When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m a philosopher. I don’t have an ‘elevator pitch’ because it seems so strange to attempt to summarize my essence in 20 seconds to people I barely know.
The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel and American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag. I’m interviewing John and Esther for the LA Review of Books. Also, I’m reading The Amorist, which is a new flirty magazine about love and passion. I heard they were going to publish a regular ‘Naked Philosopher’ column, but I haven’t seen that yet.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. When I was about 8, I had a Magic Faraway Tree dress-up birthday party. While I desperately wanted to be Silky the fairy, my parents thought that every girl was going to come as Silky and, as usual, encouraged me to be an individual. I can’t remember exactly how I ended up as Dame Washalot – the grumpy character who spends all her doing laundry and throwing dirty water around – but I certainly looked like an individual at that party.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
When did you fall in love with philosophy?
I studied a year of philosophy in my undergraduate degree, but I didn’t really fall in love with it until my MBA at Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia. There are fantastic philosophers on faculty there. In my first semester, Ann-Maree Moodie gave a lecture on Simone de Beauvoir and freedom in the workplace. After class, she recommended The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir and I was hooked. About the same time, I discovered Jean-Paul Sartre in ‘Foundations of Management Thought’ – a philosophy-based class with Robert Spillane, and later in ‘Existentialism and Entrepreneurship’ with Steven Segal. Robert and Steven became my PhD supervisors.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
When I was 21, I worked in a Wall Street boiler room, cold calling retail equity investors. I lasted a whole three days before realizing that it was not the right job for me.
What advice would you give a novice, looking for an introduction to philosophy?
The Stranger by Albert Camus and Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre are excellent forays into philosophy. For a broader view, I’d highly recommend A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton and the always fascinating Philosophy Bites podcast. The BBC has a wonderful History of Ideas series, and TED-Ed has published a few very cool short philosophy animations, such as Massimo Pigliucci’s on Stoicism, Bryan van Norden’s on Confucius, and mine on love.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I read a lot of philosophy for work-related activities, most of which I love, but I’d also like to read more fiction, poetry, and books in which I can lose myself and not have to think about questions or criticisms or commentaries.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. It’s about a couple who discover how to slow the ageing process to create virtual immortality and travel from ancient Bohemia to Paris’s Orly airport at 9pm tonight. The book is an orgy of adjectives and philosophically flirtatious. I’ve read it a couple of times because it reminds me of what’s beautiful and intoxicating about love and life. And it contains one of my favorite quotes of all time: “It is better to be small, colorful, sexy, careless, and peaceful, like the flowers, than large, conservative, repressed, fearful, and aggressive, like the thunder lizards; a lesson, by the way, that the Earth has yet to learn.”
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
My recommendations change regularly, but recently I have been suggesting the beautifully readable At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell and How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci.
Who would you say are the three philosophers that continue to inspire you?
Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
I. Can’t. Even.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
No, although I’ve read almost everything Simone de Beauvoir wrote. (I can’t remember it all, though!)
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I really hope not. There’s something delicious about the tangibility of real books. I like to possess them, to make them mine, and scribble thoughts and notes and stars and circles through them.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
How to care about one another and the earth – and to convince others to as well. There’s too much uncaring, hate, and ignorance in the world.
My own book, Existentialism and Romantic Love. I’ve never thought so hard and so long about anything. It took over six years to write (including my PhD) and raised many more questions for me than answers – as philosophy always does.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco for adventure and mystery. Edna St. Vincent Millay because we could always do with more poetry in our lives. And The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir for why feminism and authenticity matters – for all of us.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
There are two books coming out soon that I am super excited about: I am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux and Hiking With Nietzsche: Becoming Who You Are by John Kaag. I’m also looking forward to hearing more of Gracie Bialecki’s poetry.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I don’t think I would write an autobiography.