Written by: Kelly Park, Communications Manager
As the last week of summer arrives too soon, and many of us are trying to prepare for the unknowns of the school year, it’s important to savour our down time and enjoy slower moments. Reading, in all forms (hard copy, e-book or audio book), is a hobby many of us have turned to for an escape from the stress of life during a pandemic. If you’re looking for the next book to add to your list, here’s our staff’s recommendations of stories that have helped us to decompress, learn and reflect during the last long days of summer. Many of these books are available to purchase at your local independently owned bookstores.
Relay’s Summer Book Choices
‘Rivers of Power’ by Laurence C. Smith
Rivers of Power taps into pieces of history you may not be familiar with to illuminate how rivers have shaped civilization – a source of life, a source of destruction, a force that has dictated human history.
The book shows how some of the world’s great civilizations emerged on the banks of some of the mightiest rivers. It also toggles through fascinating anecdotes on the strategic importance of rivers in combat, from the armoured troop carriers that patrolled the Mekong River Delta during the Vietnam War to the Mississippi River as a logistics highway during the American Civil War.
The book also delves into our attempts to try to manipulate rivers, harness their power and the follies that can occur as a result. Like how in 1889 the South Fork Dam, residing above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, collapsed, obliterating the town. The dam was in disrepair for many years and was engineered in a way so that the reservoir would retain its bass population for the enjoyment of the nearby private fish and game club. The reckless mismanagement resulted in the deaths of 2,200 people.
It provides an interesting perspective on our reliance on the natural world. Us humans like to put on a show as if we have tamed the natural world, Rivers of Power is a great reminder that we are ultimately at nature’s mercy and operate within its rules, not ours.
‘A Walk in the Woods’ by Bill Bryson
I picked this book up based on the title alone, and was happy to discover it’s about a man’s adventure to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which is said to be the longest hiking-only trail in the world. Hiking is one of my favourite hobbies, and after having read ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed Years ago, which is about a woman’s adventure on a similar hiking trail, called the Pacific Crest Trail, I figured this would be a book I would enjoy. What stood out within the first few pages was the humour. This charming book will make you laugh out loud, as you stumble along with the author in his intense journey in walking over ~3500 kilometres with an old friend.
If you enjoy stories of struggle with a good dose of comedy mixed in, I’d put this book at the top of your stack for a light-hearted read as we head into the season with the best weather for hiking.
‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Written by an Indigenous botanist, Kimmerer draws on the idea that plants and animals are some of the greatest teachers around. She blends traditional knowledge with scientific knowledge.
“Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”
‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
This is my first time reading the novels, but I’ve enjoyed escaping into the fantasy world of Middle-earth over the past few weeks, especially when I feel saddened or frustrated with current events in the real world. I’ve been especially drawn to the Elves, who are a race of beings that live in harmony and balance with their natural surroundings, and act as stewards of the forests and rivers that they live in and depend upon. Having just begun the second novel in the series, I’m looking forward to meeting the Ents, which I know from the film adaptations are essentially ancient trees that walk and talk. The Ents eventually join the “good guys” because they become angered by the enemy for cutting down parts of the ancient forest that they inhabit. Also, I imagine that those Hobbit-holes that are built into the sides of hills would be pretty cozy, and very energy efficient!
‘From the Ashes’ by Jesse Thistle
Thistle is a Indigenous author who shares his life story of growing up Métis. His life is full of abuses, self-destructive behaviour and a poor upbringing, however, through perseverance and education he found his way back to his Indigenous roots. It’s a powerful book, written in a descriptive manner which brings to light the harsh realities of what it is like to grow up in an Indigenous world.
‘The Back of the Turtle’ by Thomas King
We hope you find these suggestions of interest, and are able to pick up a book and take some time for yourself as we head into the fall season.