Whether you'll be whittling away vacation time lounging seaside by the waves or dipping in a lake by the trees, it's practically a prerequisite to pack a book for the time off. Any of these eco-themed books -- some recent, some classic -- would make a fine companion for languid summer days.
1. How the Dead Dream: A Novel by Lydia Millet (Counterpoint, 2008)The first book of three in a series, How the Dead Dream introduces T., a rich and lonely real estate developer in Southern California. His fancy life is thrown into disarray when his nutty mother moves in with him. As she becomes increasingly unbalanced and his life becomes increasingly devastating, T. begins to find solace in endangered species and starts breaking into zoos at night to be with the world's vanishing animals.
Publishers Weekly starred review of the book notes that the “jungle quest that results, while redolent of Heart of Darkness and Don Quixote, takes readers to a place entirely Millet's own, leavened by very funny asides. At once an involving character study and a stunning meditation on loss—planetary and otherwise—Millet's latest unfolds like a beautiful, disturbing dream.” Available at Amazon.
2. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Yearling, 2006)You can expect Hiaasen's typically quirky characters and comedic romps in Hoot, albiet without the characteristic violence and profanity as this book is designated for the young adult set.
That said, you need not be a young adult to adore this zany read which revolves around endangered miniature owls, the Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House scheduled for construction over their burrows, and the tweens determined to beat the "screwed-up adult system." Available at Powell's Books.
3. Jokerman 8 by Richard Melo (Soft Skull Press, 2004)This fast ride was described by Powell’s Books as "rollicking yet meditative, whirlwind yet lax, lush yet stark, ghostly yet grounded, complex yet accessible — the novel bears comparison to Edward Abbey's 1975 cult eco-classic The Monkey Wrench Gang" and is often best summed up by its final sentence (spoiler alert?): "Live happy."
The titular Jokerman 8 is a band of eco-saboteurs based out of San Francisco State University that sink whaling ships, stage tree-ins and generally wreak happy havoc. The irreverent text moves at a breakneck pace, “stopping just long enough to question how the world got the way it is and how it might be fixed.” Available at Powell's Books.
4. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (Grove Press, 2007)OK, this isn't your typical bodice-ripping, page-turning summer beach read, but if you haven't read it, barbecue season is as good a time as any. A mix of philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and some journalistic reporting, Eating Animals examines the stories we use to "justify our eating habits—folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions—and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting."
It is at turns humorous, moral, challenging and delightful...and may have you rethinking that hot dog.
5. The Dangerous World of Butterflies by Peter Laufer (Lyons Press, 2009)Subtitled, "The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists," this non-fiction tome about butterflies is surprisingly roddled with intrigue!
After focusing on the Iraq War, author and journalist Laufer turned to the seemingly innocent culture of butterflies...and found violence, corruption and mystery. Along with everything you ever wanted to know about butterflies and a great exploration of the science behind the fluttering beauties, Laufer also finds controversy in commercial breeding and discovers "worldwide criminal operations" in butterfly poaching and smuggling. Utterly fascinating! Available at Amazon.
6. Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller by Neal Stephenson (Spectra, 1995)The Boston-based, nitrus-oxide huffing protagonist of Zodiac, S. T., is a self-proclaimed Toxic Spiderman, who with covert esprit and crazy antics chases down the eco-criminal corporate hooligans -- all with the help of GEE, the Group of Environmental Extremists.
The hilarious romp includes zany encounters with the fans of heavy metal band, Poyzen Boyzen, a deranged geneticist, a complicated girlfriend, a bizarre landlord, and the heart of the matter, a mysterious PCB contamination. Available at Powell's Books.
7. A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron (Forge Books, 2011)If you're looking for a mushy, sentimental, New York Times best seller, written-in-a-dog's-voice kind of book -- this one's for you. Garnering critical praise from Temple Grandin (the queen of cattle behavior) and Marty Becker, the resident veterinarian from Good Morning America, this story follows the lives of one dog through its various reincarnations.
Notes Powell's Books, "More than just another charming dog story, A Dog's Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life's most basic question: Why are we here?" Good fodder for the dog days of summer. Available at Powell's Books.
8. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press, 2010)The trio of young adult novels that many an adult are sneaking in on the sly, the trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay) don't necessarily have a strong eco theme throughout, but the premise of the whole story is based on a North America vanquished by disasters, droughts, storms, fires, and rising sea levels. So, there's that.
The trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen as she rises to the challenges presented by the dystopian future. The novels are centered around an event known as "The Hunger Games," an annual televised spectacle whereby a group of teenagers are sent into a contrived wilderness to fight to the death. There's an assertive female protagonist, strong commentary on modern Western culture (war, reality television, inane fashion, etc), suspense, action, and star-crossed love all packaged in intriguing and imaginative writing -- what more could you want for a summer read? Available at Amazon.