A short time ago, in a galaxy that we call home, lived a small fish with a keen interest in independent journalism and politics. After a long election season during which this small fish broke readership records by working around the clock, it was finally time for some well-earned vacation time.
But having been absorbed in B.C. political blogs and wonkery reading for months -- fabulous stuff, but not exactly lazy river tubing material -- he had not a clue what to pack.
Always the delegator, the fish quickly assembled a team of Tyee contributors to put together a list of books for the summer. Here's what they'll be reading -- what about you? Add your picks in the comment thread below.
For those who need a little motivation to unplug for the summer:
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Random House)
This novel takes place in a dystopian New York City that feels a little too close for comfort. Advertising is perversely pervasive, the U.S. dollar has plunged so deep it's pegged to the yuan, privacy is long forgotten and the government is a corporate dictatorship. (Did we mention this was a near-near-dystopian future?) It would be supremely depressing but for Shteyngart's wicked sense of humour. And his nerdy but loveable protagonist Lenny, who, despite his world coming down around him, simply wants to get the girl and live happily ever after.
Best book for a hot, introspective summer night:
How Poetry Saved My Life, A Hustler's Memoir by Amber Dawn (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Vancouver's very own Amber Dawn hit the literary scene in 2011 with Sub Rosa, a critically-acclaimed novel about a gang of magical prostitutes. This memoir documents her own journey from sex worker to, well, critically-acclaimed novelist, in poetry and prose that is both touching and tough.
For recent international studies grads with a desire to do good:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (Random House)
This groundbreaking piece of reporting reads more like a novel than a work of non-fiction, and for good reason. Boo spent three years living in the Mumbai neighbourhood of Annawadi learning its social and economic structures, observing its characters and conflicts. Most would call this place a slum, but the sub-title of the book -- Life, Death, and Hope in Mumbai Undercity -- hints at something far more complex. Boo unpacks these complexities in a tale that transcends class and has the power to completely change one's view of economic inequality in the developing world.
One for the budding tween feminists:
How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press)
If your "special time" was less Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and more Carrie, you'll instantly relate to Moran's acerbic wit in this story about struggling through puberty in working class England ("There is no crueler or more inappropriate present to give a child than estrogen and a big pair of tits.") Part memoir, part call to arms for lower and middle class women, Moran's fresh, frank take on the trials of womanhood, from the necessity of feminism ("Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy, and smug they might be") to her radical notion of accepting your body as fine as it is, her takedown of society's rules of how a woman "should be" is important for any woman to read, whether she's 12 or 92.
For parents nervous about the kids starting middle school:
Sticks And Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying by Emily Bazelon (Random House)
We're all middle school survivors. Some of us still have nightmares about the horrors suffered there, while others have quiet guilt about the pain they inflicted. But where once harassment in school hallways was shrugged off with "kids are cruel," now there's an anti-bullying frenzy taking over. Often, it's with good cause: kids have taken their lives after extended harassment from their peers -- harassment that's moved beyond the walls of the schools and into their bedrooms through cellphones and social media. But Slate reporter Emily Bazelon, who wrote an extensive investigative series on the suicide of 15 year-old Phoebe Prince and the criminal charges that followed, argues against the simplification of "bullies as evil." Steering away from criminal charges for youth who are often, at worst, guilty of being jerks, Bazelon focuses on the lengths that schools, school districts, and parents need to go to in order to keep students safe in school and online. Because children are cruel, and learning to deal with that is part of growing up. But that doesn't relieve adults of the responsibility for keeping them safe.
For future nautical explorers of northern Vancouver Island and the coast:
The Private Journal of Captain G. H. Richards: The Vancouver Island Survey (1860-62), (Ronsdale).
Heading out on a nautical expedition of the northern Island this summer? Captain Richards mapped much of the coast during his tour here, naming many places for his crew members (but nothing for himself). He also studied the peoples of Vancouver Island -- just as they were being destroyed in the smallpox pandemic on 1861-62. Why not bring him along with you on your journey?
And for those going daring to go ashore on the Gulf Islands:
Clam Gardens by Judith Williams (New Star/Transmontanus)
Clam Gardens describes the discovery of a "lost civilization" that thrived on mariculture -- building habitats for butter clams and creating a food source that supported 100,000 people before the Europeans (and smallpox) arrived. They left their ruins in lines of stones out at the low-tide mark.
And for the more modern coastal explorer, traveling by car:
Ferry Tales by Phillip Vanini (Routledge)
Vanini, an ethnographer, took the ferries to all the coastal communities they serve, and studied the way our coastal "tribes" depend on the ferries to sustain their ways of life -- and how they resent the ferries as a threat to that way of life.
An ode to Vancouver to accompany your next stealthy beach fire:
Tuft by Kim Minkus (BookThug)
WE ARE WOMEN IN LOVE WITH OUR CITY! cries the narrator of Kim Minkus's "Laneway," found in the Vancouver poet's latest collection, Tuft. A lyrical ode and lush ride through the city's streets, this one is best tucked into a picnic basket and read aloud by the stealthy beach fire at dusk. It's one of several new titles from BookThug, a Canadian publisher that tends towards the experimental, and the poetry of Minkus -- a Cap U instructor and SFU PhD who studies "feminist poetry" and "digital aesthetics" -- is anything but textbook.
