If there were a tribunal to prosecute international literary crimes, the individuals that enabled the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” would be firs If there were a tribunal to prosecute international literary crimes, the individuals that enabled the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” would be first in the docket.
The mystery of the Harper Lee manuscript “found” after Lee was cognitively unable to approve publication has been wrought over ad nauseam. It was the best publishing gossip in years. Thousands reread the singular and well-loved “To Kill a Mockingbird” to prepare for the prequel/sequel/first draft of the book that launched the careers of hundreds of lawyers.
To say “Watchman” is disappointing does not do the crime justice. Its publication is a travesty. The writing is simplistic, the characters are flat, the dialogue is dull, and the thin plot fails to hang together.
And while many readers have expressed shock and sorrow that Atticus is revealed as a closet racist, it is Scout who is the most profound disappointment. The wise, wide-eyed 10-year-old grows, sadly, into a vacuous young woman with little to say for herself. She is an infantile, under-developed individual.
Scout is now Jean Louise, who returns annually to Maycomb from New York. The first page waxes on about her love of the South, buoyed on her train ride by seeing “tin-roofed houses and yards surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied, her joy rose.”
We never learn why Jean Louise leaves her precious South, and why she is so drawn to her home county, much of which she openly disdains. Harper/Jean Louise describes it as “so cut off from the rest of the nation that some of its citizens, unaware of the South’s political predilections over the past 90 years, still voted Republican.”
And as backward and self-isolated as the county is, her lifelong-friend-turned-beau-turned-likely-husband Hank decides to stay. He has followed in Atticus’s footsteps as a lawyer and hopes to run for public office.
Sadly, Scout has lost her independence, and allows herself a paternal relationship with Hank, and a paternal, rather than adult, relationship with her father. Hank knows that when he marries her, “he would protect her.” And later, as she is dozing in his car after a drink, Hank thinks, “He was her true owner, that was clear to him.” But it’s hard to tell the real level of their affection for each other amid their jousting and teasing. It is difficult to discern what their connection is based on, other than decades of companionship.
Much of the novel is a long reminiscence of Scout’s childhood. There are happy moments with Hank, Jem and Dill, and then oddly juxtaposed accounts of her schooldays, which were her “most miserable days.” “She did not wish particularly to rediscover the companions of her adolescence.” Further, she is “unsentimental to the point of callousness” toward her women’s college alumnae. She is seemingly profoundly bored with this county she professes to love and considers nosey relatives and proper town ladies bothersome and not worthy of her time or attention.
And yet she tells Hank, “Every time I come home, I feel like I’m coming back to the world, and when I leave Maycomb it’s like leaving the world.”
Much of the book is fairly boring. I read it during stretches of insomnia, and it served its purpose, as I was soon returned to sleep. Long pages are devoted to the local Methodist church, the preacher’s teaching style, and the huge dust-up when the choir director tries to change the hymn lineup.
It’s not until page 103 that we have a hint that Jean Louise is alarmed by anything in Maycomb, after she finds a pamphlet titled “The Black Plague” among Atticus’s papers and then learns there is a Maycomb County’s Citizens’ Council, of which Atticus is among its most staunch members. Jean Louise tells herself Hank and Atticus are only there “to keep an eye on things.” She knows about such councils from news accounts in New York, but she is oddly surprised to find one in the Maycomb backwater. (We never find out why Jean Louise is in New York, only that Atticus encouraged her to go after she left college. An aunt makes a dismissive comment about painting, but we have no idea how Jean Louise supports herself, even though Atticus sent her away to encourage her independence.) Jean Louise tells herself Hank and Atticus are only there “to keep an eye on things.”
She goes to one of their meetings, and the speaker launches into a hateful diatribe, with Hank at his left and Atticus on his right. Her mind drifts briefly to Atticus’s defense of the black boy against rape charges, the main action in Mockingbird, and then the racist harangue returns to her consciousness. Numb, Jean Louise leaves and gets an ice cream. Then it sinks in. Atticus, the only man she has ever “fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her.” Then she vomits.
She calls Atticus “the most potent moral force in her life.” But why should Atticus be responsible for her morality? Hasn’t Scout, raised on bedtime reads from her father’s law books, developed her own moral fiber and adult sensibilities? What are her beliefs? We are left with nothing more than her knee-jerk reaction and self-pitiful shock that the men she loves most aren’t the saints she has painted them to be.
The drama in her own head continues. “He had betrayed her, publically, grossly, and shamelessly…If only he had spat in my face.” Why Jean Louise, who has seemed so detached, suddenly cares about what Maycomb thinks about her, based on her ties to Hank and Atticus, is, generously, a juvenile response and more accurately a complete leap of logic and obscene self-centeredness. There is no rage for the African-Americans who were so professionally hated. And not once does Jean Louise stop to attempt to look at things from Hank and Atticus’s view, to understand how and why they believe as they do, to attempt to have any kind of intelligent discussion.
