Photo credit: Napa Mustard Fields
Whew. We made it. And suddenly the world is looking a whole lot brighter. Props to the law school community for these recommendations. Enjoy them all as you are out and about this summer. Fingers crossed we’ll see you all in person in August.
The Berkeley Law Law Library
Click on book cover to read review.
I work in a high school which is generally a lot of fun but can be heartbreaking during college admissions season as kids learn whether their dreams of a particular college will come true. On the surface, Julie Buxbaum’s excellent YA novel Admission would appear to be simply about the joy of victory and agony of defeat in the college admissions game, with the glitz of the recent “Varsity Blues” admissions cheating scandal involving powerful parents and Hollywood stars tossed in. Instead, Buxbaum’s novel is deeper and more intriguing.
In a zoom book talk with O’Dowd students, Buxbaum, a former lawyer, said she was obsessed with the Varsity Blues cases and read all the court filings cover-to-cover. While her inner lawyer was absorbed in the details of the case, the author was most interested not with the kids who knowingly and enthusiastically participated nor the kids who had no idea what was going on, but rather with those kids who had a sense that their college application process was being manipulated in multiple ways and yet choose neither to see nor to question. In essence Admission is a book about when we choose to manipulate, participate or just accept a flawed system because it happens to serve us rather than to risk those advantages by challenging the rules. Buxbaum leads her characters and readers to think about what we know, when we know it and what we do with the knowledge. She puts to question how much advantage is too much. In her talk with O’Dowd students, she posed the hypothetical of her proofreading her own child’s admission essay (her kids are still in elementary school so she has time before she actually faces this quandary). If she came up with the perfect opening sentence, should she give it to her kid? Is it helping or is it cheating? The ensuing discussion was fascinating. Some kids urged, “Give him the sentence,” and others pointed out the unfairness to those who don't have an author for a parent, but most tried to figure out if something in between was acceptable.
Admission is also a moving and well-developed story of the relationship between two very different sisters, the complexity of teenage friendships, forgiveness, and the decision to make your own way. While Buxbaum sprinkles in laugh out loud celebrity moments that make you feel you have an insider’s view of life with an aging TV star, this is a serious read. Unlike the parents in the novel who see it as their job to shelter their children from pain and disappointment, Julie Buxbaum does not protect her characters. There is a painful and very real reckoning at the end as Buxbaum chooses to hold characters accountable for their actions. I highly recommend Admission.
Editor’s Note: Annette is not only the librarian at Bishop O’Dowd High School but also the spouse of Berkeley Law alum Tom Counts. She sends a shout out to all the O’Dowd Dragons.
Auburn, in the Finger Lakes region of New York was a hotbed of radical ideas in the early and middle 1800’s. The three friends of the title of this engaging book, Francis Seward, Martha Coffin Wright and Harriet Tubman all lived in Auburn, each in her own way fighting for the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. The author tells their stories largely through the voluminous and wide ranging correspondence of Seward, wife of Henry Seward, governor of New York and later Lincoln’s Secretary of State and Wright. Seward and Wright wrote to one another, their families, to Fredrick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and other luminaries. Their letters take us from the 1820s through the Civil War, a time when our country was even more divided and politics more acrimonious than at present, to the 1870's. They provide intimate glimpses of family joys, sorrows and concerns as well as politics and national events. Harriet Tubman never learned to read and write, but she is the star of this book. She had a great faith, as an underground railroad conductor, she was fearless, strategic and practical. She was a Union scout, a spy, and a nurse. She fought as tenaciously for her back pay after the war as she had fought for the end of slavery. She was incapable of not being useful. In her eighties she set up a home for destitute, elderly African Americans. On her deathbed at 91 in 1913, ever the advance guard and quoting the Biblical Disciple John, she informed her family and friends that “I go away to prepare a place for you”. Though the three friends did not live to see women get the vote, they all lived to see the success of their hard fought campaign for the abolition of slavery.
You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we'd have? Well, it happened. Until, utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, our hero makes a rash decision creating a time-travel mishap and finds himself stranded in our 2016, in what we think of as the real world. If you love a good time travel book that's written exceptionally well and keeps you entertained from start to finish - check this out!
