Tag Archives: books

Kate Sutherland

New on my Bookshelf: Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

My latest acquisition is a book that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for some time: Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life. Why such excitement over a new biography of a figure as well known and much written about as Charles Dickens? I concede that I’m not expecting any grand new revelations on the eve of the 200th anniversary of his birth. But I’m something of a connoisseur of literary biography, and despite having delved into a number in my recent research on Dickens (you may recall that he’s the subject of a chapter in my book-in-progress on writers’ lawsuits), I haven’t yet found one that strikes quite the right balance for me. I’m hopeful that Tomalin’s new book will prove to be just what I seek.

What is it that I look for in literary biography? There are those who contend that writers’ work is all that matters, that their life stories are irrelevant, indeed, that knowledge of their lives may well impede rather than enhance appreciation of their work. I have some sympathy for that view. Certainly I would always put the work first. But, both as a writer and a reader, I’m deeply interested in process, in how the work that we value so highly was created. What were the material conditions within which the work was produced? How did the subjects develop as writers? Which authors and what books did they read along the way? Did they have collaborators, supporters, detractors, helping or hindering their work? If they drew on their lives in their work, how did they transform their experiences into literature? (On that last point, I hasten to add that I have little patience for simplistic quests to identify which real person a fictional character was based on, and so on. I believe that most writers find fodder for writing in their lives, but that good fiction is seldom a direct representation of experience but rather a transformation of it into something else, independent of its origins.) Thus whether or not learning about writers’ lives enhances my appreciation of their work very much depends on where biographers’ emphases lie in their explorations of those lives.

Based on Claire Tomalin‘s track record, I have high hopes that her biography of Dickens is just the sort that I would like to read. (Of her many highly-lauded biographies, her most recent, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, was a particular favourite of mine.) Certainly the reviews in the UK, where the Dickens biography has been out for a few weeks now, are promising. In the Telegraph, Judith Flanders writes that “Tomalin’s psychological analysis is acute, isolating that elusive something that made Dickens great […] and when it comes to analysing the novels, she is magisterial.” In the Guardian, William Boyd concurs and elaborates: “The work remains and endures – and Tomalin analyses the novels with great acuity – but what is so valuable about this biography is the palpable sense of the man himself that emerges.” In the Independent, Boyd Tonkin opines: “Even dedicated Dickensians will know, and understand, much more about the novelist after reading Tomalin’s close-packed but free-flowing narrative,” then concludes: “For the moment, she has captured Dickens, in sun and shadow, with all the full-hearted exuberance, generosity and keen wit that he merits.”

I’ll share my own views here once I’ve read it. In the meantime, if you fancy learning more about the book, click here to read an excerpt, and here to watch an interview with Tomalin about it. And below, you can find Penguin’s video introduction to the book in which Tomalin provides her own answer to the question of why another biography of Dickens seemed worth doing:

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, September 5-11, 2011

Below is a selection of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A U.S. district court has allowed a lawsuit brought against Hungary and its museums by the heirs of art collector Baron Mor Lipot Herzog to proceed. Herzog’s heirs brought the suit after unsuccessfully petitioning the Hungarian government for the return of art, collectively valued at more than $100 million, “most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary” (NYT). Hungary argued that it was entitled to immunity under the United States Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but the court was not convinced. The lawsuit seeks the “the return of more than 40 artworks including paintings, sculptures and other works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zubarán, van Dyck, Velázquez and Monet,” and “an accounting of all art from the Herzog family in its possession” (NYT). (Sources: New York Times, Clancco, Reuters, Hungary on Trial)

A California court has denied Madonna’s bid to have a trademark case against her over her Material Girl clothing line thrown out. Retailer LA Triumph claims it has been using the name for a clothing line since 1997 and that it owns the trademark. Madonna argues that her use dates back farther to her 1985 hit song. But the court concluded that Madonna’s argument was an insufficient basis for the summary judgment that she sought: “This Court and other courts have recognized that the singing of a song does not create a trademark.” Thus the case will continue on to trial. (Sources: Hollywood Reporter, BBC)

A Paris court has found that television newsreader Patrick Poivre d’Arvor breached the privacy of a former lover through his undisguised portrait of her in a 2009 novel Fragments of a Lost Woman. In addition to many details drawn from her life, the book included virtual word-for-word copies of eleven letters that she had written to him. Poivre d’Arvor argued that the book was a work of fiction based on his “numerous female conquests,” but the court was not persuaded, concluding: “The literary procedures used do not allow the reader to differentiate the characters from reality, such that the work cannot be qualified as fictional.” The court imposed a fine and a ban on reprinting of the novel. (Source: Telegraph)

Matthew Jones, author of the screenplay for Boot Tracks and the novel upon which it was based, is suing the director and producers of the film. He claims that they made unauthorized changes to the script which constitute a breach of an option agreement. His complaint reads in part: “Defendant Jacobson and Rattner promised that the screenplay would not be changed, that they understood the unique artistic integrity of the screenplay and that if changes did have to be made in order to secure financing that plaintiff would be the only one allowed to make said changes, which would be consistent with the authenticity of the novel.” In addition to breach of contract, Jones alleges copyright infringement and fraud. He is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent release of the film. (Source: Courthouse News, Hat tip: @Copycense)

Prompted by the impending release of an eagerly anticipated new film adaptation of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman playing the role of George Smiley, Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the best British spy novels. Click here to see his list and assess his choices. Has he left out any must-reads?

In an interview with the Guardian, A.D. Miller discusses his Booker-shortlisted novel Snowdrops which features as its narrator “a lonely, drifting, 30something expat lawyer, living in Moscow during the few-questions-asked oil boom.” Definitely one that I’m keen to read.

