Law and Conversation

April 17, 2012

Kate Sutherland on Adrienne Rich

Filed under: poetry,women — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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Such a pleasure to hear the CBC’s Michael Enright interviewing law professor Kate Sutherland–one of my absolute favorites on Twitter–on the work of feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, who recently died at the age of 82. You can still listen to it, either on podcast or through the CBC’s website.

August 19, 2011

Getting rid of books?

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

November 22, 2010

Listen To This: A Zimbabwean Doctor in Newfoundland

Filed under: Documentaries,interviews,nonfiction,storytelling — Helen Gunnarsson @ 9:56 am
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This blog is about storytelling.  Mondays I’ve been posting with a Read This! theme, recommending stories that I’ve enjoyed so much that I want everyone in the world to read them. 

Stories come in more media than just books, of course.  Today I’m urging storylovers to Listen to This:  a documentary from the CBC on Dr. Mohamed Iqbal Ravalia, born to a Muslim, East Indian family in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), who’s been practicing medicine in Twillingate, a town of around 2500 on a rocky island off the northern coast of Newfoundland, for a quarter of a century.

According to the documentary, many rural communities in Canada, like those in the US, find it difficult to attract and keep practicing physicians.  Dr. Ravalia, though, came to like the unglamorous, overcast life in Twillingate.  He made friends, married and raised a family, and stayed.  The documentary even includes a portion taped at one of his son’s school hockey games.

Documentary producer and narrator Heather Barrett has helped Dr. Ravalia tell his own fascinating story.  Have you heard any documentaries with stories that you’ve particularly enjoyed?

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?

July 4, 2010

AmLit and CanLit

In honor of Independence Day, here are ten randomly selected novels or short story collections that, in my view, qualify as Great American Novels:

1) The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen

2) The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

3) The Road to Wellville, by T.C. Boyle

4) Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (interrelated short stories)

5) The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (and his collected short stories)

6) The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

7) Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis (or Main Street, or Arrowsmith, or Elmer Gantry)

8) Collected stories of John Cheever

9) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

And I just can’t say the term “Great American Novel” without including

10) Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

in the same breath.

I know, I left out a lot of great ones, either because I haven’t read them, because I have read them and I didn’t love them, because I arbitrarily decided to limit this list to ten, or because I read them but temporarily forgot about them.  So put your own lists in the comments!  Other lists of great novels from U.S. and other writers are here and here.

The Canadian counterpart to our Independence Day, Canada Day, was July 1, just a few days before our most important holiday.  Formerly known as Dominion Day, it commemorates the Canadian confederation of the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with the Province of Canada, which, according to the Wikipedia entry, was at the same time divided into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has some great programs available on podcast; one I particularly enjoy is The Next Chapter, with host Shelagh Rogers, which focuses on Canadian literature.  Though the website doesn’t currently reflect it, the June 28, 2010 podcast featured, among other matters, an interview with Ryerson University professor Randy Boyagoda about a survey course on American literature he teaches in which his students compare American and Canadian literature.  Boyagoda noted that both countries share some significant characteristics, including division, as in native/settler differences, racial differences, landscape differences, and (more so in Canada’s case) language differences.  He said the two bodies of literature, however, are fundamentally different.  He and his students identified vitality, liveliness, argument, ambition, and immodesty (his words, not mine) as some characteristics that apply generally to American literature and not generally to Canadian fiction.  The U.S. and American literature emphasize the individual, whereas Canada and its literature focus on the collective, he and Rogers agreed. 

My American feathers ruffled when Rogers took a swipe at a Walt Whitman quote, and by implicit extension at the U.S., as “arrogant,” nor did I care for the adjective “immodest,” but the segment, which begins about 23 minutes into the podcast, was thought-provoking.  What are the differences between AmLit and CanLit, and why are there differences, given our geographic proximity and similarity of cultures?  Is our literature more “vital” than Canadian literature?  I haven’t read enough of the latter to be able to opine, but it’s certainly true that our literature is better known throughout the world than Canadian lit.

The Literary Review of Canada has a list of 100 great Canadian books that you can download in .pdf form, with an introduction by Margaret Atwood, who’s generally acknowledged as, along with Alice Munro, possibly the greatest living Canadian fiction writer and who has a couple of books on the list.   (I’ve enjoyed some of Atwood’s books and agree that she’s a fine writer, but the gratuitous snide remarks about the U.S. she seems to delight in making at every opportunity, at least on the podcast interviews I’ve listened to with her, are offensive to me and disincline me to praise her overmuch.  Can’t she say something positive now and then about the U.S., especially when so many individuals and institutions in our country have so generously praised and supported her talents and work?  Certainly, criticism is healthy, and the substance of some of her criticisms may have merit, but when she feels she must criticize, can’t she confine it to a policy or policies and not expand it to belittling our whole nation?) 

Here are some Canadian novels and a short story collection that I’ve enjoyed:

1) The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, by Wayne Johnston

2) Street of Riches, by Gabrielle Roy

3) Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

4) Island, by Alistair MacLeod (short stories)

I have read more CanLit, but not more that I thought qualified as Great Canadian Novels.  Still, I’m planning on expanding my CanLit experience.  Two generally acknowledged great Canadian works on my perpetually unwieldy and growing reading list are Robertson Davies’ “The Deptford Trilogy” and Margaret Laurence’s “The Stone Angel.”  Also on my list are Elizabeth Hay’s “Late Nights On Air” and Don Hannah’s “Ragged Islands.”  I don’t know whether I’ll like them, of course, but what I heard about them on CBC podcasts intrigued me enough to purchase used copies of each.  Also, I’m currently giving Lisa Moore’s 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner, “Alligator,” a second chance after it failed to draw me in some months ago.

Happy Independence Day to all of us Americans, and Happy (belated) Canada Day to all Canadians.  Which of your favorite Great American or Great Canadian Novels did I leave out, and what’s on your reading list this Fourth of July?

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