2018 in Reading: A Tally and Some Recommendations

In 2017, I set a New Year’s resolution to read more. I wanted to set a resolution that would help me do something I liked more often. And it worked! I read a lot, and I enjoyed it so, so much. It definitely improved my quality of life.

For 2018, I wanted to keep reading, but I set some new goals. I wanted to read more diverse authors, including more work translated into English from other languages. I kind of succeeded in my goals; I read 58 books (!), and 35 of them were by women. Again, I would say that reading a lot improved my quality of life.

Clearly, I spent a lot of time reading. This year, I did a lot more reading while commuting; at some point I cut the data plan on my phone drastically so I couldn’t read about politics on my way to work, because I was arriving already in a bad mood. Instead, I read books. Much better. (There was one time I missed my tram stop because the book was so good, but I can no longer remember which book it was!)

Below are some stats, trends, and recommendations of my favorite things I read.

Read More Women: 34 of those books were by women, and 22 by men. Two were academic books with multiple authors. One of my big goals this year was to read more women, and I definitely succeeded in that!

Read In Translation: Only four books were translated into English from another language. I failed on the goal of reading a lot of translated literature, but I can say all four were great.

  • Inheritance From Mother by Minae Mizumura (translated from Japanese) was charming and heartfelt, and given the story line it’s amazing that it never felt cheesy or cliché; I loved it.
  • Lullaby by Leila Slimani is a Prix Goncourt, a prize in France for “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”; part of it is a ripped-from-the-headlines crime story, but the examination of class in Paris fascinating and sad at the same time.
  • Fever Dream by Argentinian Samanta Schweblin kind of defies classification. It’s short, surreal, creepy, and fantastic, which is probably why it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize.
  • I’ll talk about the fourth one, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, below.

Read Diversely: Including the translated books noted above, here’s my geographic tally for authorship: Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France/Morocco, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Swaziland, Trinidad, UK (7), USA (27). I only succeeded in reading more books by authors not originally from the U.S. by reading more books, total. (And some of those international authors reside in the U.S., U.K., or elsewhere.)

I Fell In Love With Short Stories: I have to admit, I was never much one for short story collections. They bring back memories of schoolwork and “best short story” anthologies that I for whatever reason didn’t connect with. This year, though, I read several incredible short story collections and it totally changed my opinion!

Among those that I loved was Damned If I Do, by Percival Everett, partly for its descriptions of life in the West. Florida by Lauren Groff was a pick for our climate fiction book group (see below); the opening story left me “meh”, but several others killed me dead with their perfection, including “Dogs go wolf” and “Above and below”. Then there was Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh, which I became a huge cheerleader for and recommended to everyone I knew. It’s a rare book that Steve and I both completely loved and found un-put-downable. The stories are weird and you often feel painfully uncomfortable on behalf of the characters, but they are so, so good in that weirdness.

Crime Writing Kept Me Going: I like crime fiction. And for a chunk of this year, it kind of saved me by being a great distraction from my dissertation; a good crime novel has the capacity to just completely suck you into its world, which is sometimes very necessary. This was particularly true in the very last month of my dissertation, when I wasn’t exercising much because I had just run a marathon and my body needed a rest. I had to fill the time that I’d been spending running with something else, and I ended up tearing through crime novels. A full 20% of the books I read in 2018 could be classified as crime, and several more have criminal deaths at the center of the story, but I’d say are more literary fiction than “crime” (A Separation by Katie Kitamura and History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund come to mind).

I read some great crime fiction. A Beautiful Place To Die by Malla Nunn was one of the best books I read this year in that it transported me to a place I know nothing about, 1950s South Africa. It was brutal, beautiful (as in the title), and educational all at once. Then there were some just simply good books. I love the Irish author Tana French, whose police novels are dark and serious. Broken Harbour is both completely creepy, and a social comment indicting of the housing bubble. I like J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mysteries, which are different in that they are a bit comic sometimes as well (the crimes are no jokes though, actually sometimes quite gruesome). Then there were the less-literary crime novels that nonetheless helped me through. The afternoon I handed in my dissertation, I came home, sat on the sofa, and read Jane Harper’s The Dry all in one sitting. It’s not going to win a Man Booker but it was a good story set in an interesting place and pulled me along when my brain literally couldn’t make up its own thoughts anymore.

I also enjoyed some true crime books this year, particularly Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, which taught me a lot I didn’t learn in history class and was both gripping and devastating, and The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson.