I highly recommend Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff. It is one of the most singularly odd books I've ever read and I want more people to read it so I can talk about it with them. I read it in one sitting, it's unique and disorienting, at times incredibly sharp and others a little lost, and yet I still recommend it to most everyone who likes books that are a bit different.
Bone by Jeff Smith is one of the most successful independent comics of all time. And if that seems like danging it with faint praise, I assure you, there is tons more praise (faint and otherwise) where that came from. It has won 10 Eisner awards over its 13 year run and like almost anything fantasy is being turned into a series on Netflix. A thrilling comedy and a funny dark fantasy tale of three cousins run out of town for ... irregularities during the mayoral elections who end up in a valley of mystery, tragedy, and romance.
This book had a huge impact on me, and I’m still thinking about the things I learned even though I read it months ago. In fact, when I was paging through it to prepare to write this, I was reminded of all the great stuff. The passages I highlighted still hit me - hard.
Cassandra Speaks is split into three parts: Origin Stories, Power Stories and Brave New ending. In Part One, Lesser shows how so many bible passages, myths and other ancient stories paint women as evil or weak. Patriarchy and misogyny are not new. I’ll admit that I was finding it hard to get through this section, and I put the book aside for a while. A friend encouraged me to keep reading because it gets better. It is striking to see all the misogyny gathered together in one place, and it’s impossible to write it off as just one author’s take. But Lesser highlights nuances in the stories of Pandora, Cassandra and Galatea that helped me appreciate those characters more deeply.
Part Two is all about power. Lesser is the co-founder of the Omega Institute, and she has organized conferences on women and power. She opines that women use power differently than men. It gave me some hope to think about how much power humans could wield if we all worked together - not power to dominate but power to do good things.
Part Three is the really good part. Lesser presents so many strategies to improve life that I can only highlight a few. There is a fantastic chapter about overcoming Imposter Syndrome. I loved learning about a transformative “Do no harm, Take no shit” meditation. And I am trying to be more mindful of the war metaphors that are used so frequently and thinking about new, more peaceful ways of expressing those thoughts.
I highly recommend this book AND participating in a book group discussion after you’re done.
For complete escapist reading in the mode of Terry Pratchett, I recommend the series of books by Jodi Taylor, the Chronicles of St. Mary's, about time traveler historians who "investigate major historical events in contemporary time." The titles are especially clever when you are thinking about history, the first in the series is titled Just One Damned Thing After Another. And there are many, here's a list.
Definite book equivalent of potato chips/beach read, but with clever historical references.
In a series of fascinating conversations, writer Michael Ondaatje talks with Walter Murch about his approach to editing film. Through these discussions, the reader learns about some interesting and surprising editing decisions that have been made in many classic movies, including The Conversation, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Julia, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and The English Patient. Read the book, watch the movies.
This terrific graphic novel, the first full-length work by the author/artist, depicts the Japanese American experience during World War II and is a timely and relevant tale for a wide audience, particularly for older teens and young adults. The protagonist, a high school student named Kiku in the Trump era, is suddenly transported back in time to when her grandmother was a teenager living with her family in San Francisco. They along with other West Coast Japanese Americans are forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated, first in the Tanforan horse stables and then at Topaz, Utah. Based partly on the author’s own family history, Displacement provides distinctive details and perspectives within the camp setting to effectively convey the complicated conflicts, emotional bonds and psychological trauma being experienced by the incarcerees and passing down through the generations. The book addresses social justice issues, activism, protest movements, and current events, all while also delivering strong women characters and queer representation. It’s a worthwhile read.
This biography of artist Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) is an enjoyable read and a good first resource for those who don’t know much about her. The book recounts Asawa’s life growing up in Southern California and the family’s forced removal, separation and incarceration in Japanese American camps during World War II. Asawa would later attend the short-lived experimental school in North Carolina called Black Mountain College before permanently residing in San Francisco’s Noe Valley to raise a family and practice her art. Although the author appears to have had access to Asawa’s relatives and extensive personal papers in addition to public records, unfortunately this does not result in much depth or insightful analysis; Asawa remains a mythic, elusive figure. Nevertheless, the artist’s brilliant range of creative output and use of a variety of nontraditional media can’t help but impress, and the many photographs positioned throughout are a visual treat. Depictions of Asawa’s home life and of her efforts to promote arts education add to her stature as a beloved Bay Area icon.
