Elitist Pastime


Since things are quiet, and the political news is too bizarre to contemplate, I thought I’d do one of our periodic “Whatcha Been Readin’?” posts. So: whatcha been readin’?

My list:

Owen Sheers, Resistance. It’s a “what if” novel set in Nazi-occupied Wales during WWII. It’s not a war novel in the Herman Wouk/Tom Clancy sense, though. It’s about a small community of Welsh women who are trying to make their lives work with their husbands gone to join the resistance, and a German patrol occupying their small valley; and about that German patrol, trying to turn a short mission into a long-term break from the brutality of the war. Highly recommended.

Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road. A medieval hoot, is what this is. A fun, short, breezy read. Chabon’s original working title was “Jews with Swords.”

Sudhir Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a Day.  This is terrific.  It’s the layman’s version of research Venkatesh did as a grad student in sociology at the University of Chicago.  He spent several years hanging out with the leader of one of the gangs that controlled Chicago’s notorious Robert Taylor Homes — the biggest housing project in the country, and one of the poorest and most violent.  I’d go so far as to call this a Must Read.

Some false starts:

Matthew Kneale, When We Were Romans. This novel is told from the POV of a 10 yr. old boy, Lawrence, whose emotionally damaged mother takes from rural England to Rome, along with his little sister, Jemima, to escape their [abusive?] estranged father. I had to put this one down after a hundred pages or so. It’s incredibly well written and all — the young narrator is almost totally believable — but it was just too sad for me. The kid is so sweet, and trying so hard to help, but mum’s problems keep getting in the family’s way.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary. It’s a classic, the first modern novel, blah blah blah. Too ruthless for me. It’s like Wuthering Heights, in that regard. Everybody in it is either an infuriating dullard or a completely self-absorbed ass, and the author himself clearly has no sympathy for any of them. Who needs this?

Peter Carey, Theft. I’ve had this one since it came out, which was . . . I dunno . . . a year or two ago. I’ve started it a couple of times, but can’t seem to get more than a couple dozen pages in before I lose all interest in both the characters and the story.

Currently reading:

Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. An interesting journalistic history of American politics and society from the election of 1964 to the election of 1972. In that eight years, the country swung from giving socially liberal Lyndon Johnson an historic landslide victory, to giving socially conservative Richard Nixon an historic landslide victory. Perlstein’s questions are: what happened in those 8 years to move the country so far, so fast, and how does it affect present day politics? It’s an interesting read. Perlstein makes no pretense of being unbiased — it’s very clear he doesn’t like Nixon and thinks the country would be better off if the swing from 1964 to 1972 had not happened. Sometimes he verges over into outright polemic, which is annoying and distracting, but at least he keeps it brief; not more than a sentence or two. Despite his bias, his is probably the best history of “The Sixties” that I’ve seen. (In part, that’s by default: the others really, really suck.)

George Eliot, Janet’s Repentance. Just started this one. It’s one of Eliot’s early, short novels.

(And, of course, as soon as I finished this and hit the “Publish” button, I see Ms.P has just put up a post.  Can we support two posts at once?  Stay tuned.)



16 Responses to “Elitist Pastime”

  1. alsturgeon Says:

    Civil Procedure (Yeazell)
    Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Yeazell)
    Property (Nelson)
    Contracts (Farnsworth)
    Torts (Green)
    The Bluebook (Some Really Anal Harvard People)

    Occasionally another Civ Pro book whose name I forget (Glannon)
    Periodically from a LRW book w/a very forgettable title (Putnam)
    And another LRW book with another forgettable title (Sloan)
    Restatement of Contracts coupla times a week

    Property & Torts are my favorite reads – maybe partly because the authors are my professors, but I think just because they are my favorite reads…

    Overall, the book collection is rather tedious, but they cost $1,000 collectively, so you can’t say they aren’t worth something.

    I went to see/hear Garrison Keillor a couple of nights ago, and he reminded me of how much I missed books/storytelling. Yesterday morning, I had an epiphany: AUDIOBOOKS! So once I get a chance I’m heading down to the Malibu Library to check out their selection.

  2. dejon05 Says:

    Last week I finished the following:
    War & Peace
    The Brothers K
    Grapes of Wrath
    The Book of Mormon
    The Unabridged Webster’s Dictionary

    1L year isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

  3. Whitney Says:


  4. urbino Says:

    Property (Nelson)

    Is that Bill Nelson (William H., I think, or maybe William E.)?

