2019 reading review & 2020 goals

Now is the time of year when everybody is posting their 2019 reading stats, and goals for 2020. So I am going to hop on that bandwagon and do the same! I’m keeping things simple, and combining my 2019 review and 2020 goals into a single post.

Booking and blogging in 2019:

I read 34 books in 2019. Compared to many of the book-bloggers that I follow, this number is laughably low. But 2019 was my first year of reading as a hobby; prior to 2019 I never read consistently throughout any calendar year. So while the number is low compared to others’, this is definitely a personal success for me.

I baked things for 30 of the 34 books I read this year. If you follow my blog, you probably know that it started off as a dual baking/reading project, where I baked something inspired by every book that I read. Toward the end of the year, I was unable to keep up with my goal to bake something for every book. Still, 30 bakes is a lot! I became a much better baker this year; and also strengthened connections with coworkers, neighbors, and friends by regularly sharing baked goods with them.

My favorite three books that I read this year were:

2020 goals:

Read at least 45 books. Last year I read 34 books (average: ~3 per month). I would love to read even more this year! With one of my New Year’s resolutions being to limit to weeknight TV time, I think I can accomplish 45.

Read every book longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. By following amazing book-bloggers on wordpress, I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and read 6 of the 16 longlisted books. Some of these books I probably wouldn’t have read had it not been for the Women’s Prize, but I really enjoyed them: four of those books were 5-star reads for me, and one of them (Lost Children Archive) ended up being my favorite book of the year. So this year I’d like to broaden my horizons even more, and read more excellent woman-authored fiction!

Read at least two classics. In 2019, all the books I read were contemporary, with the “oldest” one being published in 2008. This makes sense, because there is always so much great new material being published. But this year I would like to at least slightly diversify by reading a couple of excellent older books.

Changes to the blog in 2020:

I will no longer be doing a bake for every book that I read. As I mentioned above, it has become too hard to keep up with this project. My bakes (and therefore my blog posts) are now over a month behind my reading, and this gap will likely continue to widen. Instead, I will post standalone book reviews, participate in blogging events, and pursue a different cooking/baking project…

I am starting a project for 2020 called “Year of Yeh.” This project is essentially Julie & Julia, but using Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. I recently received several cookbooks as gifts, and I want to start using them! So this year, I plan to cook and bake my way through Molly on the Range. I specifically chose this cookbook for two reasons. First, I have baked a few things from Yeh’s online blog and I really enjoy her recipes (including tahini milkshakes, coffee-cardamom cake, and fresh mint cake). And second, her cookbook contains a nice mix of main dishes, side dishes, and desserts – so I will get to try and learn many new things.

Lost Children Archive (and the ginger-banana cheesecake bars it inspired)

The book: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.

Earlier this month, I read Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. The novel follows a family of four taking a road trip from New York to Arizona: the father, a documentarist, is creating a sound documentary about Apacheria (the former home of the Apaches). At the same time, the mother has become impassioned by the immigration crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, and decides to create her own sound documentary about it. Lost Children Archive is a moving story about marriage, family, and the so-called “immigration crisis” in the United States.

While the novel may sound heavy (and honestly, it is), Lost Children Archive is incredible – it may even be my favorite book of the year. Luiselli’s writing style is smooth, flowing, and poetic. This makes the novel easy to follow, even when the plot or the novel’s themes get heavy. Also, Luiselli doesn’t use quotation marks around characters’ dialogue – I liked this technique because it made the conversation feel like it was flowing very naturally.

Valeria Luiselli is also a master at evoking all the emotions. When the plot centers around the plight of migrant children and their families, the novel evokes immense empathy and sadness. Other parts of the novel are anxiety-inducing yet page-turningly suspenseful. And then there are moments where the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to Luiselli’s ability to capture the surprising and hilarious innocence of children.

As the novel progresses, parallels between the family’s children and the “lost” migrant children become increasingly clear. I thought this was a clever way of evoking empathy for children. These parallels first draw empathy for migrant children, because it allows the reader to feel for migrant children the way they would for children they actually know. The parallels also elicit empathy for children in general, by showing how even relatively privileged children can feel lost in the world.

Although I loved Lost Children Archive, I will acknowledge that it has received a lot of criticism from those with a more formal literary background. I am a casual reader and a scientist, so literary things – like cramming in too many references to older literature, or imitating the writing style of James Joyce – did not bother me (in fact, most of the references flew right over my head). I loved and learned so much from this book.

The bake: ginger-banana cheesecake bars.

When I was contemplating a bake for Lost Children Archive, I drew on the idea of the cross-country road trip for inspiration, and decided to bake something that would combine various regional desserts. The ultimate fusion dessert that I landed on was hummingbird cheesecake bars (with a spicy twist). Hummingbird cake is said to be a classic Southern dessert (although I never ate it when I lived in the South), and cheesecake is often thought of as a classic New York dessert.

Luckily for me, a hummingbird cheesecake recipe already exists, so I used that as a guide for my bake. However, hummingbird cheesecake seemed like too sweet of a dessert for a novel as heavy as Lost Children Archive, so I decided to spice it up a bit by using candied ginger instead of pineapple. Also, I used an 8×8 inch pan to make “bars” instead of a traditional cheesecake, because bars seem more kid-friendly than a traditional cheesecake (and this bake was inspired by a book about children).

The cheesecake bars look a bit ugly, but taste quite nice.

From the long bake time to the decoration, these cheesecake bars ended up being WAY more challenging than I expected! If I were to make these bars again, I wouldn’t use candied ginger, because it sunk to the bottom of the cheesecake batter and made the bars difficult to cut. That being said, they were very tasty – I loved the flavor combination of ginger and banana. These cheesecake bars are a great sweet-and-spicy treat – perfect to celebrate a bittersweet novel like Lost Children Archive (or just to enjoy on their own).