Although I didn't read as much this year as I did last year, it was still an interesting year in books. Here are my top 10 books this year with a short blurb as to why they made the list (as always, these are listed in the order I read them):

Susan Power, Sacred Wilderness. This was a new book that I taught in my American Indian literature class. I appreciated its emphasis on spirituality while still being a funny, redemptive read.

Joseph Harris, Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. This is a book that I read with my students in my portfolio class. It helped us understand a variety of ways in which we can use other people's ideas in our own writing. My students told me that they wished they had read this much earlier in the program since it deepened their understanding of how to use others' arguments to develop their own ideas.

David Treuer, The Translation of Dr. Apelles. This book. Wow. Good enough to include two years in a row (since I reread it this year). A gorgeous, postmodern novel that students in my American Indian literature class adored.

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This was one of a couple of novels I felt I was way overdue in reading (another was Anne of Green Gables--which I had never read before). Interesting exploration of global dynamics after 9/11.

Joseph Boyden, The Orenda. It took me awhile to get into this novel, which had been recommended to me by a clerk at Birchbark Books (Louise Erdrich's bookstore in Minneapolis). The novel really took hold of me, though, enough that when I found out about the controversy surrounding Boyden towards the end of my reading, I was really disappointed.

Randa Jarrar, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali. I loved this collection of short stories written by my Fresno State colleague and friend. Randa has a unique voice: funny, insightful, timely.

Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again. One of my students chose to do a unit plan on this novel in verse, so I decided I needed to read it. It's a thoughtful novel about the challenges of immigration.

Linda Lawrence Hunt, Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. This historical examination of two daring women's journey walking from Washington to New York was fascinating.

Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down. A couple of students tweeted that this novel was a free download for a short time and that it was a quick read. Although I was grading, I stopped to read this fascinating examination of a teenage boy's response to his brother's death: the desire for revenge and stepping away from the cycle of violence.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in MoscowThe last book I read this year. I really enjoyed this novel that I think was ultimately about friendship and ingenuity against the backdrop of 20th century Russian history.

 

Turns out, living in a home with no TV equals lots of reading. I had a record year, reading 67 books. There were many that I immersed myself in, books that took me to new places both geographic and emotional.

Here are some of my favorites in the order, as always, that I finished them:

Janice Nimura, Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back.

Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You.

Jenni Fagan, Sunlight Pilgrims.

Jenny Offill, Department of Speculation.

Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life.

Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride.

Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills.

David Treuer, The Translation of Dr. Apelles.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.

A Little Life really blew me away. I found the story so compelling--yet so painful to read. I was really immersed in the novel but don't recommend it to the faint of heart. I also really loved Sunlight Pilgrims, a quiet, end-of-the-world story with well developed characters, including a trans teen who wants to transition but can't because of the increasing isolation due to climate change. A Pale View of Hills frustrated me because of the narrative style and the unresolved ending--but it has also stayed with me and led to a good discussion with my friend Lixian who had read the novel a few years ago. Lastly, I fell in love with the Treuer novel and am so excited that I'll be able to teach it in my American Indian literature course this semester. It's a gorgeous novel about love, language, and translation with two equally compelling story lines.

I've already finished a book I love this year and am in the middle of a memoir I'm really enjoying--so I hope that 2017 will be another good year of reading.

I'm fortunate that I'll be on sabbatical in the fall. As a result, I've taken two drastic actions.

1) I died my hair blue. Well, technically, just a swath of my hair is blue, but it was still something I probably wouldn't do during the regular school year.

Kathee with Blue Hair
Kathee with Sabbatical Hair

2) I've moved back to Oslo. I'll be here on and off for a few months, escaping the heat, enjoying an urban environment, reconnecting with friends, studying Norwegian, and working on my project with very few distractions.

Although I've been back in Norway several times since living here, it feels different this time around. I suppose one of the differences is that most of my friends are on holiday for the month of July which means that I've been left to my own devices, to some extent. I've been reading a lot and started creating my sabbatical website today (I'll be working on a digital humanities project)--but every day, I make sure to take long walks, exploring both the immediate neighborhood and other parts of the city.

Today, my walk was incredible. I worked most of the day, so this evening, I decided to retrace my favorite walk from when I lived here: down Drammensveien and then along the fjord. However, when I got to the part of my walk where I usually turn back towards Aker Brygge, I decided instead to keep walking on Bygdøy peninsula, taking a path along the shore, then venturing into the more rural landscape complete with cow pastures. It was incredibly beautiful and I felt some regret that I hadn't taken these paths before.

