Law and Conversation

January 2, 2012

Looking back on 2011 and forward into 2012

2011 was a great year for reading for me. I focused even more than I have in past years on reading critically and with purpose. That meant I read more books, and better books, than when I’ve read more haphazardly.

I like to keep a running list of the books I read, the better to remember them (which writing about them on this blog also helps me to do). My personal Best Book Read In 2011 was the graphic novel “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Other books I enjoyed greatly included several by Alexander McCall Smith; Scottish poet Jackie Kay’s memoir, “Red Dust Road;” Suzanne Collins’s YA blockbuster, “The Hunger Games;” and Anthony Trollope’s masterwork, “The Way We Live Now,” which had been on my TBR list for at least a couple of years.

One book I especially enjoyed wasn’t even my idea to read. Knowing of my passion for Laura Ingalls Wilder, an intuitive friend surprised me with a gift at the end of 2011, Kristin Kimball’s “The Dirty Life.” Ever wonder what it was REALLY like for Laura to live with Almanzo and build a life on the farm together? After reading Kimball’s memoir of meeting, moving in with, and marrying her farmer husband, I think I have a pretty good idea (and, like Kimball’s husband, I bet Almanzo and, for that matter, Laura, had smelly armpits, too).

One of my resolutions last year was to read a nice, juicy biography. I had two in mind: Maynard Solomon’s “Beethoven” and Benita Eisler’s “O’Keefe and Stieglitz.” Alas, they’re still sitting on my nightstand, unread. But I kept that resolution by reading another thick biography I’d had for several years: Mary S. Lovell’s “The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family.” Lovell’s book was a good read about an interesting family, but I found myself agreeing with a discerning friend who described it as having “lost its moral compass.” To her, and to me, the author seemed rather too enthralled by the faded glamour of the unrepentant Diana Mitford, in particular, who married Oswald Mosley, an M.P. who became the leader of the British Fascists and, with Diana, was imprisoned for much of World War II because of their open sympathy for Hitler. Scandalous Women has more about the Mitford sisters.

Another aspiration of mine in 2011 was to read a Dickens novel. I’m sorry to say I didn’t keep that one. But in 2012 I hope to make amends by reading both Claire Tomalin’s new biography of Dickens and a Dickens novel I haven’t read before, since both were under our Christmas tree. I’m excited!

I did something new in 2011 that I plan to continue in 2012: I became a guest blogger on The Europa Challenge Blog. It was pure serendipity that I peeked at my Twitter stream one evening and saw Marie’s tweet inviting fans of Europa Editions publications to participate on this fan blog. Having already read several Europa books, I had no hesitation about accepting. Initially, I signed up for the fairly conservative four-book Europa Ami challenge level. But I like a bit of competition, so I pushed myself and surpassed the 7-book Europa Haver level, reading 8 new Europa books in all—which doesn’t count the several I’d read before accepting the challenge. For 2012, Marie has renamed the levels with a wonderful continental café theme. I’m starting out cautiously, signing up for the 4-book Espresso level, but I’m quite confident I’ll be able to reach at least the 6-book Cappuccino mark. As a lawyer, I love finding and thinking about the legal issues in the books I read. In Europa’s books, I’d particularly recommend Alberto Angela’s “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome” for its brief discussion of Roman legal proceedings, Peter Kocan’s “The Treatment and The Cure” and “Fresh Fields” for his depiction of Australia’s treatment of the mentally ill who have committed crimes, and Jane Gardam’s wonderful “Old Filth” and “The Man in the Wooden Hat” for her portrait of a marriage from both spouses’ respective points of view.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

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?

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!

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