Lauren Oyler has written a novel that sinks deeply into the mind of a young woman who is very much like Lauren Oyler. Like her, the unnamed voice in the book moved to Germany and worked as a copywriter while crafting a novel. This novel is one long internal dialog. The voice, I will call her L, starts the book discovering that her lover carries on a secret internet life as a creator of QAnon-like conspiracies. As L ponders how to break up with him he dies in a bicycle accident while away on a trip. Pole-axed she moves to Berlin, the city where they met, and descends into a world of Twitter and Instagram. The internal dialog is rich, the prose is powerful. L lays out a no-holds barred exploration of her feelings, the reader almost feels like a voyeur. I kept thinking that I should put it down as so little was happening but then I would pick it up again. And it has stuck with me. A journey through the mind of a very young internet-savvy woman is an interesting ride. This book should be read on cloudy days, but it is worth it.
Literary resonance can produce some annoying behaviors, and I make for an apt example this month: I’ve sent friends and family more snapshots of the writing in Having and Being Had than any other book in recent memory. “Please read this,” I begged, momentarily satisfied by the assurances that they would. But because my personal circle is small, I reiterate the plea here. It is short, powerful, and worth the time.
It’s difficult to categorize Eula Biss’s new book by style or genre. The chapters exist in the space between poetry and essay, on wide-ranging topics loosely related to capitalism and postmodern consumerism. But before I lose you: her novel frame and inquisitive posture avoid the cliche pitfalls that surround these subjects. Mainly, Biss uses her own economic mobility to expose the covert buying and selling of time and convenience: “my adult life can be divided into two parts. The time before I had a washing machine and the time after.” (Amen.) She invites her reader, without heavy-handed judgment, to consider how the removal of this tedium—texture, non-euphemistically—impacts our capacity to feel real empathy for others (ahem, not intellectualized empathy in the abstract. See: “Moral Monday”). Those who can afford it buy time, but rarely examine what is lost in the exchange.
Maybe I simply share in some of Biss’s fixations about the intersection of market economics, 21st century classicism, and throwaway consumption. (Shoutout to LPES!) But I do think this book would appeal to a wide audience: the writing, in spite of its context, is light and, well, beautiful: “I’ve discovered a brand of paint I can’t afford. But I could buy it. To afford something like paint, for someone of my class, is to announce your values, most often, not your financial capacity. I can’t admit to valuing paint that costs $110 per gallon. But I find this paint unbearably luminous.”
I felt compelled to collect and share every surprising insight—so many, though, that I cannot properly relate them all here. Clearly, a brief review cannot do this book justice; you will just have to read it.
I know I'm late to the party on this one but jeez. Two sisters, Effia and Esi, grow up separately in 18th century West Africa. Their paths briefly cross at the Castle, where Esi is held in horrifying dungeons with other enslaved people who are later shipped to the United States. The rest of the book alternates between chapters about Effia and Esi's descendants. The story is intensely character-driven–– it's impossible not to submerge yourself in each vignette. But at the same time, it's a sweeping depiction of centuries of racial subjugation, from chattel slavery to a modern, Black college student's struggle to understand and express his family's history, which necessarily invokes the intensity of intergenerational trauma. It's beautiful, awful, sometimes funny, always lyrical, sneakily historical, and absolutely heartbreaking.
These wordless picture books will take you on a magical adventure of discovery and imagination. Start with Journey and keep going. You are certain to be swept away.
From the publisher’s website for Journey: A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart's desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.
We had mentioned this as forthcoming in our December list, but it’s out now and the reviews are smashing so we wanted to highlight it again - law school graduation gift anyone??? Props once more to our own Amanda Tyler.