I Joined A “Climate Fiction” Book Group: My friend Joan started a reading group around the theme of climate fiction. We have read a lot of different kinds of things. Some about dystopian futures; The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi and Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta both hit me hard because I can picture the landscapes where they are (partly) set, south-central Colorado and Finland respectively, based on my own travels and/or residency. We also read some just plain weirder speculative fiction, including Annihilation by Jeffrey Vandermeer, which I loved so much I went out, bought the other two books in the trilogy, and devoured them. We read a long literary noel with a Big Environmental Message, The Overstory by Richard Powers, and I loved that too (I put a quote from it on my holiday card). And we read Florida, which is not explicitly about climate change in a bang-you-over the head way, but it’s there. This group has been a great thing to join and if you’re interested, you can find out more on Twitter.

The Weirdest Book That I Absolutely Loved: Steve gave me Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk because he read a review of it in The Economist and thought I might like it. I dove in without learning anything about it, to the extent that through the whole first chapter I wasn’t sure if the narrator was a man or a woman. This book is super bizarre, but I liked it – it was so different than anything I’ve read this year or maybe ever. I won’t give it away other than to say that may or may not be your cup of tea. Steve tried to read it after my rave reviews and got most of the way through before flinging it onto the table as he shouted obscenities, so, your mileage may vary.

Two Books About Science and Society That Changed Me: Two nonfiction books stuck with me and will probably alter how I go about my life as a scientist and human being. The first was The Home Place by J. Drew Lanham, a book that my mother gave me as a gift. The memoir resembles an essay collection, and I typically don’t love essay collections, so I put off reading it. Then I picked the book up and wanted to savor every word. The book details the author’s relationship with nature and the place he grew up, and the challenges he faces as a Black wildlife biologist. It is beautiful nature writing, and made me see my field differently, too. It rightfully won the 2017 Southern Book Award.

The second was Inferior by Angela Saini, which highlights how understudied women are compared to men and how many of the things our culture, or indeed our whole women, believe about women based on centuries of “knowledge” are simply bullshit propped up by pseudoscience, because nobody thought it was interesting or worthwhile to do the real work. This book blew me away and made me mad, but it also profiles researchers working to change the game. Maybe there’s hope.

A Delightful Novel That Will Change Your Opinion of the Author: Some feminist websites I read have occasionally gushed about Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I finally picked up a copy. I like Woolf; if that makes me pretentious, I don’t care. If you don’t like her, though, try this book anyway. It’s about an ageless character who lives for hundreds of years and transforms from a man to a woman in the process. It’s legitimately hilarious in places, but also has some beautiful descriptions of tons of different settings, and musings on the human condition.

Other Books I Highly Recommend: Circe by Madeline Miller; Black River by S.M. Hulse; The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf.

***

What’s next? I’m going to keep reading, of course. These two years of trying to read a book a week have reignited a habit in me that was last seen in middle school. My inner bookworm has re-emerged.

In fourth grade we had some kind of reading contest, challenging the class above or below us (I can’t remember which) to see who could read the most books in a month. This brought out my competitive side and while some of my friends struggled to read one book because they just found it boring, I read at least one per day (these were middle-grade books, so nothing too dense)– it was partly because I wanted to win, but it totally wasn’t a chore. It was like getting a prize for something you wanted to do anyway.

Now, I have 11 books on the “to-be-read” shelf of my bookcase, and my Amazon wishlist is hundreds of books long. It would take me well over a decade to read them all at my current rate, even without the many that I add based on new releases each year. I’ll never get there. But I’m excited for the ones I do read.

Want to track your own reading in a systematic way, for example to make sure you really are reading women authors? The website BookRiot has a nice spreadsheet you can use (and adapt).

Seiser Alm and perfect ski vacations.

I’m seriously late with this trip report, but no matter. I want to tell you about a trip I took back in early February.

Earlier this winter, when I realized that I was not going to the Olympics and thus had more time to play with in Europe (ha! only kind of! I need to finish my dissertation!), I asked on Facebook: what were my friends’ favorite places to cross-country ski in Europe? Places that I shouldn’t leave next fall without having visited?

Yes, I am in that mode. I anticipate defending my PhD in September, which means that I am looking for postdoc positions and in all likelihood I’ll be headed back to North America. It’s not that I’ll never take another ski trip in Europe, of course, but doing so will be a lot harder once I’m based on a different continent. There is such a world to explore here, and I’ve had so many great trips and experiences – many of which you can read about on this blog, like this, this, or this – but there are so many places that I still want to go, and not enough time to visit them.

