What's on your Summer Reading list?

09 June 2007

On today's show, we'll be talking about books. The sun is out, the surf is up, and it's time to take to the beach, with a few good philosophical books in hand. We did a similar episode last year and it was fun. So we thought as the summer of 2007 approaches, we'd try it again.

Our guest will be Danielle Marshall from Powell's City of Books in Portland Oregon. You may or may not have noticed that Powell's is now an official sponsor of Philosophy Talk. We're really pleased about this and are looking forward to along and fruitful partnership with Powells.

By the way, if you are in the Portland area, come and check us out week after next. We're going to be doing two events of there. On Wednesday evening, June 20th at 7:30, we'll being doing a live taping of the show at Powell's downtown store. Our guest will be the poet and philosopher Troy Jollimore, whose first book of poetry, Tom Thompson in Purgatory just won the National Book Critics Circle award in poetry. More details about that event are here.

The following evening, we'll be doing our show LIVE from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Thursday evening at 8pm. This will give our Oregon area listeners a chance to interact with us live, rather than getting their usual re-broadcast version of the show. Our two guests for that epsiode will be Tom Cohart and Daniel Klein, authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Humor. Be sure to tune in and call-up, Oregon!

I have to admit to have slightly subversive intentions with regard to OPB. I very much want them to move us to Sunday's at 10am, so we can be live all over Oregon. They aren't likely to do it, but maybe by coming up and doing the show live just once, that can create a bottom-up groundswell of demand for more live episodes of Philosophy Talk.

In any case, do come and check us out at Powell's on Wednesday the 20th and tune in and call up to our live OPB broadcast on Thursday the 21st.

But back to our summer reading list.

Now I have to admit that most of my own summer reading, will not be reading for pure philosophcal pleasure. That's because I really MUST finish a book I've been working on for several years now that is WAY past due and get started on the next one, about which I have been thinking, speaking and teaching but not writing for the past several years. So most of my reading wil be directly related to those two tasks.

Still, I have thoughts both about what I would like to read myself this summer, if I were to be able to for pure philosophical pleasure and about what I might recommend to others to read who were looking for interesting philosophical reads.

Here are few things that I find intriguing. In some cases, I've actually begun the books. In other cases, I merely hope to some day relatively soon.

Two important philosophers, well worth reading, both of whom sometimes wrote for a wider audience, died recently. Richard Rorty and Robert Solomon. Rorty died just Friday morning. Solomon died a few months ago.

Solomon was a guest on Philosophy Talk awhile back talking about happines. We tried to get him on again, to talk about love or the emotions or existentialism. But schedules never clicked. Bob was a lucid and passionate writer. You should read something by him. He wrote many fine books, but one I like a lot is his book, About Love: Reinventing Romance for our Time.

Many regard Rorty as one the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. Though not many analtyic philosophers regard him that way, many non-philosophers do. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Rorty was probably over-appreciated by non-philosophers and underappreciated by many philosophers. If you haven't read Rorty or haven't read him recently, you should pick up one of has many books or collections of essays. I just picked up two of them the other day. A collection he published back in 1999 called Philosophy and Social Hope which is, I think, his first collection of essays aimed at a "popular" audience and a more recent collection called Philosophy as Cultural Politics. This last one was published just this year, and is represented as the 4th volume of his philosophical papers. Perhaps the final thing that Rorty wrote, or really co-wrote , is What's the use of Truth? This very short book, which I haven't looked at yet, seems to be an exchange between the French analytic philosopher Pascal Engel and Rorty.

If you want to read a reasonably accessible book by an outstandingly good philosopher attacking Rorty's views on truth, see Paul Boghossian's book Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism

I've just looked up at the clock. Unfortunately, I really need to run. I've got to get to the studio. I've got lots more suggestions. I'll just type a few quickly without providing a lot of links. I'm about three chapters into The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It's an intriquing idea, and there's lots of insight there. But the style of the book is a little frustrating. Seems like a book that will be much talked about for awhile.

I'm a good way into Barack Obama's Tale's of my Father -- a really fascinating read about the constituting of a self, espeically a racial self. Obama is a very fine writer and a much more thoughtful than your average politician lets himself appear to be. You could read this book and then read Anthony Appiah's The Ethics of Identity and/or Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and you would have had a great exploration of the dynamics of identity constitution from many different angles in many different voices.

Another a-typical politician that has something deeply philosophical to say is Al Gore. I've just picked up his book The Assault on Reason. I'm not that far into it yet. I've just skimmed a couple of chapters. But it seems to be written with passion and courage and clarity at first glance. I read a column of David Brooks criticizing Al Gore as some weird alien creature. But seems to me, we need more people like him in American poltics.

