Monday, November 16, 2020

Reading in Fall 2020

Despite a pretty busy and different semester, I managed to read a decent bit. Some of this is because of our neighborhood book club and some is from an emerging habit of reading a bit before bed.

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Kwame Anthony Appiah - Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) (Philosophy). Author in philosophy professor at NYU. Mother is English; father from Ghana. Tolerance and plurality. “Citizens of the World.” 

Compassion (&) Conviction - Chris Butler, Justin Giboney, and Michael Wear (2020) (Religion, Politics). Advocates for Christian engagement with politics that transcends party. 

Gooseberries - Anton Chekhov (1898) (Fiction, Short Story).  “Think of the people who go to the market for food: during the day they eat; at night they sleep, talk nonsense, marry, grow old, piously follow their dead to the cemetery; one never sees or hears those who suffer, and all the horror of life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is quiet, peaceful, and against it all there is only the silent protest of statistics; so many go mad, so many gallons are drunk, so many children die of starvation. . . . And such a state of things is obviously what we want; apparently a happy man only feels so because the unhappy bear their burden in silence, but for which happiness would be impossible. It is a general hypnosis. Every happy man should have some one with a little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws, and some misfortune will befall him ­­illness, poverty, loss, and then no one will see or hear him, just as he now neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer, and the happy go on living, just a little fluttered with the petty cares of every day, like an aspen ­tree in the wind ­­and everything is all right.” Some thoughts on this story and conceptions of happiness by George Saunders. (Both recommended to me by my youngest sister.)

Your Money Made Simple - Russ Crosson (Finance) (2019). Financial planning from a Christian perspective. “Spend less than you make and do it for a long time” -- reminds me of the classic Steve Martin skit “Don’t Buy Stuff”. Liked the formula to work backwards to minimum income needs. ((Living Expenses+Debt)/(1-(Giving %+Effective Tax Rate)). Budgeting non-monthly expenses has always been tough for us, but there are some nice rules of thumb here, like 1.5-2% of home value per year for home repair and maintenance. The suggestion to make gifts is one I want to take up (though I need to develop talent first!). Challenges the retirement savings first mentality and emphasis on giving. 

Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse (Novel) (1992). Journey to find true self. Metaphor of the river. Learn from vastly different circumstances. Poverty and wealth. Another of our book club books.

Living an Examined Life - James Hollis (Psychology/Self-Help) (2018). Weak book. Read for our book club; we alternate choosing books. My objections include: (1) his condescending tone throughout (“all thoughtful people think….”), (2) the odd genre of the book (it was a flawed mix of self-help and academic psychology. Hollis somehow managed to get the weaknesses of both forms without the strengths); (3) his stereotypes of religion (Christians as either fundamentalists or prosperity gospel peddlers. In reality, there are huge groups that are neither); (4) his incomplete suggestions (confronting your interior self is a fine thing to do, but to what end?); (5) his lack of discussion of community as important (the focus was on the individual and discovering who you are; seemed narcissistic).

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy (Novel) (1992). Coming of age story. Beautifully rendered. 

1984 - George Orwell (Novel) (1949). Dystopia. Big Brother is watching. Re-read for book club.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation - Parker Palmer (2000) (Psychology/Self-Help). Hits similar notes to Dr. Hollis above, but Palmer displays endearing humility. Also for book club. 

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets - Michael Sandel (Moral Philosophy) (2012). Can’t buy friendship, love, virtue, rights. Markets actually degrade these things. 

One World: The Ethics of Globalization - Peter Singer (Moral Philosophy) (2002). Moral considerations and obligations in a shrinking world. Spends significant time of climate change, foreign aid, trade, and human rights. 

The Life You Can Save - Peter Singer (Moral Philosophy) (2009). Available for free at the link. “Most of us are absolutely certain that we wouldn’t hesitate to save a drowning child, and that we would do it at considerable cost to ourselves. Yet while thousands of children die each day, we spend money on things we take for granted and would hardly notice if they were not there.” (12)  Reflection here. Survive v. thrive. The Death of Ivan Ilyich -

Leo Tolstoy (Short Story) (1886). A reflection on dying, and its implications for life. Materialism and self-centeredness. Emptiness in de-prioritizing selfless relationships.

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