Seasonal books bolster cheer and sanity

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      Is seasonal shopping turning into seasonal flailing? To the bookstore! Here’s a handful of suggestions that may get you off the gift-buying hook so you can focus on all the eating and drinking you need to do.

      Vancouver Noir

      Edited by Sam Wiebe. Akashic Books

      With this, Vancouver joins the long list of cities featured as settings of noir collections published by New York’s Akashic Books, which launched the series years ago in Brooklyn and has since touched down everywhere from London and Rome to Tehran, Mumbai, Singapore, and São Paulo. The 14 new stories here—selected by renowned Vancouver crime novelist Sam Wiebe, who has himself contributed a tale—are by a heavy-hitting roster of local talent, including Carleigh Baker, Dietrich Kalteis, Sheena Kamal, Linda L. Richards, Timothy Taylor, and Yasuko Thanh. The publicity info that came with the book really wants to emphasize the fact that Vancouver has a serious nasty streak running beneath all the fine scenery and health consciousness. But we knew that already, right?

      Iron Road West

      By Derek Hayes. Harbour Publishing

      If you’ve gotten the feeling that B.C. has been on a development binge in recent times, well, B.C. has always been on a development binge—that’s what B.C. is, in a sense. And for many decades, the engine literally driving it all was the locomotive. This latest work by Derek Hayes, author of the essential Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley, lays out the story of the province’s railway system in a big, glossy, highly readable hardcover. While the archival photos are guaranteed to thrill the trainspotter on your list, the old maps and documents Hayes has collected here create something that will fascinate anyone with an interest in how we arrived at our current point in history.

      Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany

      By Jane Mount. Chronicle Books

      Let’s say all you know about the person on your list is that they love books. You’re still stuck, because now you have to ask yourself “Which one?”—a straight path to madness in a crowded bookstore. One way around the problem is Bibliophile, an elegant hardcover by illustrator Jane Mount. Its large-format pages overflow with Mount’s vibrant hand-drawn depictions of famous and obscure book spines and covers, which somehow capture the aura of great volumes better than any photograph could. With these arranged and annotated by subject, the experience is like browsing in one of the world’s great bookstores—perhaps one of those that Mount has also rendered here, such as Tokyo’s Daikanyama Tsutaya, New York City’s Strand, and, of course, Munro’s in Victoria. Mixed in are quizzes, reading recommendations from "bookish people", illustrated lists of such things as writers’ pets (did you know that Flannery O’Connor had a peacock named Limpy?), and images of writing rooms: Roald Dahl’s shed, George Bernard Shaw’s shed, Virginia Woolf’s converted toolshed of her own. (Those 20th-century European authors really loved a nice shed.)

      Orwell on Truth

      By George Orwell. Harvill Secker

      The author needs no introduction, and the relevance of the topic needs no explanation in these days of weaponized bullshit. Drawing from Orwell’s fiction, essays, and journalism, this pocket-size collection of excerpts is certain to offer a jolt of clarity and a reminder of sanity to anyone disheartened by the fact that, as British politician Alan Johnson notes in his introduction, “The concept of ‘fake news’ could have come from the Ingsoc regime in the superstate of Oceania.” The spare beauty of the little volume’s design makes it a stocking stuffer with an edge. Not as festive as a mandarin orange, but ultimately more hopeful.

      40 Knots and How to Tie Them

      By Lucy Davidson. Princeton Architectural Press

      You probably have a friend or family member who, like me, will try to secure an object to a roof rack with a nonsensical, fast-unravelling mass of twine. In that case, you know someone who’ll appreciate this pretty little hardcover. English graphic designer Lucy Davidson has created a guide to an old art that makes something practical, safety-enhancing, and often beautiful from as close to nothing as you can get. Instructions are here for many of the greats, ranging from the trusty ol’ reef knot to the boom hitch, the one-handed bowline, the sheepshank, and the trucker’s dolly. Maria Nilsson’s graceful illustrations turn the book itself into a kind of art object. Impress your friends with these small feats of primal engineering, which seem to lie halfway between folklore and magic trick.