German lawyer and author Ferdinand von Schirach has garnered high praise for short stories based on his criminal defense work. But in his latest work of fiction, he has turned to the past, tackling his fraught family history. The soon to be published novel, Der Fall Collini, includes a character based on his grandfather who was leader of the Hitler Youth and ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. The Guardian quotes from an interview that von Schirach did with Focus magazine: “If you grow up with a name like mine, by the time you are 15 or 16 at the latest, you have to ask yourself some basic questions and come up with some very basic answers that you can live with. It’s your responsibility.” His grappling with these questions through the medium of fiction will doubtless make for though-provoking reading. I don’t know when an English translation is due to be published, but I will certainly be watching for it.

Reviewer Joanna Hines is pleased to have discovered in Death in August, the first installment in a mystery series by Marco Vichi set in 1960s Florence, a new detective (Inspector Bordelli) “whose company will be an enduring pleasure.” She pronounces the book: “A real find for anyone who likes their crime novels atmospheric, discursive, humorous and thought-provoking.” Sounds very promising. (The Guardian)

Kate Sutherland

New Building, New Books: A New School Year Dawns at Osgoode

The renovations to the Osgoode Hall Law School building were not quite finished in time for the start of the new school year, but close enough for us to move back in and reclaim it. After two years in temporary digs scattered about the York campus, it’s a joy for us all to be together again in one place. And what a place! The overwhelming impression for me is of light and space. Those of you familiar with the brutalist, bricked-in Osgoode of old will appreciate that this is an enormous and welcome change. I snapped a few photos (above) so that you can see for yourself.

Of course it wasn’t just the opportunity to photograph the new Osgoode against a blue sky backdrop that brought me up to school on a sunny Friday afternoon in what for me is a sabbatical year. It was the celebration of the publication of new books by two of my colleagues: Copyright, Communication and Culture: Towards a Relational Theory of Copyright Law by Carys Craig, and a second edition of Intellectual Property Law: Copyrights, Patents, Trade-marks by David Vaver. Both authors spoke eloquently about their books to whet our appetites for reading them.

Carys Craig riffed on the cover image of her book to convey something of its content. It’s a book that squarely takes aim at the dominant conception of copyright as private property. In it, she argues that this conception misrepresents authorship and the process of cultural creation in ways which, when translated into law, lead to the stifling rather than the stimulation of creativity and expression. She proposes instead a relational theory to underpin a copyright law that would better serve our social and cultural values. I haven’t done her presentation justice with that brief description. I tried to take careful notes but soon gave up as pretty much everything she said seemed worth writing down. Of course, this bodes very well for the book! Suffice it to say that it promises to be a most thought-provoking book and I’m very keen to read it.

David Vaver spoke a bit about what’s new in the second edition of his authoritative text. The attention paid to intellectual property by the Supreme Court of Canada in the fifteen years that have elapsed since the first edition was published necessitated significant expansion. But he devoted most of his speaking time to making a case for the importance and relevance of intellectual property law to other fields of law. He was preaching to the converted where I’m concerned (my advanced torts course covers all of the points of intersection between IP and torts that he mentioned), but the case he made was a convincing one by any measure. And he nicely tied the two themes of this post together for me with his opening gambit. We may think that we’re in a building right now, he said, but in fact we’re in a copyrightable architectural work. And what of the renovations? Might the modifications to the Osgoode building violate the moral rights of the original architect? An entertaining and enlightening afternoon all round.

Today’s book launch was just the first of many events to be held at Osgoode this year that are apt to be of interest to devotees of law and the arts. I will report on them here, and offer up a bit of advance notice as well for the benefit of those of you in the Toronto area who may wish to attend. We’d love to have you come visit us in our lovely, newly renovated building!

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, June 1-12, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that have caught my attention so far this month.

A group of origami artists is suing Sarah Morris claiming that her series of paintings based on origami crease patterns constitute copyright infringement. The suit was launched in U.S. federal court in April, but it received fresh attention this week with an article in the Guardian and posts on a number of IP and art law blogs (The 1709 Blog, Art and Artifice). The Guardian reports that the plaintiffs allege “Morris copied their origami crease patterns, changed the colour scheme and then sold and exhibited the works without obtaining permission and crediting them,” and that she has thereby “‘created confusion’ over the authorship of their designs and damaged their professional reputations.” Morris is expected to base her defense on fair use. Her lawyer is reported to have told the Art Newspaper: “It’s hard to imagine a clearer use of transformative fair use.” Click here to see excerpts from the complaint including several exhibits that set the plaintiffs’ crease patterns alongside Morris’s paintings (as in the illustration above).

Two years ago, the unveiling of a previously unknown collection of paintings, drawings, letters, and ephemera purported to be the work of Frida Kahlo was met with charges that “all of the documents and works in [the collection] are fakes.” Now, the L.A. Times reports that in a decision rendered last year but only reported last week, “a Mexican court has ruled that opponents have failed to prove their claim that the collection is bogus.” This ruling does not establish the authenticity of the collection, but it paved the way for its owners to “[file] ownership papers or the material […] with Mexico’s Public Registry of Copyrights” and to begin to “[consider] exhibition options.”

A California federal judge has decided in favour of photographer Glen E. Friedman in his copyright suit against Thierry Guetta (“Mr. Brainwash”). Guetta argued that his work based on Friedman’s iconic photo of rap group Run DMC did not constitute infringement because Friedman’s photograph was not sufficiently original to merit copyright protection or, alternatively, that he had altered it sufficiently for his work to be considered fair use. The judge rejected both arguments and granted Friedman’s motion for summary judgment. Some commentators have expressed concern that, hot on the heels of the Richard Prince decision, this outcome is a further blow to appropriation art. (Hollywood Reporter, Media Bistro, LA Weekly)

The New York Times reports that last week a U.S. federal appeals court denied the claim of an innocent buyer of a stolen Pissarro print that she ought not to have to forfeit the work. She purchased it twenty-five years ago from a San Antonio art gallery and did not learn until she tried to sell it through Sotheby’s in 2003 that it had been reported stolen thirty years previously from a museum in Aix-les-Bains, France. The U.S. government promptly “seized the print as contraband.” In the wake of the court’s upholding of that action paired with its determination that the buyer could not recover her legal fees, she ruefully observes that her “$100,000 asset [has] turned into a $100,000 liability.”

