Law and Conversation

September 26, 2011

Read this: a Banned Book

DailyLit, among many others, reminds me that it’s Banned Books Week here in the US.

Isn’t it paradoxical that the books someone’s periodically kicking up a fuss over and trying to ban, or succeeding in banning, from schools and libraries are frequently classics? Those that aren’t, it seems to me, end up as merely forgettable and forgotten, not influential. In either case, the fussing seems silly to me, as in last year’s case of the brouhaha over Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel, “Speak.”

DailyLit invites readers to post their personal favorite banned book; so far responses include Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher In The Rye, and The Bible. The American Library Association has lists by year here.

Some banned books that have a special place in my own heart, though I don’t see them on the ALA’s or DailyLit’s lists, are comic books, which Frederic Wertham, a German-born psychiatrist who emigrated to the US in the 1920s, campaigned against in the mid-20th century. A recent novelization of that period is Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001. More on Dr. Wertham, including a cartoon of him from an issue of MAD magazine, is here.

I’ll have more on comic books and books about them in my next post. (Redhead, are you still there? Thanks to you, I *finally* read Chabon’s book!) In the meantime, I hope readers will join me in commemorating Banned Books Week by reading a book from the ALA’s lists. DailyLit has “The Scarlet Letter” available for free!

August 22, 2011

Read This: French Leave, by Anna Gavalda

Challenge ButtonSummer is drawing to a close, so if you haven’t yet had the chance for a relaxing vacation or staycation, I hope you can take one. Settling down with a fun, light book is my idea of the perfect getaway–so different from statutes and court opinions!

“French Leave,” by Anna Gavalda, translated by Alison Anderson and published by Europa Editions, recently provided me with a perfect weekend escape. I’ve posted my review of this charming novella on The Europa Challenge Blog.

What are your picks for light weekend or vacation reading?

July 25, 2011

Read This: Watchmen

I recently mentioned that I’d started three books at once, all of which had a common theme of law and law enforcement, and all of which lawyers recommended to me: John Mortimer’s “Rumpole Omnibus #1,” a collection of short stories; Steve Bogira’s nonfiction “Courtroom 302,” and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen,” a graphic novel. (I should note that John Higgins gets well-deserved high billing as colorist along with Moore, the writer, and Gibbons, the illustrator/letterer, on the hardcover edition’s title page.) I still have the first two going, but I’ve now finished the third.

What I’d most like to tell you about “Watchmen” is this: Change whatever your reading plans are and move it to the top of your list.

It’s an amazing, complex, multilayered work. If you’d like to know a bit about it before you begin, read the Wikipedia entry, which is scholarly and thorough. It also contains spoilers, so you might prefer to stop after the “Background and Development” section. Once you’ve finished it, you may, as I did, want to reread portions to pick up what you missed the first time around or put some pieces together. The Watchmen Wiki, as well as the rest of the Wikipedia entry, can help you to make sense of anything you missed.

Published in 1986 and 1987 as a 12-volume serial comic book, “Watchmen” is mostly a graphic novel, but interspersed are meta-fictional straight narratives as well as a comic book story within this comic book story–meta-metafiction. Its structure puts it ahead of its time, not only in 1988 but still today. It fully deserves the high praise it’s garnered from, among others, Time magazine, which named it one of the hundred best English-language novels published since 1923.

Have you read “Watchmen?” What did you think of it?

July 18, 2011

Read This: Maurice Sendak

Bemused by the inclusion of such works as John Updike’s “Rabbit” tetralogy, James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Erica Jong’s “Fear Of Flying” on a list of books that noted contemporary authors urged reading BEFORE the age of 21, I recently posted my own off-the-top-of-my-head recommendations for such a list.

There are so many great books that, in my opinion, everyone should read, preferably while they’re still kids, that, for the sake of manageability, I decided to limit my picks to series books (loosely defined, so that I included the entire body of some writers’ work, most notably Dr. Seuss). I also decided to expand the number of recommendations from three, my usual aim for a manageable blog post, to ten.

Even with limits, it still made for a post that was far longer than usual. And even expanding my usual number of recommendations from three to ten, the minute I finished writing, I thought of several more that really ought to be toward the top of any reading list for the under-21 group, which I then sneaked in at the bottom of my post.

Here’s yet another great series that everyone under 21 should read: Maurice Sendak‘s “Nutshell Library,” composed of “Pierre,” “One Was Johnny,” “Alligators All Around,” and the best known “Chicken Soup With Rice.”

These charming books, which come in a little box that small children can easily hold in their hands, combine the best of storytelling, poetry, and art. Whether you’re under or over 21, if you haven’t read them yet, go pick them up at your local library or bookstore. Check out their musical setting, too, from the Really Rosie TV special, by Carole King. ALL seasons, and all ages, are nice for reading Chicken Soup With Rice!

Sendak’s other books are also marvelous. Many, like the fairy tales collected by Andrew Lang and other great books written for young people by Sherman Alexie and Laurie Halse Anderson, deal with very dark themes, which has resulted in their appearing on the American Library Association’s list of frequently banned books with some regularity.

Please check back with me on Wednesday, when I’ll have three more recommendations for books by or illustrated by Maurice Sendak. If it has Sendak’s name in the credits, you just can’t go wrong!

July 4, 2011

Read This: Europa Editions

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be contributing to The Europa Challenge Blog, the brainchild of Liberty and Marie, whom I follow on Twitter.

The blog’s idea is that those of us who love books published by Europa Editions, a publisher based in New York, will accept a challenge to read a certain number of Europa books between now and the end of the year and write reviews of them. Europa publishes mostly books by European authors in translation, but also publishes a number of books originally written in English, some books from Asian and African writers, and even a few from North America, if I’m not mistaken.

Liberty and Marie have come up with several suggested levels of participation, starting at the Europa Ami level, a commitment to read four Europa books between now and the end of 2011, and culminating with the Europa Amante level, in which you commit to read 2 Europa Editions books per month, for a total of 14 by the end of the year. At any level, you can qualify as a Connoisseur, an Expatriate, or a Passport Holder, by accepting the Perpetual Challenge to read all of Europa’s books, choosing books from a single country or original language, or choosing books from different countries or original languages, respectively.  The Europa Ami level is quite enough of a challenge for me, I think–I have a pretty busy life, and a reading list whose unmanageability does nothing but increase. Neither Liberty nor Marie is affiliated with Europa Editions (nor, for that matter, am I) , and the only remuneration from participating in the challenge is the fun of it and our own personal satisfaction.

I’ve introduced myself to Challenge blog readers and will be cross-posting the reviews I write there on this blog. Since I’ve already posted here on Jane Gardam’s books, which are published by Europa, I’ll be referencing and recycling some of those posts. I’m looking forward not only to writing my own posts but also reading posts of the other fine bloggers who are participating in this challenge. What great company to join!

Please surf on over to the Europa Challenge Blog to check it out. If you’re interested, do join me in signing up for the challenge!

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