My book club recently chose to read The Tao of Pooh, an older classic by Benjamin Hoff that uses the characters of Winnie the Pooh to explain the principles of Taoism to Westerners.
This choice got me thinking about all the popular books about philosophy that summarize the great wisdom of the ages with easy-to-understand analogies.
It turns out a discussion of philosophy can literally be paired with anything.
In a newer, reader-recommended book, At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell, a school of thought which encourages people to take responsibility for their lives, is paired with apricot cocktails.
Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith is a similar, but less successful, foray into philosophy illustrated by a journey through an ordinary day.
I prefer a book that explains the major schools of philosophy entirely through jokes: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein.
Of course, there’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values by Robert Pirsig. A motorcycle trip with his son is punctuated with philosophical discussions.
A look at philosophy through punk rock is also a classic: Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye by Brad Warner.
If you’re looking for something even lighter, the Netflix series The Good Place is a clever comedy that pairs Ted Danson and big philosophical questions.
The podcast, Philosophy Bites, is a highly-recommended British series of short conversations with today’s leading minds of philosophy. It’s a bit more serious, but very digestible.
The ways to dive into philosophy are almost endless. Including, of course, digging into the original works by a vast array of philosophers.
And what better time, with the new year approaching, to pick up a book that might help us examine our lives, search for meaning, or look for ways to better ourselves.
Whatever you choose to read, you’ll undoubtedly come across a wide range of ideas. I’ll focus on those schools of thought that come with a good justification for just being this holiday, with no need to do more than feast and relax with family.
Heather Allen is a book reviewer and writer living in Penticton.