So I wanted some help narrowing down my list.

A suggestion from multiple people was Seiser Alm (or Alpe di Siusi) in Italy. I had known for a while that this would be a nice place to go, as evidenced by the fact that oh so many national ski teams do training camps there: it is a favorite of the Americans, the Canadians, the Swedes, the Norwegians, and the Finns, among others. Marit Bjørgen and Charlotte Kalla each decided to ditch their teams’ pre-Olympic training camps and train in Seiser Alm instead. (And that turned out to work out well for both of them, as each came home with individual gold medals.)

Seiser Alm isn’t all that hard to get to, if you’re coming from afar. Go to Milan, take a train to Bolzano, and then it’s a quick bus ride to Seis/Siusi, the town below the plateau. You can stay there and take the cablecar or bus up to the plateau of Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi every day to ski, or you can travel up the big hill and stay up there, for example in the village of Compatsch, as we did.

Pro tip, do some work on the train.

The reason I hadn’t been to Seiser Alm so far, however, is that if you are coming from the north it is not so convenient. With a car, it’s probably not that bad. I don’t have a car, however, so the trip was a long combination of train and bus connections. Crossing the Alps is never a simple feat and I took the train into Austria, then another train to the top of a pass, then a another train down the other side of the pass into Italy, then a bus from Brixen/Bressanone to Seis/Siusi*, then the cablecar. I had wanted to take this trip before, but the logistics put me off. From Zurich it’s literally as fast to fly to Oslo and then take a train to Lillehammer, as it is to take public transportation to Seiser Alm!

I’m bad at writing blog posts, because my introductions are always longer than the meat of the post. But here, I’ll finally get to the point: I took a few days off work and made it a long weekend, reserved a hotel, and traveled to Seiser Alm. I went with my boyfriend, who had never cross-country skied before. I was hoping he wouldn’t hate it, and figured that if I wanted him to love my sport, I might as well introduce him to it in the awesomest place I could think of.

Because of all those logistics, we arrived in the mid afternoon. After checking in I immediately wanted to go for a ski before the sun went down, so I grabbed my skate skis and headed out. It had snowed the day before and the grooming was imperfect for skating (classic would have been better, but I didn’t want to take the time to pick and apply kickwax, I just wanted to get out there).

But it was beautiful. Everything I had dreamed of. And I had plenty of time to appreciate the scenery, because skating through the powder up some big climbs at 1800 meters of elevation (around 6,000 feet, and higher once I went up some of those big climbs) is really hard. I just skied until the sun was setting, maybe an hour and a half, but I was already pooped.

Luckily, I could refuel. Our hotel was delightful. As is probably the case for most or all of the hotels in Compatsch, half-board is the default: breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate. That’s because Compatsch is a tiny, tiny village at the top of the cablecar. There are a handful of hotels, some of them fairly big, but maybe only two or three bars/pizza places that aren’t associated with hotels. There’s just not many other places you are going to eat, and the hotels aren’t really going to get dinner guests who aren’t staying up there because the cablecar stops running at 6 p.m. and you aren’t allowed to drive up to the plateau unless you are staying there (which makes the plateau very nice and quiet!). So, half-board makes sense for everyone.

The dinner was superb, including a great salad bar, some handmade pasta (of course), and a *dessert buffet*. I generally try not to eat dessert, but this was too much to resist. When I saw the 70-something-year-old German guy from Hamburg who was sitting at the table next to us get up and choose a second dessert, I decided that’s what I should do too.

Yes, even if you don’t count the phenomenal skiing, I was spoiled on this trip.

The next day we enjoyed a similarly great breakfast, and then set out to ski. That first afternoon I had remembered how exhausting it is to skate at altitude. I haven’t been doing a lot of skating this year because I’m still recovering from an ankle injury that has really affected my mechanics, so I had somehow forgotten that fact.

So we stuck to classic skiing. After the moody weather of our arrival day, it dawned bright and sunny. I slapped some blue hardwax on my skis, we rented some skis for my boyfriend, and set out.

Same view, this time with A+ grooming.

I can hardly explain how spectacular it was. I tried to be a good teacher but was distracted by the scenery, the perfect conditions, the feeling of sun on my skin (we hadn’t been getting a lot of that in Zurich). Every few minutes I would look around and grin, and sometimes spread my arms like, can you believe this?

