What, the holidays are here already? Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that you were going over your summer reading list? To top it off, you’re not buying for yourself now. You’re trying to figure out what someone else would like. Here are suggestions that may help you out of the gift-book bind.
Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver
By Jill Heinerth. Doubleday Canada
It seems like the craziest idea ever—as if someone had said, “Sure, exploring caves is wildly dangerous, but it’s just not wildly dangerous enough for me. I think I’ll put on an air tank and go swim around some unmapped underwater caves instead.” The whole thing is a claustrophobe’s nightmare. But as this autobiography describes, an immense ability to “embrace fear as a positive catalyst” has brought decorated Canadian cave diver Jill Heinerth to some of the world’s most beautiful scenes, previously hidden in inky darkness. On her research missions, Heinerth has explored volcano conduits and weirdly colonnaded “crystal palaces”. She’s travelled underground flows that run “below your homes, golf courses, and restaurants”, and sidled along shafts inside Antarctic icebergs. (“Three hundred feet of ice presses down upon us from above this narrow passage, groaning with emphatic creaks and pops that signal its instability.” I mean… WTF.) If you missed Heinerth’s visit to the Vancouver Aquarium in October, you can follow her astonishing journey here, from the safety of your room. Your boring old warm, dry, well-lit room.
Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey
By Jeremy Allingham. Arsenal Pulp
Nearly every hockey fan has a strong opinion about the role of fighting in the game. Either they believe that the ritual of two men twirling on ice while trying to break each other’s face reflects a grand tradition unique to hockey—the ultimate expression of the game’s unwritten code of justice. Or they think fighting is an absurd sideshow, one that indeed makes hockey unique but for all the wrong reasons—something barbaric, bad for the players and the growth of the game, and deserving of the suspensions and expulsions that fighting would draw in any other sport beyond boxing and MMA. In recent times, fans in the second camp seem to have history on their side, as the classic hockey fight becomes rarer by the season, apparently fading into the sunset with Don Cherry. Vancouver journalist and author Jeremy Allingham’s new book makes a detailed case for viewing this as a good thing, particularly by looking closely at the tragic struggles of battle-hardened players like Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, and Steve Montador. “We must justify this seemingly unjustifiable practice,” Allingham states, “or let it die.” No matter which side of the debate your favourite hockey fan prefers, Major Misconduct will instigate.
Passion and Persistence: Fifty Years of the Sierra Club in British Columbia
By Diane Pinch. Harbour
If the eco-warrior on your list is finding the future a little bleak, maybe it’s time to head into the past for an encouraging example of how a group of committed activists can change the landscape. This illustrated history traces the challenges and victories of Sierra Club BC over the last half century, here in a part of the world where humans are still blessed with enough wilderness to know exactly what’s at stake at this turning point for the biosphere. Sierra Club BC campaigns, some of them lasting decades, have been crucial to many milestones in local conservation, involving names like Carmanah, South Moresby, Clayoquot, and Great Bear. The organization has helped spur a return of the humpback-whale population, institute a provincial ban on grizzly-bear hunting, and preserve the habitats of everything from the northern goshawk (an animal so fiercely beautiful that it defies words) to the Vancouver Island marmot (an animal cute enough to fry your brain). The club has already played a part in convincing governments to protect 15 percent of the province’s land—an impressive start, with plenty of lessons about what to aim for in the next 50 years.
Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings
By Joni Mitchell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
What’s a Joni Mitchell Christmas like? If you’ve ever stood in line at Starbucks around this time of year, your first notion might involve her song “River”, which Starbucks loves to play for holiday customers. And for obvious reasons: it opens with a plaintive “Jingle Bells” quote on piano, mentions Christmas in the first line, and is overall a brilliant track from a brilliant album, Blue. But you can do one better for the Joni aficionado in your life. Morning Glory on the Vine, an elegant new full-colour, large-format hardcover, reproduces the volume of handwritten lyrics and hand-drawn art that Mitchell assembled and had bound into a hundred copies as Christmas presents for her close friends back in 1971, just as Blue was climbing the charts on its way into legend. Mitchell’s bright, sinuous images have their own exotic tuning, just like her guitars, and something about the controlled loops of her cursive hand evokes that amazingly pliable voice.
Ember and the Ice Dragons
By Heather Fawcett. Balzer & Bray
It’s no simple matter being an undercover dragon, even if your adoptive magician father has given you the guise of a human child for your own safety. The problem is that, like young Ember St. George, you keep bursting into flames at awkward times. Courtenay-based author Heather Fawcett’s tale follows Ember down to Antarctica, where her attempt to cool off gets sidetracked by a mission to stop an annual hunt of the elusive ice dragon. The result is a rich fantasy world for readers between eight and 12 who have the same kind of invisible wings that this bold young central character glides on.