“An informative perspective on a tireless advocate for fairness and equity.” Kirkus Reviews
“Because each of Ginsburg’s words is so meaningful, this volume feels like a final gift. . . . Ginsburg inscribed herself into American history with the shining conviction of her vision of a more perfect union, expressed in her powerfully and deliberately chosen words. Working until the very end, she was determined to leave us this final anthology, and all of her words are significant.” -- Jeffrey Rosen, Washington Post
“This book is full of evidence that even in a nation like ours, where over the last 50 years the concentration of power in the hands of the top 1% has steadily worsened, a brilliant and determined individual with the right alliances can still bring about extraordinary change within her own lifetime.” The Guardian, US Edition
This is the novel that started Midsomer Murders, the long-lived British tv series featuring Chief Inspector Barnaby in which a placid English countryside is plagued with weekly odd and brutal murders while the inspector’s wife torments him with her inability to cook. The series is bizarre and wonderful, and so is this novel – it’s a classic with red herrings, odd characters, disturbing, hidden private lives, good writing and the detective who’s smarter than he looks. Very satisfying.
There is an obvious danger in reading biographies of heroes, literary or otherwise. But when my partner very thoughtfully gifted me Didion’s biography, I felt obliged to read it, while knowing that it would likely irreversibly reframe her writing for the worse.
The book had the anticipated effect, which I note as fair warning to other Didion fans. (Or maybe I’m the only one who didn’t already know that for a good part of her adult life, she shared the worldview of Barry Goldwater? Or that, while writing about abortion and marital tedium, she openly loathed the feminist movement? Perhaps more likely: the fact that I was surprised by any of this shows how reductive our politics have become.)
Whatever you may think of political views informing the merits of art in general, it is impossible to divorce the two when the artist’s subject is political: the counterculture essays that made her famous necessarily acquire a different tone through the added context. (E.g., what this reader perceived as stylized distance was in fact real distance — judgement.)
And there is significant context, far beyond the major markers known to most of her devoted readership. Tracy Daugherty delivers an fastidiously researched book, to the extent that I frequently found myself asking “how could he know that?” (This includes some interesting sections on UC Berkeley, too.) The Last Love Song, despite its cloying title, is impressive.
While I initially saw the book as a personal loss, I’ve come around to the benefits of revisiting and contextualizing the writing. What is clear to me now is that Didion had an agenda. It’s an agenda structured by a nostalgic aesthetic that obscures inconvenient truths, and it’s an agenda that shaped my own sensibilities as a teenager and young adult. (Like Didion, I grew up in the Sacramento Valley, and the shared connection only deepened the resonance of the writing.) This was especially true in her writing of “pioneer stories,” which Daugherty rightly characterized as literary devices in service of policies lauding self-reliance. Of course, Didion later interrogated this history in Where I Was From, but to limited effect.
Because Didion does not examine her positionality, it is important that Daugherty does. Needless to say, I am grateful for the new frame.
If the pandemic allowed you to realize your full potential as a tradwife, as it did for me, you probably already read this one. Jennifer Reese does complex calculus about the cheapest, tastiest, and easiest ways to stuff your face. There's useful stuff in here for folks who are just getting into the staple-making game, as well as for folks who (like me, if I can brag a little) already have weird gross substances fermenting in the corner. I wouldn't have necessarily thought to make my own butter and now I never will. Like any cookbook some of it is silly and wrong, but it's egregious, I think, when "bread" is in the title of your book and your bread recipe is bad. It's nice that she's writing from somewhere in the Bay, so her cost comparisons are especially relevant to our lives. In short and speaking from experience, this book will help you survive a summer on the Dean's Grant.
This is a bittersweet story of working-class Scottish teenage friends growing up in the mid-1980s.The two main protagonists, Tully and Jimmy love music, movies, books and politics. The first half of the book revolves around a chaotic and comical weekend at a music festival in Manchester. The second half shifts to 30 years later with Jimmy - now James and a well-known writer - and Tully, a beloved teacher and musician - still best of friends but grappling with Tully's serious illness. The story manages to remain comic as it explores the nature of love and friendship.