From Compatsch, it is a few kilometers up to Ritsch, which is the true center of the trail system. From there, there’s a few kilometers of easy, rolling trails (and actually even a one-kilometer “practice loop” which is totally flat). We started there, but continued around the 12-km “Hartl” loop that goes far out the plateau to the northeast, and at its farthest point loops around alpine meadows with overlooks across a valley into Val Gardena.

I live in Switzerland, so I’m used to mountains, but the mountains in the Dolomites are totally different. They are made of, well, dolomite, and they are sharp and craggy. I think this is one thing that made me so awed by the scenery: it was just so different than what I was used to seeing. Take my wonder at the Swiss Alps, that feeling I have in Lenzerheide or Gantrisch or even Einsiedeln, and increase it by an order of magnitude, because these mountains are simply not what I usually look at. And throughout the day, the sun plays across them. Different parts are lit up or shaded. Clouds and snow squalls play around the spires. Every time you look is a little different.

My boyfriend survived the loop and we stopped in Ritsch for lunch at the hotel/restaurant there, devouring some excellent local-style dumplings. One was made with cheese, another spinach, a third one beets.

After replenishing, we parted ways and I skied down into Saltria and cruised around the 6 k loop there. Now is a good time to explain Seiser Alm. It is really just a huge alpine plateau, with hills and meadows, and sharp mountains on several sides. On every edge of this plateau are ski lifts and tiny resorts with a one or two hotels each; many of these areas are accessible from one another, albeit not by steep ski runs. Sometimes the cross-country ski trail would be running parallel to an alpine run, on a gradual downhill across the plateau. Even just in a tuck, on my cross-country skis I would be going faster than the downhill skiers on their heavy equipment, who couldn’t get up a head of momentum on such a gradual hill.

Saltria is another medium-sized village, a bit like Compatsch, but nestled down in a mini-valley a bit instead of totally perched on a plateau. To get down to Saltria, I dropped almost 200 meters of elevation in about two twisty kilometers, which was a lot of fun. I then cruised around the medium loop there, which was comparatively deserted and quite lovely, going up this mini-valley along a babbling river/stream instead of offering the bam-bam-bam of the plateau’s mountain views. And then I had to climb back up those 200 meters in two kilometers, which was slightly less fun.

Again, I was exhausted. But as I waited hungrily for dinner time, I appreciated the view, again. Perhaps some of the most special views of the spiky mountains are in the morning and the evening. As the light gradually disappeared, the spires were framed in different colors, just there right outside our window. The beauty and the quiet are so striking. Unless you have a really good reason to do a budget trip, it’s worth spending a little bit more money to stay up on the plateau and experience the mountains through whole days and nights instead of just enjoying the views from your skis during the day.

We had another great dinner, after which we sat in the hotel’s lounge area with a couple of beers. We were joined by two German couples, and the two men in the group began playing music on a guitar and singing. They were great, and played songs from several cultures and in several languages. The experience of this type of hotel, where everyone sticks around for meals, is a very different atmosphere from the impersonal settings of bigger resorts, and it was a lot of fun.

The next day was again beautiful and sunny, and we skied the “Panorama” loop, in total about a 20 km round trip from Compatsch, with a huge elevation gain.

Suddenly you find yourself skiing past the top of a ski lift, an experience you rarely get in the U.S. or Canada! The way that nordic and alpine skiing are integrated into the same space in Seiser Alm (and a few other places I have been, like Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees) is really neat. Groomed winter hiking/snowshoe trails are also embedded into this matrix, so up on the plateau at nearly any point you can look around and see people doing three or four different kinds of recreation. I wish more resorts would do this, instead of making these all totally separate activities, each with their own “area”. It’s great to be able to use the same space, and simply provides more terrain for everyone – why is that not a win/win!?

The panorama loop indeed offers spectacular panoramas. Again I was on blue hardwax, cruising around perfect classic tracks. I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Perhaps because we set out directly after breakfast, we encountered relatively few other skiers, particularly in the outer parts of the loop.

The loop was so great that I went back the next day, when I skied as much as I could – the Panorama loop, the other loop overlooking Val Gardena – before reluctantly putting my skis back in their bag, getting on the cablecar, and starting the long journey home to Zurich. I had skied about 30 km each day, on average, and I was satisfied, exhausted, sore – but wished I could have just stayed and kept skiing.

