The summer brings pools, beaches, travel, barbecues and, most importantly, books! Here are some recommendations of books our faculty have read or are looking forward to reading this summer to add to your list.
Just Married: Same Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage by Stephen Macedo
One thing I’m trying to read right now, in the aftermath of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, is Stephen Macedo’s Just Married: Same Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage. It’s a lovely book on how the shifting concept of marriage might not entail the abandonment of a particular ideal of monogamy.
Sunday Philosophy Club Series by Alexander McCall Smith
I’m also reading Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club Series, which features an exceptionally dutiful editor for a philosophy journal who solves mysteries while wondering about how to understand the nature of morality. It’s a lovely series, written by someone who’s also done good philosophical work on the basis of international law.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
[This is] some science fiction to stretch your imagination of society, culture, and gender. I picked this up earlier this year after reading that Le Guin had passed away and realizing that I had not read any of her work. It was well worth the read.
Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope
[This is] a collection of poetry to distract you during the summer from your philosophical concerns.
Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
Last summer, on the enthusiastic recommendation of my partner Erin (who is a big sci-fi fan and helped me write this recommendation), I read the Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. The trilogy has elements of sci-fi and fantasy and is set on a post-apocalyptic planet that regularly experiences cataclysmic seismic events. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy explores themes relating to systems of oppression, trauma, personal identity, and environmentalism, while also featuring main characters who are mainly women and people of color. While the themes are heavy, the trilogy is also really fun and action-packed, centering on a group of people called "orogenes," who have developed the ability to control seismic activity—think of them as wizards with an advanced understanding of plate tectonics. There's a ton of cool action, imaginative world-building, and geological references. Here's a nice review of the first book, The Fifth Season: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/books/review/the-fifth-season-by-nk-jemisin.html
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
This summer, I'm going to read Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, a novel set during the Jim Crow era that deals with racism and Lovecraftian gods and cosmic horrors.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I highly recommend South Korean author Han Kang's The Vegetarian. The writing is beautiful. What the book is about is difficult to describe but it uses a story about a woman's metamorphosis, which starts with her sudden and unexplained refusal to eat meat, and her family's reactions to these changes, to depict corporeality, objectification, womanhood, mental ill-health, and our relationships with animals, nature and each other.
The Luminaries by Elinor Catton
This came out a few years ago and won the Booker Prize. It is set in New Zealand, amidst the gold rush. The author’s father is a philosopher and a friend of mine.
There There by Tommy Orange
I am looking forward to reading There There, by Tommy Orange. I heard a great review of the book on NPR; it’s his first novel and focuses on urban American Indians, set in Oakland CA, at the Big Oakland Powwow. As the front flap suggests, his is “a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force” with attention to memory and identity, violence and recovery.
This year I’ve been reading (and LOVING) poems by Maggie Smith. You can find many of them on her website. My favorites are “Good Bones,” “At your age I wore a darkness,” “Let’s not begin” and “Rain.”
Disability and Difference in Global Contexts by Nirmala Erevelles
I’m also in the midst of reading Disability and Difference in Global Contexts by Nirmala Erevelles, about the need for global materialist analyses in disability studies.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This book has short bios of about 40 leaders who demonstrated incredible integrity, resolve, and resilience in the face of injustice.
Think Again: How to Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
There have been lots of books about how to reason and argue, going back at least to Aristotle. But philosophers have gotten better in recent years at paying attention to the relevant work in empirical psychology. Sinnott-Armstrong has done a lot of interdisciplinary work, so I'm looking forward to hearing his take on things. The book is based on a Massive Open Online Course he has taught that has attracted over 800,000 students.
Mystery series by Donna Leon, Peter Robinson, and Louise Penny
Recently, I've been enjoying reading works by three writers in particular: Donna Leon, Peter Robinson, and Louise Penny. All mild (rather than gruesome), clever, literate mysteries. Venice, Yorkshire, Quebec. All lovely. Any volume will do.
Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession by Ian Bostridge
I recommend Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession by Ian Bostridge. This wonderful book delves deep into the beautiful cycle of love songs (Lieder) that Schubert wrote not long before his early death. Bostridge is a famous tenor from England, who has performed Schubert throughout his career. (He also has a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science!) Bostridge combines his deep knowledge of the music with a fascinating and never pedantic explanation of the historical background. He writes almost as beautifully as he sings. You can find his performances of the Winterreise here. I was lucky enough to hear him in person last year. Highly recommended!
The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom
[This is] short and pithy philosophical fiction--if you like Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calivino, or Umberto Eco, this is for you.
Traitor to His Class by H.W. Brands
In the past year, I have read a number of biographies of important figures in American history. One of my all-time favorite biographies is Traitor to His Class, a biography of FDR, by H.W. Brands. It is particularly poignant to read it now, because the same kind of historical developments that brought FDR to the presidency in 1932 brought Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. If only we could have found a second FDR.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
I also recommend a combo: Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson:The Art of Power and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. These two figures tower over their contemporaries (with the exception of Washington and Madison). They also represented the two main political factions in early U.S. History, the Republicans and the Federalists. Each regarded the other as a mortal danger to the republic. Since the biographers each favor their own subject, each of them tends to understate the defects of their own subject and to exaggerate the defects of their subject’s opponent. Reading both books gives a more balanced view of both subjects, who were, in spite of and in part because of their faults, in combination with Washington and Madison, most responsible for the success of the American Experiment.