And that’s the grave disappointment of the book. There is no nuanced discussion, internal or external, of the perceived oppression and victimhood of white Southerners, which provided validation for their rich racist rants. There are several speeches by council speakers, and then an attempt at an explanation by her uncle, Dr. Jack Finch. And the topic deserves more, much more. Lee could have provided it, given the chance.
After Jean Louise’s shell shock, the book veers back to platonic childhood games and lemonade served by their “Negro cook,” Calpurnia, who looked over them just as a mother would. I will not put reviewer and reader through further pain and give an account of the entire work. Suffice it to say Jean Louise continues to muse what it would be like to live in Finch’s Landing, an old hunting lodge by the river, ensconced away from New York, Maycomb County, its racism and conflict—everything. Rather than face the issues, Jean Louise runs away, literally and figuratively, retreating cowardly to her insular world, completely lacking any self-awareness.
Be sure of this: my complaint is not with Harper Lee. It is with the greedy caretakers who have preyed on a senile woman’s legacy to co-conspire with Rupert Murdoch, not exactly the most ethical publisher. This book is not a novel, not a prequel nor a sequel. It is what writers call a “shitty first draft,” and nearly every writer produces them. There is no shame and much nobility in struggling with the craft. The shame is that it should be published. ...more
This is one of the first books to chronicle “Notorious RBG's" life and legal legacy. Edited by Professor Scott Dodson of UC Hastings College of the LaThis is one of the first books to chronicle “Notorious RBG's" life and legal legacy. Edited by Professor Scott Dodson of UC Hastings College of the Law, the book contains both scholarly pieces on her contributions to jurisprudence as well as essays on her personal from prominent legal affairs journalists such as NPR’s Nina Totenberg and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick. Essays cover her extraordinary marriage to Marty Ginsburg, how her early interest in gender discrimination (which she experienced firsthand) shaped her jurisprudence, her tenure at the ACLU and her career as a law professor.
On the scholarly side, household names include Boalt’s Herma Hill Kay and Harvard’s Lani Guinier, among others. Those pieces dissect her influence on legal issues as varied as race discrimination in public schools, the interaction of legal systems, her approach to Congressional power, and the law of federal jurisdiction. Other essays straddle the professional and personal, including a piece from SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein on her oral-argument style.
While this reader was lost after the word “federal” in some essays, and though some anecdotes about her life are repeated, feminists and court junkies should love the collection. At 336 pages, it’s just the length for a week’s vacation. ...more
A law professor at Drexel, Benforado marshals voluminous research on psychology and the brain, along with concrete examples from real cases to revealA law professor at Drexel, Benforado marshals voluminous research on psychology and the brain, along with concrete examples from real cases to reveal and explain the dysfunctions of the criminal justice system, and offers suggestions for reform. “Beautifully written and a pleasure to read,” this novel with fire up any reader’s civil rights. Prepare to be angered....more
Mays tells the story of Henry Folger’s rise from modest origins to the chairmanship of Standard Oil of New York and his obsessive quest to collect asMays tells the story of Henry Folger’s rise from modest origins to the chairmanship of Standard Oil of New York and his obsessive quest to collect as many copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio as possible. Called miraculous and romantic, it reads like a thriller, with suspense, triumphs and defeats. His wife Emily receives equal billing in colleting and establishing the Folger Shakespeare Library. A literary detective story for the book-obsessed, at 368 pages it is perfect for escaping the too-many-people-in-one-lake-house vacation.
Called the most page-turning legal thriller since The Firm, Martin Grey, a young black attorney with a storefront office in Queens, is invited to a maCalled the most page-turning legal thriller since The Firm, Martin Grey, a young black attorney with a storefront office in Queens, is invited to a male-only power retreat of the wealthy African American elite. Dazzled by his hosts and their seeming intimate camaraderie (no wives, no cell phones, no business talk) over the weekend gathering, Grey discovers they are a part of a secret society that plunges him into a searing ethical quandary. Will he turn his back on potential riches? Or can he even escape becoming a part of their new moral order? It comes down to a life-or-death question for Grey. The novel contains a sinister twist on slavery that will shock readers. Great for interminable layovers....more
Critics say Clark, “who set the new standard by which other works of legal fiction should be judged,” has produced his finest novel yet. Married law pCritics say Clark, “who set the new standard by which other works of legal fiction should be judged,” has produced his finest novel yet. Married law partners Lisa and Joe Stone must figure out why Lettie VanSandt, a cantankerous client described as eccentric and certifiable, has died in a freakish fire in her trailer. Meth seems obvious, but in trying to settle her estate, a corporate conspiracy emerges. The small-town lawyers take up what proves to be a very challenging case. A well-paced thriller with LOL moments typical of a couple married several decades, the book explores both ethical and personal quandaries. For example, Joe tolerates Lettie’s weekly changes to her will, but Lisa despises her. This is but one of the conflicts for the couple, at least one of which threatens their marriage. Clark, a Virginia circuit court judge, has made on the “notable” list of the New York Times, among other accolades, and with this book new readers will see why. ...more
Pastrix: (pass-tricks) noun, derogatory term for a woman preacher used by Christians who refuse to recognize such leaders.