In the Observer, Rory Mulholland notes the proliferation of protest art on the walls of the rebel-held cities of Libya. He finds the multitude of caricatures of Muammar Gaddafi, “whose many eccentricities make him a perfect target for satire,” to be “the most striking manifestation of the new-found freedom of expression” in those regions. Click here to see a slide show of some of the images that Mulholland captured on film.

Joan Jett and Cherie Currie have filed suit in a New York court in an attempt to stop the release of a tribute album featuring contemporary cover versions of the songs of their 1970s band The Runaways. In the Hollywood Reporter, Eriq Gardner sums up the basis for the suit as follows: “Typically, when cover songs are recorded, mechanical license royalty rates apply. No permission is required. However, in this unusual situation, Jett and Currie are claiming that the project is a violation of their likenesses, and that the record label is using their famous names to market the album.”

Christophe Maillet, owner of a Doors-themed Paris Bar called The Lezard King, has received a letter from the band’s lawyer threatening legal action if he doesn’t change the name of the bar and remove all images of the band from the premises within the next three months. The letter warns: “”The Doors do not want to be seen as having approved of your establishment and also the consumption of alcohol.” Maillet, a life-long Doors fan who personally collected the memorabilia over the past twenty-five years that constitutes the bar’s decor, “doesn’t know what could happen if the legal action goes ahead” but fears that the “worst-case scenario is that they could close the bar.” (Associated Press)

The family of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda maintains that he died of cancer in 1973 at the age of 69. But following allegations that he was, in fact, poisoned at the behest of General Pinochet, a Chilean judge has ordered an investigation into his death. (BBC, NPR)

As part of its coverage of the Hay festival, the Telegraph has published a wonderful series of articles in which writers pay tribute to their “heroes of free speech.” Click on the following writers’ names to learn about theirs: Javier Cercas, Kishwar Desai, Héctor Abad Faciolince, Helena Kennedy, Youssef Rakha, and Elif Shafak.

Katherine A. Power has high praise for Mary Doria Russell’s historical western, Doc: “This extraordinary novel, whose central figure is John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, is both a work of reclamation of the man from his legend as a coldblooded killer and an inspired evocation of a mythic quintessence.” (Salon)

In the Daily Beast, David Goodwillie interviews police detective Edward Conlon about his novel Red on Red. Given Conlon’s line of work and the critical acclaim of his memoir, Blue Blood, it is perhaps unsurprising that his novel is garnering praise for its authentic portrayal of detective work and of police partnerships. “Conlon’s colorful world exists under a gray and pressing sky of authenticity that not even the most research-addicted crime novelists could recreate,” Goodwillie writes. He continues: “At the same time, Red on Red offers Conlon his first opportunity to move past the factual restrictions of non-fiction, and he doesn’t disappoint.” It sounds like it’s well worth a look.

“Where better to set a noir police procedural than in streets awash in uncollected trash, against a backdrop of smoke rising from Vesuvius?” asks Hallie Ephron. She concludes that with These Dark Things, the first installment in a series featuring Captain Natalia Monte of the Naples Carabinieri, Jan Meret Weiss lays claim to that city as decisively as Donna Leon has to Venice. I’ve just finished reading These Dark Things myself and can attest that Natalia Monte is a most intriguing character and that Naples is very vividly evoked⎯a promising start to a new series. (Boston Globe)

Kate Sutherland

International Crime Fiction: Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh Series

“International crime fiction” can be an unhelpful label, given how often people use it simply to denote the crime fiction of any country other than their own, so as to indicate border crossing by readers rather than sleuths. But it is an apt one for Shamini Flint’s series featuring Inspector Singh whose investigations cut a wide swath across Southeast Asia. Inspector Singh is a detective in the Singapore police force, but it seems that his superiors are keen to take advantage of any opportunity to send him on distant, unpalatable assignments. In the first installment of the series, he is sent to Kuala Lumpur to ensure that a Singaporean woman accused of murder is fairly treated by the Malaysian police. In the second, he finds himself on secondment in Bali to assist with anti-terrorism efforts in the wake of a bomb exploding, and in the fourth he is sent to Cambodia as an observer to the international war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh. (In the third, he stays home in Singapore, but even there it seems that there’s an international dimension given that the murder at the centre of the plot occurs at an international law firm.)

The first book in the series, Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, amply illustrates the richness that such cross-cultural and individually diverse settings can afford. In it, the shared colonial histories of Singapore and Malaysia are highlighted, and current tensions between the countries⎯political, cultural, and religious⎯are mirrored in the interaction between the Singaporean Sikh Inspector Singh, and his Malaysian Moslem counterpart Inspector Mohammad, and also in the details of the case that they must cooperate to solve: the murder of a wealthy Malaysian businessman of which his estranged Singaporean wife, a former model who grew up in poverty, stands accused.

The author of the series, Shamini Flint, is a former lawyer who practiced for ten years with an international firm in Singapore and Malaysia before opting to write full time, and she makes excellent use of her legal knowledge in this book. The inner workings of the Malaysian criminal justice system are explored, as are Malaysia’s plural legal regimes, the latter providing a crucial plot point when the murdered man suddenly converted to Islam in order to have a bitter custody battle transferred to Syariah court in the hope of thwarting his wife’s seemingly imminent victory in the secular courts.