I know exactly why so many people, from the world’s best skiers to that old guy from Hamburg who told us that he comes to Seiser Alm for two weeks every year, want to go there. I can’t wait to go back, even though it might be five or ten or twenty years before I have another chance.

Not only the snow, but that handmade pasta and an excellent glass of wine are waiting for me when I do.

*Why does everything have two names? Südtirol is an interesting region with an interesting history. It’s currently an “autonomous province” of Italy, but more than half the people living there speak German as their first language. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia explanation of the region’s history, and a link to a 1927 article in Foreign Affairs stating that “the German South-Tyrol and its people are purely German. Never in history has the Brenner been the frontier of Italy… Italy nevertheless has an international obligation with regard to the rights of the German population of South-Tyrol.” That article is obviously not completely unbiased, but it’s quite interesting to read.

I Met My Book-Based 2017 New Years Resolution!

Last year, I made a resolution to try to read more. I did it because I really love reading, but I realized that I wasn’t doing so much of it outside of work. I wanted my New Years resolution not to be something that was a responsibility or a chore, but something that would increase the time I spent doing something that I liked. Something that would improve my quality of life and bring me some happiness. So: I resolved to read 52 books. One a week.

And, dear reader, I did it! This might be the first time that I can say I hands-down nailed a resolution and kept it going all year long. I read 20,300 pages in print, aside from papers read for work or things read online (which is a lot; after all, one of the reasons for this resolution was to spend less time staring at a screen, but I still have a lot of screen time!).

Here’s what I read, with some notes below about

  1. my favorites,
  2. how I chose them,
  3. who the authors were
  4. and why my resolution this year will be to read even more diverse authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I also read an issue of Brick, the Canadian literary magazine, but this output is captured from Goodreads and I can’t find Brick on there.)

A Few Favorites (although nothing in here was bad):

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys: This book seemed life changing. I put it down and thought about the world differently. It is an inherently feminist book, and I also reveled in the different characters’ descriptions of nature. Why is this not required reading right after high school students read Jane Eyre!? I feel strongly about that, but I also think that if you had never even heard of Jane Eyre and picked up this book, it would be revelatory. Obviously, it stands on its own. I wanted to read the whole thing all over again, immediately. I think there was some aspect in which it was the right book at the right time, too, but I can’t exactly put my finger on how. (Link to buy at Powells)

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides: A gem; there’s a reason Eugenides became a big-name author. (Link to buy at Powells)

Evicted, Matthew Desmond: This book won the Pulitzer Prize, and it is so important to understanding how things work in America and the structural inequalities our population faces. It is also simply a dang good read, with compelling characters and stories amidst the facts and statistics. An amazing book. (Link to buy at Powells)

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren: I know some people have issues with this book because they think it glorifies working too hard and some behaviors that are, well, not the best way to supervise students. However, I think it is clear that the author is writing about mental health issues that she suffered for a large chunk of the time covered in the book – certainly not saying that how she worked in the early part of her career is healthy, or that it is the way everyone should work. I also found it to be a great description of doing science, and the magical opportunities but also complete failures that you bounce around in from month to month. Plus the naturalistic and biological descriptions used as metaphors are so sparklingly beautifully written and crafted. I love this book. (Link to buy at Powells)

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears: Rarely have so many completely unreliable narrators combined to tell such a great story. All the political, historical, scientific, and religious details are fantastic, and for me it was an intriguing reminder that a few hundred years ago we considered philosophy, medicine, biology, and physics to basically all be part of the same field. Plus, it’s a great mystery! (Link to buy at Powells)

How To Be BothAli Smith: I didn’t know what to expect from this book, and I’m still not sure what it really even is, but every part of it is delightful and thought-provoking, with fascinating characters. Their inner thoughts and dialogue are so fresh and new. (Link to buy at Powells)

Best Gift From a Stranger:

The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins: I did one of those pyramid-scheme type things, only with books. You receive an email with two names, move the names around and add yours, and send it on to friends. A few days or weeks later, you receive books in the mail as friends of your friends send you a book that they liked. It was great fun and I ended up reading several things I never would have otherwise. This was one of them, a classic and among the first great detective novels (and I love detective novels!), and it was one of the best things I read all year. The fact that I received it in this unusual way made it all the more fun. (Link to buy at Powells)

Most Frustrating Read: 

