Vibrant book titles to take outside this summer
The season didn’t arrive on time, but its books did. And now that forecasts are suggesting we might have summerlike temperatures rather than a summer in name only, it’s a good time for ideas about what to bring with you to the deck, beach, or back yard.
Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals (By Gordon Grice. Dial Press, $32)
Nature is “red in tooth and claw”, the poet Tennyson once said. But it’s just as red in beak, hoof, tusk, stinger, mandible, and fin, as Wisconsin author Gordon Grice points out in this fast-paced survey, timed nicely for the outdoor season. Like a literary Steve Irwin with the good sense to stand well back, Grice ranges from ticks to tigers, cataloguing the many ways our fellow creatures can fold, spindle, and mutilate the human frame. Deadly Kingdom will grab and shake you like a croc. Take it along on your camping trip and you may wind up huddled in your tent with a Swiss Army knife taped to the end of a stick.
Ilustrado (By Miguel Syjuco. Hamish Hamilton Canada, $34)
This debut novel by the Montreal-based Miguel Syjuco is turning heads internationally and has already taken the Man Asian Literary Prize. Born to one of the Philippines’ more prominent political families and raised in Manila, the 33-year-old Syjuco uses a collage of fictional newspaper articles, e-mail, literary fragments, interviews, and journal entries to build a stylish, generation-spanning story about ruling-class crimes and the strange death of a Filipino author. The result is one of those imaginary spaces where the local crosses paths with the universal.
The News Where You Are (By Catherine O’Flynn. Bond Street, $29.95)
Birmingham, England’s Catherine O’Flynn had written no fiction—no tentative short stories, no abandoned novels, nothing—when she turned her hand to creating 2007’s best-selling and much-admired What Was Lost. Her sophomore effort, The News Where You Are, proves that all of the praise won by that eerie debut was no fluke. The News Where You Are follows Frank Allcroft, a local-TV news anchor haunted by the stories he constantly encounters of individuals whose deaths go largely unnoticed. With beautifully drawn characters and O’Flynn’s uncanny sense of psychology, this novel is a moving, funny, and often affirming exploration of fatherhood and the ways in which our inner lives don’t match our outer ones.
Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization (By Spencer Wells. Random House, $31)
In Spencer Wells’s view, the human race veered onto a dangerous track not when it invented plastics or started burning fossil fuels, or even when it began gathering in large cities, but rather way, way back—10,000 years ago—when it moved from hunting and gathering to farming. Wells, the Cornell University geneticist behind the popular book and TV series The Journey of Man, isn’t nostalgic for the good old prehistoric days of stone tools and improvised bone-setting. But he is arguing that we need to face up to the ballooning side effects of that ancient agricultural revolution: wild population growth, a desk-bound way of life prone to disease and depression, and a pathological desire to control the natural world—to name just a few of the topics in this sweeping, accessible, and yet detailed report on our species. If we can reassess “our cultural emphasis on expansion, acquisition, and perfectibility”, Wells says, we stand a better chance of avoiding the really big environmental consequences mentioned regularly in the news these days.
Something Wicked (By Lesley Anne Cowan. Puffin Canada, $15)
With this follow-up to her highly acclaimed 2003 novel, As She Grows, Toronto-based Lesley Anne Cowan continues her hard-edged series about at-risk youth. Few teenagers think of their own existence as smooth and carefree, but Melissa, the 16-year-old at the centre of Something Wicked, has enough trouble to last most people a lifetime: unstable, despair-scarred relationships, a growing problem with booze and drugs, and the lasting trauma of a younger brother’s death. As Melissa moves through the same system of group homes, counsellors, probation officers, and judges described in As She Grows, Cowan shows how every file number conceals a unique search for hope.
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (By John Grisham. Dutton, $21)
From the bestseller mill named John Grisham comes this courtroom drama geared to teens, about a 13-year-old law geek (how many of those have you met?) tracking a ruthless killer in small-town America. Sure, to the average young person lawyering may not have the first-glance glamour of, say, warlocking, and Grisham does spend a good deal of energy here on basic explanations of the legal process. But Theodore Boone offers more useful career ideas than Harry Potter does. And let’s face it: lawyers have greater reality-bending powers than warlocks ever will.
The Shadow Road (By K. V. Johansen. Orca, $9.95)
If it’s dark spells you want, there’s this fourth installment of the Warlocks of Talverdin series from New Brunswick’s K. V. Johansen. The Tolkienesque scale of the story is clear in the large glossary of characters at the end of the book, which will keep your Hermengilde Elspeth of Greyrock from getting mixed up with your Fuallia Shepherd the mountain witch. What better balance for cheery summer weather than a landscape clouded by looming evil?