Actually, it's a term coinedPastrix: (pass-tricks) noun, derogatory term for a woman preacher used by Christians who refuse to recognize such leaders.
Actually, it's a term coined by the author to describe herself, a tattooed former standup comic, now sober, who leads a small Denver church seeking same.
It is always refreshing for me to read a spiritual memoir by an author is who is not afraid to say fuck, and not afraid to share her or his own mountain of doubt and conflicted feelings about Christianity. (How can you not fall in love with her first line: "Shit," I thought to myself. "I'm going to be late for New Testament class.") Her background as a comic helps. Turned off by her parents' fundamentalist church and its screaming hypocrisies early on, she ran headlong into alcohol, pot, Wicca, and hanging out with vegan lesbians. There is wicked humor here; her parents ask her to visit more often because they know "we aren't going to see you in heaven."
She got back into the God thing at AA. She meets a Lutheran seminary student at a volleyball court. Tall, good looking, she is lured in by his sense of social justice, and begins attending church with him, in part because the pastor is gay. And then, the story becomes a bit too simple. Perhaps it's difficult to write about one's conversion, but surely Bolz-Weber had more struggles, given her past, than she lets on, more misgivings, more anger. Her faith and new love for Jesus becomes a walk in the park with cotton candy and butterflies and looping soundtrack. I wanted more of the grit she displayed in earlier chapters. Surely faith had not wiped away her cynicism, her wicked humor, her thoroughly rebellious nature? Did she really so readily forgive conservative Christians who had condemned her, and still condemn broad swathes of potential customers, possible want-to-be believers?
True, she doesn't go back to the Church of Christ. After seminary, she ends up leading a small church in downtown Denver that welcomes LGBT worshippers and any other perceived misfits. But even this turns old at a point. Maybe it's because I'm in San Francisco, but at a certain point, welcoming gays and lesbians into your church is not "all that" anymore. Plenty of churches here take all comers. And did she never look back, did she never doubt? Was it really all sweetness and light? Bolz-Weber identifies strongly with Mary Magdalene, and has devoted at least one tattooed arm to her. Bolz-Weber became famous/infamous in her own right, a woman preacher cause-celebre who was invited to give the Easter message at Red Rocks (a VERY big deal). But there is apparently no tension between her fame (please don't tell us she wrote this just to have a calling card by which to be invited to speak?), which still seems to dazzle her, and the rest of her experience.
To be sure, read the book. Perhaps what it raised in me was a jealousy of how one who was so broken could now be so happy. Others may read it and rejoice. I read it and was suspicious that healing came quite that easily. ...more
This is a fascinating forensic view of the emotional, or reptilian, brain, and the more "advanced" logical brain, and how the first gravely impairs thThis is a fascinating forensic view of the emotional, or reptilian, brain, and the more "advanced" logical brain, and how the first gravely impairs the latter in so many aspects of our lives. Set in the context of who survives disasters, how, and why, this book has much more broad implications than accident forensics. The most compelling argument early in the work is why so many fighter pilots have difficulty landing on aircraft carriers. Gonzales's description of what controls the brain of a pilot attempting to land is so compelling, we begin to understand why beliefs (the carrier equals safety) trump logic (mathematics show this landing is impossible, air traffic control tell us to abort, etc.). He goes on to dissect other accidents. What is so riveting is how early, seemingly innocent beliefs or mistakes make all the difference in a multi-fatality or multi-act accident. The haunting aspect is that the simple works of human effort fail, and how we fail to plan for those failures, regardless of our odds of encountering them. The book is incredibly well-written, and reads like any adventure story. But it is the dose of neuroscience and human hubris that makes it a compelling argument. The book lends supreme compassion to anyone who has been in a life-or-death decision (whether they knew it or not), and to those of us who make decisions, not on a mountain top or an aircraft carrier, but whose decisions affect lives all the same. God's, or someone's mercy, seems to prevail too often than mere odds would suggest....more
Henri Nouwen is renowned as one of the most literate modern Christian writers. This book does not disappoint. He is also one of the few Christian voicHenri Nouwen is renowned as one of the most literate modern Christian writers. This book does not disappoint. He is also one of the few Christian voices who disclose their fears, doubts, and darkest moments, which makes his work all the more tender, accessible, and valuable. He has a terrifically evolved understanding of how depression and faith interplay. One does not negate the other, but adds compassionate context and richness to each. In fact, as so many mystics have found, one can enlarge the other. His very personal experience with the famous Rembrandt painting of the Prodigal Son (perhaps the most profound, and for some, the most vexing biblical parable) is truly enlightening.