The Sport of KingsC. E. Morgan: 4/5 of this book was one of the best books I read all year, an absolutely incredible accomplishment of storytelling. I was amazed at every page. The next 9/10 was… less good. The 10th 10th was disappointing, I thought. (If you’ve read the book I’d be fascinated to know your reaction.) But I wouldn’t say that this disappointment makes it not worth picking up a copy. It’s still special, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next. (Link to buy at Powells)

Weirdest Read: 

Norma, Sofi Oksanen: If I tell you the plot of this book, you will not even believe that someone would come up with it, much less that it would have a fairly successful launch. I’ll just say that it’s set in Finland, it’s super strange, and involves both organized crime and some sort of genetic magic? I picked this novel up after reading the author’s piece on LitHub, “How Women Experience Beauty”. It’s a fast and fun read, if you’re up for something weird. (Link to buy at Amazon)

Only Thing I Was Reading for the Second Time:

Middlemarch, George Eliot: I rarely re-read books. But I got this for a friend who I then didn’t see for a while, so I decided to read it myself first before gifting it. It was just as good as I remembered. A favorite from the Classic English Novels canon. If you haven’t read it, do; if you start it and hate it, keep going. Both the book and Dorothea get more interesting. (Link to buy at Powells)

How I Chose What To Read

As the year progressed, I kept track of what I read, when I finished it, etc. I got this idea from a blog post I read somewhere but… I can no longer remember where. The spreadsheet I used was adapted from Nicole Zhu. So I can say:

  • 13 books were received as gifts from various people (mostly my parents, but also friends), plus The Moonstone  which was received in the book exchange (most of the other book exchange books I had read the previous year).
  • One book (The Haywire Heart) was sent to me by a publisher asking for a review.
  • A few I chose because they were classics (East of Eden) or at least, classics for a particular crowd  (The Selling of the President, Wide Sargasso Sea, Desert Solitaire), which I had never read.
  • Some I picked up off my parents’ bookshelf when I was home (The Painted Drum, East of Eden, Cod).
  • Others were recommended to be by friends (Burmese Days, Where the Rivers Flow North, Outlander, Solar Bones).
  • One I picked up from a bookshelf at Powells which highlighted their selection of women authors in translation (Adua).
  • Some I picked because I loved previous works from the authors (The Unconsoled, The Buried Giant, The Dispossessed).
  • And most of the rest I chose because they were award winners, I had read reviews of them, or they were parts of various lists that I saw.

I read a lot of books that were either gifts or recommended to me by friends. They were mostly excellent. I found Thank You For Being Late a bit long – there were sections that I found really interesting and inspiring, and long sections which seemed tedious. Solar Bones I did not find as magical as some other people did, but, again, there were entire sections which were amazing – and as a feat of writing it is stylistically a marvel. If you can’t think of what to read, definitely ask friends for recommendations. You’ll get out of your rut and find some amazing stuff.

Of the work-related books, four were chosen myself and three were chosen for me, either as part of our research group’s book club or because one was a “gift” of my boss (probably a signal I should read it…).

Who Wrote These Books? 

In my spreadsheet, I kept track of some basic data about the books and authors I was reading. I was going to make some nice R ggplot graphics of this data, but I’m just way too tired. So I’ll describe the data verbally instead.

Of the seven work-related books, all the authors were white men. Sigh.

Leaving out those as well as the two literary journal issues (which featured writing by men and women, and of various nationalities), I read three short-story collections, 29 novels, and 13 nonfiction books.

29 books were published since the year 2000, with BY FAR the biggest year being 2016 (11 books). I’m ready new writing, for the most part. The earliest books were The Moonstone (1868) and Middlemarch (1871), with a big jump until Burmese Days (1934) and then East of Eden (1952).

25 books were by men, and 19 by women. The disparity really comes on the nonfiction side: with novels and short stories combined, 16 books were by men and 15 by women. For nonfiction, nine books were by men and four by women.

11 books were by non-white authors – and interestingly, it was 5 by men (20% of the total number of male authors) and 6 by women (32% of the female authors).

28 authors were American, of which at least two were born outside the country (Viet Thanh Nguyen in Vietnam and Yaa Gyasi in Ghana). 7 authors were British, of which at least two were born out of the country (Jean Rhys in Dominica and Kazuo Ishiguro in Japan). The other authors are one each from Finland, India, Ireland, Canada, Jamaica, North Korea, and South Korea, and Ideaga Scebo is Somali-Italian. Most of the works take place completely or partly in the country of the author’s origin.

