World-Building

I started gradually rejoining the online world in 2016, after about two years away. I’d spent the six years before that being an unbearable Pollyanna, trying to get everyone to have interactions where we could find common ground and have Meaningful Discussions and for shit’s sake stop calling each other evil. I’d exhausted myself by…

On the Process of Coming to Consciousness

This is a paper I wrote for a course called Writing for Social Change in 2019, then presented at the Utah Valley University Conference on Writing for Social Change in March 2020. It’s 6:00 in the morning and still dark outside. The tiny white chair I’m sitting in feels like I’m perching on a wood…

Educated, by Tara Westover

Five stars, read in April 2019. There was a lot about this that was depressingly familiar to me. I grew up in the same religion as Tara, though her family believed in it much more literally than mine did. Relatedly, her childhood was more violent than mine was; my version of the story is mostly…

Imagine

We think of ourselves as civilization accomplished, but I’ve come to believe that we’re not even close to civilized yet—rather, we’re just barely out of our infancy as a species. Civilization means “an advanced stage of social development and organization,” and while the present is nearly always more advanced than the past, “more advanced” is…

Will Everyone Complaining About “Identity Politics” Please Shut Up

I don’t understand how white intellectuals are so dense on the subject of “identity politics.” Sam Harris was the first to frustrate me (he’s done it again recently), and a little while ago I read this whole piece at Brain Pickings on the tragedy of “imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities,…

We shall have to be philosophers, Mary

Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable—bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. You might…

Amazing Peace, by Maya Angelou

One star, read in December 2013. Of course this was gorgeous, and in general, I love Maya Angelou’s . . . everything. But I didn’t love this book’s illustrations, and frankly, if the poem weren’t written by Maya Angelou I would give it negative stars. Because as nice an idea as this “amazing peace” is,…

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

Four stars, read in July 2017. The most consistent theme of my experience reading this book was oh my god, if she said this ten years ago, what would she say now? I have minor differences with Jacoby, but her premise is clearly, demonstrably correct: in whatever our current age is called, almost nothing in…

Books for People Who Wonder Why Everything Is So Fucked Up

Because that’s what I’ve been reading for several years now, but this year, it’s almost all I can read. Rather than explain in advance, because I am on the verge of developing carpal tunnel after a week and a half spent cataloging Vietnamese books for the library, I will just put this random collection here—if you’re wondering…

My Goodbye Post to Facebook

I’m reading a lot to try and figure out why the world is the way it is. I can’t say it makes me feel much better, but it does help—if you can’t fix what’s wrong, at least being able to name it allows you to stay sane. The last book I finished was The Age…

How to Fake a Moon Landing, by Darryl Cunningham

Four stars, read in March 2017. Three and a half stars, maybe, but I don’t mind rounding up to balance out all the reviews that hate it way more than I think is warranted. (Though I do wonder, since this is yet another instance of books titled “how to __” which do not in any…

Some stupid religious pseudo-philosophy I read today

While cataloging a cart of religious fiction: “If you use an axe with a dull edge, the energy you expend and the power you apply will be spread out and dissipated over a dull edge. The axe becomes inefficient and ineffective. You need to put in more time, energy, or force to accomplish the same…

Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell

Seven hundred stars. Read in January 2016. Just kidding: It’s only five. I’ve just never read a book that I agreed with so closely. This is what my book looks like now that I’ve finished: And probably half of those blades of grass represent two or more sections on the same page spread. I think I’ve…

The Varieties of Scientific Experience, by Carl Sagan

Three and a half stars, read from December 2016 to January 2017. This was an interesting book to be my first by Carl Sagan, because it’s actually transcripts of lectures, including some Q&A with the audience. So it’s more intimate, in a way, because you can hear him speaking; it’s very coherent, obviously, but just…

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins

Four stars, read in August 2016. This was exactly what I was hoping it would be. I started calling myself an atheist a few years ago, but I hadn’t yet read any of the oeuvre, though I’ve been vaguely meaning to. This ended up being a good first choice, since Dawkins wrote it with the explicit…

Skeptic, by Michael Shermer

Three and a half stars. Read in October 2016. An excellent collection of essays from Shermer’s Scientific American column. I especially liked Turn Me On, Dead Man, which I think is just a really good summary of why skepticism is necessary. What we have here is a signal/noise problem. Humans evolved brains that are pattern-recognition…

The Garden of Earthly Delights

I saw this quiz posted on Facebook the other day and was surprised by how much it amused me. I’d been in a fairly bad mood for most of the evening, one of those times when I don’t really know why I’m in a bad mood, I just am—usually something that I’ll recognize only later as…

Paddle Your Own Canoe, by Nick Offerman

Three and a half stars, read in November 2015. This is really enjoyable and I love Nick Offerman, but I’m a bit more than halfway through and have thirteen different books going at once and it’s getting hectic so I need to give it up for now. I fully intend to finish this at some…