I picked this up while browsing at Omnivore Books in Noe Valley (a true gem of a culinary bookstore that you should run not walk to today). Ella Risbridger wrote Midnight Chicken because cooking helped bring her back from crushing depression - actually a chicken she saw hanging in a bag from a chair handle while lying on her kitchen floor that she got up and cooked at midnight - hence the title. Each recipe is preceded by a personal story written in such lovely prose about the goings on in her life. You can feel both her joy and her melancholy in making these recipes. I was not surprised to learn that Risbridger’s latest work is a book of poetry. Midnight Chicken is also charmingly illustrated.
These are not fancy recipes (and they are very British) and she’s in no way a trained chef, but they are for the kind of comfort foods that make you want to head into your own kitchen and start melting a stick of butter with olive oil to carmelize some onions. Is it a food memoir - not really - but neither is it a traditional cookbook. It reminds me most of the late Laurie Colwin’s books Home Cooking and More Home Cooking - the writing makes you want to cook. The only drawback is that the recipes are not written in American measures and all the temperatures are in celsius. And again, visit Omnivore Books (corner of Caesar Chavez and Church) - it's chock full of culinary book treasures.
During a particular phase in Waters' writing career for those who know her earlier or later work, she wrote this amazing book set in London during World War 2. It is a page turner with a wonderful cast of characters with complicated relationships all figuring out how to live alongside death.
I would suggest any novels by Penelope Fitzgerald (she's written about ten, all around 150 pages), especially her third novel, Offshore, set among residents of houseboats in Battersea on the Thames in 1961, which won the Booker Prize.
From Amazon’s About the Author: Penelope Fitzgerard (1916-2000) wrote many books small in size but enormous in popular and critical acclaim....Over 300,000 copies of her novels are in print, and profiles of her life appeared in both The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. In 1979, her novel Offshore won Britain's Booker Prize, and in 1998 she won the National Book Critics Circle Prize for The Blue Flower. Though Fitzgerald embarked on her literary career when she was in her 60's, her career was praised as "the best argument ... for a publishing debut made late in life" (New York Times Book Review). She told the New York Times Magazine, "In all that time, I could have written books and I didn’t. I think you can write at any time of your life." Dinitia Smith, in her New York Times Obituary of May 3, 2000, quoted Penelope Fitzgerald from 1998 as saying, "I have remained true to my deepest convictions, I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, which I have done my best to treat as comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?"
Our Non-Christian Nation is a detailed, though not too long look at civic engagement by non-Christians in America. Each chapter documents recent cases of people fighting for their religious and/or non-religious rights in America where religion is being brought into government, mostly through the efforts of Evangelical Christians. This opens the door for other religious groups and non-believers to attempt to express themselves within these public spaces. This book is definitely worth reading to understand Establishment Clause's implications for religious pluralism. The book is available from the Law Library so you should check it out.
Berkeley Law’s first and only woman dean, the late and much loved Herma Hill Kay, worked tirelessly on this book in her last years. We are delighted that it was published (albeit posthumously) this spring. Another great idea for a law school graduation gift.
From UC Press: The first wave of trailblazing female law professors and the stage they set for American democracy.
When it comes to breaking down barriers for women in the workplace, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s name speaks volumes for itself—but, as she clarifies in the foreword to this long-awaited book, there are too many trailblazing names we do not know. Herma Hill Kay, former Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law and Ginsburg’s closest professional colleague, wrote Paving the Way to tell the stories of the first fourteen female law professors at ABA- and AALS-accredited law schools in the United States. Kay, who became the fifteenth such professor, labored over the stories of these women in order to provide an essential history of their path for the more than 2,000 women working as law professors today and all of their feminist colleagues.
Because Herma Hill Kay, who died in 2017, was able to obtain so much first-hand information about the fourteen women who preceded her, Paving the Way is filled with details, quiet and loud, of each of their lives and careers from their own perspectives. Kay wraps each story in rich historical context, lest we forget the extraordinarily difficult times in which these women lived. Paving the Way is not just a collection of individual stories of remarkable women but also a well-crafted interweaving of law and society during a historical period when women’s voices were often not heard and sometimes actively muted. The final chapter connects these first fourteen women to the “second wave” of women law professors who achieved tenure-track appointments in the 1960s and 1970s, carrying on the torch and analogous challenges. This is a decidedly feminist project, one that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg advocated for tirelessly and admired publicly in the years before her death.
