Favorite books of 2017

Breaking my blogging silence to follow Katherine’s lead in writing about the best books I read this year. I intended to read 24 books, doubling my goal of 1 book a month from the previous year. Little did I realize having a baby and discovering the library ebook apps in the same year would lead to a lot of nursing/binge reading sessions, so I nearly doubled my reading goal (finishing number 47th on NYE).

It’s hard to pick which ones were the best, and I gave more goodreads stars to some that aren’t on here than others that are but I went with the ones that have stuck in my head the most since reading.

Top Nonfiction

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I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux: for breathing life into my relationship with God and for helping me to break out of my overly analytical introspection that can be a stumbling block in my spiritual life.

Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting: for forcing me to fruitfully reflect on what worked and didn’t work in my own upbringing, for alleviating a ton of the anxiety and guilt I was experiencing in my relationship with my toddler, and for giving me concrete practices that I use every day.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: kind of sensationalist, but it was the gut punch I needed to really examine my relationship with social media and screen time and realize just how much I get in my own way of my dreams and goals.

The Benedict Option + Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a two for one because though they are vastly different books, together they impressed upon me the significance of living as locally as possible. (The fact that my almost four month old can’t spend a minute in her car seat without screaming also impressed local living upon me.) Separately, they convinced me that I should be saying more rosaries and planting a garden.

Top Fiction

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: beautifully captured growing pains and joys and reminded me of how powerfully the inner landscape of our souls can be shaped by good books.

Middlemarch: because Dorothea Brooke should be the literary patron saint for any fiery young person who wants to change the world.

Emma: another book that impressed local living upon me in its own way.

Brooklyn: lyrical and lovely. Reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but definitely it’s own book. It was better than the film and the film was excellent. I’d happily pick up more Colm Tóibín.

In this House of Brede: a fascinating read for someone who ached for the cloistered life as a teenager. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit in Rumer Godden.

Reading Trends this Year

Jane Austen: two of her novels, one biography, and one sweet memoir of a young man’s life and how it was influenced by Jane. I love Jane all the more and think she would have been great fun to be friends with.

Contemporary reads: I habitually seek the comfort of British lit falling anywhere in the 19th century to the 1960s but I felt like I needed be more conversant of edgy contemporary (or if not edgy, just contemporary) things this year. Twenty-four of the forty-seven books I read were published after 2000. There were truly notable exceptions, but in the future, I think I’ll mostly stay off the best-sellers list and stick to my dead British authors.

Food books: food writing is such a funny thing and I feel like I could write a whole post on it. Somehow, I slipped into several food memoirs and books of food philosopy in 2017 and apparently mean to continue the trend in 2018 since my secret santa got me this book.

Memoirs: also not a genre I typically seek out, but I ended up reading five of them. Julia Child’s was particularly delightful.

Children’s Literature: I made an effort to read more of my favorite genre this year and it did not go unrewarded. I especially enjoyed Tom’s Midnight Garden and Half Magic (I sympathized with the kids feeling like only magical things happen to British children–I had the exact thought as a kid).

Quitting books: I’ve never been one to abandon books but then maybe my concerted effort to read more contemporary writing made me try out a lot of books not in my comfort zone and not to my taste. My conclusion is that I should have quit even more books this past year and that I will resolve to quit more books in the future. Time is short and there are more good books than I could fill a lifetime with.

Up next: my 2018 reading goals

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Favorite books of 2017

Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

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Have you made new years’ resolutions yet? Healthier eating is one of mine, but I’m trying to be realistic about it. My sister tried to rein me into Whole 30 this month, but any diet that tries to eliminate bread feels suspicious to me. Also, I find it really weird that strips of heart disease (i.e. bacon) are allowed and pebbles of life (i.e. lentils) aren’t. Tonight I’m giving the bird to Whole 30 and making a lentil stew.

I love and hate resolutions. They feel so fresh and hopeful. But then there’s so much personal growth I feel I need to do and I have too keen a knowledge of my wimpy will power, so looking at the long list of resolutions I’ve made just makes me want to curl up in a basket of warm laundry and eat something sweet. That’s where this tart comes in. It’s a babe of a dessert, indulgent in its perfect marriage of flavors. The sugar in it is minimal. You can add more if you wish, but that’s between you and your resolutions. Eat it with friends over a bottle of port and you will have done more for your well-being than Whole 30 could ever promise. At least I like to think so. I’ll make a definitive conclusion in 28 days when my sister emerges from her bread-less existence either glowing and goddess-like or dispirited and ravenous.

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Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

Ingredients:

-Pie dough (I use this recipe and follow the suggestion to replace some of the butter with shortening).

For wine poached pears:
-Two large pears (I used red but any variety would be good. If I used a green pear, though, I’d probably use a white wine to poach)
-Half a bottle of red wine
-An assortment of cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom pods, fresh ginger, whole cloves, or ground versions of any of those things
-optional: sugar to taste

For filling:
-1 cup goat cheese
-1 cup ricotta
-1/4c honey

For streusel topping:
-1/2 cup of walnuts
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/4 cup cold butter cut in cubes

Directions:
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Shape pie dough into a tart pan, cover with wax paper and fill with pie beans or weights. Par-bake for 12 minutes.
2. Slice pears lengthwise and set aside. Heat up wine with spices to a boil, add pears, lower to a simmer.
3. Mix goat cheese, ricotta, and honey together until combined and creamy in a bowl with a spoon or in the bowl of a standup mixer.
5. To make streusel topping: place walnuts, brown sugar, and butter together in a food processor and pulse until walnuts are chops into small pieces.
4. Remove pears from wine (you can reserve the wine and boil it down for syrup) and place the pears in a layer in the par-baked pie crust. Spoon the goat-cheese, ricotta mixture over and smooth it over.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes taking it out at the 20 min mark to sprinkle the streusel all over.
6. Let it cool down on the stove top and then chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

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Happy Feast of St. Basil, patron of the order of priests that founded my alma mater.

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

Resolutions for the New Year

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It’s still January, right? Right.

• Delete conversational fillers and footholds from my vocabulary because  they’re like insufferable you know.

• Develop a healthy relationship with social media because there’s so little time and so much living to do. And I don’t want to have to go down this path…

• Find the right beauty products/routine for my face and frizz because I’ve been rocking the same ponytail and make-up-tricks-I-learned-in-high-school-drama look for far too long.

• Stop binge-ing on all the sugar all the time because it would come as no surprise to me if all my teeth made a pact to fall out one day.

• Create and follow a realistic daily prayer schedge because I’m a half-heathen without one.

• Replace certain choice words with holy aspirations because, in the throes of diaper blowouts and teething trauma, “Lord have mercy” is probably better for my sanity and soul than “effffff this!!”

• Make the bed every day because we could use a little order and beauty in the mundane things.

•Memorize more poetry

To watch

To read (aiming for a low 10-15 of these)

•••

Happy Feast of St. John Bosco, patron of Christian apprentices, editors, publishers, young people, magicians, and juvenile delinquents.

“Servite Domino in laetitia!”

Resolutions for the New Year