Law and Conversation

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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June 24, 2011

My turn: Books everyone should read before 21

As I’ve mentioned, The Book Show on Britain’s Sky Arts media channel recently asked a number of distinguished author guests from its shows for their ideas on books that everyone should have read before the age of 21. The resulting list is worth perusing by anyone and tacking up on a bulletin board or refrigerator door.

But the list bothered me, chiefly for what I see as glaring omissions. Instead of including books that most of the broad range of people under 21 could read, the authors consulted focused on the far upper end of the range, including such admittedly great, but mature-themed, books as John Updike’s “Rabbit” tetralogy, James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.”

And the book prominently featured at the very top of the list? Erica Jong‘s “Fear Of Flying.”

“FEAR OF FLYING?” On a list of strongly recommended reading BEFORE turning 21????  What’s UP with that??????

Jong’s book is a fun read, I admit. But I’m not sure it’s a classic, and it probably isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not a book for kids, which is what people 21 and under are, whether or not they’re adults in the eye of the law. As David Brooks writes in today’s New York Times, “The culture of childhood is being compressed. Those things which young people once knew at 18, they now know at 10 or 12.”

I know, and have known, many amazingly mature young people. Certainly, all of the books on the list, including the ones I’ve highlighted above, are capable of being read by mature teens and those in their early 20s. After all, Updike himself wasn’t even out of his 20s when he wrote the first “Rabbit” book. Speaking only for myself, though, and having read it only recently, well after my 21st birthday ;-), I’m absolutely confident I wouldn’t have appreciated it at that age.

So what’s the hurry? Why rush to read adult-themed books before turning 21?

The first two “Rabbit” books challenged me when I read them this year. “Ulysses” is on my list of difficult books to tackle. I’m all for pushing myself, and for others pushing themselves, to read challenging material. But given that everyone’s going to grow up–absent an unfortunate event–why skip over any joys of youth if you don’t have to?

In my adult view, one of those prime joys is reading children’s books and literature classified as young adult (YA). Though writers today generally target their books to specific age groups, I’ve seen a number of books from the 19th century (a literary period I love) that were written for general audiences but are now classified as middle grade (MG) or YA for library and bookstore purposes. (Some of Dickens’s works particularly come to mind.)

Today I’m providing an off-the-top-of-my-head list of wonderful, must-read books that should appeal to just about anyone in the under-21 reading range. The enormous bulk of material makes this a daunting task: it’s really, really hard to come up with a manageable list. For that reason, I’m expanding my usual self-imposed limit of 3 per blog post to 10. But I am limiting my recommendations here to series books, somewhat loosely defined, and excluding marvelous standalone works. If you’re over 21 and haven’t read some of these books–or if it’s been years, since you were a kid, since you’ve read them–do yourself a favor and go read or reread these great stories now.

1) At the top of my list is the entire oeuvre of Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to all as “Dr. Seuss.” My personal favorites are “I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew,” “The Lorax,” and “Scrambled Eggs Super.” The first two, along with “Sneetches,” “The Grinch That Stole Christmas,” and “Horton Hears A Who,” carry timeless, serious messages. I haven’t discerned any particular message in “Scrambled Eggs Super,” but, like all Seuss books, its verse and illustrations make up an amazing work. It’s just plain FUN, and, as all of us who love “The Cat In The Hat” should know, “It is fun to have fun!”

2) Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s “Little House” books. Written by Wilder and edited–some argue partly ghostwritten–by her brilliant, extraordinarily difficult daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, this fictionalized story of Wilder’s life realistically depicts pioneer life in the late 19th century U.S. Though the story of Wilder’s and Lane’s relationship and collaboration has already inspired a few biographies and scholarly analyses, there’s plenty of room for more. Legal topics raised by their lives and work include fascinating probate and copyright issues.

3) The Burgess Books For Children, by Thornton W. Burgess. These wonderful series stories of animals include the adventures of Reddy Fox, Sammy Jay, Billy Mink, Jerry Muskrat, Peter Rabbit, and many, many more.

4) Lucy Maud Montgomery‘s books, including “Anne of Green Gables” and its sequels, her lesser known “Emily” series, and the standalone, apparently rather little known “Blue Castle.”

5) L. Frank Baum‘s “Wizard of Oz” series.

6) Lois Lenski‘s books on American life, including “Strawberry Girl,” “Houseboat Girl,” “Cotton In My Sack,” and “Coal Camp Girl.” Like Wilder’s “Little House” books, these books realistically depict life in the mid-20th century, or the 19th century in the case of “A-Going To The Westward” (which is tragically out of print), or the 18th century in the case of “Bound Girl Of Cobble Hill,” for working people and their children in the U.S.

7) J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

8) C.S. Lewis’s Narnia chronicles.

9) L.M. Boston’s “Green Knowe” series, beginning with “The Children of Green Knowe.”

10) Andrew Lang’s fairy tale compilations in every hue of the rainbow, including “The Red Fairy Book,” “The Blue Fairy Book,” and so on.

For many of these books, including not only Dr. Seuss’s but also Lois Lenski’s and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, the artwork is integral to the stories. That leads me to wish again that more publishers would contract with artists to illustrate more currently published books.

As with any list, I’m certain to have left many fine candidates out. I’m already thinking that Beverly Cleary‘s series depicting Beezus, Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Ellen Tebbits, not to mention Louisa May Alcott’s series, Susan Cooper‘s “The Dark Is Rising” series, and J.K. Rowling‘s “Harry Potter” books are rather glaring omissions. And I see I haven’t included any great, classic science fiction series, or any graphic novel series. Well, that’s fodder for future writing!