This is a deceptively light read although it deals with issues of loss and grief. 2021 marks ten years since 3/11, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan that claimed more than 20,000 lives, tearing apart coastal towns and villages and causing the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Since then, more than 30,000 people have traveled from all over to visit a phone booth situated on a hillside in Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami. Inside the phone booth is a disconnected rotary phone, which visitors use to communicate their thoughts to lost loved ones. In this novel, two people meet en route to the phone booth, and in the ensuing months and years attempt to rebuild their lives. The stories of these two people along with others who are grieving alternate with shorter chapters with related lists and details that add a playful pause to the narrative. It’s a heartwarming story of resilience, focusing ultimately on the relationship among two sets of three generations (grandmother, mother, daughter) and how they reconcile loss.
While this book might not be to everyone's taste, I found it to be sublime. The writing is exquisite, and the world building is amazing. The book is simply about someone named Piranesi who lives (almost) alone in a structure which he lives to explore and in which there are endless rooms, corridors, and statues. If you like odd books, you will love this!
I heard about Patricia Lockwood on Twitter. She has written a novel called, No One is Talking About This, which everyone is talking about, which is why I could not get it at the library. Instead I checked out her memoir, Priestdaddy, written while living at her parents’ house, forced to move back home at age 30 by the expense of a medical procedure. Her parents’ house was a rectory -- her father having undergone a religious conversion on a submarine and became a Catholic priest after already acquiring a wife and family.
On one level, it’s an entertaining description of a quirky dad, harassed mother, unusual upbringing. On another, it makes you think about depressed and toxic areas of the Midwest, the role of religion in society, and how a woman grows up in a strange and patriarchal culture. It’s very funny, but there’s more to it than that. Worth reading.
If using language is elitist, which it is, then poets are the top 0.1%. William Matthews was a poet and academic who died young, on the cusp of middle age before the turn of the century. He was a Midwesterner with an Ivy League education, a sense of humor, and an appetite for liquor. One poem is "Beer after Tennis, 22 August 1972," another "La Tâche 1962," still another "Another Beer." Judging from his son's memoir, and supported by hints in the poems themselves, such as "Lust," "Promiscuous," and "Old Girlfriends," it's fair to speculate that were Matthews alive today he would have been #MeToo'd. He was a devotee of America's jazz giants. In Search Party, a selection of 165 of more than 800 published poems, there appear tributes to Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, Lester Young, Buddy Bolden, three about Mingus, and assorted references to other greats like George Lewis and Pee Wee Russell. One poem is for Bob Marley, another is about "Dancing to Reggae Music," and many more, like "Dylan and the Band, Boston Gardens, 1974," have musical subjects but do not appear in this collection. Regardless of the subject, which always includes himself--"Old Girlfriends" refers to "me, the hero of all these poems"--Matthews conveys the varieties of disappointments of hedonic seeking. I would like to savor a sip of that '62 La Tâche, and I share Matthews' love for great music, yet of all his poems I most often reread "A Poetry Reading at West Point," in which a cadet in the balcony during Q&A asks Matthews, "Sir...Why do your poems give me a headache when I try to understand them?... Do you want that?" Matthews struggles to avoid a flippant, glib, condescending response. He answers meekly and leaves the last word to the cadet. "'Sir,' he yelled. 'Thank you. Sir.'"
Sensational by Kim Todd is a great new book about girl stunt reporters. Here is a link to the New Yorker review.
Full disclosure: Kim is my sister in law, but the book is fascinating!!!!
Editor’s Note: The term “girl stunt reporters” refers to the intrepid women reporters who emerged in the latter half of the 19th century and pioneered a new type of investigative journalism (think Nelly Bly).