These facets effectively combine to evoke the strong sense of place that distinguishes much of the best crime fiction, and make for extremely interesting reading. The most appealing feature of the book, though, is Inspector Singh himself. One of the back cover blurbs draws a parallel between him and Precious Ramotswe of Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective Agency series. I can see why the publishers would stress such a comparison given the enormous popularity of that series. But the comparison is all wrong. Inspector Singh has much more in common with his police procedural brethren such as Martin Beck and Kurt Wallander (methodical, glum, portly and wheezing, at odds with his wife), John Rebus (at odds with his superiors), or even, if we can step into the realm of television for a moment, Lieutenant Columbo (rumpled and underestimated). In her characterization of Inspector Singh, Flint strikes the perfect balance: sufficient familiarity to meet genre expectations, and sufficient novelty to make it feel altogether fresh.

I have only read the first book so far and I recommend it enthusiastically. I fully expect that, on further investigation (ha ha), Inspector Singh will join my pantheon of favourite fictional sleuths. It appears that, as yet, the first is the only one in the series that has been published in Canada, but I liked it so well that I’ve already ordered the UK editions of the rest, and I eagerly anticipate their arrival.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, April 11-17, 2011

Photo by Grey Villet, from the documentary film The Loving Story

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week, with a smattering of extras from the two weeks prior for which alas, due to the usual end of term madness, I didn’t manage to put together roundups.

In the midst of what has been described in the New Yorker as China’s “most intense crackdown on free expression in years,” well-known artist and outspoken human rights advocate Ai Weiwei was two weeks ago detained by Chinese police as he attempted to board a flight at Beijing airport (Guardian). Government officials claim that Ai’s detention “has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression,” that he is, rather, “under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes” (AFP). Few outside of China appear to be convinced. In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones opines: “Ai Weiwei has spoken out eloquently for the universality of human rights and the worldwide hunger for freedom. Even if all the charges China are apparently raising were true, it would not alter anything⎯and given his brutal detention it is reasonable to assume they are false.” Yesterday, an international protest organized by artists and curators was staged demanding Ai’s release. The New York Times reported beforehand that the form of the “planned protest⎯in which participants will bring chairs and sit down outside Chinese government buildings around the world⎯draws on an installation titled ‘Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs,’ which Mr. Ai did at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 2007.”

The distressing news that the artifacts looted from Egypt’s museums and archeological sites during the recent uprising numbered around one thousand was leavened slightly last week by the odd story of the recovery of some of them. It was reported that four priceless treasures, including a gilded wooden statue of King Tutankhamun, had been returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after being found by an employee of the Ministry of Antiquities in an unattended black bag that he happened upon in a subway station one morning on his way to work. A clip of the government news conference announcing the find can be viewed here courtesy of the Telegraph.

The Loving Story, a documentary film about the famous case of Loving v. Virginia in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute as unconstitutional, has garnered a few mentions on legal blogs in anticipation of its showing later this month at the Tribeca Film Festival. Read about the film at Feminist Law Professors, and a bit about the case, its aftermath, and a forthcoming book about it at Concurring Opinions.

The New York Times reports that new guidelines from China’s censors “all but ban TV dramas featuring time travel” on the basis that they “lack positive thoughts and meaning” and may “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”

James Joyce’s estate, in the person of his grandson Stephen, is notoriously protective of copyright and has often proven hostile to requests for permission to use his work. Indeed, as reported in Discover Magazine, it recently sent a cease and desist letter to two scientists who had inscribed a line from Joyce’s work into the genome of a synthetic microbe. Against this backdrop, many found cause for celebration when singer Kate Bush revealed that “she has been given permission to use Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy from Ulysses, in a song to be released next month,” twenty-two years after an initial refusal. But, in the New Yorker, D. T. Max cautions against reading too much into this development. “After all,” he notes, Stephen Joyce “permitted the same passage to be used by Amber in the 2001 dance hit ‘Yes.’”

Warner Brothers has lost the latest round in the ongoing litigation over rights and profits between it and the heirs of the creators of Superman. A judge has denied its bid “to pry open secret documents that purportedly show an agreement between the estates of Superman co-creators Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel not to make further copyright deals with the studio.” Warner Brothers “argued that the agreement itself was a violation of the Copyright Act and couldn’t be insulated from discovery” while the Shuster and Siegel estates maintained that “those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.” (THR Esq.)

Controversy has surrounded the release of Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul. It was first banned in Gujarat, a western state of India, on the basis of advance reviews in British papers which suggested revelations of a homosexual relationship, and proposals of bans in other states quickly followed (Globe & Mail). Some U.S. book groups then got in on the act, canceling appearances by the author (Boston Globe). Lelyveld asserted that the controversial passages have been taken out of context, telling the Times of India that he never alleged that Gandhi had a homosexual relationship and that “the word ‘bisexual’ nowhere appears in the book” (L.A. Times). The The Daily Beast reports that “three prominent descendants of Gandhi in India have publicly spoken out against [a] proposed [national] ban.”

