Ah, Summertime, the long golden days when we put the chill of the colder months behind us, strip down a few layers, and enjoy the solar radiation that warms and colors our skins and could one day, in a wiser world, power us as cleanly as it grows our food. Whether we’re hanging in a hammock between giant trees, soaking in the rays on a beach with the sea’s steady susurration at our feet, or chilling in a camp chair, it’s also a great time for a good book. And whatever else summer might be, it’s not generally a time for heavy thinking. So here are a few readworthy recommendations that will have you chuckling while making the world a tad better.
THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, EDWARD ABBEY, PERENNIAL CLASSICS, 1975
Arguably few books have turned more people towards conservation than Abbey’s eco-anarchist treatise. I personally know people who took up environmental and wilderness work as a profession because of this book. The novel inspired a generation of activists, including but not limited to Earth First!, an organization that still functions at a much-reduced level from its 1980s eco-antics. Madcap, full of wisdom and wit, beautifully written, action-oriented but with just enough intellectual weight to keep it serious (Abbey had an MA in Philosophy), and though dated by some of its 1970s-era references the novel still speaks truth to power. And in a time of crashing ecosystems, polluted waterways from mountain to sea, and proposed pipelines popping up everywhere, including so-far pristine rainforests, it’s a joy to think Hayduke, Bonnie Abbzug, Seldom Seen Smith, and Doc Sarvis might still be out there in one incarnation or another, fighting the good fight and serving as an inspiration to us all. One caveat: Abbey tried hard to offend everyone, including those who were on his side, and he succeeds.
SICK PUPPY, CARL HIASSEN
If you’ve got a penchant for the darkly comic, Hiassen’s your man. Set in developer-dominated Florida, his novels flay the greedy and laud those few souls brave enough to fight for something greater than themselves. If you have children, his series of young adult books is an excellent way to introduce them to conservation issues: Hoot, the first, won the cherished Newberry Award, but Chomp, Flush, and Scat also play well to young audiences. His adult fiction could easily offend more conservative readers, but if you’ve got an open mind and heart these books also charm and enlighten, as well as enrage. In my opinion Sick Puppy surpasses the rest of Hiassen’s oeuvre, taking on developers who go after an endangered species standing in the way of their condominiums, a kinky and insane hit man, Hiassen’s best recurring character Skink (an ex-governor who leaves office to live in the swamps and do what he can on his own, sort of a Florida Hayduke), and Twilly Spree, the kind of individual some of us might be if we had a multi-million dollar trust fund and a passion for creatures great and small. As in all of Hiassen’s work, a little madness turns into a great madness, laughter and chaos ensue, and the ride ends in justice. If only real life worked out so well.
LIBERATOR, MATT MINER, ET AL
While not exactly light reading, this beautifully illustrated graphic novel based on a series of short comics resonates with righteous anger. Anyone concerned about the plight of animals in our industrial food, pet, and science system will find something to like about this book. The backstory is almost as interesting as the comic itself: funded entirely by Kickstarter because they could not find a press willing to take this task on, contributors are thanked at the back of the book; much of the proceeds from the sales also go to help a number of organizations that have brief essays describing their goals and purposes at the book’s end. While millions bask in air-conditioned splendor watching the what the major movie studios consider superheroes, you can support several worthy causes as well as writers and artists trying to make the world a slightly better place with this purchase. There was a time when literature made a little noise. Maybe it’s time to go back there.
A FEW OTHER SUGGESTIONS:
ORYX AND CRAKE trilogy, Margaret Atwood—it would be incredibly remiss of me not to mention one of Canada’s natural treasures; all of Atwood’s work sparkles with brilliance, but this trilogy takes on GMOs, climate change, and the world of green politics with a humor no one else could pull off
PRODIGAL SUMMER, Barbara Kingsolver—brilliant back-to-the land novel
MY YEAR OF MEATS, Ruth Ozeki—funny and enlightening look at food
THEFT, B. K. Loren—an astonishing debut novel, a bit heavy for an easy summer read, perhaps, but worth supporting a new writer from whom I hope we see a lot more
Enjoy your summer, folks! And good reading, always.