New Releases

New Releases | July 25, 2023

July 25, 2023

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Excellent new books are brought into the world every single week. Here at Porchlight, we track them all and elevate four new releases we are excited about as they hit bookstore shelves on Tuesday morning.

The books are chosen by Porchlight's Managing Director, Sally Haldorson, and the marketing team: Dylan Schleicher, Gabbi Cisneros, and Jasmine Gonzalez. (Book descriptions are provided by the publisher unless otherwise noted.) This week, our choices are:

Dylan’s pick: Arguing for a Better World: How Philosophy Can Help Us Fight for Social Justice by Arianne Shahvisi, Penguin Press 

We’ve all wrestled with questions like these, whether we’re shouting at a relative across the dinner table, quarreling with old classmates on social media, or chatting late into the night with friends. Many people give kneejerk answers that roughly align with their broader belief system, but flounder when asked for their reasoning, leading to a conversational stalemate—especially when faced with a political, generational, or cultural divide. 
 
The truth is that our answers to these questions almost always rely on unexamined assumptions. In Arguing for a Better World, philosopher Arianne Shahvisi shows us how to work through thorny moral questions by examining their parts in broad daylight, equipping us to not only identify our own positions but to defend them as well. This book demonstrates the relevance of philosophy to our everyday lives, and offers some clear-eyed tools to those who want to learn how to better fight for justice and liberation for all. 

 

Sally’s pick: The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight by Andrew Leland, Penguin Press 

We meet Andrew Leland as he’s suspended in the liminal state of the soon-to-be blind: he’s midway through his life with retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that ushers those who live with it from sightedness to blindness over years, even decades. He grew up with full vision, but starting in his teenage years, his sight began to degrade from the outside in, such that he now sees the world as if through a narrow tube. Soon—but without knowing exactly when—he will likely have no vision left. 
 
Full of apprehension but also dogged curiosity, Leland embarks on a sweeping exploration of the state of being that awaits him: not only the physical experience of blindness but also its language, politics, and customs. He negotiates his changing relationships with his wife and son, and with his own sense of self, as he moves from his mainstream, “typical” life to one with a disability. Part memoir, part historical and cultural investigation, The Country of the Blind represents Leland’s determination not to merely survive this transition but to grow from it—to seek out and revel in that which makes blindness enlightening. 
 
Thought-provoking and brimming with warmth and humor, The Country of the Blind is a deeply personal and intellectually exhilarating tour of a way of being that most of us have never paused to consider—and from which we have much to learn. 

 

Jasmine’s pick: Pleasure of Thinking: Essays by Wang Xiaobo, Astra House 

A newly translated English collection of Wang Xiaobo’s most influential nonfiction pieces, as well as rare diary entries offering insight into the author’s time studying in the United States. From his personal take on the intellectual failures of China’s Cultural Revolution era to musings about the future of the internet and science fiction cinema, Wang Xiaobo prods his readers, in a gentle, humorous way, to think about what it means to think.  

In between, he questions the social sciences and offers his own understanding of how they should be practiced. Several pieces focus on literature, with notable essays devoted to Italo Calvino, Bertrand Russell, and Ernest Hemingway, whom Wang admired greatly. Other pieces are more personal in nature, ranging from vignettes on life in the United States, to a meditation on getting mugged, to the consideration of the question: why do I write? Like his fiction, Wang’s nonfiction is never about one thing in particular, often juxtaposing and drawing parallels among disparate discourses. But taken together, his essays and fiction all coalesce toward a sort of intellectual optimism that brilliantly anticipates Chinese thought in the 21st century. 

A companion to Golden AgePleasure of Thinking by Wang Xiaobo contains essays, travelogs, book reviews, and more. As well known in China for his essays as for his novellas, Wang’s nonfiction pieces offer a key to understanding his at times enigmatic fiction. His central thesis—the importance of independent and critical thinking—is accessible and thought-provoking to readers of all backgrounds. 

 

Gabbi’s pick: The World Behind the World: Consciousness, Free Will, and the Limits of Science by Erik Hoel, Avid Reader Press 

Throughout history, two perspectives on the world have dueled in our minds: the extrinsic—that of mechanism and physics—and the intrinsic—that of feelings, thoughts, and ideas. The intrinsic perspective allows us to tell stories about our lives, to chart our anger and our lust, to understand our psychologies. The extrinsic allows us to chart the physical world, to build upon it, and to travel across it. These perspectives have never been reconciled; they almost seem to exist on different planes of thought. Only recently, due to the pioneering work of DNA-discoverer Francis Crick, have these two perspectives been conjoined. 
 
This attempt to reconcile these perspectives is the science of consciousness, and posits that the intrinsic aspect of the world, how and what we perceive, can coexist in the extrinsic part of the world, in the realm of physics. The World Behind the World is a grand tour of the state of this science, an exploration of the point where tectonic metaphysical forces meet, often in paradoxical conclusions. 
 
Forbes 30 Under 30 scientist Dr. Erik Hoel lays out the evidence that nothing in the brain makes sense except in the light of a theory of consciousness. Some topics he examines include what the similarities are between our brains and black holes; where consciousness fits into physics and morality; and why it may be impossible for AI to ever become conscious, despite popular belief. The World Behind the World argues that establishing a proven theory of consciousness would trigger a paradigm shift in the field of neuroscience and the future of technology—transforming the very fabric of our society. 
 
What does the science of consciousness tell us about what happens beyond brain death? Does our understanding of consciousness strengthen or weaken the case for free will? Is science itself incomplete in the way Gödel showed mathematics is? By taking us through the heated debates of the field and drawing on Hoel’s own original research to shed light on the latest theories about how the brain creates consciousness, The World Behind the World shows us that at long last, science is coming to understand the fundamental mystery of human existence. 

 

WHAT WE'VE BEEN READING AT HOME

"Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner. Tremendous and modern update on Kafka's concept for The Trial, complete with a hyper-local experimental theater troupe and time traveling spaceship, and priceless humorous commentary on the movements against non-cis peoples."

—Michael Jantz, Custom Projects Director

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