According to Eric A. Posner, in A Thousand Times More Fair, Kenji Yoshino “argues that Shakespeare’s plays contribute to modern debates about law and justice, and he draws crisp lessons from twelve of those plays.” Posner concludes that “the quality of Yoshino’s readings varies considerably.” He praises the author’s capacity to “teas[e] out the meanings of complex passages,” but faults him for too often using Shakespeare’s work as “a bag of anecdotes to illustrate moral platitudes.” (New Republic) Gary Wills’ review is similarly mixed. Though he concedes that “the class on which this book is based is probably great fun,” he criticizes the limitations of Yoshino’s strategy of pairing plays with current events: “The plays are cut to such trite lessons to keep up the game of headline rummaging.” (NYT) Benjamin Ivry is more enthusiastic, finding Yoshino to be “a refreshingly engaging advocate for Shakespeare.” (Star-Ledger)

Crime, the fiction debut of German defense lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach, is described by reviewer Boyd Tonkin as a “bizarre and unsettling collection of 11 stories about crimes and their consequences.” He expands: “Each tale whips along, a shock at every turn, like some beast with eyes of red-hot coal panting down a forest track at night. For, courtroom procedure aside, the spirit of the German-language Märchen really drives this book: eerie tales of the uncanny, as practised by Hoffmann, Kleist, the Grimms and even Kafka.” (Independent)

Jane Jakeman praises An Uncertain Place, the latest Commisssaire Adamsberg mystery by Fred Vargas, as a “wonderfully intricate and Gothic work” that “add[s] to Vargas’s usual parade of satisfyingly weird characters.” In it, Jakeman tells us, the author “lets herself go in a riot of vampiric complexities: her delights in plot and language are dolphin-like, leaping with pleasure at obscure Cyrillic messages, tracing Danubian family history and sanguinary lore.” (Independent)

Margaret Cannon pronounces Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness, which features the return of Mickey Haller from The Lincoln Lawyer, “a superb novel” that “is even better than its predecessor.” (Globe & Mail)

In the latest Invisible Ink column, Christopher Fowler reminds us of the charms of Sarah Caudwell’s clever and witty mystery series that features a professor of medieval law as sleuth aided by four barristers who serve “as a kind of ironic, adult Enid Blyton gang to help solve crimes.” He tells us that Caudwell, who was herself a barrister, “used her knowledge of tax and inheritance laws to add realism to the cases,” but that “apart from that they’re quite potty, with members of the team tromping around exotic locations dropping barbed bons mots to their mentor.” People have been recommending these book to me for years, and this might just be the prod I need to finally pick one up. (Independent)

Kate Sutherland

The Lawyers of Children’s Literature

I recently reconnected with a childhood friend on Facebook, and she reminded me that, at the age of ten, I was already telling anyone who asked that I was going to be a lawyer when I grew up. As it turns out, I became a law professor, but I remain a paid-up (albeit non-practicing) member of the Saskatchewan Bar, so mission accomplished, more or less. The focus of this post, though, is not the attainment of the goal but what inspired it. Where did I get the idea that a lawyer was a thing to be, and what sort of work did I envision a lawyer doing?

There are two of us now, but back then there were no lawyers in my family, or even in my family history. (Recent genealogical research has confirmed the latter perception. I’ve turned up shepherds, coalminers, steelworkers, carpenters, calico printers, tailors, domestic servants, schoolteachers, and even one errant phrenologist, but no lawyers.) Nor were there any lawyers amongst the family members of my friends. My childhood pre-dated the heyday of television legal dramas, so I don’t think that I can locate the inspiration there. I might have caught the odd Perry Mason rerun, but I was already in law school by the time L.A. Law and Street Legal arrived on the small screen.

So I can only conclude that, as is true of many of my good ideas, it came from books. But which books? Who are the lawyers of children’s literature? I have thought long and hard about my childhood reading, particularly beloved repeat reads, and I can recall only two fictional lawyers that got more than a passing mention.

The first appears in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. The novel details the adventures of eleven-year-old Claudia Kincaid when, feeling underappreciated, she runs away from her suburban Connecticut home with her nine-year-old brother Jamie in tow, and takes up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. But the tale is not told by either of the youthful protagonists; the book is narrated by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, an elderly, eccentric patron of the arts, in the form of a letter to Saxonberg, her lawyer of 41 years, instructing him to change her will and explaining why she wishes him to do so. Throughout, Mrs. Frankweiler represents Saxonberg as no friend of the arts. He’s dull and boring, caring only for law, taxes, and his grandchildren. He’s “never set [his] well-polished toe inside that museum,” and is “altogether unconscious of the magic of Michelangelo.” Though it is apparent by the end that this is not an entirely accurate picture, it nevertheless renders Saxonberg an unlikely role model for my ten-year-old self who had artistic as well as legal aspirations. I might credit the book with stoking my interest in museums and art galleries, and certainly with contributing to the fascination that New York City held for me decades before I ever traveled there. But I rule it out as an early impetus to pursue a legal career.

That leaves Carson Drew, “well-known lawyer,” and father to teenage sleuth Nancy Drew. But surely, I thought, Carson Drew played only a bit part in the series, keeping well in the background as parents are wont to do in children’s literature to accord child characters plenty of room for independent action. Not so, I found after a bit of rereading. Certainly he doesn’t get in the way of Nancy’s independence⎯she whisks about the countryside in that enviable blue convertible with his blessing. But he’s a solid presence and his legal work is far from an incidental detail. On the first page of the first installment of the series, The Secret of the Old Clock, we’re told that he “frequently discussed puzzling aspects of cases with [Nancy],” and thereafter we find that her investigations are sometimes undertaken to assist in his work. Even when her cases are not connected with his, they tend to focus on legal matters (wills, trusts, contracts, and patents, alongside the more readily anticipated counterfeiting, theft, and kidnapping), and legal information or advice from him or one of his colleagues often proves pivotal in solving the mysteries. Further, when her father praises her investigative prowess, the compliments are sometimes couched in legal terms. “‘You sound like a trial lawyer, the way you cross-examine me,’ Mr. Drew protested, but with evident enjoyment.” And later: “Excellent deducting.”

Perhaps, then, I fancied that lawyers’ work involved Nancy Drew style investigation but with a paycheque attached, and I really ought to have set my sights on a career as a private detective. If it was Nancy rather than Carson Drew who served as primary role model and inspiration, then I’m in good legal company, standing with the likes of U.S. Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Still, I can’t help but think that for me, and perhaps for them too, the legal aspect contributed to the allure.

