Law and Conversation

October 29, 2010

More stories from interviews–and lessons for trial lawyers

Monday’s Read This! post urged everyone to read The Paris Review Interviews with writers, all of which the literary journal has generously made available on its website.  (Much as I love being able to read them on line, it’s nice to have some of the bound volumes, too, as I do, thanks to my extremely thoughtful husband.) 

Now, the CBC’s Shelagh Rogers has interviewed another interviewer in the most recent edition of The Next Chapter, one of the Canadian network’s programs on books.  Rogers’s colleague, Eleanor Wachtel, hosts “Writers And Company” and is one of my favorite interviewers.  (I like Rogers, too, as long as she’s not calling great American writers such as Walt Whitman “arrogant” or “immodest.”)

Wachtel has been hosting Writers And Company since 1992.  In her interview with Rogers, which begins about 12 minutes from the end of the program, she played an excerpt from an interview with writer, critic, and Yale University professor Harold Bloom.  Observing that Bloom’s reputation as a pugnacious reactionary defender of the classics, who disdained anything new, had preceded him and had made her initially unenthusiastic about the interview, Wachtel said that after she prepared for the interview by reading his works, she found, contrary to other reports of Bloom, “an engaging, passionate mind, full of enthusiasm.”  So, she decided to ask him about what he loved, and not about what he loathed.  On asking him about the value of reading, Bloom audibly teared up on responding that getting letters from people saying that his writing had sent them back to reading, or sent them back to a particular work that had meant a lot to them.  (I, too, love the classics, and many modern works as well.  Though I haven’t read Bloom’s works, I question whether the suggestion that he disdains anything new is warranted.)

For me, Wachtel and other great interviewers stand out through their genuine interest in and enthusiasm for what their subjects have to say.  The same goes for lawyers when they conduct direct and cross-examinations of witnesses at trial:  the most effective lawyers, not only in their appearance to judge and jurors but also in the information they elicit, are those who appear to be genuinely interested in and paying close attention to what the witnesses say.  (For more on this, see my article in the December 2006 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, “Cross-Examination:  Beyond the Perry Mason Moment.”)

What makes an interview worth listening to or reading for you?

October 25, 2010

Read This: Author stories–The Paris Review Interviews

Dwight Garner reports in The New York Times that The Paris Review has now made ALL of its interviews with authors available on line.  This is wonderful news for anyone who loves reading, writing, or finding out as much as possible about writers’ lives and working habits. 

The Paris Review is, along with The New Yorker and Granta, the gold standard for literary magazines.  Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen, and George Plimpton founded it in Paris in 1953, and its roster of contributors is impressive indeed.  Each issue has carried at least one, and sometimes two, interviews with writers.  The ones I’ve read are always prefaced by some background on the circumstances and surroundings of the interview.  The interviewers always ask good questions and you get a good sense of the author’s personality and state of mind at the time of the interview.  In fact, they’re really good stories that give the reader additional insight into the author’s works.

The archive includes interviews with Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy.  Never one to mince words, McCarthy tossed off a pithy insult about Hellman on The Dick Cavett Show in 1980, saying “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'”  The lawsuit that Hellman then filed made most of the rest of McCarthy’s life miserable.  As a lawyer, having seen litigation up close and personal, I can’t imagine that her lawsuit against McCarthy made Hellman herself happy for the five remaining years of her life.  It certainly didn’t do anything positive for her enduring reputation.

What do you think makes an interview a good story that you enjoy reading?  Are there other magazines that I should have included in my “gold standard” of literary journals?

October 18, 2010

Read This: Books You Dislike, Part 3

Filed under: Books and writing,Read This!,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:38 am
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 I’ve posted for the last 2 Mondays on giving a second chance to a book I disliked the first time around, Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace.”  It took urging from two friends for whose reading recommendations I have great respect and a public commitment here on this blog for me to do it, and I’m glad I did for all the reasons I stated last week.

“Disgrace” wasn’t the first book I initially disliked and set aside, to find on returning to and finishing it that it was an excellent work.  I’d also tried John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run,” a modern American classic that’s on every list of the greatest 20th century American novels, some years ago, disliked it and set it aside, returned to it a few months ago, and finished it, on the recommendation of one of the same friends who praised “Disgrace.”