I listen to a lot of podcasts. Some of these are daily programs, such as The Daily, Slate’s Amicus and What Next, and all things Lawfare (After Trump is an interesting follow-up to Slate’s Trumpcast). One series I would recommend is Slow Burn on Slate. Now in its 5th season, it includes programs on Watergate, the Clinton impeachment, Biggie and Tupac, David Duke, and the Road to the Iraq War. All are available at https://slate.com/podcasts. Each one of these has 5-8 episodes and provides a pretty deep dive into each topic. My favorites, so far, are Watergate and David Duke. If you become a Slate Plus listener, you can listen to the podcasts without any ads and also get bonus episodes – content they couldn’t include in the regular episodes.
I was at a baby shower recently and the mother-to-be received this book and others in the Questioneers series as a gift. The young moms were all nodding their heads in approval. Then the preschool girl at the next table gave the gift two thumbs up, so I thought I should check them out because, let’s face it, there’s no one more discriminating than a preschool girl. This book and the others: Iggy Peck, Architect; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Ida Twist, Scientist are all about kids being themselves no matter how quirky and getting things done when they need done - usually in the name of STEM. All of them are in Mrs. Greer’s second grade class and are a diverse and enterprising bunch, so I suspect we’ll see more kids from this class in future books. The text is full of crisp rhymes accompanied by fun cartoon illustrations. I’m going to ride on the coattails of that preschool girl and give this series two thumbs up.
Spying on Whales is a book that was highlighted by the Contra Costa library about 1,500 years ago as an ebook. At least I think it was that long ago. It might have been last summer. It was definitely at a time when printed books were unavailable.
This is a great book for bedtime reading for me and my kids. Nick Pyenson is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. That means he is both a great storyteller and he discusses whales from the point of view of a paleontologist. In our house, we have spent hours discussing the evolution of animals that lived during the time of the dinosaurs and this offers an extension to that discussion. We have also spent hours playing games where dinosaurs play with farm animals (also eat them) and sometimes they spend time in a well attended mixed-use zoo. The nice thing about this book is that it is not so dense that each page feels like a task to get through and it is told in an engaging way that makes you feel like you might actually put this book down and know something that you might repeat to others.
Someday, when we can travel again, we will go to the Museum of Natural History and look up at that giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. We will remember this book and have a good conversation about whales, ears, and other interesting things.
If you are of a certain age and listened to NPR, you know these names without needing their surnames. These four women made a lasting impact on NPR and on journalism, especially for female journalists. This book chronicles the lives of each of the founding mothers and provides an abridged history of public radio and NPR along the way. Napoli also does a good job of reminding us all of the struggles of women in journalism and in the broader world. After all, these women were living and working through decades of barriers and change.
The chronicle provides some interesting reminders of NPR’s past -- financial issues, pay differentials between men and women, disparaging remarks. You also learn about each woman including their family backgrounds, where they went to college, and their early careers. More importantly, you get a good look at each of these women and their impact on news and public radio.
For many of us, these women are iconic. While reading the book, you can actually hear their voices. I really appreciated the relationship between the women and how they supported each other throughout their lives. However, as much as I liked the book, I felt the author missed something. I cannot really put my finger on it, but I wanted more from the book. One thing is for sure, their voices are still resonating in my head.
Texting, Suicide, and the Law: The case against punishing Michelle Carter takes a look at the case of Michelle Carter, the "girlfriend" of a suicidal man, Conrad Roy, that she was accused and found guilty of coercing into killing himself. Author Mark Turnick examines whether she and the man had their privacy violated when prosecutors selectively used their texts to one another as evidence of her guilt. Tunick makes a valid argument that it was a breach of their privacy to access the texts and should not have been used in Michelle’s trial, as they were used out of the full context of their conversations and relationship. This case was extremely difficult, and I am not sure how I feel about the outcome of the case or Turnick's conclusion. I think reading the book and stepping back and looking at the case inevitably raises more questions than are answered. It is a good book, though due to the nature of the material, dry. I believe it's worth taking the time to read it and if you agree then you’re in luck because it is in the collection at the Law Library. Check it out.
There There by Tommy Orange (I think this may have already made the list at least once). It's really brilliant, a kind of Winesburg, Ohio for modern Oakland, and yet not.
