Law and Conversation

August 29, 2011

Three Cups of Tea, or Three Cups of Deceit?

If you’ve read “Three Cups Of Tea,” the bestselling memoir by Greg Mortenson and David Relin that professes to tell the true story of how Mortenson tried to climb K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, in Pakistan, failed, got lost on the descent, was rescued, vowed to build a school for the children in his rescuers’ village, and did so, you ought also to read the e-book, “Three Cups of Deceit,” by Jon Krakauer.

“Three Cups of Tea” is a compelling story with a convincing message: that it would be far more beneficial for everyone if the US and other countries used their resources to build schools and otherwise facilitate the education of children, especially girls, in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan than to provide military assistance to this or that faction opposing this or that objectionable government.  It’s inspired not only huge sales and a similarly best-selling sequel, “Stones For Schools,” but millions in donations to the Central Asia Institute, the foundation Mortenson set up for his schools project.

Like many others, journalist, author, and climber Jon Krakauer read Mortenson’s book, became enthusiastic about his message, and donated to CAI. Then, he says, people associated with Mortenson and CAI started giving him information suggesting that Mortenson’s story was not all that it seemed.

Krakauer, who is personally familiar with the terrain Mortenson wrote about through his own climbing travels, started investigating, and, in April, published his e-book. As his title suggests, Krakauer presents a case that Mortenson took far more than poetic license with the facts and actually fabricated significant portions of his story. He also quotes sources who question CAI’s fiscal management.

CAI characterizes the stories from “some media outlets,” including CBS’s “60 Minutes,” as “cherry-picked, manipulated, and misrepresented.” The organization notes that an investigation and a lawsuit are pending. A suit filed in the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging, among other matters, fraud (H/T: JenandthePen), was voluntarily dismissed shortly after filing, but another suit remains pending in Montana, though news reports suggest that CAI is no longer a defendant. Mortenson recently filed a response denying that grounds exist for a class action. In the meantime, Krakauer is posting post-publication updates on the website.

Read both of these books, be on the lookout for responses from Mortenson and CAI and resolutions of the legal matters involving them, and make up your own mind. Here’s what I’m wondering: if Mortenson did deliberately fabricate portions of his book, which was classified as nonfiction and marketed as a True Story, is that a problem? Or everyone does it, no big deal? And if Mortenson made up parts of his story, does that damage his message’s credibility?

UPDATE, September 13, 2011: Mark Fowler, a lawyer in New York who tweets as @rightsofwriters, has written a very interesting and thorough post on memoirs and the law on his excellent blog, Rights of Writers.

August 25, 2011

Steve Jobs: Stories for life

Filed under: storytelling — Helen Gunnarsson @ 9:20 am
Tags: ,

The biggest business story this week has been not the gyrating stock market, but Steve Jobs’s resignation from the position of CEO of Apple Corporation. A story behind the paywall at The Wall Street Journal reminded me that Jobs gave a moving speech at Stanford University’s 2005 commencement. An easy Google search took me to a transcript of his remarks, on Stanford’s website. [Update: though when I drafted this post yesterday, the text on the WSJ site was behind its paywall, I see that today it’s accessible without a paid subscription, as is some other Jobs/Apple related content. Don’t miss the video front and center, anchored by Stacy DeLo, reviewing Jobs’s career and the creation of the revolutionary products that he oversaw at Apple.]

I’ve read a lot of wonderful inspirational remarks to young people. Jobs’s speech, in which he tells three stories about scary events in his own life to illustrate his excellent advice, ranks with the best of them. An excerpt:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Whatever your age, go read Jobs’s speech, and think about the power of his stories.

What stories have made a difference in your life?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Journalism professor Adam Penenberg has posted a definitive summary and compilation of article links on Jobs in “Steve Jobs: A Mega, Meta Appreciation” over at Fast Company. Hat tip: Steve Buttry and a couple of people he retweeted on Twitter.