Drammensveien and Bygdøy
Drammensveien and Bygdøy

I can count the number of times I remember eating spaghetti squash on two fingers. That's right: two.

1) I was in San Francisco with a friend and we ate a late lunch/early dinner at Pizzeria Delfina (a restaurant that I also blogged about here). We ordered pizza (of course), but we also ordered a spaghetti squash/red pepper flake/pancetta mixture. It was perfection, actually: a light lemony salad that had enough pancetta to seem just slightly decadent.

2) Tonight: I had purchased a spaghetti squash a few weeks ago that I finally tonight decided to use. I microwaved half of it in a glass pan with water, covered with plastic wrap. After 8 minutes, I let it sit a bit while I grated asiago cheese. I shredded the squash with a fork, put the asiago cheese on top, and added red pepper flakes, salt, capers, sliced grape tomatoes, and sliced kalamata olives. I loved it. I'll definitely be making this again.

I've been re-reading Patti Smith's Just Kids, a memoir about her early years in New York when she and Robert Mapplethorpe were growing into a sense of themselves as artists. The insecurity of that process strikes a chord with me-the idea of not being sure who you are or where you are headed. We don't always know where our choices will lead us--but that shouldn't lead us to entropy, should it?  The memoir reminds me that art often comes from doubt, that the artist wills herself into existence.

Life is so unpredictable. We are capable of transformation at any moment. I love this passage from a Mary Oliver poem, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Sometimes, we assign questions like that to the young. . . but I've been thinking about how--no matter what age we are--that question still applies. We still have choices about what we will do with the rest of our lives, no matter how many years remain.

Just finished my second book for 2016 and remembered that I haven't blogged my annual favorites of the books I read this year. Yet again, it wasn't a big reading year for me--but I did read some books that I really loved. Here they are in the order I read them:

  1. Jessica Santillan, Inheritance. (This was an MFA thesis--but I loved it and hope it will be published some day soon.
  2. Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.
  3. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train.
  4. Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace.
  5. Liz Prince, Tomboy.
  6. Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist.
  7. Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive.
To fill out the list, here are some books I enjoyed:
  1. Olen Steinhauer, All the Old Knives.
  2. Margi Preus, West of the Moon.
  3. Nellie Bly, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.

And here are some facts related to last year's reading:

I read 33 books.

11 of the books I read last year were 2nd or 3rd reads.

I can barely remember many of the books.

I still like to read.

The summer of eating healthy continues. I'm trying to eat a lot more fruit and vegetables--and I am loving so many different kinds of foods. I love that I live in a place that produces so much good produce.

Recently, I bought a new cookbook with a gift card that someone gave me: Sara Forte's The Sprouted Kitchen: Bowl + Spoon. Check out the link and you'll find inspiration (and recipes) for some really good food. I decided to try a recipe tonight which I chose by assessing which recipe I could make using ingredients that I already had. I did have to go out and buy some basil, but other than that, I had everything in my pantry. I chose the recipe for "Double-Pesto Zucchini Noodles."

I loved this dish. It was so beautifully green and the pesto added enough richness that the dish seemed indulgent. I basically made a single serving of the zucchini, but made extra pesto to use in the next few days. I think I might have to buy another zucchini tomorrow so I can do a repeat! Here's the recipe, mostly following the instructions in the book (with a few notes on how I diverged from the recipe).

Double-Pesto Zucchini Noodles

**

5 large zucchini (I only used one zucchini so I scaled everything back except the pesto since I know I can use it in so many ways)

Sea salt

**

Pesto:

1 large clove garlic

1/4 c. toasted pine nuts

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 t. sea salt

1/4 t. black pepper

2 c. firmly packed basil (I think I only had about a cup, so I used a little less of the other ingredients)

1/2 c. olive oil

1/3 c. grated Parmesan

**

1 pound vine-ripened tomatoes, stems attached (I detached mine since I was using the toaster oven to roast them)

2 T. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 c. white beans, rinsed and drained

Freshly ground pepper

1/3 c. toasted pine nuts

1 c. basil julienned

3/4 c. shaved parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Slice the zucchini into thin strips (the recipe suggests using a julienne peeler, but I don't have one so I used a knife). Place the zucchini onto paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt--and let them sit for 20 minutes, then blot and get rid of as much of the water as you can (but do so gently!).

