Summer books deal in brash ideas

New titles will change your mind about everything from superheroes to life with Donald Trump

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      The standard summer plan has a way of getting derailed by bugs, squalls, and ferry lineups. But few things can block a solid summer reading plan. Here’s just a handful of ideas for your list.

      No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

      By Naomi Klein (Knopf Canada)

      You’ve gone down to the waterside a few times so far this year, if only to read for a while and try to forget that the most powerful nation on Earth is being run by a jackass from TV. But the plan never works—he’s like a flabby ghost who follows your thoughts around everywhere, wrecking everything. So perhaps it would be best if, next time, you brought along a book that turns and faces him with some proper, clear-eyed strategies. In her latest work, renowned journalist, author, and activist Naomi Klein traces how we wound up in this nauseating predicament, and then moves toward a deeply inclusive and pragmatic social vision that “is about as far away from Trump’s ‘how can I screw you’ art of the deal as you can get”. Read, find new optimism, and then see Klein herself in conversation at a Vancouver Writers Fest event on June 24 at St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church.

      The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters From Comic Book History

      By Hope Nicholson (Quirk)

      Winnipeg publisher and comics archivist Hope Nicholson introduces her finely illustrated, cleverly compiled hardcover as an anthology of “the weirdest, coolest, most of-their-time female characters in comics—for better or for worse”. Which is certainly accurate. Sorted into decades starting with the 1930s, the book acts as a particularly colourful record of the evolving ways in which women have been portrayed in pop culture—from the WWII–vintage Katy Keene “the pinup queen” to 2013’s Deathface Ginny, hunter of an abusive husband in the Old West. Yes, of course, Wonder Woman and Vampirella are here, but there’s also the disco-fuelled, roller-skating Dazzler, as well as Superbitch (battling aliens “who look like Richard Nixon trying to convert an entire civilization of lesbian women with their nympho-ray, which is pitted against the femme society’s lethal scrotum-scramblers”—oh the ’70s, eh?). Alongside this, Nicholson surveys the ever-changing role of women in the industry itself, a role that has grown by superheroic leaps and bounds since the indie-comics boom of 40 years ago.

      The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

      By Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

      There are often misplaced suspicions about artists with strong, publicly declared political and social views, as if these commitments mess up the delicate workings of the imagination. But the mixing of art and political engagement is a powerful, long-standing tradition in literary fiction, back through novelists like Atwood and Achebe, Zola and Dickens and beyond. India’s Arundhati Roy belongs to this line, having filled the 20 years between her last novel (the Booker-winning work The God of Small Things) and this new one with campaigns in many fields, from the antiglobalization and antinuclear movements to environmental and human-rights causes. The restless, magic-infused tale of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness—with its large cast that includes a resistance fighter, a government official, a hijra, and an abandoned child—mirrors this scope and empathy for those caught in systems of violence. And note: Roy is returning to Vancouver on June 26 for an author event at St. Andrew’s–Wesley’s United Church, as part of the run-up to this year’s edition of the Indian Summer Festival.

      Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8

      By Naoki Higashida (Random House)

      “The vastness of the world is a source of inspiration. Don’t you think?” So declares Japanese author Naoki Higashida in this follow-up to his decade-old bestseller The Reason I Jump. Introduced and translated by revered novelist David Mitchell, the book itself is strong evidence for that declaration, expanding on Higashida’s experiences as a young man coping with what’s often labelled “severe”, nonverbal autism. Mainstream wisdom has long assumed that people with such a condition also suffer from serious intellectual disabilities, but the short, potent essays and poems here—written mostly by “typing” sentences on an alphabet grid in the presence of a transcriber—show a remarkably curious and perceptive mind at work on a world that is both instantly recognizable and sharply different from the one nonautistic people inhabit. Higashida is piercingly aware of the distractions, the fixations, the force of his condition. His description, for example, of how he must piece together the relationship between rain falling and his mother’s concern for laundry on the line is fascinating. “People with autism might need more time,” he declares early on, “but as we grow there are countless things that we can learn how to do, so even if you can’t see your efforts bear fruit, please don’t quit.” Due out on July 15.