August.

Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in “Post-Racial” America, by Justin Simien

Inspired by the movie of the same name, this short read is meant to inspire laughter while it provokes thought. With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, many felt our country had moved past its long history of racism. This is, unfortunately, not the case. People continue to judge others by their skin color, often in subtle ways, and they still say hateful things or violently lash out.

Film maker Justin Simien chooses to address this sensitive issue with humor. Chapters entitled “Please Stop Touching my Hair,” “Please Stop Insisting that You’re Practically ‘Black’” and “We Don’t Know Why Kanye West Did That” will have you giggling – sometimes uncomfortably. There are also charts and written exercises, such as “The N-word: a Decision Tree” and “Are You a Post-Racist?”

Make no mistake, “Dear White People” is not all jokes and quizzes. There is a serious message beneath the fun, and it sneaks up on you unexpectedly at times. Trust me; just go with it.

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