Nika died today after fifteen and a half great years in our family. She was a Golden Retreiver / Australian Shepherd mix, which meant she was smart, aglie, and loved to swim. She had a beautiful, thick, dark coat that made people think she was a flat coat retriever. When she was a puppy, she needed a lot of exercise and entertainment to keep from getting bored, so she and I started a long tradition of daily (and often more) walks. I’d guess that in those fifteen years, she and I easily walked over 3,000 miles together. She loved running through the forest, swimming in every water body she came across, jumping high in the air after snow when we shovelled the deck, and when she was younger, fetching tennis balls. She came with us everywhere and was always willing to “go for a ride?!” even if it basically meant sitting in the truck once we got wherever we were going. I took her to work with me practially every day and walked her on campus, and later at the Peat Ponds.
She was a happy dog, eager to get up and go for a walk until the very end, when old age and declining strength meant she was prone to falling down and had a hard time getting up the stairs or up onto the couch. Eventually, it got to the point that we felt like she would probably rather not be around if she couldn’t do the things she loved.
I’ve spent so much time with her in the outdoors—on the trails around our property, walking up and down Goldstream Creek in the winter, hiking on campus and at the Peat Ponds at work—that I don’t know how I’m going to be able to go for a walk without missing her company. We used to sing, “Doo do da doo, Taiga Dog!” and she’d get all excited.
With the loss of Nika and Piper today, there’s a pair of huge holes in our family, and even though I know we’ll get over the pain of losing them, we will never forget them and all the happiness we shared together.
This morning we had five inches of new snow on the ground, and it’s been snowing pretty consistently since, with really heavy snowfall in the last hour or so. As of midnight last night Fairbanks was 12.7 inches below normal for cumulative snowfall since July 1st (last year), but if this keeps up, we may actually get to the normal amount of snowfall. It’s been many years since that happened.
Unfortunately, like last year, the blizzard of 2012 is coming at the very end of the winter. Last year we got more than a foot of snow at the end of February, and this time around it’s even later. Still, there’s at least three more weeks of good ski conditions to look forward to, and this snow may help flatten some of the bumps on the Valley trail.
It’s hard to take a photograph that captures what a blizzard looks like because the snow that’s falling just mushes the background, but take my word for it: it’s really coming down!
I finished the last of the sixteen Tournament of Books contestants (well, except that I couldn’t actually finish The Stranger’s Child). I haven’t commented on the last four, but I read and enjoyed The Last Brother, Salvage the Bones, The Cat’s Table, and The Tiger’s Wife.
Of the four, I enjoyed The Tiger’s Wife and The Cat’s Table the most. Both require some patience, and I didn’t get into them to the extent that I was thinking about them when I wasn’t reading them, but they are worth the effort. The Tiger’s Wife easily beats The Stranger’s Child in the first round, as does The Cat’s Table over Swamplandia! I enjoyed Swamplandia! but it feels like it has been years since I read it, and the story didn’t stick with me like a great book does.
The dog in the photo is our oldest, Nika, who turned fifteen last September. She is having trouble with her hind legs, and often has no appetite, but when we go for walks on the Creek or trails, she’s still as excited and animated as she was when she was a puppy. I’m listening to the A’s vs. Cubs game now, but I think I’ll take her out for a little walk later. The A’s introduced Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes earlier today, but he isn’t in the starting lineup. I will be very interested to see how he handles major league pitching, but that probably won’t happen for a few days.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, is another number one seed in the Tournament of Books, and it deserves it’s high ranking. It is the story of Marina, a medical researcher working for a large pharmaceutical company, sent into the Amazon in search of her former medical school mentor to determine the progress they have made researching a fertility drug. She is also trying to find out what happened to her office mate, who apparently died on a similar mission after months in the jungle.
It’s a great book; well written, surprising, and suspenseful. The way the jungle is described through the eyes of Mariana perfectly captures the wild other-worldliness of it, as well as her gradual understanding and acceptance of the situation she is in. The lead scientist on the project (and Marina’s former mentor), Dr. Annika Swenson, is also a great character, especially seen through the eyes of Marina. Dr. Swenson is one of those people that always seem to have a perfect handle on every situation; seeing several steps ahead and knowing exactly what to say in order to both resolve the issue and make one feel foolish for not seeing it.
The book faces off against one of my favorites, Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. It will be very interesting to read judge Wil Wheaton’s logic when he makes his decision. It’s close enough in my mind that I can’t make up my mind at this moment.
The 2012 Tournament of Books judges, books, and pairings have been announced. ToB is my favorite “best-of” books contest, and I'm very much looking forward to the contest itself, starting in March. Meantime, I can attempt to read some of the 2011 books I haven't yet read. I was in the middle of David Foster Wallace’s Pale King, but since that isn't on the list, I'll put it aside for the second time.
Here’s the list. Click the ToB link above to see the judges and pairings (checkmarks indicate what I’ve read, updated to the present):
- Nathacha Appanah, The Last Brother ✓
- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending ✓
- Teju Cole, Open City ✓
- Helen DeWitt, Lightning Rods ✓
- Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers ✓
- Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot ✓
- Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding ✓
- Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child ✗
- Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones ✓
- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 ✓
- Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
- Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table ✓
- Ann Patchett, State of Wonder ✓
- Donald Ray Pollock, Devil All the Time ✓
- Karen Russell, Swamplandia! ✓
- Kate Zambreno, Green Girl ✓
I’ve read Open City, The Sisters Brothers, The Marriage Plot, The Art of Fielding, 1Q84, and Swamplandia!, and just finished Green Girl.
Rather than ranking them, I’ll put them into thee categories:
Great, should win
- The Sisters Brothers — a hilarious western novel. Deadwood as done by the Cohen brothers.
- 1Q84 — Murakami at his best, this time with a kick-ass female lead.
- The Art of Fielding — fantastic story (plus baseball!) that lived up to the hype.
Good, worth your time
- The Marriage Plot — I enjoyed this one a lot, but I thought it lagged in the middle.
- Open City — A very interesting reading experience. I imagine those familiar with New York City would really enjoy it since the book is basically about a guy walking around New York reflecting on his life.
- Swamplandia! — I was hoping this would be another Geek Love, and it started off really well, but I lost interest by the end of the book.
- Green Girl — I just finished this one, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. It is the story of a girl from Chicago trying to make it in London. Why she moved there and what motivated her to do the things she did (mostly debase and feel sorry for herself) were not clear enough to me, and I found it depressing and boring.
Now I'm onto The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, one of the top seeds, so I'm hopeful I'll enjoy it more. I doubt if any of the others on the list can compete with my top three, but it will be interesting to see what I think, as well as to follow the competition in March.