It is his honesty and spot-on commentary that ensures this slim volume stands apart from so many other works. Seeking redemption for so long, Nouwen knows exquisitely what it means to finally understand one is redeemable, and in fact was long ago, when one had no such awareness, which engenders a sweetly tender ache. This parable contains the most detail of any of the stories Christ told, and is certainly the longest narrative, and so merits our careful consideration. Facile analyses talk only of the two brothers. Nouwen digs deeper, based on the details in this epic artwork, into, among other aspects, the spirit of the Father, which is both dynamic and nuanced.
While many would consider this redemption story a perfect Easter read, I prefer it during the cold dark nights before and after Christmas, when loss and separation can be so keenly felt. Non-Christians can gain much from the book as an analysis of a famous work of art and early literature. That we have story--narrative--to explain our foibled lives is miracle enough. This tale, recollection, or metaphor—whatever it means for you—is all the testament needed. Narrative in itself is redemptive. Imbued with greater meaning, and who knows what it will achieve. ...more
This is the most hilarious book ever written about, among other topics, debilitating depression. You will likely recognize Brosh's cartoon style, whicThis is the most hilarious book ever written about, among other topics, debilitating depression. You will likely recognize Brosh's cartoon style, which is incredibly endearing, even if you don't know her name. In this popular volume, Brosh is able to employ something much higher and more worthy than mere gallows humor. She chronicles, in cartoon form, the awkward way most people deal with the depressed, and the quandary left to depressives--to explain and offer support to others, while it is they who need the support, and the profound distance that creates. Her metaphor for depression-- "my fish died," and the various truly unhelpful responses she receives--is spot on. When she musters the energy to dress, leave the house, and return a video, all fellow depressives know this is a bold move out of bed into the realm of humanity and at least some responsibility. Many bonus points are deserved and given. (After exiting the video store, she declares "I can do anything." And yea, I bought the shirt of that cartoon frame, and wear it proudly.)
She delves deeper still. Never has suicidal thinking, and the seeming folly of sharing that with others, been more bitingly funny. And so very true. But the book is not just for depressives. There are plenty of gut-busting sketches about lives, dogs, lives with dogs, etc. This is a great book to read, and a terrific book to give to anyone who is just a bit down in the dumps and needs some right-sizing of their emotional situation. So, anything from a shitty job performance review to a lost boyfriend/girlfriend merits a gift of this book. And of course, treat yourself first....more
Highsmith is a true master, and this book is mesmerizing in its detail of Ripley's duplicity and talents. It has, in parts, the charm of a European peHighsmith is a true master, and this book is mesmerizing in its detail of Ripley's duplicity and talents. It has, in parts, the charm of a European period novel and the pathology of a psychological thriller. Highsmith's Ripley is so easily a scoundrel; it is as if duplicity is a second skin, and not a planned scam (though he has plenty of those, and frankly, you kind of admire him for it). This book could variously be subtitled "Story of an Opportunist" or "American Ingenuity at Home and Abroad." It is highly readable, and chillingly laconic as Ripley falls so easily into his scheme, without any real effort. His comfort with subterfuge is both titillating and profoundly frightening. And all under the sunny Italian skies and dappling waters, amid villa patio cocktails and espresso. This is a great vacation read, but just as suitable as a cold-winters-night hot toddy with warm milk. That men like Tom Ripley exist is chilling. The fact Highsmith can wrap him in such seductive costuming is chilling all the more....more
Read briefly about the importance of this work from 1899, and then simply read it. Not because it is part of the canon of American literature, but simRead briefly about the importance of this work from 1899, and then simply read it. Not because it is part of the canon of American literature, but simply for its voice.
There is nothing contrived here, only what could be plainly spoken in the language of the time. The book is aptly titled. The emotions are real, new, temporal, and not to be dismissed. The heroine is an everyman for her century--a woman privileged and constrained, and knowing both, finding herself in the most discomfiting of situations. She is a woman not afraid to confront her own needs and sensuality. Hard to believe this was a truly rebellious work in its time. And yet, how rebellious now, still? Yes, rebellious even now.
This novel is a hallmark of Southern and feminist literature. I would argue it is the hallmark of the literature of the oppressed, no matter how many servants and balconies they possessed. But it is more truly the literature of the hopeful, the oppressed, the doubtful, of any society. The sexual hunger mirrors the true intellectual hunger; if one cannot attain this, why not drown? ...more