But the notable lawyers of children’s literature must number more than two. Who have I missed? Please share any names that occur to you in the comments section below.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 21-27, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

NPR this week reported on the decision of Maine’s new Republican governor to remove a mural from the State Department of Labor. The mural, by Judy Taylor, consists of 11-panels that “depict scenes from Maine’s labor history, including women working as shipbuilders during World War II, textile and woods workers and two strikes – one at a shoe factory in the 1930s, and the other at the International Paper Mill in 1980s.” The Governor asserts that it presents a one-sided view, making some citizens feel unwelcome in state buildings, but union activists regard the removal of the mural as ” a thumb in the eye to Maine’s working people,” particularly as it comes in tandem with the launch of “a contest to rename eight conference rooms that are currently named after icons, activists and historical figures in the Labor Movement, people such as farm worker and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Frances Perkins, a U.S. Secretary of Labor who was the first female cabinet member.” (NPR, NYT, Maine Sunday Telegram, Christian Science Monitor)

The art and art law worlds were abuzz this week over a U.S. District Court ruling in favour of photographer Patrick Cariou in his copyright infringement suit against Richard Prince and the Gagosian Gallery. Cariou filed the suit over Prince’s appropriation of photos from his book Yes, Rasta for use in a series of paintings. Prince admitted to using at least 41 of Cariou’s photos but claimed fair use, arguing that he had transformed them rather than creating derivative images. The judge was not convinced, stating that that “there is vanishingly little, if any, transformative element.” Ultimately, she granted Cariou’s motion for summary judgment. The response of commentators has been mixed. Some consider the judgment a win for originality and hence for art. Others are concerned that it will have grave consequences for appropriation art and for fair use more generally. For more details on the case, and analysis of and commentary on the judgment and the issues that it raises, see A Photo Editor, the NYT, The Art Newspaper, Clancco, Ruling Imagination, and The Art Law Blog.

A preview of a new book by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: The Creation and Fragility of Courts in Democracies, appears in the Guardian, along with a slide show of images from it. Resnick and Curtis write: “The 220 images of our book map the relationship between courts and democracy and serve as reminders that courts, as the egalitarian institutions we know today, are relatively recent inventions. While venerable, they are at present also vulnerable.”

The big news in the book world this week was a U.S. federal court decision rejecting the proposed Google books settlement. The New York Times reports: “Judge Chin acknowledged that ‘the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,’ but said that the proposed agreement was ‘not fair, adequate and reasonable.’” He rejected the settlement on the basis of “copyright, antitrust and other concerns,” stating that “it would have granted Google a ‘de facto monopoly’ and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners.” Here again, reactions are mixed. Some consider the decision a victory for authors while others worry about the fate of orphaned works and how any ambitious digital library project might now proceed. The judge left the door open for a revised settlement, but many believe that the sort of revamping of copyright that the settlement sought to achieve ought to be the preserve of democratic debate and legislation rather than negotiation between private parties. (NYT, The Laboratorium, The Bookseller, Guardian, Globe & Mail)

New York’s Court of Appeals this week ruled that it was appropriate for Penguin to bring a copyright infringement suit in New York where its business is located against Oregon nonprofit American Buddha. The court was not persuaded by the argument that the injury should be deemed to have occurred elsewhere since the alleged uploading of the Penguin books had occurred in Oregon and Arizona. The court concluded: “The role of the Internet in cases alleging the uploading of copyrighted books distinguishes them from traditional commercial torts cases where courts have generally linked the injury to the place where sales or customers are lost. The location of the infringement in online cases is of little import inasmuch as the primary aim of the infringer is to make the works available to anyone with access to an Internet connection, including computer users in New York.” (Courthouse News, Bloomberg Businessweek, Law360)

The estate of Adrian Jacobs, author of Willy the Wizard, has been ordered to pay £1.5 million into court as security for costs before its plagiarism case against J.K. Rowling can continue through the UK courts. Justice David Kitchen has set this condition in light of his earlier determination that it is “improbable” that the case will succeed. Rowling has dismissed the claim that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was copied from Jacobs’ book “as ‘not only unfounded but absurd’, and said she had never even seen the book until the claim was launched in 2004.” (Daily Mail, The Bookseller)

The Coca-Cola Case, a documentary film that “chronicles a pair of lawsuits launched against the soft drink giant by the United Steel Workers of America and the International Labour Rights Fund in 2001 and 2006 on behalf of a Colombian union,” has been praised as “a vehicle for a global movement for corporate accountability and union rights.” But Coca-Cola has attempted to stop recent screenings, alleging the film to be defamatory. (The Tyee)

Heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman, are returning to court to appeal a limited grant of rights that has left some confusion over who owns aspects of the character’s mythology, the heirs or Warner Brothers. This is only the latest stage in a long-standing legal battle between the parties that has involved a number of lawsuits. (THR, Esq.)

Screenwriter Jake Mandeville-Anthony has filed a copyright infringement suit against Disney/Pixar in U.S. District Court claiming that animated film Cars and its soon-to-be-released sequel are based on characters that he created. (THR, Esq.)

It has been announced that a conference on “Bob Dylan and the Law,” co-sponsored by the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Touro Law School, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal, is to be held at Fordham Law School on the weekend of April 4-5, 2011. (Law & Humanities Blog)

Adam Kirsch describes Marjorie Garber’s new book The Use and Abuse of Literature as “a leisurely and learned ramble through dozens, if not hundreds, of texts and topics” and finds justification for the seeming randomness of her method in “the way it enacts her central thesis: that literature is not so much a subject as an activity.” Kirsch disagrees with Garber on some fundamental points, but he makes the book sound irresistible to me when he posits an answer to the question implied in Garber’s title: “Paradoxically, she suggests that we abuse literature whenever we try to use it, and we use it properly only when we honor its uselessness. To ask whether a work of literature is ‘good for you’ or ‘bad for you,’ Garber writes in her introduction, is ‘judgmental and moral’; such moral effects ‘are incidental and accidental byproducts of literature, not literary qualities.’” Most intriguing. (Boston Globe)

There’s a marvelous essay by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) in the NYRB this week about his love of books. It opens with these tantalizing sentences: “The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup.” The essay is a preview of a collection of Bolaño’s non-fiction, translated by Natasha Wimmer, that is due to be published by New Directions at the end of May.

