I confess I was sold on Heather Hunt’s LIFE’S A PUPPY PARTY: Recipes, DIYs, and Activities for Celebrating the Seasons With Your Dog (Tiller Press, 176 pp.,$19.99) before I cracked the cover. Really, how could anyone not appreciate a book that teaches you how to turn the veterinary cone of shame into a festive spring flower costume? A spinoff of Hunt’s poochcentric website, TheDapple.com, “Life’s a Puppy Party” provides instructions we never knew we needed: making pupsicles and Easter bunnies (please, not chocolate, which is poisonous for dogs — choose carob), throwing your dogs a Harry Pawter-themed birthday party and completing their New Year’s attire with a dashing bow tie. In the same way Oprah’s favorite (and only) cover model is Oprah, Hunt uses only her own pups, Dave (dachshund) and Elizabeth (corgi), as models, and — well, can we admit that Dave and Elizabeth look like they’re in hostage videos, and moreover that the costumes are kind of awful? By the time I found Hunt’s “woof in sheep’s clothing” that featured googly eyes and cotton balls, I wanted to take away her glue gun. But that’s what makes this book so perfect. She’s not Martha effing Stewart. She’s a girl at home, during the pandemic, gluing cotton balls onto felt for her best friends — and having a darn good time.
Sometimes the comfort of D.I.Y. projects can have unintended and wonderfully profound effects. In the Tony Award winner Sutton Foster’s memoir, HOOKED: How Crafting Saved My Life (Grand Central, 256 pp., $28), she claims, “Crocheting, collaging and cross-stitching have literally preserved my sanity through some of the darkest periods of my life.” Those times include not just mean-girl backstage politics, nasty breakups, divorce and, later, the soul-sucking rigors of infertility, but also growing up with a narcissistic, agoraphobic, deeply critical parent.
Along the way we get some backstage theater buzz (bonus: a fantastic Q. and A. with Patti LuPone) as well as instructions on how to knit a Badass Baby Blanket. But this book is mostly about Foster’s relationship with her family. In those moments where she knitted or drew or stitched, Foster was free from the worry of the world’s judgment; she could relax or celebrate or — as in the case of the granny square blanket replete with owls — mourn for her mother as she was dying. And isn’t this why many of us get into D.I.Y. projects when spending money is often easier? It’s that combination of escape and productivity and, often, doing for others that Foster captures so well.
Foster could not complete her owl blanket then, so she decided to try again for her daughter several years later. “This blanket is the story of my daughter’s grandmother,” she writes. She hasn’t quite been able to finish it. “It’s the story,” she says, “I am still trying to tell.”