Professor Leads Talk on “What Really Matters”

On the evening of Oct. 29, Professor Glenn Simshaw and ten Scripps students gathered in the Toll living room for a cozy chat about a book. No grades would be based on the discussion, no papers were assigned and no exams loomed in the future. Instead, everyone nestled into the armchair of their choice for the first meeting of the SAS book club. It was a refreshing break from the pressures of school and a reminder that we read books for enjoyment and to expand our minds, not just to pass a quiz. In the words of book club attendee Alexandra Pincus (’12), “This is what college should always be like.” For this first meeting, Professor Simshaw chose an engaging and easy-to-read book by Arthur Kleinman called “What Really Matters; Living a Moral Life Amidst Uncertainty and Danger.” The title suggests either a bleak didactic tome or a cheerful self-help book, but Kleinman offers a much more nuanced view on questions of ethics and morality. After a long career in medical anthropology and psychiatry, Kleinman has much to say about “what really matters.” His book explores this question of meaning through the stories of acquaintances and patients, all of whom faced some kind of moral dilemma or crises over the course of their lives.

Kleinman explores situations ranging from the Cultural Revolution of China to the Second World War, from adultery to anthropology, and the book club’s discussion was similarly wandering. There was debate about the moral of the biblical story of the prodigal son, discussion of the fundamental meaning of the word “celebrity,” quotation of both Shakespeare and Harry Potter and some unfortunate puns. Everyone seemed to have something to add, and Professor Simshaw guided the discussion with an admirably light touch.

At the end of this first meeting, people’s opinions of SAS’s new endeavor seemed overwhelmingly positive. Though it was a scramble for some to fit yet another book into their already busy schedules, the discussion that stemmed from it rewarded the effort. I encourage people to sign up for next month’s meeting, which promises to be equally enjoyable. After all, it’s an excuse to read a good book and talk about it with our friends and colleagues—what’s not to like?