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Archive for December, 2014

What I Read in 2014

I managed to read a heap of good stuff this year, nearly all of it narrative nonfiction. I burned through Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers back in January, and I still can’t quite comprehend how she transformed her years of reporting into such a seamless story. I picked up John Jeremiah Sullivan’s instant-classic essay collection, Pulphead, during a trip to Boulder in March, and have been working my way through it ever since. Later that same month I read two fascinating books by writer pals of mine during a three-day ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington, to Southeast Alaska: The Oil Man and the Sea, Arno Kopecky’s chronicle of a sailing trip through the proposed tanker route for a controversial pipeline, and The Footloose American, about a young Hunter S. Thompson in South America, by Brian Kevin.

In the spring I read two wonderful books by Mike Paterniti: Driving Mr. Albert, about a cross-country road trip with Einstein’s brain, and The Telling Room, a complicated and thoughtful story about a famous Spanish cheese. Over the summer and fall I read three very different books, but each one in a single sitting or close to it: Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls, the story of a group of young women who were murdered – presumably by one uncaught killer – on Long Island; The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko, about an illegal speed run through a flooded Grand Canyon in a tiny wooden boat; and John Branch’s Boy On Ice, about the life and early death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard.

In terms of shorter stuff, I tried my best to keep up with the wonderful stories published by The Atavist all year. I managed to get to Love and Ruin, James Verini’s tale of romance in Cold War Afghanistan, and Charles Homans’ taxidermy heist story, The Dead Zoo Gang. I read A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite, about a casino extortion scheme, and The Trials of White Boy Rick, about a young white crime kingpin in Detroit, and 52 Blue, Leslie Jamison’s sad, thoughtful story about a lone whale and loneliness.

Some other stories that stuck out for me this year: my friend Lauren Quinn’s excellent The Ism and the Alcohol, on addiction and recovery narratives; Landays: Cries of the Pashtun Women, Eliza Griswold’s look at the short rebellious poems shared among women on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; Jon Mooallem’s Lest Ye Be Judged, about a pastor who ministers to major league baseball umpires; Outside Magazine’s 1997 classic on the fine details of freezing to death; Remote Control, Sarah Marshall’s look back at Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan; the very smart Greg Howard on Ferguson: America Is Not For Black People; Brian Phillips’ lovely, haunting sumo epic, Sea of Crises; and finally, The Case For Reparations, an eye-opener from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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I’m thrilled to have a short feature in the January issue of Smithsonian Magazine. It’s about dinosaurs, and what a visit to Alberta can teach us about their extinction.

The reporting trip for this story offered a quasi-fulfilment of my childhood dream of becoming a paleontologist. A lot of the field work I tagged along on got cut from the story, but here’s a shot of me helping to wrap newly uncovered fossils in plaster-and-burlap jackets for transport to the lab:

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Catching Up

All year I’ve had an item sitting on my To Do list, woefully un-crossed-off: “update website.” So, here goes! Some highlights from 2014:

Way back in January I published a fun story on SB Nation Longform: Wilderness Women, in which I competed to be named “Alaska Wilderness Woman 2013” and earn myself an Alaskan bachelor. In March and early April, Pacific Standard ran a week-long series of pieces I wrote about “opting out” of society in one form or another; the series was anchored by a narrative feature called The Peacemaker, about an Alaskan militia leader accused of conspiring to murder federal officials.

In early May I attempted Canada’s national standardized fitness test for wildland firefighters, and wrote about it for the Yukon News. In June, SB Nation Longform published Why We Play, a piece on risk-taking and sports that is part-personal essay and part-reporting about a remarkable local athlete, Darryl Tait. Birth of a Birder, a World Hum story about my April 2013 trip to the Galapagos, was published in June too. And in July my story about the little-known WWII internment of the Aleuts, from the Spring 2014 issue of Maisonneuve, went online.

I’ve continued to contribute regularly to Up Here and Up Here Business magazines. I wrote two pieces for Up Here’s history column, “Looking Back”: one on the notorious Chilkoot Trail avalanche that killed dozens of gold-seekers, and one on the sad story of Bruce Johnson, Canada’s first Yukon Quest champion. I profiled Chief Mathieya Alatini of the Kluane First Nation for Up Here Business. I also put a lot of work into a feature about the mystery of a dead German hiker:
A Cold and Deadly Place.

SKYE on AOL, the website that originally published my story about the “McCandless pilgrims,” has gone offline – I republished the story using Creatavist: Chasing Alexander Supertramp. I’m also thrilled to announce that the story has been included in an anthology that was just released: The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 10.

What else? I appeared on Gangrey: The Podcast, which was really fun. I traveled to new-to-me places in Alaska, the Yukon, NWT, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Lower 48. I landed some big story contracts at big publications, and I’m excited to share those pieces when they’re published. I’ve been working very part-time at a local radio station, reading the news and sports live on air.

I guess I can’t expect to jam a year’s worth of updates into one post, so I’ll stop here. More soon.

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