While the zucchini sweats, make the pesto. Place the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend.

Rub the tomatoes with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and then roast in the pre-heated oven until they begin to get soft. For me, this took a little over 15 minutes since my tomatoes were large.

In a frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute. Add white beans, salt and pepper, and saute until the beans are warm. Add the zucchini and saute for ONLY another 5-6 minutes. Toss the zucchini "noodles" with 1/3 c. of the pesto, pine nuts, julienned basil, and parmesan. Make sure to add a tomato on the side of the dish.

The recipe suggests adding red pepper flakes and lemon zest, but I totally missed this step and the dish was still delicious.

1

Recently, I read a New York Times article about the composed salad, in French, the "salade composee." Something about this concept intrigued me, so Monday I bought a lot of beautiful, fresh, organic vegetables and made my first composed salad. It was the perfect summer meal: so fresh and delicious.

Yesterday, I was going to lunch at a friend's house and decided to bring my second composed salad. Another friend had just given me a lovely dish to put it in. Here's a photo:

Although one can put anything in this salad, here's what mine contained:

Grape tomatoes, sliced in half

Cucumbers, peeled, halved, and seeded

Shredded carrots

Breakfast radishes, sliced thinly

Arugula sprouts

Capers

Shallots (diced)

A mix of feta and various olives

I sprinkled it with an Oliviers and Company herb/salt mix, squeezed lemon on top and drizzled with good olive oil.

I can imagine so many other ingredients to put in it: tuna or smoked trout, red peppers, peas, fava beans, lentils. This is such a versatile salad, one that I'm sure I'll eat repeatedly throughout the summer!

For a long time, I've wanted to do a buy local month--but it wasn't until I found a locally owned grocery store that I finally decided to make February my buy local month. I happened to be talking about this with my friend Adrienne right after I made the decision--and she agreed to join me. As it turns out, February will be a really busy month for me--and I may face challenges in buying local when I go to Sacramento one weekend and San Jose another night for a conference. I've decided, though, to let myself have an out . . . if I absolutely have to buy from a chain, I'll make a contribution to a local charity to make up for that. I'm hoping to avoid that as much as possible, though, as I really want to live up to this commitment.

I'll try to blog when I can about the businesses I frequent during this month. For now, though, here's a list of places I've found that will be part of my buy local efforts.

The Market (grocery store)

Kristina's Ranch Market (grocery store)

Vineyard Farmer's market

Sam's Deli (for prepared foods and some grocery items)

The Farmer's Daughter CSA (community supported agriculture)

Las Palmas Supermercado (1405 W. Shields)

Tower Gas and Mini Mart (gas station)

A Book Barn (bookstore)

Food, gas, and books. Do I need anything else? (Stay tuned for my next blog entry which will be a guide to locally owned restaurants)

So, yeah, this hasn't been a year for blogging. There are many reasons for that. I'm busy, I'm doing other things, I've lost interest. But here's my traditional list of my favorite books I've read this year (in the order in which I read them).

  1. Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
  2. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch.
  3. Chimamanda Adichie, Americanah.
  4. R. J. Palacio, Wonder.
  5. Linn Ullman, The Cold Song.
  6. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.
  7. Willa Cather, A Lost Lady.
  8. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments.
  9. Lynn Darling, Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding.
  10. Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven.
One of the things I find interesting about the reading experience is that I have lingering impressions of the place I was when I read some of these books. For example, I read The Goldfinch and Americanah curled up on my couch while I was recuperating from foot surgery. Similarly, I'll now associate Out of the Woods and Station Eleven with hotels in Annapolis and D.C. since I read those books while traveling.
One night in DC, I had tickets to go to an interview with Dorie Greenspan. I'd already walked a lot that day, said goodbye to friends, but arrived quite early to the venue. I sat on a bench in what was a combination of hallway/lobby/art gallery reading Out of the Woods and thinking about the adjustments I'm making at this particular moment in time. The metaphor Darling uses in her text really spoke to me--learning to find direction again after big changes in life. I'm glad to have read that memoir this year.
Opposite of this is my experience reading The Cold Song, a novel about a dysfunctional family in Norway. I don't have vivid memories of images in that book--which seems appropriate since there's something about the plot that is ghostly and insubstantial.
I enjoyed reading at a more leisurely pace this year after 2013's frenzy to meet my goal of reading 50 books. In 2014, I read only 36 books.
So that's my year in books.