4 books were translations: Adua (from Italian), Norma (from Finnish), The Vegetarian (from Korean), and The Accusationhow the translation process helped verify that it is an authentic North Korean work (from Korean, and you should read about ).

Next Thoughts…

I found this year of reading so rewarding! A few close friends almost made fun of me for how voraciously I was reading, but I learned so much, and learned to think about things in a different way, even if sometimes only temporarily. I also fairly frequently read on the bus or tram to work, which is a big improvement over reading about politics on Twitter and getting mad. I read a lot of fiction, and I read a fair amount of work that is set somewhere else, maybe in the future or the past, and some that involves magic. I do read some nonfiction to learn, but a huge aspect of my current love of reading is to be transported somewhere away from work and my daily life. And I think that spending more time in these other universes imagined by some fantastic writers has, indeed, improved my outlook on things and my balance.

More generally, this resolution reminded me how important it is to make space for things you love to do. Maybe that isn’t reading for you, but think of something that is and that you find yourself not doing as often as you used to or as you’d like to. Try to make a habit to carve out a little bit of space for it. We spend a lot of time doing things that just make us tired and frustrated and aren’t helping us out (hi, Twitter…). Eliminating those habits completely is not a realistic goal. But trying to replace them some portion of that time with a different thing that makes you happy is both realistic and more likely to succeed than simply resolving to NOT do something.

This year, I’m going to make more of an effort to read a better balance of male and female authors, and more books that aren’t by Americans. Although that’s hard, because there are so many good books by Americans. I’d also like to read more translated work. We’ll see how that goes.

My Hiking & Trail Running Guide for Eastern Switzerland.

I think I’ve lived in Switzerland long enough now that I have some ideas about the adventures I’ve had. There are few places I’ve been that I would recommend avoiding, but the highlights stand out for good reasons.

So, I’ve compiled 22 of my favorite hiking/trail running routes into a handy little guide with descriptions, directions, and links to maps (as well as links to my blog posts and photos from the routes, in most cases). You can find it on the main menu bar at the top of this page ☝️ or by clicking here.

I’ll update the page with more recommendations in the coming year, too!

on to Falun.

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There are several blog posts which I have planned but not yet executed (God I couldn’t sound more like a scientist/robot if I tried), but instead I traveled…. last night I made it to Falun, Sweden, site of 2015 FIS Nordic Ski World Championships! Today cross country skiers, nordic combined athletes, and ski jumpers all had medal events. It’s crazy and fun and I’m super excited. I am working for FasterSkier.com, but with three of us here it’s nowhere near as stressful or crazy as when I go to a World Cup weekend singlehanded, and nowhere near as crazy as last year at the Olympics. We have three people and three articles per day while I’m here, not one person and three articles or three people and six or ten articles. Phew!

So not only is it work, but it is also vacation: we can sleep as long as we want in the mornings, and spend time talking and hanging out. It’s great to see my coworkers Alex and Lander again and I’m hoping to have time to see lots of other friends too. I have a breakfast date with Ida tomorrow morning and am very excited to catch up with buddies from the U.S.. Watching some very exciting ski racing is always fun, too.

And finally, it just feels great to be back in Sweden. As soon as I landed at Arlanda airport, I exhaled a sigh of relief: ahhhhh. It feels like home (maybe literally, since I spent quite a few nights sleeping in that dang airport). I hadn’t thought that Zürich didn’t feel like home, but Sweden is the place where I’ve spent the most time in the last 2 1/2 years, and it just feels comfortable to be back. Everything feels familiar and nice.

Here’s a link to my first article onsite, if you’re new to the blog and want to see what I do in my “other”, non-scientist life.

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wedding season.

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I moved to Zurich! But I won’t tell you about that yet (I don’t know how to describe it yet, myself – still processing). But before I moved to Zurich, I went to three weddings this fall. Whoa.

I have hit the age (27) when all of a sudden weddings are EVERYWHERE. Already this year, I had missed a boatload: my friends Sean and Sarah in Vermont; my friends Courtney and Warren in Colorado. Also this fall was my friends Andrea and Brian, but it was at the same time as one of the other weddings. My college friend Sarah also got married this summer.

Out of the three weddings, I was a bridesmaid in two. I was excited, but I also approached the first wedding with trepidation. I wasn’t really sure what all of this is about.

