Law and Conversation

May 27, 2011

Book illustrations, art, and story

Earlier this week I highlighted some beautiful sites and works of artists Lynda Barry, Kerry Dennehy, and Alyssa Sherwood and again mentioned Sue Symons‘s intricate and gorgeous Bath Abbey Diptychs. Over on the right hand side of this page, you’ll see some links to some art sites I really like. One of those sites is Old Book Illustrations, dedicated to illustrations scanned from old books.

Illustrations not only can capture and maintain a reader’s interest but also can help tell a story. I suppose that’s why they’re used so much in children’s books; kids who haven’t yet learned to read as well as they might can still get something out of the story by looking at the pictures, and those who read OK but who might not see reading as a really fun way to pass some time might stick with it longer if the book has some good pictures that they enjoy. Trial lawyers and other presenters understand this principle and employ it to good effect by using exhibits and PowerPoint presentations during trials and presentations.

But even apart from business or reading to our children, we grown-ups can still love pictures and illustrated books. I’d love to see publishers work with artists to provide more illustrated books for the adult market.  The Folio Society in London does; though its books are far more expensive than even the hardback editions of other publishers, they’re still an affordable choice (operative word being “choice”) if one of your priorities is to have beautiful copies of books you want to read and reread on your shelves. (Full disclosure: Alas, the Folio Society pays me nothing and gives me no discounts for my telling people how much I love their editions 😦 .)

Some writers have used pictures as the bases for stories. One of the best known recent examples is Tracy Chevalier’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring,” inspired by a Vermeer painting. (Chevalier describes the moment of her inspiration on her website.) And Oscar Wilde‘s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” has at the heart of its story a fictional portrait that changes with the soul of the title character, who remains outwardly forever young and beautiful–in contrast to his deplorable behavior and inner life. (Though the picture of that story is fictional, a 20th century artist, Ivan Albright, painted a real one that hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago.) And, of course, the growing graphic novel genre, in which the art is at least as important as the text to the story, has really come into its own over the past 30 years or so.

Have you read any books that featured memorable illustrations?

May 25, 2011

Cool animated art!

Filed under: Art,Film — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
Tags: , , , , ,

One of the great results of blogging is that you meet interesting people who call your attention to cool stuff. The other day Kerry Dennehy, a New Jersey artist with a neat website of his own who shares my appreciation of the work of artist Lynda J. Barry, commented on a post of mine and provided a link to still another cool website that belongs to artist Alyssa Sherwood. Among other things, Sherwood has posted several short and beautiful animations that are well worth viewing. The movement, colors, shapes, and intricate symmetries, as well as the spoken poetry, of the one Kerry highlighted, “Migrations,” reminds me of artist Sue Symons’s amazing Bath Abbey Diptychs, a project using embroidery and calligraphy to illustrate the story of Jesus’s life, which I recently noted and linked to.

Those interested in legal issues relating to art may wish to check out Clancco:  Art & Law, by New York attorney Sergio Munoz Sarmiento.

Have you come across any neat art that’s made you think about someone’s life story?

May 23, 2011

Watch This: Lynda Barry on Poetry

Filed under: Books and writing,lawyers,poetry,storytelling — Helen Gunnarsson @ 5:37 pm
Tags: , , ,

Via Rachelle Cruz I found this inspiring video from the amazing and brilliant artist Lynda J. Barry on poetry.  In “The View From Here,” Barry sings Emily Dickinson to both Gershwin and Jobim, explains that haiku isn’t an exercise in 5-7-5 syllables, but a picture, and opines that poetry, like other arts, is alive and not only useful but essential.

I love Barry’s message. Today I had a great conversation with another lawyer who told me about how much music adds to his life. He’s one of a number of busy and successful lawyers I know who find time to play an instrument, paint a picture, or tell a story in poetry or prose and have a richer professional and personal life as a result. All of those creative pursuits are part of what makes us human.

Barry also says we can best understand poetry not by reading it, but by memorizing it, and that music can help. Her video from The Poetry Foundation is well worth eight minutes of your time.

I urged everyone a while ago to read some poetry every day. What are you reading, or playing, or writing that’s not for work today?

May 20, 2011

Judging books

Filed under: Books and writing,judiciary,Law,literary prizes — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:20 am
Tags: , ,

Big literary news this week: as hoped, expected, and predicted by many as a long overdue international recognition, Philip Roth has won the Man Booker International Prize.

But an interesting angle has overshadowed the substantive news.  One of the three judges, Carmen Callil, resigned in protest immediately before the announcement.

As reported in many media outlets, Callil complained that Roth’s oeuvre is the literary equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes. “He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.” Callil predicts that 20 years from now, nobody except literary historians will read Roth.

Obviously the two other judges disagreed. One, Rick Gekoski, said Roth began with a masterpiece, “Goodbye, Columbus,” and has only gotten better and better in more than half a century since.

