What Are You Reading? Ben Goodwin

I’m the Executive Director of Our House, a comprehensive program for homeless and near-homeless families and individuals. I am from central Arkansas and have lived in Little Rock for most of the last 16 years.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. It’s the fourth novel I’ve read from his Culture series, the “Culture” being a galaxy-spanning, multi-species, post-scarcity society that, left without much else to strive for, occupies itself by gently guiding younger civilizations toward higher planes of development, to varying degrees of success but rarely without complications. The novels are all set in the same universe but otherwise unconnected to each other and are chock full of amazing worlds, mind-bending ideas, unforgettable characters, and profound moral and philosophical conundrums.

What book or other media do you keep coming back to again and again?

I enjoy reading books that transport me out of the everyday world we live in, and for the past few years I keep coming back to “hard sci-fi” novels that portray space-faring humans or alien worlds. My soul is soothed by reminders that all the drama of our lives on this earth are but the blink of an eye in the cosmic time-scale, and that our world is but the smallest pinprick in the vast universe. Sci-fi is also the genre that is consistently the most optimistic about humans’ ability to come together as a society to tackle big challenges, take care of each other, and be thoughtful about how to make our way in the universe. As someone who wants to stay optimistic about these things, I find it therapeutic to connect with the many authors who use the science-fiction genre to explore what’s possible for human society. And, fittingly enough, it is probably one of the most “international” of genres. Apart from Banks, who is Scottish, my favorite sci-fi series of the past few years have been written by the Chinese author Cixin Liu and the Yoruba author Tade Thompson.

What role has reading played in your life?

In college I was struck by the writing of Martha Nussbaum, who describes how reading fiction expands our empathy and moral imagination by giving us the opportunity to live so many more lives, and live them on the “inside” through the interior view of characters that great novelists are able to summon. As my ten-year-old daughter has caught the reading bug and started tearing through novels this past year, I have been amazed to see how it has expanded her thoughtfulness and appreciation of the complexity of life. She has inspired and reminded me that reading a novel is one of the more valuable things you can do with your time.