On giving it another go, I still found the characters universally repellent for their complete selfishness and parochialism.  But I did finish not only it but its sequel, “Rabbit Redux,” in which the characters reach new depths of dreadfulness. 

Having done so, I agree with my friend that Updike does write beautifully.  I can visualize the characters in a scene, feel what Rabbit’s wife is feeling postpartum, see the inside of the car in which Rabbit drives all night as well as the outside night itself, and feel the wind rushing past.  Dreadful though the characters are, they’re well-rounded and real.  And I’m thinking that even dreadful people have stories and deserve to be written about just as much as those with more altruistic or noble temperaments.  They’re part of life, after all.

Martha Nussbaum and Azar Nafisi both speak eloquently of how fiction and the humanities support democracy.  And now that I’ve so recently read these novels featuring characters I so disliked, Emily St. John Mandel’s article, “In Praise of Unlikable Characters,” in The Millions, an online literary publication, seems especially timely.

Please visit The Animal Rescue Site and vote for Friends Of Strays, a small animal shelter in Princeton, IL, as your favorite shelter.  It only takes a few clicks and typing in the name of an animal from a photo (to verify that you’re a real person and not a voting bot).  Costs nothing, you don’t have to register, and you won’t get a virus.  You can vote once a day, and you certainly don’t have to live in Illinois, or even the US, to vote for Friends of Strays (in Princeton, IL, remember).

October 15, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa studied law and literature

Mario Vargas Llosa’s works represent a gap in my reading, since, I’m sorry to say, even though I speak Spanish I have not read much Latin American literature, which I mean to remedy in the near future.  I’m pleased to see that, according to Wikipedia, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for literature studied law and literature as a young man in Lima, before becoming a journalist.

Among much other coverage of Vargas Llosa’s career and works is this essay from Spiked Online (hat tip:  Arts and Letters Daily), reporting that some in Sweden were very unhappy at his award because he wasn’t left-wing enough.  The essay’s author, Johan Norberg, says Vargas Llosa is “a classical liberal in the tradition of John Locke and Adam Smith.”

I’m pleased that two of my most recent articles from the Illinois Bar Journal are being reprinted in other publications.  “A First Amendment right to audiorecord police?”, which appears in the current (October 2010) issue, will appear in the Illinois Press Association’s Government Relations Update newsletter.  “Uncivil Action,” which appeared in the August 2010 issue, will be reprinted in the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys magazine.

Dutch engineer and kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen’s beach animals are really neat–you can see videos and read about them on his website, Strandbeest.com .

October 13, 2010

Lionel Shriver is a National Book Award finalist and Jacobson wins the Man Booker

Filed under: Books and writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 2:28 pm
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Fall is such an eventful season for books and publishing, with several major awards being announced.  The day after Howard Jacobson won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question, the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the 2010 National Book Award.  Lionel Shriver made the list for her newly published novel, “So Much For That.”  Now we’re waiting on our northern neighbors to announce Canada’s major book award, the ScotiaBank Giller Prize.

I wrote about Lionel Shriver last month and noted that “So Much For That” is a critique of the U.S. health care system.  Serendipitously for her publicity and sales, her book was published on the eve of the passage of the federal law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) that’s supposed to improve it.  In interviews, Shriver questions whether it will do so, asking “Can we continue to lavish this much money on what is really end-of-life care?”  As I also noted in my prior post, I wrote a short article highlighting a couple of points from the new 974-page statute to which businesses and lawyers will need to pay particular attention in the current issue of the Illinois Bar Journal (October 2010).

The Giller shortlist is here.  The winner will be announced November 9.

Have you visited The Animal Rescue Site yet today?  Please do so and vote for Friends Of Strays, a small animal shelter in Princeton, IL, as your favorite shelter.  It only takes a few clicks and typing in the name of an animal from a photo (to verify that you’re a real person and not a voting bot).  Costs nothing, you don’t have to register, and you won’t get a virus.  You can vote once a day, and you certainly don’t have to live in Illinois, or even the US, to vote for Friends of Strays (in Princeton, IL, remember).  I’m asking everyone I know to vote for this tiny and very deserving organization.  For more, see the last 2 paragraphs of my post here.

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