I also started Doug Hofstadter's I am a Strange Loop. This looks like a typical Hofstadter book -- well written and witty, full of insight, but also not likely to satisfy the professional philosopher in me. Of course, that's not quite what he's trying to do with this book about the nature of the self. (Although he does say that he views this book as a "return" to philosophy on his part and he wants it to be convincing to professional philosophers of mind like me. We'll see. I'm only a few chapters into it and I'm reserving judgment.

If you want to read a more philosophically demanding book about the self, read The Situated Self by Jenann Ismael. Brilliant stuff -- it will be harder going than Hofstadter, admittedly, but it will be well worth the effort.

Anyway, I gotta go. Talk to you soon. Between you, Danielle, John and me, I'm sure we can come up with a dynamite summer reading list for the philosophically inclined.

Comments (9)

Guest's picture


Saturday, June 9, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

I recommend Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - pos

I recommend Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - possibly the best sci-fi novel ever written. I'd explain what's philosophical about it, but that would ruin your pleasure in reading it.
To stay in the genre, read Asimov's short story (not the novel by the same name) Nightfall - again, possibly the best sci-fi short story ever written and on a par with The Lottery or The Gift of the Magi.

Guest's picture


Sunday, June 10, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

It was fun to hear about the summer reading. It w

It was fun to hear about the summer reading.
It would be more fun if the summer list (i.e., recommeded books) is published.
Is is possible to get a copy of the list?

Guest's picture


Tuesday, June 12, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Ken, you've summed up my impression of Strange Loo

Ken, you've summed up my impression of Strange Loop pretty well. Hofstadter is much better at walking you through his thoughts on a matter, almost as if it were in real time, than at making a convincing argument. I don't get the sense that he's out to prove one or another view of the self, more that he wants to sit down and talk about it for a while. This suits me fine, but if you're already doing that full time I can see how this book would leave you a little less than thrilled.
For the lay reader - and I imagine there are plenty of us - it might be a good way to start thinking about minds and brains and selves and such things - lots of stuff to get you started thinking there, but not much by way of conclusions. It's also a nice counterpoint to Dennett (Consciousness Explained). The views harmonize, but the methods are almost inversions of each other. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure some people will find it intolerably fluffy and want to chuck it across the room, so please read a bit before you buy it on my recommendation.

Guest's picture


Thursday, June 14, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

I agree that it would be great if you'd publish a

I agree that it would be great if you'd publish a list of the books on the web site that were discussed during the June 10 show. I was intrigued by the book in which a baby was born into an old man's body and the old man's body grew younger as the baby aged.

Guest's picture


Thursday, June 14, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Stephanie-- The book you are intrigued by is The

Stephanie-- The book you are intrigued by is
The Confessions of Max Tivoli. I believe that the entire list of books mentioned will be posted on this site very soon...

Guest's picture


Sunday, June 24, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

A couple of books I am reading now and can recomme

A couple of books I am reading now and can recommend for summer fare are Paul Feyerabend's "Conquest of Abundance," and the novel "My Name Is Red" by Orhan Pamuk.
"Conquest of Abundance" was published posthumously. It includes a number of essays that explore Feyerabend's contention that philosophers, beginning with the ancient Greeks, took the abundance and variety of the world and reduced it to dichotomies and ideas that smooth it into something people can more easily understand but that denies most of what is actually here. It's tough reading for someone (like me) who doesn't have a huge number of philosophy books under her belt, but is fascinating and well worth the effort.
"My Name Is Red" was written by the Nobel Prize winning Turkish author whose trial for anti-government speech was part of the reason the EU put off Turkey's acceptance into the Union. It is a story about Istanbul in the 1500s and Muslim artists who created beautiful illuminated manuscripts. Some of the themes: what happens when we die; the nature of various types of love (father/daughter, mother/son, lovers, master/student); what happens within when a person commits murder; Islam's confusing, contentious relationship with art. It is a very interesting book beautifully written (great translation!) and offers much to think about.

Guest's picture


Saturday, June 30, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Re: Kitty Corcoran's comment, I would like cite th

Re: Kitty Corcoran's comment, I would like cite the following excerpt (from an interview with Pamuk) from The Guardian:
Pamuk, who has always argued for Turkey's entry into the EU, was troubled that "in Europe, conservative people who do not want to see Turkey in Europe tried to abuse my situation. They wanted to show that this country does not deserve Europe, which put me in an awfully awkward situation." (quoted portions belong to Pamuk)

Guest's picture


Monday, July 2, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Thank you Varol, for that information. And whereve

Thank you Varol, for that information. And wherever you weigh in on that issue, My Name Is Red is still a good read.