Monday, June 22, 2009

Starting Off Right in Law School by Carolyn J. Nygren

I purchased this helpful little treatise a few months ago off At the time, it seemed like law school might be an interesting backup plan in a world tilted a little sideways. It still might, but the current near-collapse of the Biglaw institution in the US makes a person think twice about jumping into very real and immediate debt in exchange for the possibility of future long term satisfaction and recompense.

In any case though, I hate to buy a book and not read it.

Nygren’s tiny little tome tries to explain to the incoming One L some of what they’re about to encounter. From her initial overview of the US legal system, to some interesting case studies of inadvertent fishbone consumption, she tries to help prepare you for the type of caselaw reading and analysis you’ll be expected to undertake in the first semester. Having discussed much of this with the Professor while reading it, it seems a useful primer. She tells me that a number of the lessons herein would have been a great compass for her in those first confusing months of study, when even knowing how to read a case, how to identify the cause of action, the issues, and so on were all foreign.

I’ve got two more of these “before you start law school” type books on the stack, so once I’ve read them, we’ll see how this one compares.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Another Booker prize winner, but… not quite where it should have been. Now maybe this is because Adiga has (in my mind) big shoes to fill. Big indeed. And he strives mightily at his task. We’ve got the obligatory framework story (open letter to Wu Jintao), an unreliable narrator (criminally negligent, you might even say), a lot of (bitter) thought about the role of colonialist countries in the formation of the crappy plight of the poor in the developing world. There’s also at least a little clever wordplay. Somehow though, the whole just falls a little short. I’m promised an Indian Palahniuk and I get a petty schemer instead.

Adiga tells us of a “truer” India. It’s a place of filth, lies, deceit, prostitution, degradation of every sort, in which a teeming amoral populace strives to put their boots on the head of the person beneath them. His Ganges teems with sewage and the corpses of the dead. The streets of Mumbai and Bangalore are filled with dead children gnawed on by rats. Our narrator – well, he’s an enterprising lad to be sure – don’t trust him for a minute.

It’s not this darkness that bothers me. Indeed no, I understand very well that Adiga is playing his part in the creation of the mural of English writing Indian fiction. First we had the fictionalized, idealized imposition of an external narrative of the subcontinent. This was the Raj Quartet era of fiction about India – emeralds, elephants, the exotic beauty of the tiger and the kama sutra. (Rudyard Kipling wrote in this tradition even earlier, I suppose.) Later, we get Rushdie, Vikram Chandra, (we’ll even be generous and include) Jhumpa Lahiri, and the like. They told us something closer to the truth, maybe. It was still gilded and fantastic, but at least it was an authentic worldview, albeit from those from the upper classes of Mumbai who managed to get western educated. Theirs was a multitude of voices, hyper educated and as attuned to the nuance of language as only a polyglot can be.

And then comes Adiga like a graffiti artist coming along to scratch in grubby coal atop the highbrow oil paintings of old masters. “No, no,” he writes. “Fuck you guys. This isn’t my India that you write about. It’s as big a pack of lies as the narratives of the imperialist swine. Your education and erudition might make you sound smart, but it’s made you forget what it’s really like out here in the darkness. Let me tell you a truer story, about filth and poverty and corruption lies and murder. ‘Cause that’s India. At least it is to me.”

And that’s the story you get from the White Tiger. It’s interesting, especially taken in the context I’ve just described. It’s even an excellent novel, perhaps. But a Booker Prize? Well… For that, I need to be shocked, dazzled, enlightened, or at least two of the three.

However, I’d read Adiga again, if only because his voice is (to me) fresh.

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

What a fine, delightful, playful and sensual novel! Rushdie’s tale cavorts between the Mughal empire in India and the Medici’s great Florence of around the same time period. The novel is filled with historical detail, but at its heart is a wonderful mediation on the relationship between creators and their creations. Also, there’s plenty of sexy sex, delightful wordplay, deftly interwoven narratives and stories, stories and more stories. Rushdie succeeds wildly in keeping hundreds of shimmering plates in constant motion before catching them all stacked neatly, taking a bow, and leaving you with the unshakable sense of having just watched a master perform.


As an aside, I've just started adding tags for author to these posts, so you can sort by author finally... Not sure why it took me so long to think of this. :)

Step Across This Line by Salman Rushdie

Oh sir, you have done it yet again. Read mostly in the Fairmont Waterfront on the Vancouver harbor in the first month of the year, this fine collection of essays landed in a suitcase and didn’t get finished until a different man read it months later in Puerto Vallerta. I suppose that’s fitting, since Rushdie himself wrote this as a lot of different men over a span of years from 1992 to 2002. And reader, let me tell you, you’re in for a treat. In 400 pages of dense, playful, angry, erudite and brilliant essays covering a wide range of topics, from The Wizard of Oz, to English footie, to his thoughts on the fatwa, Rushdie reminds us that he’s not just an important writer – he’s an important thinker. We get Christianity, judiasm, islam (of course), Pinochet, oral sex, infanticide, partition, Mercator projections, Bono, Bridget Jones, Ghandi, Babur, globalization, Nabakov, 9/11, Sammy Beckett, Kosovo, Elian Gonzales, Bush & Cheney, Yates & Faiz, tabloids, and a treasure trove of other topics.

This is a fantastic collection of essays, and as the title indicates, keeps coming back to a central theme that must have been very much on Rushdie’s mind at this time: lines, borders, their crossing; in short, the transgressive.

I’ll stop now, from fear that further expressing my admiration for Rushdie may begin to border on the sycophantine.