Favorite books read in 2016
1. Middlemarch | George Eliot
I came to George Eliot late in my reading life, insomuch as an English major and anglophile should call 28 “late.” I’d read pieces of her over the years — essays, an attempt at Silas Marner — and in this I tally exactly with author A.S. Byatt, who happened to write the introductory note in my Modern Library edition , and write exactly my experience, turns out. “I suppose I was in my late twenties when I began teaching Middlemarch,” she writes, “and I taught it with passion because I perceived it was about the growth, use, and inevitable failure and frustration of human energy — a lesson one is not interested in at eleven or eighteen, but at twenty-six, with two small children, it seems crucial . . . George Eliot’s people were ambitious to use their minds to the full, to discover something, to live on a scale where their life felt valuable from moment to moment.” And that rather sums it all up. I love Austen, but I spent the majority of my month in Middlemarch wondering why in the world I’ve wasted so much time with her when there was Eliot writing real things, real thinking beings, with a psychological understanding so precise that it reads perpetually prophetic — then, now, forever.
I finished the book on a bench in Washington Square Park, late August, and took only one minute’s breathing to observe a fat grey squirrel undulating across the walk before turning all 800 pages back to 1 and beginning again.
2. My Family and Other Animals | Gerald Durrell*
Ms. Tobey gifted this book to me on my birthday because she is only merely the single best school librarian to real-life live outside of fiction, of the type that can tell you everything about anything and then fish out a story to meet your soul. I had no prior knowledge of the book or its beginnings beyond the note attached and jumped into it blind, reading the first chapters in public, being so blissfully unaware of the irrepressible out-loud snort-laughter to follow. Funny is an understatement. Delightful is not enough. This was beyond Wodehouse for me — a declaration I make not un-lightly — and the absolute highlight of my reading year in terms of full, unabashed story and language. Bonus: this would make for an excellent read-aloud to (older-ish) children. And it’s the first of a trilogy.
*Just lately I’ve learned there’s a new television series out? And I’ve heard good things and it’s on my list but please, everybody, just READ THIS BOOK.
3. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha | Roddy Doyle
Back in early October we stayed at a farmhouse in Ithaca with one burst-full bookshelf and a worn, bubbled, broken copy of this book. It’s a story told by ten-year-old Paddy, growing up in 1960s Barrytown, North Dublin, and without any obvious chronology or discernible plot conveys in a dazzle of language both the straightforward joys of childhood (I poured salt on a slug. I could see the torture and agony. I picked him up with the trowel and gave him a decent burial.) and the complexities of growing responsibilities and familial loyalties (It was a sign of growing up, when the dark made no more difference to you than the day). It is, to borrow a phrase from my other Irish favorite below, “happy sad” — and while I enjoyed the novel in the midst of it, its true power has been in the way it has stayed with me since.
Favorite Films Watched in 2016
1. Sing Street
This is on Netflix go watch it RIGHT. NOW. And then listen to the soundtrack on repeat all week. And then tell me you haven’t been practicing your best Irish vowels ever since. (“Just . . . rabbit stuff” is now accepted family canon forever.)
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Me and this fat kid / we ran, we ate and read books / and it was the best.
3. The Crown
Does this count as film? Or for this list, as I’m only halfway through? No matter. You know it, you’ve probably seen it, you get it. Sweeping gorgeous stuff, costumes to Claire Foy. Working on my Received Pronunciation.
New recipes on regular rotation in 2016
1. One Pot Spicy Thai Noodles | Domestic Superhero
As honestly easy as it promises to be, and endlessly compliant with any vegetable left in the fridge at the end of the week. I’ve taken to making sure I’ll always have the base ingredients on hand — and think we’ve made this once a week for the last half year.
NB: I generally 1 and 1/2 the sauce for a smoother linguine and fuller flavor. Double, triple, or quadruple the eggs as preferred. Don’t ever skip the peanuts.
2. Chicken, Kale & Wild Rice Salad | Meaningful Eats
Philly’s a foodie dreamscape, but that hasn’t curbed my cravings for my hometown Cubby’s and their Kale & Wild Rice Salad that I could no kidding cross my heart eat every day of my life. This copycat recipe is an exact match.
NB: Chop, chop, and chop again — the real punch of this thing is getting the full flavor wheel in every forkful. Trader Joe’s bag of kale (the kind they say’s for cooking?) and keeping a weekly allotment of cooked rice on hand makes this a done-and-done meal in 15 minutes.
3. Brown Rice | Steve Pavlina
This is going to sound like the dumbest thing but . . . learning the Pavlina method was the best thing that happened in my kitchen this year. I don’t even remember how I found it, outside of an endless loop of frustration — I wanted to make the whole grain choice and ditch white rice altogether, but brown rice is notoriously temperamental and every other recipe promises perfection in exactly opposite (and often excessively elaborate) ways. And suddenly, this. The easiest step-by-step of all, with flawless results. I simmer a new pot every weekend to dish up in various recipes all week long.
NB: A spoonful of this stuff right out of the pot isn’t going to bowl you over — it’s straight up brown rice. But it’s the perfect thing to have on hand for salads, abundance bowls, quick sides and extra body.