Law and Conversation

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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