“Oh, to be reborn within the pages of a book.”
-Patti Smith, M Train
Lately, despite life reaching slightly hectic heights, there is one thing that I have consistently been making time for: books. I have been reading without fail first thing every morning and just before my head hits the pillow each night. Sometimes it is the same book, sometimes I juggle a non-fiction with breakfast and fiction in the evening (always in that order for some reason), but it has become so rooted into my days that I am packing multiple books for my upcoming trip, just so that I don’t run out of reading material and ruin my comfy little routine.
I mentioned in a previous post that I give myself yearly numerical goals for how many books I want to read in total. While this may contradict another recent thing I wrote about quality over quantity, I find that in the case of reading, giving myself a tangible measure of success has helped me to carve out time for books every day and re-instate it as a full-blown habit.
The question, though, is why? Why is it so important to me to read every day?
Part of it is that I grew up as a reader and picking up a good book feels nostalgic to me, like going back to my roots. It is a habit that was lost for a while amid the chaos of university and nomadic travel, but taking it up again regularly has reminded me of the palpable benefits.
I’m going to go so far as to say that I believe reading makes me a better person.
As I’ve reintegrated chunks of time dedicated to books in my daily life, I found that at first, I was only really able to read a chapter at a time before my mind started to wander onto other things. Behold the effects of rapid-fire social media and insta-everything. However, after a couple weeks I was able to push my concentration and read more. And more. Until I didn’t even need to push myself except to stop and turn out the light already. Regular reading has rebuilt my attention span and with that, added patience and mindfulness. I find that my brain can more easily focus on one thing with full awareness for longer periods of time, which feels like a rare skill among the constant pressure to multi-task.
I have also rediscovered the joy and awe of how books reflect and expand the self. This quote by Rebeccah Mead says it perfectly,
“Books gave us a way to shape ourselves— to form our thoughts and to signal to each other who we were and who we wanted to be.”
I love that moment when you see a part of yourself in a character and feel the journey that they go on as a path you, too, are following. Or when a certain set of words leaps out and whispers directly into your ear and you realize it is something you have been waiting to hear and didn’t even know it.
The funniest thing for me, as well, is that living in Morocco and being surrounded by and speaking multiple languages a day, I find myself needing English language books in order to not completely lose my once effervescent vocabulary. I used to be a huge word nerd, for lack of a better term, and even asked for a thesaurus as a birthday present one year. Here, however, I have had to simplify my vocabulary in speaking and sometimes even in writing emails and messages, which is a good skill to grasp, but at the same time means I need to freshen up my own language sometimes. Books are a perfect tool to do just that.
It is possible that this daily habit will come and go, but I have the feeling that books will always make up a certain part of who I am and how I see myself. They add variety and extra spirit and reflection- another dimension to each day. Since January, I have been reading up a storm, with some of the stand-outs being Madness, Rack, & Honey, Women at Work, Purple Hibiscus and The God of Small Things. What have you loved reading so far this year?
The only thing that is better than cozying up with a book after a long day is cozying up with a book and a slice of cake at your side.
The end of March and the beginning of Spring mean one thing: carrot cake. Oh and flowers and rain, I suppose, but carrot cake is the first thing on my mind. It is an Easter/springtime classic, so I decided to do what I do and make a little spin off of it, studding the cake with juicy sweet dates and adding some extra warming spices like cardamom and ginger since the rain lately has me continuing to crave cozy food.
This loaf cake comes together quite easily, no fancy tricks or secrets. I know that a true classic carrot cake involves some sort of fluffy cream cheese frosting, but the dates already add a caramelizing sweetness and I liked the simple crunch of golden-browned nuts and extra sugar on top. This cake is the perfect addition to a brunch party or any sort of celebratory spread, or just to enjoy quietly and mindfully with a book in a your lap.
Spiced Carrot + Date Loaf Cake
Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves, dairy-free option
Preheat your oven to 350º and grease 1 large loaf pan or two smaller ones, or line them with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs with the vanilla, oil and sugar. Add the milk and whisk again until smooth. Add your wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix with a spatula until fully combined, then fold in the carrot and chopped dates. Pour the batter into your prepared pan(s) and spread evenly. Top with an extra sprinkling of brown sugar and some chopped walnuts or pecans, if using.
Bake for about 50 min-1 hour (depending on the thickness of your loaf- mine was pretty thick) or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean. Let cool, remove from pans and serve warm.
- 2 cups (240g) shredded or grated carrots
- 100g (about 12-15 depending on size) pitted + chopped dates
- 1 cup (150g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (140g) whole-wheat flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup neutral oil (canola, vegetable or grapeseed)
- 3/4 cup (155g) light brown sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk, or 1 cup non-dairy milk mixed with 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans for topping