Who says dystopian climate sci-fi and mountain-survival stories aren't beach reads?
The long, middle-of-summer days are the most satisfying time to lose yourself in a book, whether it’s a big brick of history you might not tackle in the dark of winter or a fictional future that pulls you into somewhere weird. Here’s what we’re reading in July.
‘Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West,’ by John Taliaferro
If you want to take history class to the hills
Is your idea of a sexy beach read a heavy, deeply reported historical tome about a dead white guy? You may be my mother, or you may be excited about Grinnell, author John Taliaferro’s biography of George Bird Grinnell. The conservationist and contemporary of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir fought to preserve Glacier National Park, founded the first Audubon Society, and recorded the tribal history of the Plains Indians. Taliaferro puts Grinnell in the context of the late-1800s culture of Manifest Destiny, which isn’t always rosy. Still, it’s an interesting look at the history of wilderness, preservation, and public lands.
‘Oval,’ by Elvia Wilk
If escaping to the future sounds good. Or not.
Wilk’s novel creates a dystopian future that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. The main character, Anja, works for a Berlin-based company, building unsustainable “sustainable” green homes—and lives in one of the half-baked communities they’ve constructed. She’s troubled by the way the project is running away from itself and by her boyfriend’s job, in which he’s created a pill for generosity that pulls him into a very different kind of augmented reality. That future we’re building for ourselves, natural or otherwise, is both the villain and the center of the story. It’s human-scale, modern climate fiction, and the gripping eeriness comes from the sense that those future fears might not be very far away from right now.
‘Out of the Silence: After the Crash,’ by Eduardo Strauch, with Mireya Soriano
If you don’t shy away from darker beach reads
Uruguayan air force flight 571 crashed into the Andes in 1972, killing all but 29 people on board, including members of the Uruguayan rugby team. Out of the Silence: After the Crash, a new book by survivor Eduardo Strauch, follows him back to the Valley of Tears as he tries to understand the aftermath and the guilt of living through a tragedy. (Stay away if you’re squeamish—there are gruesome details, like how the survivors turned to cannibalism.)
‘Women Who Hike: Walking with America’s Most Inspiring Adventurers,’ by Heather Balogh Rochfort
If you’re looking for trail magic
You could call Women Who Hike a guidebook, because it does outline waypoints and GPS tracks for 20 hikes across North America, from Nelson, B.C., to Marathon, Texas. But the book is much more about the why than the how of hiking. Each of the trails was selected because it’s important to the women Balogh Rochfort features in the book. There’s a nine-mile day hike in Maryland that’s a favorite of Ambreen Tariq, who runs @brownpeoplecamping, and there are 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail that Shawnté Salabert dreamed of as a kid in a Milwaukee Boys and Girls Club. Balogh Rochfort elucidates how people are impacted by place and tells the stories of how they got there—then gives beta about how you can, too.
‘Radical Ritual: How Burning Man Changed the World,’ by Neil Shister
If you’re ready to watch the world burn
Fascinated by the history, culture, and debauchery of Burning Man? Radical Ritual will give you the juice (while explaining how it has evolved). Author Neil Shister is a journalist and historian, but he’s also a Burner. So he treads the line between participant and storyteller as he digs through the forces that have shaped the festival, from self-governance to Google. The book focuses largely on the life of founder Larry Harvey, but it also looks at how the event has changed over time and how it’s gone from an outsider ritual to a heavily used symbol of the technocracy.