The Guardian has a slew of articles with interesting bits and angles on this story, including one highlighting all 13 authors shortlisted. Callil did an interesting interview on the Australian Broadcasting Company’s “The Book Show” shortly before the three judges met to vote on the prize.  Among other things, Callil said that being a judge had enriched her reading life in part because she’d read so many writers in translation as a result. The Guardian says that Callil will deplore this year’s prize’s failing to “celebrate” any of those writers in her own explanatory essay, to be published tomorrow. She expressed no opinion on Roth, though she and Koval did titter a bit when Koval brought his name up.

I haven’t read, or wanted to read, much Roth. “Portnoy’s Complaint” lost me early on–I’ll just say I left while the main character was in the bathroom 😉 . I did stick with a much later Roth work, “The Human Stain,” and, to my enormous surprise, found that I liked it.

I’m looking forward to reading Callil’s essay in tomorrow’s Guardian. Reading of her disappointment that the prize failed to “celebrate” a writer in translation, I can’t help thinking that the only way around that would have been if it had been awarded to one of those writers, i.e., her choice, I suppose. Several were on the shortlist, which certainly seems to me to be an unequivocal celebration, or recognition, of their worth. The other contenders, who included Philip Pullman, Anne Tyler, and Marilynne Robinson, are also very fine writers. Only one of those 13 marvelous writers could win–that’s just the way the prize is structured. But isn’t it a huge honor to have made the shortlist?

What do you think of Callil’s resignation? Being a lawyer, when I hear the word “judge,” even in the context of a literary award, I naturally think of the courts. Three judges for such a weighty award, selecting from among thirteen finalists, seems too few to me. In my home state of Illinois as well as in the U.S. federal courts, three judges typically sit on appellate panels. If the decision isn’t unanimous, the dissenter doesn’t resign from the panel, but may write his or her own opinion that’s released for public consumption along with the majority opinion. Appeals from that decision go to the supreme court, which has more decisionmakers–seven in the case of Illinois’s supreme court, nine in the U.S.

I wouldn’t suggest authorizing dissents or appeals, but shouldn’t the Man Booker International Prize consider adding a few more judges next time around? I’ll volunteer my service!

UPDATE:  Callil’s Guardian essay is here.

May 18, 2011

Three doctors in fiction

Earlier this week I posted about an awful case of medical malpractice that Gustave Flaubert depicts in his classic, “Madame Bovary.” Flaubert doesn’t have much sympathy for his fictional physician, Charles Bovary; he paints him as boring and not very smart. Certainly, that’s how Bovary’s wife, Emma, sees him, though her more memorable character is far less attractive.

The medical profession has long been a source of fascination for many storytellers and their audiences. I still remember watching episodes of two long-running soaps, “The Doctors” with a young Kathleen Turner and “Days of Our Lives,” where a significant portion of the action took place in the hospital coffee shop (the characters would find one another there and one would inquire whether the other Wanted To Talk About It), in the early 1980s with my mother (who would guiltily leap up to turn the television off when she saw my father, a doctor who disdained soap operas as a waste of time–not that he’d ever watched any–arriving home).

Here are three novels with wonderful doctor characters, all of which deserve to be much more widely read:

1) “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope. I love Trollope and have recently noted that I’m now reading what’s generally considered Trollope’s masterpiece, “The Way We Live Now.” Like “Madame Bovary,” “Doctor Thorne” is a 19th century novel about marriage.  Unlike Charles Bovary, Doctor Thorne is intelligent and perceptive as well as kind and generous. In a story that probate law buffs should enjoy, Thorne serves as guardian of his niece and executor of a wealthy man’s will. Though Trollope excels at depicting mankind’s mercenary motives–the family of one of the heroes of the story, Frank Gresham, emphasizes throughout that “Frank must marry money”–you can count on him to get everything to come right at the end.

2) “A Country Doctor,” by Sarah Orne Jewett. Like Trollope, Jewett displays a keen understanding of human nature. Unlike Trollope, she had some trouble with structuring her stories–ending them, in particular–and many are not so much stories but peaceful landscapes of life in Maine, where she lived. Her model for “A Country Doctor” was her father, Dr. Theodore H. Jewett, to whom she was very close and who would take her, as a young girl, on his rounds of visiting patients.

3) “The Citadel,” by A.J. Cronin, who himself was a physician. Full disclosure: I haven’t read Cronin’s book. I saw the UK production on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theatre” years ago and loved the story and the production. Ben Cross, who may be more familiar to some of us as the star of “Chariots of Fire,” was perfect in his role as Dr. Andrew Manson.

A fun result of my posts on Trollope was that The Trollope Society and I chatted across the pond and started following each other on Twitter. Another interesting person I recently came across on Twitter is Caroline Rance, whose website, “The Quack Doctor,” has lots of fascinating info for anyone interested in medical history.

Ramona Koval moderated a delightful conversation with several Australian doctors about their vocational reading on the Australian Broadcasting Company’s “The Book Show” a year ago, on May 28, 2010.

What stories of doctors and/or medical issues in fiction have made an impression on you?

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.