Books Read: May 2024

May was a great reading month, but I forgot to upload my notes until June was nearly done. This month I read nine books, but one was an unpublished draft of a novel that a friend is writing, so I won’t say more about that, until there is more news to share. The other fiction reads this month could not be more different from each other. Beyond the Light Horizon concludes Ken MacLeod’s most recent politically charged Scotland-based near-future science fiction trilogy. The ending was a bit rushed for my taste, but it was an enjoyable ride along the way.

Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy could not be more different. A gargantuan (736 page) novel, it reads like a stream of consciousness. It is set in the north of Australia, with a cast of indigenous characters making their way in a surreal world falling apart around them. I was enchanted by the rhythm and the texture and the distinctive voice of the words, sentences and paragraphs, while I struggled to hold the whole thing in view. It’s not an easy read, but it is up there with the most memorable novels I’ve read in the last few years.

For nonfiction, I’ve also been attempting to expand my reading horizon with more indigenous and non-Western authors. So, Tim Hollo recommended Vanessa Machado de OIiviera’s Hospicing Modernity: Parting with Harmful Ways of Living, I picked this up and learned a lot from her framing of our modern industrialised capitalist society as dying, and the appropriate response, rather than attempting to shore it up or to preemptively construct some replacement (while our imaginations are captured by our current ways of living), but rather to grieve the losses and provide hospice care as we live in this time of transition.

Two nonfiction books had explicitly theological themes. I enjoyed Christian Wiman’s Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair for its poetic voice and insight into the human condition and the meaning of faith, while John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death was a useful account of a distinctively Orthodox perspective on theology.

Three philosophy books rounded out the month: Reputation (Gloria Origgi), recommended by Alex Douglas, was a fun read on how our evaluations of each other—and our self-regard for how we’ve been so evaluated—drives so much human behaviour. A Terribly Serious Adventure: Philosophy at Oxford 1900–60 (Nikhil Krishnan) was a very helpful (and opinionated) account of what made Philosophy at Oxford the distinctive thing that it became in the heyday of ordinary language philosophy. (There is a lot to say about the outsized role Oxford has played in English-speaking philosophy in the 20th Century, both for good and for ill.)

But the most purely fun read of the month was Nick Riggle’s delightful On Being Awesome: A Unified Theory of How Not to Suck. This was recommended by C. Thi Nguyen in conversation last year when he came through St Andrews, and I finally made time to read it. I cannot describe how jarring (in a good way) it is to read a serious work of moral philosophy which makes careful distinctions of the different ways in which things might be awesome or things might suck, taking as much care to delineate the different ways one might be down (to take up a social opening), whether you are chill, up, or game. (Yes, when you read this, you will find yourself nodding along as you realise that you already have some understanding of the distinctions being drawn.) It was a delight to read paragraphs like this

“Kant’s ethics focuses on our obligations—what we ought to do—given the mere fact that we can ask, “What should I do?” The fact that we can ask this question implies that we can stand back from and consider our impulses and inclinations—we aren’t always animated by pure instinct but by motives that are refined by thought and reflection. We can ask, “Would it suck if I never said hello to my neighbors?” or “That person over there is doing an impressive job. Would it be awesome to tell them that?” (On Being Awesome, Nick Riggle, Chapter 3.)

and to feel the motivational force of the language. Yes, it would suck if I never acknowledged my neighbours, and yes, it is awesome to acknowledge and others’ individuality and their efforts.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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