Philosophy Talk's Fifth Annual Philosophical Summer Reading List

21 May 2010

This week, we broadcast our fifth annual summer reading list show.  Over the five years that we've done this,  we've been really impressed at how  widely and deeply read our listening audience is.   It really heartens usto know that there are still avid readers out there,  in this age when reading has been declared all but dead.

But there is reason to worry that reading as we once knew it may be dead.  Granted people do still read -- though not the printed  page, at least not nearly as much as they once did. More and more, they  read their kindles, their  ipads and even their computer screens.  You can get just about any book you want in an instant these days. One could perhaps reasonably hope that these devices may lead to a rebirth of reading that would reverse a long steady decline. 

To be sure,  they have a long way to go to accomplish any such thing.  In 2007, for example, 1 in 4 adult Americans reported not having read a single book.  On average, Americans read about 4 books per year.  And that number keeps getting smaller year after year. 

 



If one were an optimist, who tended to look on the bright side always, one might respond that although book reading is on the decline, people spend more and more time reading all kinds of writing that didn’t even exist decades ago – the blog,the online chat, the text message.  So maybe one could say that reading lives.  But  lives in a different forms.

 


But seriously -- Blogs? Chats?? Texts???  That’s not reading, not really.  That kind of "reading"  is to  genuine reading what synthetic processed cheese food is to real cheese.  


In saying that we don't mean to be either snobs or luddites 
 But we do plead guilty to being a lover of reading, genuine reading, reading of the deepest kind.

Reading of the deepest kind is reading that deeply engages the capacities of the mind and heart.  Think of reading a novel that moves you deeply  -- not by being superficially titillating, but by taking over your moral imagination and giving it a real work out.  Think of philosophy books that challenge you to think and think again, not by beating you over the head with histrionic arguments, but by subtly leading you to new insights and new depths of thought.  Or think of non-fiction that invites you to see seemingly familiar things in a whole new light.   It’s that kind of reading, and that kind of writing, that seems to be on the decline.



We at Philosophy Talk believe that that kind of reading -- critical, reflective reading that is both  emotionally and imaginatively engaged  -- is both a fun thing and a good thing.  One could even argue that the mere act of reading, and reading deeply,  can help make you a better person.  It exercises capacities that play a huge role in real life: capacities to judge, feel, and imagine.   Don't get us wrong. We're not saying that reading is a substitute for real life and lived experience.  But reading is, we think, to real life what baseball practice is to an actual baseball game.  Reading is a way of hone the imaginative, emotional, critical, and evaluative capacities that you need to be able to deploy in real life if you are to live well.  It would be a shame if the art of deep reading were ever to disappear from our culture.  

 Certainly, there is a lot that threatens it. The makers of mass culture -- especially mass culture for the young --  specialize in promoting the cultural equivalent of synthetic processed cheese food.   If you feed people enough of that sort of thing, after awhile they begin to acquire a taste for it and to dislike the real thing.

 That would be a sad outcome. 

Because so much of what mass culture offers up for us to consume is the culture equivalent of synthetic processed cheese food,  reading of the kind we're talking will seem to many to be something of interest only for the "elite" few, who spend more  time buried in books, rather than hooked up to some screen.   But we shouldn't let reading devolve into a past time only for certain elites.   We need to empower more people in our society to become the kind of readers we’re talking about.   That’s definitely something our schools should be doing more of. 
And it’s also a reason why its important for us to do our small part, by compiling a philosophical summer reading list every year.  Every summer, we want to invite our  audience of very avid readers to help us extol the virtues and joys of reading – real reading.   
Won't you join us and  become an ambassador for the book and for deep reading that enhances our most fundamental human capacities?  Tell us what good reads are on your own summer reading list?  Tell us what have you already read  or plan to read that you would recommend to others.  

Comments (9)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, May 22, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I just finished reading The Varieties of Religi

I just finished reading The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James. I enjoyed his focus on religious feeingl and experience as opposed to theology or dogma, but I disagree with his notion that the moral benefits of such feelings, or even the feelings themselves are the special product of religious faith and are inaccessible without it.
The one book I have had on my shelf for almost a year that I am determined (no pun intended) to read this summer is Freedom Evolves by Dan Dennett. I would have thought him to be more of a determinist, maybe I shouldn't assume either way, maybe I should finally read the book.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, May 23, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I recently finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta

I recently finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I think the author did a great job of sharing the scientific history and benefits to society while also conveying the personal history of Ms Lacks and her family. I am now requiring my Bioethics students to read this book prior to our discussion on human subjects research ethics.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, May 24, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I'm doing some interesting reading - I always find

I'm doing some interesting reading - I always find it most exciting if it has the potential to be life-transforming. I'm reading a few books by Deepak Chopra right now, and also a book on the 'secrets' of the Kabbalists, by Rabbi David Aaron. One also needs to allow time to contemplate one's reading so that the good ideas sink in and become part of one's life.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, May 24, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Great post, Ken. While on an early summer vacatio

Great post, Ken.
While on an early summer vacation, I have been reading "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster" by Rebecca Solnit. She writes convincingly about how people become more altruistic and societies shift for the better in disasters ranging from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to 9/11 and Katrina. It is important to be reminded that reality runs contrary to how disasters are portrayed in the movies, with crazed mobs rampaging the streets. And that "elite panic" and government "taking back the city" from its inhabitants often cause more harm than the actual disaster. Sort of a between-the-lines history but also a great philosophical topic to ponder.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Perhaps not for the experts, but J. Morrow's "The

Perhaps not for the experts, but J. Morrow's "The Philosopher's Apprentice" just might pull in a novice. It's also just a great read, usually shelved in the sci-fi/fantasy section. R.L. Heilbroner's "The Worldly Philosophers" which is actually a quick but enjoyable non-fiction history of our Western economic theorists isn't too heavy, actually a rewarding "serious" pick for the summer. I also suggest for any and many summers, M. Kundera's "Unbearable Lightness of Being" and E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web". For myself, still trying to get through some Bertolt Brecht, which is genius I'm sure... but I'll let you know in possibly several more months.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

John and Ken - I really love your show. Can you p

John and Ken - I really love your show. Can you post a list of the books you mentioned during the show? Thanks.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

The Song Itself, by Y. Cuartz, is an odd book (pse

The Song Itself, by Y. Cuartz, is an odd book (pseudo-memoir) with lots of philosophical (e.g., E.M. Cioran, Plato, Hegel) and mythical (Greek, early Christian) references that is worth checking out. It has a protagonist/narrator whose name and gender are never identified, refuses to tell the reader what is going on, and is pretty pusillanimous. It's basically a murder mystery/love story. The book is Interesting, a bit over the top, awkward, but fun. It has info about some strange gnostic cults as well as a lot on lutherie. It even has a cat golem! Not quite like anything else I've read. It is worth a look.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, May 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I just read "You Are Not a Gadget," by Jaron Lanie

I just read "You Are Not a Gadget," by Jaron Lanier. It's a great philosophical exploration of the technology and gadgetry that pervades our daily life and argument for asserting our humanity in the face of all of it.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, May 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I am almost done reading The Brothers Karamazov

I am almost done reading The Brothers Karamazov for the first time and have just been blown away with how good it is. I wish I had a friend who had read it because I would love to talk about it, especially the famed Grand Inquisitor sequence.

 
 
 

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