But as it turns out, weddings are just about friends. And I had a phenomenal, wonderful time hanging out with my middle school friends when one of them, Thomas, got married to Becca. Photos from Becca’s uncle Mark:

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Becca and Thomas were so generous with their time – we spent a lot of happy hours together, along with some friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time. The top photo from this post is me and Harker, the best man, hanging out with Thomas and remembering things from years ago, when Thomas and Becca first started dating. The whole weekend was also an amazing opportunity to catch up with Eric, Lily, and Geoff, among others, who I hadn’t seen in years. They are all doing amazing things, from designing toys to building their own houses and protecting Lake Champlain. We turned out okay, we kids.

Then, a brief break, and on to wedding number two: my friends Lauren and Daniel. We went to Maine and did the whole deal at a YMCA Camp on a lake. Photos from Tori Lee Jackson Photography:

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The other great things about Lauren’s wedding is that it was almost entirely do-it-yourself. We set up the tables and chairs, made the rehearsal dinner food, made the bouquets. That last part was tough for me, as I have no previous flower-arranging experience and little artistic talent.

Lauren was a teammate of mine at Craftsbury when we were ski racing. Longtime readers of this blog probably remember her, in fact. Her husband, Daniel, is great – and I remember when Lauren told me about him for the very first time, back when we were in Craftsbury. I’m so happy to see them together and it was such a joy to be part of their weekend. Again, they were so generous with their time, and with their idea of the camp: it meant that everyone could stay there for the weekend, there was plenty of space for the kids to play (and adults, too). There were campfires at night and horseshoes during the day; some guests took canoes out on the lake. A photo from Nina Murray, another bridesmaid, of us ladies hanging out and getting ready:

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Finally: on to Houston! My cousin Harrison got married. He’s the first Little of our generation to get married, so it’s a pretty big deal (I have not yet succumbed to the pressure… and also I failed as the oldest cousin). And it was a joy to have the whole family together for a happy reason, unlike a funeral.

I also really enjoyed Houston. There were plenty of beautiful parks and outdoor areas to explore, and my aunt and uncle have a really beautiful little place in a nice neighborhood. We spent a lot of time sitting out on their back patio overlooking their pool.

I spent most of my time palling around with my cousins Jess and Emily. It was Emily’s 21st birthday the night of the wedding. We’ll leave it at that.

This is not Emily, it’s Jess:

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And then, that was it. I flew home and soon moved to Zurich.

One thing that I’m really happy about is that these weddings gave me an opportunity to catch up with friends and family from all the different spheres of my life. I’m going to be away for a long time: I got to have a nice goodbye tour.

And while I don’t plan on getting married anytime soon (despite my cousins’ request that I do get married, and have the wedding in Zurich, so they all have an excuse to go to Switzerland), it’s cool to see my friends and cousins settling down. I’m looking forward to that day myself – sans wedding. In fact, three years in Zurich counts as settling down, to me.

sunny days & reindeer friends.

The past few days of fieldwork have been pretty great. Perhaps mostly because today we finished off the point-framing, which was the major work task we had to accomplish while we’re here. After spending the day entering data tomorrow, we’ll be able to head back to the field and collect some other data on particular species of interest, but basically anything we do now is like icing on the cake in terms of research and publishing potential.

The weekend days were brutally cold and windy, although not as cloudy as the last week and not rainy like Thursday and Friday. So we considered that a win. And yesterday we had reindeer visitors!

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That was fun! Reindeer are super cute and super weird-looking. Like many of the animals which are year-round residents here, Svalbard reindeer are a subspecies of a species with circumpolar distribution (this includes both reindeer in Scandinavia and caribou in North America). They are smaller than you’d expect reindeer to be – the smaller ones are the size of a large goat. Definitely not what I remember from my trip to Finland! They are actually the smallest of all the subspecies. Their short little legs only make them look funnier when they run, with their noses up in the air and their eyes bugging out of the black fur around their faces.

Today was special for another reason, mainly, it was sunny and amazingly beautiful! Still a bit windy but simply the nicest day we’ve had. To be able to look down the valley and have it be perfectly clear… the colors were completely different than anything we’d ever seen since arriving here and overall, it was just a remarkable day. After we finished our own work we walked down to a site where they had run the same experiment in a “wet” environment. It was very picturesque but while gingerly making our way over the crumbling boardwalks, built in 2003 with usually just one nail at each end of each board, we were very happy that we work up on the “mesic” meadow site instead.

Here are some pictures from today! Click any photo to enlarge.