Michael Brodeur interviewed poet Kevin Young in the Boston Globe this week about his latest book, Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, described as “a sprawling account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad and its aftermath, told through a variety of perspectives and source materials, from letters the rebels wrote while in jail, to the imagined response of an interpreter (a former slave himself) who was brought in to question them.”

Karen Campbell writes of So Much Pretty, a debut novel by Cara Hoffman “based on a real case that the author encountered during her stint as a police beat reporter,” that it “effectively frames a compelling murder mystery with provocative, troubling issues, exploring adolescent violence, the victimization of women, revenge, and societal pressure to favor the good of the community over the rights of the individual. “ (Boston Globe)

This month Vintage Crime will reissue three mystery novels that Gore Vidal wrote in the 1950s and published under the pseudonym Edgar Box. In the Boston Globe, Diane White writes of them: “The Box novels are minor works in the career of a writer who would become a versatile and prolific man of letters, but Vidal’s style — witty, literate, mischievous — is unmistakable.” Vidal claimed Agatha Christie as his primary influence for these efforts but, for him, according to White, “mystery takes a back seat to satire.”

The release of Henning Mankell’s latest and final Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man (translated by Laurie Thompson) has garnered much press this week, including interviews with Mankell in the Telegraph and the Guardian, an excerpt from the novel in the Telegraph, and reviews in the Independent, the NYT, and Euro Crime. Finally, there’s an entertaining piece in the Telegraph in which Judith Flanders sets Wallander’s exit in the context of those of other famous fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes.

Kate Sutherland

The Very Brief Legal Career of Robert Louis Stevenson

Last month, I wrote of lawyer-writers who successfully pursued simultaneous legal and literary careers. Robert Louis Stevenson was not one of them. Indeed, despite years of legal study at the University of Edinburgh, admittance as an advocate after passing his Scots Bar examinations “with credit,” and the above bewigged photograph (taken to please his mother), I don’t think that Stevenson can rightfully be claimed for the law at all.

Law wasn’t even his second choice after literature, but his second second choice. He came from a famous family of engineers, known as the Lighthouse Stevensons, and he began in that field. But, according to biographer Claire Harman, after “four years studying at the university” and “three summers on the works,” including stints “in a carpenter’s shop, a foundry and a timberyard,” Stevenson “still couldn’t tell one kind of wood from another or make the most basic calculations.” Even his father Thomas, who so dearly wished it otherwise, had to concede that Stevenson wasn’t cut out for the family business. That is not to say, however, that he was prepared to endorse a literary career for his son.

Stevenson’s cousin Etta tells the story thus:

I happened to be in the house when Lou told his father he did not want to continue to be a civil engineer. This was a great blow and a terrible disappointment to Uncle Tom, as for generations the Stevensons had all been very clever civil engineers; and already Lou had gained medals for certain inventions of his in connection with lighthouses. And Uncle Tom was more disappointed still when Lou declared that he wanted to go in for a literary life, as Uncle Tom thought he would make nothing at that⎯in fact that it was just a sort of excuse for leading a lazy life! Eventually it was well talked over, and Uncle Tom said that if he agreed to read for the Bar in order to become an advocate, after passing the examination, if he still persisted in wishing to go in for literature, he would not prevent it, for then he would have a good sound profession at his back.

Alas, Stevenson was as indifferent a student of law as he had been of engineering. His friend Charles Guthrie (later Lord Guthrie) recalled, “we did not look for Louis at law lectures, except when the weather was bad.” Harman elaborates: “A notebook that survives from his law studies is peppered with caricatures and doodles, and the few notes there are on Roman citizenship segue with comical readiness into a much more engaging daydream containing lines of a later poem.” Andrew Murray (later Lord Dunedin), stated bluntly that, although he and Stevenson were “very good friends,” they “did not really see much of each other” even as fellow law students, for: “I was interested in my profession⎯a profession which he frankly cared nothing about.”

If, in the words of another friend, John Geddie, Stevenson paid only “desultory attention” in his law classes, he did buckle down to study for the Bar examinations. But this study awakened no new interest in the subject, and it interfered with the work that really mattered to him. In a letter to Fanny Sitwell (later his wife), dated April 1875, he lamented: “I had no time to write, and, as it is, am strangely incapable. […] I have been reading such lots of law, and it seems to take away the power of writing from me. From morning to night, so often as I have a spare moment, I am in the embrace of a law book – barren embraces.”

Stevenson passed the examinations and was admitted to the Bar on July 14th, 1875. For a time thereafter, as was the custom, he “walk[ed] about the Parliament House five forenoons a week, in wig and gown,” seeking work from solicitors with cases before the Courts. He was not altogether unsuccessful in this endeavour. Guthrie recounted: “I do indeed remember one morning in the Parliament House, when he came dancing up to me waving a bundle of legal papers in great glee: ‘Guthrie, that simpleton So-and-so has actually sent me a case! Now I have tasted blood, idle fellows like you will see what I can do!'” But he was not offered many briefs, and he accepted even fewer. Guthrie made reference to only “four complimentary pieces of employment [Stevenson] is said to have received, the fees for which did not run into two figures.”

