'Tis the season for lefty reading

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Tropic of Chaos

If there's one thing I enjoy about the frenzy of hyper-commercialism that accompanies the Christmas holiday season, it's the excuse it provides to shop for books. For those lucky enough to have some time off, it is also the ideal season to read -- or at least to make an ambitious reading list for 2012 as a New Year's resolution.

Here in Vancouver, we have recently started a Green Left Book Club, with meet ups at the People's Co-op Bookstore. Members of our club have suggested a number of books -- all titles that address environmental and/or social justice themes. By sharing these ideas, I aim to make your holiday shopping and 2012 reading lists a little easier to compile.

Here's hoping you will read and gift some of these books, and maybe even get together with a book club sometime in 2012 to discuss them. (Thanks to those who responded to my request for suggestions for this list -- in addition to our book club's ideas, a number of the titles below were tweeted my way.)

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence was our first Green Left Book Club selection; it's a wide-ranging and sobering read about the disproportionate impacts that global warming is already having on the most vulnerable people on the planet. Parenti is meticulous in his research and ruthlessly honest in his analysis. (You can watch video of the talk Parenti recently delivered in Vancouver here).

The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth

by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York (Monthly Review Press, 2010; $17.95) 

Bellamy Foster is a pioneering and prolific advocate of eco-socialist ideas -- challenging but vital reading. What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism ($13.95) provides a shorter and somewhat more conversational introduction to the same topic.

Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development

by Vandana Shiva (South End Press, 2010; $16.00)

One of the most important activists alive today provides an essential look at the specific impacts of destructive industrial projects on women.

Too Many People?

by Ian Angus and Simon Butler (Haymarket Books, 2011; $19.00)

As the global population passes the seven billion mark, this book is a timely intervention in a recurring and important debate in the environmental movement. Written from an eco-socialist perspective, the authors make a compelling case that what's ailing the planet is not too many humans, but too much capitalism. This book makes a nice, provocative gift for the neo-Malthusian in your life.

The World As It Is

by Chris Hedges (Nation Books, 2011; $31.50)

A recent victim of Fox News-esque name-calling by a certain CBC TV journalist, Hedges has emerged as a prominent voice articulating the grievances at the root of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. This book is a collection of Hedges' sharp and thought provoking columns.

Hope is Better Than Fear: Paying Jack Layton Forward

(Random House, 2011; $6.99)

Various contributors share their thoughts on the life and death of Jack Layton, one of the defining moments of 2011 in Canada. (You can read an excerpt of Jane Doe memories of Jack as a feminist ally here).

Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter

by Carmen Aguirre (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011; $32.95)

The Vancouver-based daughter of Chilean exiles recounts a childhood spent immersed in her family's struggle against the Pinochet dictatorship.

As Long as the Rivers Flow

by James Bartleman (Knopf Canada, 2011; $29.95)

In this novel, the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario deals with the legacy and impacts of Canada's racist 'residential school' policy.

A couple of stocking stuffers for the writer or editor in your life. First, there's the illustrated version of the classic Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White (Penguin, $24.95). There's also a rejoinder to this famous little tract called Spunk and Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style (Random House, $12.95), which argues that the rules of writing are made to be broken.

Finally, a couple of politically timely recommendations:

Stephen Harper's majority government continues to relentlessly redraw the policies and laws of this country in meaner and less fair ways. So it's only fair that Dave Rosen has a little fun spoofing the PM with his Stephen Harper Colouring and Activity Book (Pop Boom Bang Books, $14.95). As it happens, the book's forward is by Brian Topp, who one day hopes to colour the prime minister's office orange.

No reading list at the end of 2011 would be complete without at least one Occupy related title, and luckily Verso Books has already published Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America (Verso, $17.50).

So there you are. Remember as you head out to Occupy the Bookstores, to do your part to take on the big chain stores and the soulless bullies at Amazon by making your gift book purchases at your local, independent bookstore.

Derrick O'Keefe is a Vancouver-based author of Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and activist who blogs for rabble.ca. He is also a member of the People's Co-op Bookstore in Vancouver, which will be holding a special Holiday Open House this Sunday, featuring a couple dozen of the city's most prominent writers and poets.

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