Summer books: Lazier days call for a dose of reality

Nonfiction titles fill holiday time with new takes on everything from Sasquatch to starfish

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      So you’ve got your summer list of fiction all set up: this year, you’re definitely reading nothing but medical thrillers from the ’70s. Just for the hell of it. But what about the nonfiction side of the menu? Below are a few new titles that might work well with long afternoons away from the office.

      In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch

      By John Zada. Greystone

      Running along the B.C. coast from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle, the Great Bear Rainforest is a region the size of Ireland. And like Ireland (as well as countless other places on the map), it’s long been said to host otherworldly beings—not pixie-ish spirits in this case, but giant half-humans, moving through the towering old-growth stands with terrifying ease. Toronto-based writer and photographer John Zada follows his childhood obsession with Bigfoot into this landscape, where his skepticism runs up against old Indigenous warnings of a tall, hairy creature whose gaze alone can cause madness or death. Locals tell of gargantuan shapes caught for an instant in headlight beams, strange shrieks in the distance, and houses shaken in the night by—what? Due out in August.

      The Ghost Garden: Inside the Lives of Schizophrenia’s Feared and Forgotten

      By Susan Doherty. Random House Canada

      Taboos around mental illnesses like anxiety and depression have faded drastically in recent years. The fact that corporations—risk-averse and image-conscious to their core—now proudly sponsor campaigns promoting mental-health awareness is evidence of a widespread desire to dissolve shame and fear with compassion and insight. But are compassion and insight any closer to reaching people with severe illnesses like schizophrenia, living in intense isolation and silence on the farthest edges of society? Susan Doherty, a veteran Montreal writer and former Maclean’s staffer, saw for herself in 2009, when she began volunteering to spend time with the residents of a locked ward for “the extremely mentally ill” in that city’s famous Douglas Institute. She had no plans to write a book about these experiences, as she points out in her introduction to The Ghost Garden. But her rich relationships with the tormented and in many cases friendless individuals profiled here focused her on the task of tearing down “some of the fences that prevent us from seeing those with schizophrenia as intelligent, productive, engaged, hilarious, beautiful, poetic, insightful, maternal, responsible human beings—and, above all, worthy of love”.

      My Seditious Heart

      By Arundhati Roy. Hamish Hamilton

      Look at the big-boy president in his moist tuxedo, on his way to a tremendous dinner with the Queen. Look at all the other pampered hacks and vicious mediocrities crowding onto the global stage right now with campaigns to bring back good old days when rulers were rulers, no matter how dumb or cruel. Feel like you’re about to lose your mind? Like the assholes are winning decisively and worldwide and forever? That’s understandable, but you need to reconnect with the fact that thought still counts as a force for opposition and basic sanity—resolute, humane, outrage-sharpened thought of the kind laid out in the essays and speeches of Arundhati Roy. This thick hardcover collection of nonfiction by the renowned Delhi-based author—most famous for her Booker-winning 1997 novel The God of Small Things—takes on elites of all stripes. Roy’s political writing has inspired Cornel West to call her “one of the few great revolutionary intellects in our time”, and John Berger to observe that she “makes sense of what we have to do”. My Seditious Heart will show you how this praise was earned.

      The New Beachcomber's Guide to the Pacific Northwest

      By J. Duane Sept. Harbour

      Remember the stab of social embarrassment you felt when you mistook a Dire Whelk for an Emarginate Dogwinkle? Or when you couldn’t tell a Checkered Hairysnail from an Angular Unicorn? Never again. This hugely revised and expanded work by Sunshine Coast biologist J. Duane Sept easily distinguishes more than 500 species of fish, jelly, anemone, clam, sea star, snail, seaweed, and sponge that our tides reveal every day. Even the rank amateur will find the book clear and easy to use during seaside walks, as its hundreds of colour images transform the teeming life there from a bunch of colourful, cool-looking stuff into a miraculously complex ecosystem working in rhythm with the moon. Plus, where else are you going to run across names like Tinted Wentletrap? It’s good just to say “Tinted Wentletrap”.