Month in review: April 2019

Hi readers! I’ve decided to start adding “month in review” posts to my blog. The main purpose of these posts is to keep myself accountable for reaching my reading goals. I’ll also be posting a bit about my personal life, as things going on in my personal life affect how much I read in a given month. Also, I have really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ posts that offer glimpses into their lives, so I wanted to do the same. Let’s review April 2019!

Books read:

In April I finished two books: Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper and Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. Both books are collections of essays written by highly educated academics, and both teeter the line between academic essay and personal memoir. I loved both books (I actually rated them both as 5-star books on Goodreads), but I might like Thick ever-so-slightly better because it taught me more and challenged me to see certain issues from a new perspective.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I wrote a “books and bakes” post for each of the books mentioned above. For Hard to Love, I baked a coffee-flavored cake with raspberry jam filling and mocha buttercream. For Thick, I baked chai spice donuts with chocolate icing. Both bakes turned out well, but neither were as “aesthetically pleasing” as I would have liked (something to work on and improve over time). The donuts were the better of the two bakes, but I may be biased since I’m a sucker for anything chai-spiced.

Books in progress/reading goals for next month:

At the end of April I started reading Boom Town, a non-fiction book about the history and culture of Oklahoma City. For several reasons, I was skeptical about the book before I started it…but after reading the introduction I was hooked. I’m really excited to finish reading Boom Town and write about it here. After Boom Town, I hope to read one (maybe two, but that’s not necessarily realistic because May is going to be INSANE) more book in the month of May. Specifically, I’m hoping to tackle a couple books on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist (yes, I know that the shortlist has been announced – but the book that I most want to read didn’t make the shortlist).

Blog posts that I loved:

There is so much great content out there in the blogosphere that I can’t list every awesome post that I’ve come across. But that being said, these four posts might have been my favorites of April:

Naty’s Bookshelf reviewed Daisy Jones and the Six (a book that I was intentionally resisting because I am inherently skeptical of hyped-up books)…now the book is in my TBR.

Literary Lizard reviewed The Island of Sea Women and left the review on a cliffhanger, so I definitely plan to read that too!

Pointless Overthinking posted a short, motivational essay about thinking of ourselves as seeds growing through dirt, which is a beautiful way to think about adverse or stressful moments in life as transformative and positive.

And Dopamine Queen posted about how being an “attention seeker” can actually be a good thing.

Anything else?

  • I am officially a master of science! I defended my thesis ~4 weeks ago and submitted the official paperwork last week!
  • I’ve been getting back into a good exercise routine (necessary for maintaining my sanity during busy/stressful times), so I’m really happy about that.
  • I’m about to move ~1,000 miles away (will probably post more about that later this month) – it is an exciting and busy (and also slightly terrifying) time!

(a raspberry mocha cake that isn’t) Hard to Love

The book: Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper.

I am currently going through a non-fiction phase, and Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper was the first book I read as part of this phase. Hard to Love is a compilation of essays, each of which tackles the topic of love in its various forms. Hopper writes about friendships, sisterhood, and the ways in which these bonds can form.

Hard to Love is a joy to read because Briallen Hopper is an exceptional writer. She is able to articulate her perspectives so well that, by the end of the book, I almost felt as though I knew her. Because Hopper expresses her points of view so eloquently, it is easy to empathize with her. Even when I didn’t necessarily agree with Hopper, I was able to consider new perspectives with so much more compassion. For example, in the chapter “Hoarding,” Hopper defends the practice of hoarding as a means of remembering others by holding on to their physical possessions. I doubt I’ll ever be pro-hoarding, but after reading this essay I no longer feel much negative judgment toward those who do hoard.

In addition to being beautifully written, Hard to Love is refreshing. Our society places so much value on romantic love that other types of love are often-overlooked, despite being equally (if not more) important. In “Lean On,” Hopper argues that it is okay to be dependent on friendships, explaining how she “learned to practice mutual, broadly distributed leaning: to depend on care that was neither compulsory nor conditional” with her friends. In “Young Adult Cancer Story” and “Coasting,” she writes about being part of a close-knit friend-group that formed over a mutual friend’s cancer diagnosis. In “Dear Octopus” and “On Sisters,” she discusses how familial relationships are complex, yet “sustain [themselves] through things that can end or prevent intimate friendships.”

All Hopper’s essays are thoughtful and gorgeously written, but my personal favorites were “Lean On” and “Tending My Oven,” probably because both instantly resonated with me. I loved “Lean On,” because it perfectly expressed my own love for constructing and maintaining meaningful “friendship shells” and “structures of togetherness” with others. “Tending My Oven,” an exploration of why people bake, at times felt like it was written for me (I know that it wasn’t): in this essay, Hopper explains how baking can both “[allow us] to be warm and sweet in a world that so often isn’t, and provide “a space of authenticity and generosity.” These were the chapters that resonated with me the most, but let me reiterate that all of Hopper’s essays are wonderful – even her ideas that don’t resonate with everyone are very thoughtfully written.

By the way, you can read the essay “Lean On” on Longreads!

The bake: (four-layer) raspberry mocha cake

As I mentioned above, Hopper’s essay “Tending My Oven” – an exploration of the practice of baking – strongly resonated with me. In addition to examining the reasons why some people love to bake, Hopper writes about her own favorite things to bake (which include apple bundt cake, chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter cream cheese frosting, and berry shortcake). Of all the baked goods Hopper mentions in “Tending My Oven,” the one that intrigued me most was “Seven-Layer Insomnia Cake with Bitterness Buttercream Frosting.” So I decided to make my own version of it.

To pay tribute to “insomnia,” I made my cake coffee-flavored (as coffee usually exacerbates my own tendency toward insomnia). I followed this recipe from my name is yeh, leaving out the cardamom. To pay tribute to “bitterness,” I modified the recipe’s frosting to be less sweet, and I added about 1 tbsp cocoa powder since dark chocolate, like coffee, is delightfully bitter.

The final cake: two layers of coffee cake separated by mocha buttercream frosting and raspberry jam, and covered in more mocha buttercream frosting.

The recipe that I followed yields two 9″ round cakes, and I ended up being too afraid to slice the cakes into thinner layers. So I merely sandwiched them with a layer of mocha buttercream frosting and a layer of raspberry jam in between. Then I frosted the whole thing with more mocha buttercream. So my cake has either two, four, or five layers depending on what you consider to be a “layer” in the context of cake. I consider both the frosting and jam in between the two cakes to be their own layers.

Regardless of the number of layers, this cake is great. The coffee flavor is strong, and well balanced by the raspberry jam filling. Also, because the cake is made with canola oil, it doesn’t dry out quickly. The best thing about this cake, however, was that I got to share it with coworkers, allowing me to be “warm and sweet” and to express “authenticity and generosity.”