Law and Conversation

October 18, 2010

Read This: Books You Dislike, Part 3

Filed under: Books and writing,Read This!,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:38 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

 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).

Advertisements

October 8, 2010

Everyone needs stories

The sad tale of the teenage Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, who killed himself last week by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another student posted a video they’d clandestinely shot of him in an intimate encounter with another male, together with the attempted banning of Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel, “Speak,” in Missouri a couple of weeks ago, has me thinking about how everyone needs stories. 

Author Cheryl Rainfield wrote of her own childhood abuse and in support of Halse Anderson’s book:

“[A]llowing children and teens to find reflections for their own experiences; being able to read about those experiences in safety while gaining knowledge to arm themselves; or encouraging readers to speak out and find healing themselves because of what they’ve read is SO important.”

The suicide of another young gay person, reportedly after intense bullying based on his sexual orientation, inspired Chicago native and writer Dan Savage to start a story video project to let young gay people know that It Gets BetterIn Savage’s words, “I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”   He’s asking other gay adults to make videos of aspects of their life stories, hoping that young people who watch them will realize that tough times don’t last forever.  As Chicagoist reports, only 11 states, including Illinois, currently specify LGBT students as a protected class in anti-bullying and harassment legislation.

Bullying for any reason, of course, is shameful, as is discrimination on grounds unrelated to people’s ability to do their jobs, or afford housing, or other matters.  But drafting a law that prohibits bullying without being overbroad is not an easy task.  Though many look to the law above all for power, story can sometimes be an even more powerful and enduring bulwark against evil, as the responses to “Speak” and the “It Gets Better” project show.

Difficult real-world subjects that many young people have to deal with include not only sexual abuse and coming to terms with sexuality but also poverty, parents’ unemployment, war, racial prejudice, divorce, substance abuse, and eating disorders.  Here are some books with great stories that portray young people coming to terms with some of those issues:

“Ramona And Her Mother,” by Beverly Cleary (parents’ job difficulties, family tensions)

“Houseboat Girl” and “Cotton In My Sack,” as well as others in the American regional series by Lois Lenski (poverty)

“Wintergirls,” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “Perfect,” by Natasha Friend (eating disorders)

“Lush,” by Natasha Friend (parent’s alcoholism)

“Where The Lilies Bloom,” by Vera and Bill Cleaver (poverty, loss of parents)

“Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry,” “The Gold Cadillac,” and many other books and stories by Mildred Taylor (racial prejudice)

“The Ark,” by Margot Benary-Isbert (war)

“A Tree Grows In Brooklyn,” Betty Smith (poverty, parent’s alcoholism)

“Veronica Ganz,” by Marilyn Sachs (divorce, family tensions, bullying)

“Will Grayson, Will Grayson,” by John Green and David Levithan (sexual identity)

“Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank (ethnic prejudice, war)

Traditional folk and fairy tales, “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott, and the “Little House” books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, may not readily come to mind when thinking about children’s or YA books with edgy subjects.  But fairy tales often include poverty and wicked stepmothers, Marmee and her brood are struggling with the absence of the girls’ father due to war, and the “Little House” books depict a family living hand to mouth and clawing themselves up through a series of unremitting disasters that weren’t unusual for their time.

Are there any books or stories that have helped you through a difficult time in your life?

August 4, 2010

Great fictional lawyers

Filed under: Books and writing,fiction,Law — Helen Gunnarsson @ 9:34 am
Tags: , ,

The ABA Journal has a good piece on the 25 greatest fictional lawyers.  Most are from TV or the silver screen, but some are also from novels that gave rise to the film versions.  The article does a service in highlighting some lesser-known, older novels; it says upfront that it intentionally omitted Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” because Finch is such a watershed figure.  After reading the ABA piece, I’m putting John Mortimer’s Rumpole books on my ever-growing and totally unwieldy reading list.

Here’s a link to “Earth From Above,” some amazing aerial landscape photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.  Fascinating and magnificent, good to show or remind children and adults alike of what amazing things there are on this planet.

What’s on your reading list?

June 18, 2010

Lawyers who write fiction

Filed under: Books and writing,fiction,Law,lawyer writers,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:46 am
Tags: , , ,

So many great fiction writers turn out to have been lawyers, or to have trained as lawyers, including the great 19th century writers Dickens, Eca de Queiroz, and Balzac and modern writers Scott Turow and Alexander McCall Smith, to name only a few. 

I’m now reading a slim but intense volume of short stories depicting contemporary Zimbabwe by yet another lawyer who’s also a fine fiction writer:  “An Elegy For Easterly,” by Petina Gappah.   Gappah, now an international trade lawyer in Geneva, Switzerland, won The Guardian’s First Book Award for her collection.  Her website and blog are worth checking out for her essays about writing, literature, Africa, and the world, as is this review of 2 Zimbabwean memoirs that she recently published in the London Sunday Times.

In one of her recent posts, Gappah provides a link to The North Korean Random Insult Generator–great fun!

June 17, 2010

Trials in literature

Filed under: Books and writing,fiction,Law,reading,trials — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:01 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

The trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, which began last week in the federal district court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, made me think about depictions of trials in literature.  Apart from the contemporary works of Chicago’s own terrific novelist and lawyer, Scott Turow, not to mention presiding Judge James Zagel’s thriller, “Money To Burn,” and, of course, the works of John Grisham, the following books came to my mind:

1)      To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

2)      Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain

3)      An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

4)      The Trial, by Franz Kafka

5)      The Stranger, by Albert Camus

6)      The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

7)      The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

None of the trials in these works, however, bears any similarity to the issues surrounding the Blagojevich trial, and I’m disappointed for not being able to think of any good similar fictional depictions.  Professor Daniel Solove of George Washington University Law School provides a list of fine works of literature with legal themes on his faculty website, but not all of these contain actual trials.  I can’t help thinking there must be a number out there; readers, can you think of some I’ve overlooked, especially trials involving allegations of political corruption from other times (i.e. centuries) and places?

Among a number of other good sources, I’m enjoying looking at The Blago Report’s daily analysis of the trial.  Don’t know why that writer, who, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn is Phil Smith of Tampa, FL, doesn’t provide his name on his site (unless I’ve missed something really obvious, which has been known to happen); perhaps he’s concerned about being overly self-promotional, but I think he should take more credit for his articles.   You’ll find a list of other bloggers and tweeters about the trial at the link for Zorn.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.