Shirley Nieuwland (29) has compiled a list of books that she has read in the Goodreads app. “I don’t read as much as I used to. As a girl, I read so much that my mother asked the library if I could borrow more books than I was allowed to on my membership. Without any luck, the Spijkenisse Library didn’t want to make an exception.” One book from her list that really made an impression on her was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. “I bought the book fifteen years ago, and have reread it every year at Christmas, especially in the early years. The message it conveys concerns the idea of Christmas: ‘Life is not all about money, it is about caring about others.'”

A Christmas Carol tells the story of the bitter, miserly Scrooge. In his life, he is busy making money and apart from that, he despises anything and everything that is not money. The night before Christmas, Scrooge is paid a visit by three ghosts who confront him with his life, a terrifying revelation. Feelings of regret and compassion turn him into a generous, caring man after that night.

“Whenever I reread the story, I become aware that I myself might also be too busy pursuing a career or making money. The story reminds me that it’s really nice to make someone happy with a handwritten card or a slice of home-baked cake.”

The book falls under Nieuwland’s favourite genre: Magic realism. “Because of that magical element – the three ghosts – I can transport myself to a different setting than this one,” Nieuwland briefly glances around her living room. “While the realism in it allows me to relate to the main character.” The combination of magic and reality is really tangible. Whereas with the Lord of the Rings I don’t recognise anything of myself in it at all; that’s too much of a fantasy. But with Harry Potter, I can relate to the characters, even though the story takes place in a completely different world.”

Mass tourism

As a PhD candidate, Nieuwland is focusing on sustainable tourism. She is researching potential opportunities for balancing the quality of life and tourism in cities. ” I mainly read papers for my research, and every now and then a non-fiction book. Donut Economics by Kate Raworth, for example.  I read books like these during my work hours. In my spare time, I don’t really enjoy books that teach me facts and knowledge,” Nieuwland says laughing.

Perched on the top bookshelf in her living room is a novel about the shadowy sides of mass tourism: Grand Hotel Europa, by the Dutch author Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. The book describes how Europe becomes overrun by tourists looking for authentic experiences. “It’s fiction, so I felt that I couldn’t read it during my work hours, but the whole time, I kept on thinking about my research. The book opened my eyes once again to the repercussions of tourism, but I cannot just repeat what the author wrote. I’m doing my own research, with my own message.”

And that message has once again to do with money. “Sustainable choices often cost more money. I often hear people – people who have money – say: ‘I don’t take the train to go on holiday, because that costs 50 euros more than the plane.’ I used to think the same way, but when you buy a vacuum cleaner for your home, you don’t choose the cheapest one either. You want one that works well. It’s a pity that money is the most important motivation for a lot of people when they decide to go on holiday.”

“I’m highly motivated myself where sustainability is concerned, but I do have to consider others as well.” She looks at the door behind which her boyfriend Daniel is working. “We went to Valencia for three months for my research. We travelled by train and had some bad luck. The station at Disneyland Paris had to be evacuated because of a bomb scare, so we missed our transfer to Spain. Instead of 16 hours, we ended up travelling for a whole day and 16 hours. I considered it part of the adventure, but Daniel was a bit less enthusiastic.”

Number of books per year: “I’m happy if I get to read ten books per year!”

Last book read: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Favourite genre: fiction, magic realism

Main motivation: relaxation

Shirley Nieuwland is a PhD candidate under the Erasmus Vital Cities and Citizens initiative. She is currently researching sustainable tourism in cities such as Rotterdam and Valencia. She blogs about her findings and experiences on her own website ParadiseFound . Nieuwland completed her bachelor’s degree in General Cultural Sciences at the EUR and followed a master’s degree in Urban Geography at the Radboud University Nijmegen.