For those with a dream to pan their way to wealth:
Gold Panner's Manual by Garnet Basque (Heritage House)
For background, Charlotte Gray's Gold Diggers (HarperCollins) tells the vivid story of the Klondike, and Peter Steele's Atlin's Gold portrays the past and present of the town that saw B.C.'s last big gold rush.
A book for those dreading a return to B.C.'s September school wars:
Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg (Teachers College Press)
This book gives teachers something more positive to think about: a kindergarten-to-grad-school education system that consistently whips the world. What's more, it does so by breaking all the rules about standardized tests, school ranking, and "accountability."
One for the summer dirt diggers, blessed be their dirty fingernails:
Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill (Greystone)
Eating Dirt is already a B.C. classic about the treeplanter's life. For a few like Gill, it's a multi-year career. Even for those who can't cope more than a summer, tree planting is a rite of passage into a maturity that non-planters can only dream of.
For those staunch nonfiction readers looking for a jaw-dropper:
Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant (Da Capo Press)
Jo Merchant's book tells the amazing story of the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2000-year-old computer pulled from the Mediterranean over a century ago. It took a century of study, and our most advanced technology, to recognize just how advanced the Greeks really were.
For those meta folk who like to read about traveling while traveling:
Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Penguin)
In his final book before his death in 2007, the polish journalist writes about his experiences as young reporter who'd never been out of Poland. On his first assignment, Kapuscinski was sent to India, with no other companion but a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, which his editor gives to him as a gift. Kapuscinski goes on to places like China, Sudan, Congo and Senegal, but he never leaves Herodotus behind. Intertwining fragments of ancient history with his adventures as a traveller and a reporter, he manages to create a book that everyone who loves history and travel should read.
A read for those who took too many, or too few, women's studies classes in college:
Ascent of Women by Sally Armstrong (Random House Canada)
The first thing you should know about this book is that, as the author says, it's not about women trumping men, but about solving poverty, conflict and violence. Armstrong writes about her experience covering human rights cases around the world, and she also shares the testimonies of victims and interviews with experts in an effort to prove that alienating women is symptomatic of a failed economy.
For those who waited patiently for the summer farmers' market:
Food Tyrants by Nicole Faires (Skyhorse Publishing)
If you've ever wondered why organic food is so expensive, or the difference between 100 per cent organic and organic, you might want to read this. The story starts when Faires, who was born in the U.S. but currently resides in B.C., decides to take a road trip to various farms in North America. Besides discovering a dearth of financially-independent organic farms, she also breaks down some important growers' legislation and tips for growing your own bounty. Still wondering how urban farms work and why they can't be certified organic? Did you know that according to the USDA, somewhere between 50 to 60 per cent of the food Americans eat has been touched by immigrant hands? Don't miss out on all the facts Food Tyrants has helpfully uprooted.
One for the 'Of course I read 1984 and Animal Farm' crowd:
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (Mariner Books)
In a time when the concept of objectivity in journalism keeps falling apart, there is nothing more current than Homage to Catalonia. In this book, George Orwell reflects on his experience as a young reporter covering the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, Orwell volunteered with the anti-fascist militias to fight Franco. But his recount of the days in the trenches, where he was wounded by a bullet, tell us more about the role of journalism and propaganda in the war than about the battles themselves. The book is about his disenchantment of war as well as a harsh critique of the American, British and Spanish "objective" newspapers of the time.
For those who like to call comics 'graphic novels':
Watchmen by Allan Moore (DC Comics)
Watchmen is not your everyday story about morally-infallible superheroes that chase around bad guys to save the world from annihilation. The story starts with the investigation of the murder of a costume hero, but under all that spandex you'll find a critique of the superhero concept and a reflection on the traumas generated by the Cold War during the 1980s. Frequently considered Moore's best work and comics' greatest series of all time, Watchmen was the only graphic novel included in Time Magazine's "All-Time 100 Greatest Novels."
For the lovers of history, partying, and combinations of the two:
Liquor, Lust, and the Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub by Aaron Chapman (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Vancouver's fire department was able to save the Penthouse club from a fire in November 2011 because of battalion chief Randy Hebenton's "knowledge" of the building. Hebenton, a regular visitor of the club during his early twenties, used the knowledge to direct his battalion into isolating the fire in one of the club's back rooms. This and other colourful stories are documented in Liquor, Lust and the Law, an illustrated portrait of the 60-year-old legendary nightclub.
For those unsurprised that the new Pope is from the Americas:
The Trial of Pope Benedict: Joseph Ratzinger and the Vatican's Assault on Reason, Compassion, and Human Dignity by Daniel Gawthrop (Arsenal Pulp Press)
The Roman Catholic Church is often viewed as an outdated organization that still conducts itself by morals established in the Middle Ages. This is made evident by its witch hunt against homosexuality, how abuse is handled within the church, and its patriarchal and exclusive model of governance. Who is to blame for the church's reactionary behaviour? According to Daniel Gawthrop, Joseph Ratzinger. In The Trial of Pope Benedict, Gawthrop documents Ratzinger's efforts to impose an ultra-conservative agenda in the world's largest Christian church and tells the story of how he initiated his own witch hunt against liberal ideas.
Tyee bookworms: What do you plan to read this summer? Don't be shy. Add your picks in the comment thread below.
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