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Today is Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 10:10 PM.


  • An Artist of the Floating World, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Remains of the Day and The Inconsolable (Vintage International). This elegant novel raises a number of provocative questions including aspects of identity, the role of the artist in society, and problems of cultures undergoing rapid change.
  • Multiculturalism, a collection of essays by Charles Taylor, Juergen Habermas, K. Anthony Appiah, and others, edited by Amy Gutmann (Princeton University Press). Although many students were disappointed that this examination of multiculturalism was not grounded in typical undergraduate issues, most sections nevertheless had very useful discussions.
  • Cities on a Hill, a collection of reprints of New Yorker studies by Frances Fitzgerald, author of Fire in the Lake (Touchstone: Simon & Schuster). The two main essays illuminated gay issues and the Oregon Rajneeshi phenomenon of the 1980s; also included in the book are essays on Sun City, a retirement community in Florida, and on Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist Church. All essays are considerations of groups that are "starting over."
  • The Way We Never Were--American Families and the Nostalgia Trip by Stephanie Coontz (Basic Books: HarperCollins). This volume, of which we read six chapters, examines the notion of traditional family values and undertakes "to expose many of our 'memories' of traditional family life as myths." The statistically sophisticated were a bit upset with uses of statistics in the book, but again, the discussions were valuable.
  • Nature's Imagination, edited by John Cornwell, with an introduction by Freeman Dyson (Oxford University Press). This collection of essays by Dyson and by Roger Penrose, Paul and Patricia Churchland, Oliver Sacks, and others grew out of a 1992 conference on the "continued primacy of reductionism." Students found many of these essays difficult, but the exposure to varied perspectives on reductionism informed later readings in important ways.
  • Arcadia, an astonishing play by Tom Stoppard (Faber and Faber). Response to this play is almost uniformly enthusiastic. I think all sections independently decided to read portions aloud as part of their discussion, and one group reassembled in the spring in order to attend a Portland performance together. This wide-ranging, intelligent, engaging play should be read before seeing a production, and the opportunity to see a production should be seized.
  • The Business of Fancydancing, Sherman Alexie's poems and short pieces (Hanging Loose Press), paired with White Pine, a strong collection of poems by Mary Oliver (Harcourt Brace & Company). This combination proved a bit long for a single week's reading, and the emotional import of the Native American materials overwhelmed many students not accustomed to poetry, so that Mary Oliver's work got shorter shrift than it deserved. The two groups that managed to balance attention to the readings were emphatic that the pairing was extremely effective, however.
  • Labyrinths, brilliant short pieces by Jorge Luis Borges (New Directions). Although these were the least contemporary of the readings, this was hardly obvious to the readers.
  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett (Simon & Schuster). Contemporary controversies about issues such as the mind, memory, genes, evolution, and emergence are well engaged from a number of directions, and this is one of the possible. Dennett is a forceful advocate for his viewpoint.
  • The End of Work by Jeremy Rifkin (G. P. Putnam's Sons). Students were particularly alert to the suggestion that employment in the future may not be in prospect. While Rifkin's proposed solutions to the problem struck most as disappointing, his explication provoked useful discussion.
  • Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg, author of The First Three Minutes (Pantheon). Weinberg's powerful discussion of the role of symmetry in modern physics and his case for the importance of research into the properties of fundamental particles is somewhat obscured by his willingness to digress on matters for which he has no credentials--notably philosophy and religion--and by his passionate advocacy for the superconducting super collider. But if his free-wheeling approach can be granted the courtesy of "suspension of disbelief," there is much to be learned here.