The Meaning of Life at The Pool: 4 fun, philosophical books

philosophical beach reads

Summer reading is usually light and breezy. No one wants to think too deeply while lounging pool-side. But I have a few book recommendations that let you ponder life’s meaning in an engaging, easy-to-read style.  Two memoirs plus two novels equals four books that will let you bring philosophy to the pool party. Don’t forget your sunscreen.

The Memoirs:

Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich: 

Barbara Ehrenreich has been an outspoken atheist throughout her journalism career. In Living With a Wild God, she recounts her life’s quest for the meaning after a distinctly “spiritual” experience in her teen years. This book is not a conversion story, but an interesting inquiry into religious experience that asks the kinds of questions any seeker should ask. Ehrenreich’s quest is part coming-of-age memoir and part a kind of spiritual mystery story. The narrative and writing style pulled me in and made me want to know more about her religious experience.  Living With a Wild God is the kind of spiritual conversation you might wish you could have with your friends over coffee. Reading this book could be the perfect beginning to that conversation.

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle

I read this L’Engle classic in bits and pieces throughout last summer and I loved it. In this memoir, L’Engle explores life, faith, the creative process, and everything in between through conversational reflections on her own experiences. L’Engle manages to be both down-to-earth and over-your-head at the same time, which makes for a highly readable learning experience. At the end of the book, I felt refreshed and inspired, as though I had been out on a nature walk. 

The novels:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

If all you’ve seen is the film trailer for the movie based on this book, then you may think this novel is only about adventure and survival on the ocean with a tiger. Certainly those elements are present, and the survival and adventure is what makes this such a perfect summer read. But what makes it a perfect philosophical read is its reflections on truth and faith. In some places, this novel functions as a comparative religions survey course; other times, it’s a great introduction to epistemology. But you don’t need to know any “-ologies” to enjoy this journey.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane

I picked this book up last summer, but didn’t read it until this one. I was immediately sorry that I had waited so long! The short story is this: unemployed graphic designer Clay Jannon takes a job at a bookstore, only to find a deep mystery hidden in the stacks. With the help of his quirky, talented friends, he sets out on a quest to solve that mystery and discovers some important truths about life, friendship, and creative work. This book is perfect for nerds of both the book and tech variety. It’s also perfect if you love a good mystery, great characters, and tales of friendship. 

So there you have it: Four books that make pondering life’s deeper meaning a task compatible with pool-side lounging. What books would you add to that category?

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