1. Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking, by Fuchsia Dunlop. The other night I made a sauce with five chopped green onions, blended to a smooth paste with one tablespoon sichuan peppers (first dunked into hot water). Add three tablespoons chicken stock, one teaspoon light soy sauce, one and one half teaspoons sesame oil. Apply to cooked chicken. More generally, buy Chinese cooking wine and black (Chinese) vinegar and you are almost ready to go.
2. Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, seventh edition. This is not just a reference work, it is also the best book on jazz, period. The main drawback is a lack of material on Norwegian jazz, a recent interest of mine.
4. Recent books by Julian Barnes and Zadie Smith, while entertaining enough, won’t attract interest thirty years from now. Question: What is the optimal lag time before deciding a work of fiction is worth reading? Few novels require urgent reading, so how about fifteen years? Why do I violate this rule so regularly?
5. Swallowing Clouds: A Playful Journey Through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine, by A. Zee. This unique book lives up to its subtitle; it teaches you how to make sense of Chinese characters, how the Chinese think about food, and how it all fits into a bigger picture.