Stevenson wrote to Fanny that he found it “a great pleasure to sit and hear cases argued or advised,” but nevertheless bemoaned the fact that: “I lose all my forenoons at Court!” Before long, he gave up the charade and devoted himself full time to writing. The brass nameplate engraved “R.L. Stevenson, Advocate” that his parents had affixed to the door of their home at 17 Heriot Row remained, but Stevenson no longer walked the halls of Parliament House in wig and gown. In fact, he soon quitted Edinburgh, and Scotland, altogether.

Stevenson “had no natural taste for the law,” Guthrie concluded. Nor, it seems to have been generally agreed among his legal friends, did he have any particular talent for it. So Stevenson’s defection was no great loss to the law. But it was a great gain to literature. And his keen readers, among whom I count myself, can be grateful that, in the end, he chose a literary life.

Sources:

Sidney Colvin, ed., The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1900).

Lord Guthrie, Robert Louis Stevenson: Some Personal Recollections (1920).

Claire Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography (2005).

Rosaline Massin, ed., I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922).

* The photos of Robert Louis Stevenson as an advocate, and of his doodles in lieu of note-taking (albeit from his engineering rather than his law school days) are from the digital collection of the National Library of Scotland. The photo of 17 Heriot Row is one I took myself the last time I followed Stevenson’s footsteps round Edinburgh.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 14-20, 2011

It’s too late to be a weekend roundup. But I figure better late than never! Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A group comprised of more than 130 artists, curators, writers, and others are calling for a boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi following reports by Human Rights Watch that document exploitation of foreign migrant workers in the UAE. The group is “demanding that the Guggenheim Foundation and its Abu Dhabi partner take immediate and meaningful steps to safeguard the rights of the workers constructing the new branch museum on Saadiyat Island.” Walid Raad, an organizer of the boycott, said: “Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers. Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.” For more information, click here. (Clancco, NYT) [UPDATE: The Guggenheim Foundation responds.]

Last Monday, the UK government released a draft bill that would introduce dramatic reforms to the libel law of England and Wales, including a new public interest defense, a requirement that claimants demonstrate substantial harm, measures to combat libel tourism, and removal of the presumption in favour of jury trials (Guardian). The bill was welcomed as a step in the right direction by the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors, among others (The Bookseller). But many commentators, including spokespersons for the Libel Reform Campaign that has been so instrumental in the push for reform, say that the bill does not go far enough (Press Gazette). For informative and thought-provoking analysis and criticism of the proposed bill, see the New Statesman, Inforrm’s Blog, Lex Ferenda, cearta.ie, the Free Speech Blog, and The Trial Warrior Blog.

The student author of a sexually explicit short story, and the editor of the university newspaper that published it, were acquitted last week by a Maltese court of offending public morals. The Times of Malta reports that the presiding Magistrate found that the story was neither obscene nor pornographic “and that the police had failed to explain how public morality, which changed over time, had been breached.” The trial sparked “heated public debate about the limits of expression and the boundaries between literature and pornography.” According to Index on Censorship: “The court’s decision is a boost for all writers and artists in Malta, many of whom are part of the “Front against Censorship” (FaC) — a protest movement campaigning to liberalise Malta’s censorship laws.” (Times of Malta, Index on Censorship)

Recent weeks brought a flurry of legal challenges to library closures in the UK. But now the government has announced a review of the multitude of statutory obligations with which local authorities are required to comply with a view to doing away with “burdensome” ones. And among those under review is the sole legal grounding for the aforementioned challenges, the duty of local authorities to provide “a comprehensive and efficient library service under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.” Library campaigners are understandably concerned by this development. (Guardian).

A little over a week ago, it was reported that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work had escalated; now comes the news that the dispute has been settled. The precise terms of the settlement are confidential, but the parties indicated in a statement that Norsigian cannot use Ansel Adams name when selling prints from the negatives and that such sales can only continue “subject to a disclaimer approved by the Trust.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Norsigian’s asking price for prints has declined accordingly. (NYT, The Art Law Blog, LA Times)

Scott McLemee has interviewed Susie Linfield about her book The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, a finalist in criticism for the National Book Critics Circle awards, in which, he says, it is apparent that she “holds fast to Twain’s optimism about the power of images of suffering to create enormous moral and political effects.” (Inside Higher Ed)

Brian True-May, producer of British crime drama Midsomer Murders, was suspended from his job last week pending an inquiry after he stated in an interview: “We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them…. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.” Critics of True-May’s comments have pointed out that his vision of an all-white rural England is very much at odds with contemporary reality. The series is already on the cusp of great change with the retirement of John Nettles, who played Inspector Tom Barnaby for 16 years, and the introduction of a new star, Neil Dudgeon, playing Tom’s cousin John Barnaby, also conveniently a police detective. It remains to be seen whether True-May’s comments and the ensuing outcry will provoke greater changes still. (Guardian, BBC, Racialicious)

In The Anatomy of a Moment, novelist Javier Cercas turns to non-fiction to explore the 1982 siege of the Spanish parliament. Anthony Cummins writes of the book, translated from Spanish to English by Anne McLean, that “its rigour and intensity are taxing” but that it is “a brilliant study of political conduct, which is well worth the effort required.” (Telegraph)

Alison Flood describes The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, the first installment in a new mystery series featuring “Douglas Brodie, a policeman turned soldier turned reporter,” as “deft, disturbing and as thoroughly grimy as its 1946 Glasgow setting.” (The Observer)

In a review of Kate Atkinson’s fourth Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog, Laura Miller writes of the series: “Each one of these books, including this latest, is a delight: an intricate construction that assembles itself before the reader’s eyes, populated by idiosyncratic, multidimensional characters and written with shrewd, mordant grace.” (Salon)

The English translation of Henning Mankell’s latest, and he says his last, Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, is due out later this month. According to James Urquhart, it provides a worthy conclusion to “the hugely absorbing Wallander casefile.” (Independent)