What books would you include on a list that everyone really ought to read by the age of 21?

June 6, 2011

Books to read before you’re 21

Last week I wrote about some recently posted reading lists. One was from the Sky Arts UK program, “The Book Show,” which posted a list of Books To Read Before You’re 21. The program’s managers solicited ideas for that list from noted authors who have appeared as guests.

Here’s a view of my thoughts as I browsed that list:

1) Wow, what great books!

2) Gee, I’ve always considered myself pretty well-read, but I don’t think I’d read most of the books on that list before I was 21.

3) Hmm, I see a number of books on this list that I’ve read only recently, and it’s been a while since I turned 21.

4) Oh, dear, there are a number of books here that I haven’t yet read!

5) Hmmm again–I’m seeing very few books on this rather long list that I’d think would be suitable for or commonly read by kids under 10.  Maybe five or fewer for kids under 15. And not a single Newbery Medal winner!

The books on the SkyArts list include Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” John Updike’s “Rabbit” tetralogy, and James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Most of the others, like those, are very complex works that are suitable for adults and mature teens but not for children.

Given that this book list is for young readers–yes, 21 is still pretty young–I wonder why the contributors to that list didn’t include more children’s and YA literature? Were they zeroing in on 21-year-old readers to the exclusion of the 20 years in the rest of the category?

A tiny handful of contributors did recommend books for the younger set. There’s one Beatrix Potter story, “The Tale of Tom Kitten,” and one by Dr. Seuss:  “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” A.A. Milne’s “Winnie The Pooh” made it on, and so did T.H. White’s “The Once And Future King.” Certainly, Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” can also be read and appreciated by preteens.

To my disappointment, the contributor who recommended “Tom Kitten” apologized for her recommendation, saying she feared it would lower the tone. To the contrary! Those who haven’t read Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, or Winnie The Pooh since they were children might not remember them well, but all of those works are complex, can be read on more than one level, and are as enjoyable for adults as for children. In fact, I’d include the complete works of both Potter and Seuss on any list of books that everyone should read before 21.

Readers, are you as disappointed as I am not to see more classics that can be read and enjoyed by young children on this list? Should everyone have read Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Updike’s “Rabbit” tetralogy before their 21st birthday?

Please rejoin me in a couple of days, when I’ll have three recommendations of my own (besides all of Beatrix Potter and all of Dr. Seuss) for classic books that everyone should read before turning 21. Hint: none are by James Joyce, John Updike, or Leo Tolstoy!

June 3, 2011

Book lists

Like many lawyers, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool booklover. I’ve connected with a number of likeminded people on Twitter and, as a result, have had some interesting conversations and gotten some great reading ideas.

Over the past week, several other bibliophile attorneys have tweeted links to several intriguing lists of books. Though I have a TBR list of my own that does nothing that grow, I always love examining someone else’s.

Esquire magazine published “an unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published” under the header “75 Books Every Man Should Read.” On the same page you’ll find links to other lists, including The Authors Every Man Must Know and 10 Essential Books to Read Before You Die.

High-quality though Esquire’s list is, it contains the work of only one female writer, Flannery O’Connor. That inspired Joyland magazine, which publishes short fiction, to ask its readers and contributors to come up with their own suggestions for inclusion on a list of 75 Books By Women All Men Should Read. The magazine received more than 250 submissions in just two hours – so it ended up publishing a list of 250 Books By Women All Men Should Read. Thanks to Harrisburg, PA intellectual property lawyer Harvey Freedenberg, who also writes thoughtful book reviews and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, for tweeting that list.

Taking as its inspiration the US Memorial Day weekend, which marks the unofficial start of summer here, The Atlantic magazine published a list of 10 Essential Books For Thought-Provoking Summer Reading. I hadn’t heard of any of the books on that list, but “The Late American Novel,” by The Millions founders Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee, particularly piques my interest. Thanks to New York writer and lawyer Mark Fowler and California IP lawyer and literary agent Dana Newman for that tip!

In a post entitled “Books of the Year,” Jason Farago of the London Review of Books provides suggestions for what not to read if you don’t feel you’ve accomplished enough so far this year (and don’t want to feel worse about it than you already do). Each book seems to be a memoir focusing on one year of the (overachieving) writer’s life. I’ve read only one, Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.” I found tons of wisdom in Rubin’s book and enjoy her inspirational blog, where she maintains a relentless daily posting schedule. I’ve put Nina Sankovitch’s recently published “Tolstoy And The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading” on my own reading list. I love Sankovitch’s unabashed preference for reading over housework! Oh, I almost forgot–Rubin and Sankovitch are also lawyers!

Finally, I never miss an opportunity to tell people how much I love a program from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “The Book Show,” which I listen to on podcast. Not long ago I discovered another program of that name from the UK and followed it on Twitter and Facebook, where it posts intriguing updates from the literary world. A few days ago, that “Book Show” posted a list of Books To Read Before You’re 21.

I have so many thoughts about that list that I’ll devote an entire post to it next week. For now, I’ll just note that, like the other lists I’ve included here, it includes wonderful books and is worthy of close attention.

The website of The Millions says the publication started out as a way for its founder, Max Magee, to keep track of his reading. Now, Magee’s own reading lists get their own page. (One of the many reasons I started this blog was that I thought it would help me think more deeply about and remember my own reading. I’m happy to say that it has!)

What’s on your reading list for this summer?

UPDATE: What a lovely review of Nina Sankovitch’s book Chicago book critic and reviewer Lisa Guidarini has posted on her blog, Bluestalking!

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