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These are a few of my favorite…novels 2020

Before the winter holidays I was asked by several students for reading recommendations. I tried to think about recent books that (a) I enjoyed and (b) I would have especially enjoyed when I was in college. I can’t say these are my favorite novels of all time, but they’re pretty good (for the time being). I’m going to add another list of book that are end of the world / pandemic related. These books should be more of an escape from our current circumstances. So here are some novels to feed your soul while you study:

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For The Time Being

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING: When I asked folks for their advice for this list, I was so thrilled to learn I wasn’t the only one who loved this book. I’ve enjoyed Ozeki’s other books as well (especially My Year of Meats), but this one has a special place in my heart. The plot device of the book is pretty silly – I’ll admit – but it works. The tale follows two ‘time beings’ (people) – separated by a continent and time. One is a teenage girl in Japan, and another in a middle-aged writer in British Columbia. The writer stumbles upon a literal time capsule that washed up on her beach (thus the silly plot device); the capsule includes the teen’s diary. What follows is the story of three women: the writer, the teen girl, and the girl’s Zen Buddhist Grandmother (who the teen turns to for guidance). <Warning: discussions of suicide>

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other

this is not about feeling something or about speaking words
this is about being

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER: I’m not alone in loving this book. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2019 (which is a pretty big deal). The book follows twelve different people (girls, women, and others) focusing on the Black British experience. I was invested in some of their stories more than others (Amma!) but I read this in almost one sitting. Each person’s story is told in different prose. It is not a difficult book, but raises difficult themes. <Warning: some sexual violence>

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal!

THE SECRET HISTORY: Another professor reminded me of this book – how fantastic it would have been to read as a college student! Donna Tartt is best known for The Goldfinch (don’t judge a book by its movie – The Goldfinch was such a terrible movie). The Goldfinch (the book) was good – but The Secret History is better. When I searched for an (albeit bad) image of this book the search tag that appeared was “dark academia books.” It’s dark. It’s a mystery. It’s about Classics students who love their professor a little too much – and take it a bit too far. So fun – I think you’ll enjoy! <Warning: violence>

Madeline Miller, Circe

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

CIRCE: You don’t have to know anything about Greek myths, or have read (or liked) Homer’s Odyssey to love this book. To be reductive, the book is a retelling of Odysseus’ time spent with Circe (daughter of a god) on a remote island on his way back from the Trojan War. Many of us who remember our mythology know how the story will turn out, but have never heard it from Circe’s perspective. Like most good books, this one speaks to universal themes- loneliness, power, loss, romance and betrayal. Men – if you can’t live with them, might as well turn them all into swine.

I’m happy to give you more personalized recommendations – you only have to ask! And if you do end up reading any of these recommendations, please let me know what you thought! (escarbro at

Top 5 (Top 5 Documentaries)

First I want to say that the name of this post is a reference (homage?) to an underrated Chris Rock movie, Top 5.

But today I wanted to talk about “Top 5” lists. Recently I wrote two Top 5 lists for Aesthetics For Birds: my top five movies of the past ten years and top five novels of the past ten years. Aesthetics For Birds did a series of top five lists for movies, writing, art, TV shows, games, music, and a really fun top ten anything list

Well, my movie list (with brief justificatory summary) was overwhelmingly non-English speaking and male. On the foreign language heavy focus of my list: I’m with Bong Joon Ho whose Golden Globe speech implored folks to get beyond the “1-inch tall barrier of subtitles.” Your world literally opens up if you watch world cinema. However, I do feel uncomfortable with the maleness of the list I presented. 

When I think of some of my favorite documentaries of the past ten years, my list is overwhelmingly English-language but not that more gender-balanced. So I urge you to read everyone’s lists over at Aesthetics for Birds, and I’d like to add a list of five favorite documentaries of the past ten years below (in no particular order): 

  1. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010)
  2. I am not your negro (Peck, 2016)
  3. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy? 2010)
  4. Faces Places (Varda and J.R., 2017)
  5. Shirkers (Tan, 2018) 

I’m not including The Act of Killing on this list, since it made my overall best of the last ten year list (but The Act of Killing is a favorite documentary of mine). And I’m not even sure if these are the documentaries I think are *the best* but they are the ones I’ve enjoyed watching the most. 

Some honorable mentions: Finding Vivian Maier, Leviathan, Kedi, and The Black Power Mixtape. 

Philosophy Podcasts

One of the joys of a long commute (ha!) is the opportunity to listen to Podcasts. To be perfectly honest, lately I’ve been listening to “David Tennant Does a Podcast With….” but I thought I’d put together a list of philosophical podcasts for students.

Here is a list of 100 podcasts collected by Daily Nous (Updated July 2021):

In what follows is a non-exhaustive list of some of my favorites and some recommendations from other philosophers:

UNMUTEA Podcast where philosophy and real-world issues collide.
Hosted by Myisha Cherry, the podcast focuses on diverse philosophers. “It is called UnMute because we want to give a platform to people and topics that have been silenced.” I really liked Episode 037 with Dr. Michele Moody-Adams discussing monuments and memorials, but UnMute has loads of great topics.

This is one of the more popular philosophy podcasts – with over 400 ‘bites.’ There is also an ‘Aesthetics Bites’ version. Nigel Warburton interviews well-known philosophers on a wide variety of topics. Try a bite from May 30, 2017: Aaron Meskin on The Definition of Art.

NO NARROW THING– “The podcast that gets philosophical about everything.
For full disclosure, I went to grad school with one of the hosts, Dustyn Addington. The podcast is fun and thoughtful. I’d recommend #30: “Microaggressions and Trans Identity with Sam Sumpter.”

HI-PHI NATION (SLATE) – “A show about philosophy that turns stories into ideas.
Another very popular podcast produced by SLATE. It is very well produced and probably sounds a bit more like what you think a podcast would sound like.

PARTIALLY EXAMINED LIFE – “A philosophy podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living …
Another popular podcast, airing episodes for over ten years. There are episodes dedicated to discussing the work of particular philosophers. For example, Episode 16 was on Danto’s work (and I guess the hosts joked that Danto would never listen to it- but he did and he liked it!).

PHILOSOPHY TALK (NPR) – “The program that questions everything…except your intelligence.
Technically a show on NPR, you can listen to the old shows online as if it were a podcasts. This was the first all philosophy show I was every aware of (and hosted by pretty famous professional philosophers).

And here are some recommendations from friends:

VERY BAD WIZARDS – “A philosopher and a psychologist ponder human morality

NEW BOOKS IN PHILOSOPHY A podcast from the New Books Network – you can search through books based on subject (which is a nice feature).

ELUCIDATIONS – A University of Chicago Podcast

HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY (without any gaps)

CONVERSATIONS WITH DIOTIMA: History of Women Philosophers and Scientists While not techically a podcast, you can click on episodes which will bring you to YouTube.

BBC4 Radio’s “IN OUR TIME” has programing on philosophical themes. This one is on Aristotle’s Biology.

CONTRAPOINTS – Again while not technically a podcast, a YouTube series with some philosophical themes (fun, some explicit language).

Fall 2018 Pop-Culture Philosophy Roundup

Philosophy in pop culture! Fall 2018 Pop-Culture Roundup:


Have other suggestions? Email me at!