The semester is drawing to a close, and you may be thinking that a bit of non-caselaw reading could be just what your brain needs after a busy school year. But what to read? The law faculty has a few suggestions for you.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
The idea of David Foster Wallace going to the Illinois State Fair is really funny in and of itself, but his report on the experience is even funnier. Besides, like me, Wallace was a geek who loved footnotes.
Sarah Caudwell was the pseudonym of Sarah Cockburn (1939 – 2000, Cheltenham), a British barrister and writer of detective stories. She is best known for a series of four murder stories written between 1980 and 1999, centred around the lives of a group of young barristers practicing in Lincoln’s Inn and narrated by a Hilary Tamar, a Professor of Medieval Law (gender unknown), who also acts as detective.
This series of four books, described as “legal whodunits”, were written over a period of twenty years. Their primary setting is the top floor of 62 New Square at Lincoln’s Inn, where four young barristers have their chambers: Michael Cantrip, Desmond Ragwort, Selena Jardine and Timothy Shepherd. While the last named only appears sporadically, taxes barrister Julia Larwood, who works in the adjacent premises, is a regular visitor and is in effect the fourth member of the group. These characters are in some ways thinly drawn, never communicating in anything other than in an ironic tone, so that even when they are in deadly danger the atmosphere remains uniformly light-hearted. Even though the characters are sexually active, their cheerful friendship is sometimes reminiscent of the chummy gangs encountered in juvenile fiction.
Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial by Janet Malcolm
This book includes several elements that make up a riveting story and that raise significant legal and moral issues. The main story is a murder trial, but the motivation for the murder was likely a child custody battle presided over by a judge who made a questionable ruling. The book also illustrates how poorly the legal system operates when the persons involved come from a culture that is different from mainstream American society.
Broken by Karin Slaughter
Grady doctor Sara Linton returns to her home town and finds herself drawn into the investigation a rural Georgia murder. In her 10th novel featuring these characters, Karin Slaughter builds suspense and tells a compelling story, weaving together the lives of unlikely characters.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
Cultural sensitivity, bioethics, communication in health care setting
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Understanding, accommodating, accepting disability
Coma by Robin Cook
Scare resources, bioethics, buying/selling organs, organ sharing policy
The most memorable book I’ve read in the last year or so is Columbine by Dave Cullen. [It’s] the most definitive account of what really happened and why, although the entire truth won’t be known until the parents’ depositions are unsealed in 2027. Meticulously researched, the book dispels most of what was reported about the massacre. An essential read for understanding America’s deadliest high-school mass murder.
For anyone saddened by the end of the US manned space program, I can recommend Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars and Riding Rockets by former astronaut Mike Mullane.
Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet
An easy read and a fascinating story.
The Edgar Award Nominees for Best Novel, Best Debut Novel, and Best Paperback were a particuarly good crop this year, and I read most of them. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Laura Lippman, I’d Know You Anywhere. A woman who was kidnapped as a child comes to terms with why she survived the ordeal when other victims did not. A interesting read that goes back and forth between 1985 and 2010(ish) as the main character realizes that events she tried so hard to forget have shaped her adult life. Nominated for a 2011 Edgar Award for best novel.
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton. Winner of the 2011 Edgar Award for best novel. A mute man-child (i.e., he’s 18) with a knack for opening locks and cracking safes shares his escapades with the reader. I learned probably more than I wanted to know about picking locks, but the dialogue – both internal and between supporting characters is fantastic.
For those who prefer less mystery and more dialogue: Karen Russell, Swamplandia. A young girl aims to save both her family’s alligator theme park and her wayward older siblings. Nice to know that there is a family more dysfunctional than mine.
I have two really great books to recommend: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly and The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly. Both are great yarns about lawyers and law. I finished both very recently and highly recommend them. Readers can learn something about the profession of law and be entertained at the same time. What could be better.
The Confession by John Grisham takes the reader on an incredible roller coaster ride of emotions all centered around one hot-button issue: the death penalty. Grisham very clearly has strong opinions against the death penalty and The Confession makes absolutely no attempt to be an unbiased display of the facts of the matter. It is a quick read and a great story.
Although it is law related – I still recommend The Lawyer Myth: A Defense of the American Legal Profession by Rennard Strickland and Frank T. Read. I just think it gives a perspective that we tend to miss when we are involved with the “law” – in whatever capacity – on a daily basis.
If you’re the type of person to read the book once you’ve seen the movie (or vice versa), check out Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America (2005-present). It’s not the full 70 year history of the comic, of course, but the upcoming movie is apparently heavily influenced by Brubaker’s take on the story (which has even made the national news a few times). He focuses as much attention on Cap’s WWII origins as he does on what’s happening in the modern Marvel universe — and my bet’s on the inevitable movie sequel giving major screen time to something Brubaker introduces in his very first issue. The collection starts with Winter Soldier, Book One.
But if I can’t convince you to read a comic, try Alan Bennett’s novella The Uncommon Reader. It’s a funny, insightful look at the influence reading can have on people (in this case, the Queen of England).
These are some of the books that have brought me the greatest enjoyment in the last couple of years. Most I’ve read, but some I’ve listened (unabridged) to.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Life in the Mississippi Delta at the end of WWII. A central character is an African American man who, after serving nobly in the Army, returns home to be treated precisely as he and other African Americans have been for ages.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
If you think Tina Fey is smart and funny (and who doesn’t?), check this out. Given the fact that she reads the audiobook, I recommend it over the written version.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
I’m not going to describe it. I’ll just say this is one of my favorite books of all time.
Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (no relation, so far as I know)
Using the correspondence between Galileo and his illegitimate daughter, Sister Maria Celeste (so named because of Galileo’s obsession with the heavens), the author tells a good bit of the story of the trial of Galileo, who had the gall to argue that the Earth revolved around the sun.
February 18, 2011 was the 10 year anniversary of Robert Hanssen’s arrest at Foxstone Park. The Bureau and the Mole by David A. Vise is a thorough and concise overview of Hanssen’s life prior to and during his time at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Read about how he initially created contact with the Soviet Union and what clues eventually led to his demise after 22 years of spying on the United States.
Out of the Flames by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
True story of the survival of a book that John Calvin tried to destroy. This book makes one appreciate the sacrifices people made to express ideas and the extraordinary effect that the emergence of printing had on the history of ideas.
Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander by David Cordingly
If you like Hornblower or the Patrick O’Brian series about early 19th century naval warfare, you have to read this book to appreciate the real historic figure on which the main characters of those two series are based. Cochrane story is much more compelling and exciting.