  5. Michael Lasley Says:

    Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman. I started this back in the summer and am just now finishing it. Story of a young-ish guy who is sitting in a prison cell somewhere in a remote part of Iraq awaiting execution. He’s writing the book from prison. It’s a goofy/funny book that has little to do with Iraq or prison or executions.

    Grapes of Wrath. Read this a long time ago and am almost finished re-reading it. I’d forgotten how depressing it is.

    I just finished I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. A very forgettable book. I’m pretty sure he watched a Girls-Gone-Wild video and decided to write a book about it. The entire thing, cover-to-cover, is a cliche.

    Globalization and Its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz. He’s a Nobel Prize winning economist. I haven’t the foggiest what he’s talking about when he talks all technical. But it’s a good book, nonetheless. Discusses how the World Bank has mismanaged the emerging economies in different areas of the world — the best successes have been those who have ignored the advice of the WB. Because the WB bases their policies, according to him, on principles that a) are outdated or b) are skewed toward helping established, Western markets. I’m sure his book in controversial, but I honestly have no idea. Seems appropriate about now, though. As one of his big mantras is: government regulations are not a bad thing, but stupid government regulations are a bad thing. (Stupid being regulations that only benefit a certain group of people.) If nothing else, the book has helped me realize how incredibly complex economics is. Crazy complex is how complex it is.

    A Game of Thrones, by George R R Martin. I’ve read the first 4 (?) books in this series, and it’s absolutely great. Think Lord of the Rings minus the different “races” and adding a whole bunch of bad people. And you never can rely on any single character to live through a chapter. Martin has no problem killing off anyone. A very good series. This is the first book. I’m going to re-read the series, as the 5th book just came out and I realized that I’d forgotten whole bunches of things that I probably shouldn’t have forgotten if the new one was to make any sense. I’m a dork.

    At some point in the next couple of weeks, I plan to start The Yiddle Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon. Chabon is one of the best writers going, so I’m looking forward to it.

  6. urbino Says:

    Grapes of Wrath. Read this a long time ago and am almost finished re-reading it. I’d forgotten how depressing it is.

    And filthy. Absolutely filthy.

    The Yiddle Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

    Read that one last autumn/winter. It’s excellent.

  7. alsturgeon Says:

    Grant Nelson. Used to be at Mizzou, followed by 24 yrs at UCLA.

    My Torts prof is Michael Green, a visiting prof from Wake Forest. I learned that he would have been teaching at Iowa while you where there, JU.

  8. urbino Says:

    I spent some time in UI’s law library, working on a seminar paper on Hugo Grotius. Green is probably still adjusting to working in a building with right angles. (UI’s law school building is circular.)

    BTW, folks, re-check the post. I had completely forgotten about another great read I recently finished: Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day. You law school kids, once you get a grip on your school reading and learn how to manage it — and you will do that, sooner or later — should definitely check this one out.

  9. mrspeacock Says:

    About 7 years late, I finally got around to reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. My, my, it was scandalous. And thoroughly enjoyable. Although I’m not sure I really need to know exactly how a transgendered girl hides her manly bits in such detail.

    Persepolis 2. I absolutely fell in love with the first installment, and I’m trying to pace myself for the second. It’s too easy to read these in one sitting. Highly recommended.

    Grapes of Wrath. Somehow I’ve managed to never read this book even though Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. I own the thing, so I’ll get to it one of these days.

  10. mrspeacock Says:

    Sorry for the split infinitive, English buffs.

  11. Michael Lasley Says:

    Rather than be sorry, why not just not split infinitives? You’re one of those easier-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission people aren’t you?

  12. urbino Says:

    The most conscientious infinitive non-splitter I’ve ever seen is Justice Harry Blackmun. You’ll notice this when you start reading his opinions, Al & Deej.

  13. alsturgeon Says:

    Looking forward to it. But what about the greatest splitter? Bruce Sutter, maybe?

  14. mrspeacock Says:

    You’re one of those easier-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission people aren’t you?

    I wish. I would have had much more fun as a teenager.

  15. urbino Says:

    Hubba hubba.

    Just an update. I’m kicking Eliot to the curb and starting Dennis Lehane’s new one, The Given Day, which looks really interesting and is getting great reviews.

  16. Michael Lasley Says:

    I’ve heard nothing but great things about Lehane’s book. It’s on my wish-list….probably a Christmas break read for me.

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