August 24, 2011

3 summer reads about Paris, and a giveaway

Earlier this week I recommended Anna Gavalda’s “French Leave” and posted a link to my review of the novella on The Europa Challenge Blog. As summer draws to a close, here are three more light, fun books with Parisian settings for the lawyer who needs to look up after hours from deadly serious briefs and cases, or for anyone else looking for something that’s not extra work to read:

1) “Le Divorce,” “Le Mariage,” and L’Affaire,” by Diane Johnson, a US Midwestern-born (Quad Cities, USA!) writer who now lives in Paris. It’s been a while since I read these interrelated novels, but I remember them fondly for their twisty plots, engaging characters, and entertaining descriptions of French and US cultures meeting at odd angles and what seemed to my US eyes the arcane French laws respecting property. “Le Divorce” was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Awards.

2) “French Milk,” by Lucy Knisley. This graphic memoir about the young author’s monthlong trip to Paris with her mother is charming without being cloying.

3) The City Of Lights has inspired many memoirs. Of those I’ve read, the most evocative and beautifully written has to be Ernest Hemingway’s “The Moveable Feast.” A new edition came out two years ago, somewhat controversially. Though I’ve read the original edition, also posthumously published, several times, every time I think of it I want to read it again.

Europa Editions is doing a book giveaway over on The Europa Challenge Blog, and I get extra entries for blogging about and linking to it! Please click on over and enter yourself, and while you’re there, read some of the reviews of the wonderful books that Europa publishes.

Are you reading anything fun these late summer days?

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?

August 19, 2011

Getting rid of books?

Filed under: Books and writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 4:21 pm
Tags: , , ,

Lawyers create and receive so much paper that lots of us have serious paper clutter, organization, and retention problems–so much that bar associations and other CLE providers give seminars on how to address it. Though I don’t currently practice law, and though I route as much mail to the recycling bin as possible the minute it comes in the door, I still have a paper clutter problem–I think it’s partly genetic ;-).

I also have a book clutter issue. My family all loves to read, and we love having lots of books on our shelves. If we’ve already read them, we might reread or refer to them–plus, when we really love them, they seem like friends. We also have lots of books we haven’t yet read but want to. And we’re not big fans of e-readers, yet–though I daresay I’ll start using and even liking one at some point.

The result is that we have a LOT of bookshelves, and they’re all full. In fact, books are double-shelved on all of them. Our nightstands have not only nice, broad tops with plenty of surface space for stacks of books in addition to lamps and clocks, but also handy, roomy shelves underneath that are just right for–more books. I catch myself eying wall space and considering whether, with some rearranging, another tall bookshelf might fit.

It’s really hard for me to make decisions about culling books. But I’ve had to face some reality: we don’t have unlimited space for new acquisitions. I use the public library for most books I want to read and am working on reconciling myself to getting rid of some books that I’m reasonably confident the library will continue to keep available. Though we’re mourning the demise of Borders, we are lucky to have a Half Price Books outlet in our area. It’s a good deal to take in 2 bags of books you don’t want and know nobody in your household is ever going to read again and exchange them for one book that you really do want and will read or use, as I did last year: you win and the business wins.

Apparently we’re in good company, for I’ve been seeing a number of articles lately on this very issue. When a friend raised it lately on her Facebook/Twitter feed, I remembered a podcast of the CBC’s The Sunday Edition I’d listened to some months ago with a roundtable discussion among several passionate booklovers about weeding out books, led by host Michael Enright.

I wanted to send the link to my friend so she could listen to it, too, but I’d deleted it from my iPod after listening, and couldn’t find it on the CBC’s website. So I messaged the producer with my question. A few days later, I got a nice response with the link to the program with the discussion. It’s in the second half of Hour Two.

Thanks so much, CBC! I love listening to this program as well as several others on podcast as I’m going about my errands here in suburban Chicago. Once again, the internet is bringing the world closer together!

How do you deal with clearing out books?

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