During the pandemic I went in search of mystery books that avoided gore and in which the protagonist is not a person plagued by addiction or a traumatic past. The Thursday Murder Club filled the bill. The story centers on four residents of an upscale retirement community (a converted convent) who study the files of murder cases. A founder of the group was a policewoman who took copies of the files of unsolved cases with her when she retired. Each of the four members of the group is developed as a three dimensional character, each one piqued my interest. Elizabeth, an octogenarian with a powerful presence and a mysterious past reminded me of the Helen Mirren character in Red, a movie about senior citizens who fight evil. There is also a retired psychiatrist, a former labor activist and a very sly former nurse. Two men associated with the community are murdered and the game is afoot as the group wrestles with a real case. The police duo who is investigating are both very appealing presences. There is graceful writing and some very clever humor. And the story grows much more complicated. One of the murder victims is a truly detestable businessman who owns the retirement community. He is one of those psychopaths who do well in business. He is great fun especially since he meets his end. A true page turner, this one is a winner.
Set in Odessa, Texas in 1976, these interconnected women’s stories take place in the context of the brutal assault of a 15 year old Mexican girl by an oil field worker. Not every story is about the assault (in fact some only touch on it), but it hovers over the women’s lives. The alternating viewpoints provide insight into issues of race, class, violence, and gender in that time and place and add a level of nuance and complexity you don’t often see. The fluctuating fortunes of an oil town and the way in which small town injustices are often decided by the prejudices prevalent in the bars remind us once again that it’s not an even playing field out there for women and minorities. Stuck in this dry, dusty sunburnt town, the women in these stories are fierce and courageous. This is a beautifully written book with well developed characters and you come away weirdly hopeful. This is the real true grit.
In what has surely been one of the most captivating reads of this pandemic season, Bennett weaves a gripping tale of heartache, wandering, identity, loss, and motherhood/sisterhood, through the eyes and mouths of multidimensional characters. I especially loved the character development and organization, how Bennett crafted the characters' journeys (both actual and internal), and the powerful message about race, racism, colorism, and generational trauma that present for Black families living in the South, migrating west, and everywhere in between.
Editor’s Note: This book has been recommended by many in the law school community.
Darkly beautiful, The Vegetarian tells the allegorical story of a woman's decision to give up eating meat: an unpopular choice that sets off a catastrophic sequence of events. While not for the faint of heart, Han Kang's writing is vivid, unflinching, and quietly devastating. The novel is divided into three parts, and with each subsequent section the protagonist's purported descent into madness looks more and more like an ascent into self-actualization. It may leave you with more questions than answers, but the journey is worth the existential angst.
I am not going to say anything about the contents of this book as I believe the reader should go in cold. However, I will state what an eye-opener! This is food for thought and positive action! I highly recommend this book. This title can be accessed via eBook through the Law and Main Libraries, in audio format from the Main Library through Overdrive, and in print through both the Law and Anthropology libraries.
The White Tiger, winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, was a hit with my virtual book club this year. This debut novel for Aravind Adiga tells the complicated story of Balram Halwai, the son of a poor village rickshaw driver in northeast India who charts a determined and dangerous path to becoming a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. The background of poverty, corruption, and injustice is bleak, but It is an engaging mix of social commentary and dark humor.
This isn’t a light beach read, but it would be a worthy addition to your summer reading list. Netflix recently released its film adaptation, which captures the grim, but thrilling and unexpected, nature of Adiga's novel.
“She is the most dangerous of all Allied Spies. We must find and destroy her”. 1942 transmission from the Gestapo
The juxtaposition of the title of the book and the Gestapo’s opinion of Virginia Hall summarizes the content of this non-fiction book published in 2019.
How Virginia became an American intelligence agent, a recruiter for the French Resistance, an enemy of the Nazis and retired from the CIA is a narrative of a woman who in many instances was more knowledgeable and skilled than her superior officers. She constantly attempted to receive the respect of her comrades and superior officers, but too often she was considered a woman of no importance.
Editor’s Note: Florence Magree is not only a librarian but also the mother of our own Montie Magree.