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

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.

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.

3

I started graduate school right after I earned my B.A., in part because I wasn't ready to face "real life" yet. I moved from Utah to Arizona, not exactly sure that it was the right move for me, but absolutely sure that I needed to leave Utah and experience something new.

That first year, I immersed myself in American literature, loving everything about being a graduate student. I read and researched and studied and wrote--and I didn't quite care what would happen to me at the end of that process. But somewhere along the way, I acknowledged that ambitious part of me that wanted a career as a professor--at the same time that I came to understand how difficult it was to get that type of a career as an Americanist.

Would I have pursued graduate school if I had really known how challenging the job market was? I don't know. All I know is that I worked hard and strategized about how to get a job. And, miraculously, at the end of graduate school, I was hired as an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I felt so lucky that this happened to me, that I was one of the lucky few to get employment as a tenure track professor.

Fast forward 16 years to today--I just found out that I have been promoted to full professor. Over the years, I've thought about the tenure system, job security, and the inequities of a system that focuses so much on publication over any other sort of dissemination of information. I don't like that about my career--and yet, at this particular moment, I have to pause, reflect, and enjoy the moment. I know I have worked as hard as anyone I know to get to this point in my career. Although I don't believe that I deserve this more than anyone else, I do believe that I deserve this moment, this time to feel proud of my career, and to appreciate how unlikely this seemed so many years ago.

So I rest, I accept the congratulations of colleagues, friends, and students. I consider how many people have helped me get to this point. And I'm grateful, so very, very grateful. I can't express how much I am grateful and humble and appreciative that this job worked out for me.

And then, I contemplate my next steps and the kinds of differences I can make given the position I am now in.

2

Usually at the end of the year, I blog about my reading life. Last year, my friend John challenged me to read 50 books during 2013, and I accepted his challenge. Now, normally, I'm not a goal setter, and when I do set New Years resolutions, it's rare that I see them through. For some reason, this challenge stuck. Probably in part because it had a social aspect, but also because I felt it was doable. I was staying more or less on track until September.

What happened in September, you may be thinking? Well, I had to create a binder documenting all my work for the last 8-9 years in order to apply to become a full professor. Basically, that binder took over my life (and my home!) for both September and October--I had piles of papers everywhere and spent a lot of time writing about how wonderful I am. 😉 My reading took a back seat, and I only managed to complete one book during each of those months.

Once I handed the binder in, I tried to catch up. I thought I was going to be forced to count picture books on my reading list . . . but I went on a reading frenzy during December and completed 10 books! I ended up reading 52 "real" books in 2013. I did choose which books to read by length and, now that I've completed that goal, my new goal is . . . to NEVER set a reading goal again. I'm excited to read longer and more complex books this coming year.

Here's a list of my ten favorite books from my 2013 reading list (in the order that I read them).

  1. Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.
  2. Matt De La Pena, Mexican White Boy.
  3. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.
  4. Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings.
  5. Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam.
  6. Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues.
  7. Tom Perotta, The Abstinence Teacher.
  8. Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park.
  9. Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook.
  10. Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle.

You'll notice a lot of Young Adult literature on this list--I taught a YA lit class last spring, but it also helped me keep up on my reading since they are usually easier to read. Like I said, I'm eager to read more complex books in the coming year.

1

My nephew Sam sent his friend Flat Stanley for a visit. We've been having fun hanging out in Fresno and also driving to other parts of California. You can check out our adventures at tumblr.

My spring break is going by way too fast. I'm writing, reading, cooking, and enjoying the beauty of Fresno in the spring. My wisteria is just about to burst into bloom, the seeds I planted are starting to sprout, and all is right in my world.

Last Sunday, I had a perfect day. I wrote all morning--7 pages of an article I hope to finish by early May. I was in a city that I love doing things that I love; I ate good food, shopped, walked forever, saw a movie, and ate more good food. In the movie, Ginger and Rosa, there's a line that describes how I felt. A young girl, Ginger, returns home late and her mother asks angrily where she's been. Ginger replies dreamily, "We were just roving about, being free." Of course, the movie complicates that line, but I'll save the serious for another post.

Yesterday: different city, activities, circumstances--but still that same feeling of freedom. I rode my bike to a friend's house--and then we biked downtown and met another friend to talk all afternoon. Our conversation moved from books, to music, to writing. And my friends gave me ideas about where to move next with a project that has been teasing at me since last summer. I want my summer to be like these past few days, full of the freedom of exploring ideas in many different forms.

And then I went home and made recipe #2 of my cooking with Janet week: french onion soup. It took 90 minutes for the onions to cook down, so I stirred and listened to my friend's radio show before finally eating a fantastic bowl of soup.

Ah, spring.

1

Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) once performed in the U.S. and all over Europe. Although she sang, the majority of people came to see her because of her physical appearance. Her body was covered with hair and she suffered from hypertrichosis. She was sometimes labeled "The Ape Woman" or "The Ugliest Woman in the World." After her death during childbirth, her husband had her body, and that of their son, who inherited his mother's condition and who also died, embalmed and stuffed. Their bodies were on display until the 1970's. After being stored in a basement of a hospital in Oslo, her body was finally returned to her homeland, Sinaloa Mexico, due to the efforts of artist Laura Anderson Barbata. She was buried February 12, 2013. Her son's remains were lost in the 1970s and have never been recovered. In this podcast, you will hear a poem about Julia written by poet Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok).