Law and Conversation

August 30, 2010

Read This!

Mondays are Read This! days on which I write about books that I really, really want everyone in the world to read.  With so many great books in the world, I can’t imagine ever running out of material!

Today’s recommendation is a classic:  Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.”  I first read it as a 4th grader and loved the passionate story, told so well in a young woman’s voice.  Since then, I’ve reread it many times and branched out to read the rest of the Bronte sisters’ writings.  It’s now been many years since my last rereading of “Jane Eyre,” so I think it’s time to move it up on my list. 

I’m always interested to find out how I feel as an adult about a book that I loved as a child or teenager.  Generally, as in the case of Beverly Cleary’s and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, I find them every bit as good as, if not even better than, I did forty years ago.  I have no doubt that “Jane Eyre” will stand the test of time for me as it has for the rest of the world.

Many well-told stories that are classics, though, including the “Little House” books (which I passionately love), reflect widely held attitudes and prejudices of their times and places that we now rightly find unacceptable.  And, indeed, parents sometimes have problems with their children’s reading books that challenge their ideas of what’s right and proper.  The May 19, 2010 edition of CBC radio’s Q program had an interesting discussion on what to do with children’s books that reflect racism.  But the participants didn’t address the possibility that some books being published today may reflect attitudes that our great-grandchildren will consider unacceptable 100 or more years from now.  They also didn’t seem to recognize that characters in great stories, like real people, are imperfect and multifaceted.  How is it even possible to have a good story–which we all love, from childhood to old age–without different points of view and conflicts?  A great work of literature might even be told from the point of view of a frankly repellent character–and that might be a big part of what makes it great, as Azar Nafisi explains so well in “Reading Lolita In Tehran.”  Indeed, “Jane Eyre” underwent a firestorm of criticism when it was published:  reviewers called Jane herself  “the personification of the unregenerate and undisciplined spirit” and said she had “detestable morality.”  More than 150 years later, we generally love Jane and identify with her passions and morals!  Thinking about whether and why we like or dislike a story’s characters is part of reading critically, a valuable skill that children can begin learning, with the help of parents and good teachers, while still very young.

The Bronte Blog is a comprehensive resource, updated at least daily, for all things Bronte, all the time.  It recently referenced two fun articles on Jane Eyre.  The first, by Edan Lepucki, trashes Mr. Rochester and also swipes at Charlotte and Emily as “deeply weird.”  The latter criticism, IMO, is quite unjustified, so I was delighted to find that the second article agrees with me on that point.  It also rips up the other arguments of the first in a deliciously snarky fashion.

I have some more thoughts on “Jane Eyre” and other literature and the law of that period regarding women and the mentally ill that I’ll be posting later this week.  In the meantime, what books would you like everyone in the world to read?

August 27, 2010

Thieves, plunderers, and musicians

The Chicago Tribune reports on a happy ending, with the aid of the newspaper’s Problem Solver column, for a violist whose prized instrument was stolen more than ten years ago.  As columnist Jon Yates wrote, Northwestern University law professor Robert Bennett recited blackletter law that a thief cannot convey good title to stolen property.

The old saw, “Possession is nine tenths of ownership,” can trump the law when it comes to repatriation of property stolen decades or centuries ago, as Colin Woodard shows in his article, “The War Over Plunder: Who Owns Art Stolen in War?” from The Quarterly Journal of Military History.  Many treasures are simply of unknown provenance, including many artifacts held by museums:  their origins and creators may be undisputed, but what happened after their creation and the paths they took to get to the museums where they now reside are often murky, if not impossible to ascertain.  One famous example of museum property whose rightful ownership is bitterly disputed is the Elgin Marbles, in the possession of the British Museum since the early 19th century.  You can read more about that controversy here, here, and here.

The stolen viola’s rightful owner spoke movingly in Yates’s article about what her instrument meant to her.  Two other books that illustrate why, to a musician, just any instrument won’t do are Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music” and Perri Knize’s “Grand Obsession.”

August 26, 2010

Thursday thanks!

I’d like to thank cozy mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig, who writes the most excellent Mystery Writing Is Murder blog, for being the very first person to add this blog to her blogroll.  Elizabeth’s new book, “Delicious And Suspicious” (under the pen name of Riley Adams), came out on July 6.  You can read reviews of it as well as her earlier cozy mystery, “Pretty Is As Pretty Dies,” and order them from Amazon, here.  Elizabeth has a knack for taking mundane events in her life, such as going to the grocery store or getting her house ready for the installation of new carpeting, and relating them to the craft of writing.

I’d also like to thank Zimbabwean lawyer and writer Petina Gappah, whose book of short stories, “Elegy for Easterly,” and articles I read and wrote about earlier this summer, for visiting, leaving kind comments, and adding this blog to her blogroll.  Petina is part of a crop of vibrant modern African writers that includes Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and Marguerite Abouet.  She presents a fascinating, three-dimensional picture of contemporary Zimbabwe in her fiction and nonfiction.

I love the Internet for making it so easy to find and connect with people with similar interests from all over the world!

Whom have I missed?  I have some more posts in the works thanking others who have linked to this blog and referenced my work.  If you’ve linked to this site and/or included it on your own blogroll, or otherwise referenced my work, please let me know.

August 23, 2010

Read This!

Mondays are now Read This! days on which I’ll write about books that I really, really want everyone in the world to read.  With so many great books in the world, I can’t imagine ever running out of material!

Spanish writer Carmen Laforet had a huge success at the age of 23 with her first novel, “Nada,” becoming the first winner of the Premio Eugenio Nadal for her book in 1944.  Her chief protagonist, Andrea, leaves her village to go to the big city for university:  Barcelona, as Laforet herself did.  There, she lives with her extended and remarkably dysfunctional family of aunts, uncles, and her demented grandmother.  Professor Estrella Cibreiro of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA has a scholarly analysis of the novel here.

“Nada” is a great, fun read in Spanish and, happily, was translated into English a couple of years ago by Edith Grossman, successor to Gregory Rabassa as the preeminent Spanish-English translator.  Grossman wrote a book on translation, “Why Translation Matters,” after landing and completing an assignment to translate Cervantes’s “Don Quijote” into English.

Laforet is another writer who studied law; she dropped out of law school to write “Nada.”  Though she did write a few other books and short stories, Spanish literati sometimes joke that “after ‘Nada,’ she wrote nada.”

A complete list of the winners of the Premio Eugenio Nadal is here.

What book would you like to tell everyone in the world to read?

August 20, 2010

Lessons for lawyers from Othello

Filed under: Law — Helen Gunnarsson @ 9:32 am
Tags: ,

I love this! Texas lawyer Michael Maslanka provides lessons for lawyers from Shakespeare’s “Othello.”  Maslanka’s points about listening carefully to others’ stories for potential manipulation and rationalization, of course, are instructive for nonlawyers as well and illustrate Shakespeare’s timelessness. 

Maslanka blogs on labor and employment law at “Work Matters.”

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