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What I Read In 2016

As usual, I read a lot this year – mostly nonfiction, and more articles than books. Here are a few of the ones that really stuck with me.

All the way back in January, WIRED published a heartbreaking story by Jason Tanz about a video game dedicated to a dying child.

Evan Ratliff reported and wrote (and continued to report new sections after the first ones appeared!) this crime serial about a remarkably successful criminal mastermind, and his downfall.

Shane Bauer had a wild year. He went undercover as a guard at a private prison, resulting in this long, powerful expose, and then infiltrated a private militia that has taken it upon itself to patrol the Mexican border – another powerful story.

Jon Mooallem might be my favorite writer working in magazines right now. I loved his story about an online cloud appreciation society. His look at Steven Spielberg, Roald Dahl, and childhood was lovely too.

This story from The Atlantic about an ancient papyrus and Jesus’ wife was bananas. Jen Percy’s piece on the families still searching for loved ones years after the Japanese tsunami was crushingly sad. This Harpers Letter From El Salvador, on what happens to women suspected of inducing a miscarriage there, was disturbing and incredibly important.

On the book-length side of things, I was moved by Blair Braverman’s debut memoir, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube – nominally about learning to dogsled but really about learning to navigate a male-dominated, potentially hostile world as a young woman drawn to the wilderness. I also enjoyed Lynsey Addario’s memoir about being a war photographer: It’s What I Do.

I’d been waiting for years to read my friend Luke Dittrich’s book, Patient H.M., the story of neuroscience’s most famous patient but also the story of Luke’s family. It’s really gripping. I was decades late to the party on Deborah, by David Roberts: a classic mountaineering memoir that’s like no other I’ve read, focused on the dynamics between two climbers rather than the mechanics of the climb.

After my mom’s death last year, I held off for several months before delving into the world of grief memoirs. When I did start reading them, the book I liked best was Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, which mixes personal narrative with some interesting research into the science, history, and literature of grief.

Happy Almost-New Year!

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After a long lull, I’ve had a few new stories drop in the last month.

For Longreads, I sat down (well, virtually sat down) with ace freelancers Jason Fagone, Josh Dean, and May Jeong to talk about the business of freelance writing.

Here’s a short essay I wrote for Up Here’s sports issue about the steep learning curve of outdoor sports in the Yukon: Swimming in Cold Water.

And I wrote a dispatch for The Walrus about the challenges of maintaining natural golf greens at 64 degrees north.

I also wrapped up my year-long Pacific Standard column, Dispatches From a Changing Arctic, with one last entry. But that’s not the last you’ll hear from me at Pacific Standard – my print feature story about the impact of a growing cruise industry in the Northwest Passage is due out in May! The photo above was from my incredible cruise through the Passage last summer…

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Happy New Year!

I’ve had a busy start to 2015. I launched a biweekly reported column for Pacific Standard, Dispatches From a Changing Arctic, about environmental issues in the North – I’m excited to work on it throughout the year. I also have a new story in the January issue of Up Here: Cold Hard Competition is about the athletes who run for hundreds of miles through the frozen Yukon backcountry in the annual Yukon Arctic Ultra.

Speaking of Up Here, there have been some big changes there. Sister mag Up Here Business has been merged with Up Here, and the new incarnation of the magazine will come out monthly, instead of 8 times a year. I’m now on contract as the Yukon Correspondent, and will be contributing regularly to future issues.

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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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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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I read a lot this year, much more than I managed in 2012 when I was working full time for two magazines and freelancing heavily on the side.

I finally read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. And I read some more recent nonfiction classics: The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathan Weiner, while I was cruising in the Galapagos in early April, and Moneyball and Friday Night Lights while I was stuck at home sick, unable to play any sports myself, through the entire month of August. I read a book everyone was talking about a year ago, a year late: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I read books by writers whose work and lives I follow on Twitter every day: The Skies Belong to Us, by Brendan Koerner, while I was waiting out a snowstorm in my tent at Denali base camp, and Ingenious, by Jason Fagone, also during that sickbed August.

This fall I read two dark, searing books, one set in Somalia and one set in Alaska: A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, and Tom Kizzia’s Pilgrim’s Wilderness. I don’t read much fiction, but I stayed up all night reading Benjamin Percy’s werewolf epic, Red Moon. And as 2013 winds down, I have two books sitting halfway-read beside my bed: Wild Ones, by Jon Mooallem, and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things.

I read shorter pieces of writing, too, lots and lots of them. A few stand out in particular: The ones I still find myself telling people about, at a party or over coffee, like Mac McClelland’s Is PTSD Contagious? Or the ones I pass along to my parents or close friends, trying to explain to them the type of storytelling I want to do, like Confessions of a Drone Warrior, by Matthew Power, or The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever, by Michael Mooney. And the ones I just keep dwelling on, thinking and re-thinking, like Patricia O’Connor’s Private Ceremonies.

I wrote a lot in 2012, and a lot of it was stuff I was really proud of; it seems like I have less of both those things to show for myself in 2013. But I was excited to write two long features for SB Nation Longform: No Sleep ‘Til Fairbanks, about the support crews who work behind the scenes of the Yukon Quest, and The High One, about the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of Denali. I had fun putting together this roundup of the North’s hidden misfits and miscreants, for Up Here. And I was really pleased with how months of work came together in the end for my story about the “McCandless pilgrims” phenomenon, Chasing Alexander Supertramp.

I’ve got lots of exciting stories in the works already for 2014. And plenty on my reading list, too – Happy New Year!

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It’s been ages since I’ve posted here – I’ve had my hands full with work and some on-again, off-again health issues that, happily, seem to be under control now.

I’m really excited about my latest story. It’s a long look at the “McCandless pilgrims” who risk their lives trying to reach the bus from Krakauer’s Into the Wild. I put a lot of work into it, and got a lot of help and information from some amazing people I connected with along the way, and I am very pleased with how it came out:
Chasing Alexander Supertramp

I’ve also got a new story out in the December issue of Up Here that deals with similar themes. It’s called Hiding Among Us, and it’s about the long tradition of people coming to the North to disappear.

Another Up Here story, from the September issue, is about a group of miners abandoned on Great Slave Lake: The Great Escape From Outpost Island Mine

Meanwhile, some amazing news arrived in September: My Vela essay,
Not an Ike and Tina Thing, was listed in the Notable Selections of The Best American Essays 2013, while Three Kites on the Ice landed in the notables for The Best American Sports Writing 2013.

I’ve got a bunch of new features in the works for early 2014. Stay tuned!

Update: The story has a new online home now. Thanks!

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