Tag Archives: books

Kate Sutherland

Poetry & Law: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!



Poetry and law may seem to some as incommensurable as dancing and architecture. Not so, according to M. NourbeSe Philip: “Law and poetry both share an inexorable concern with language⎯the “right” use of the “right” words, phrases, or even marks of punctuation; precision of expression is the goal shared by both.” But language may be used to very different ends in each realm: “The law uses language as a tool for ordering; in the instant case, however, I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through not-telling, will tell itself.”

The story that cannot be told, the subject of Philip’s most recent collection of poems, is that of the Zong massacre. In September 1781, the slave ship Zong set sail from the east coast of Africa bound for Jamaica under the stewardship of Captain Luke Collingwood. The “cargo” consisted of 470 Africans. The voyage should have taken six to nine weeks but, due to navigational errors, stretched into four months. By the end of November, sixty Africans had died “for want of water for sustenance,” and forty more had thrown themselves into the sea “through thirst and frenzy thereby occasioned.” A further 150 Africans were then flung into the sea to their deaths on the orders of the Captain who believed that if they died on board by “natural causes,” the owners would have to bear the loss, whereas if they died by drowning, the loss would be covered by the owners’ insurance policy as attributable to “the perils of the sea.”

Back home in England, a famous case resulted: Gregson v. Gilbert. It was not a murder trial, since the Africans who had been killed were regarded as chattels not as human beings, but rather a legal dispute that turned on the finer points of insurance law. The insurers refused to pay the owners’ claim, and the owners challenged that refusal in court. The owners won in the initial trial, but the jury’s decision was overturned on appeal by the Court of King’s Bench.

Philip describes that King’s Bench decision, the only part of the litigation to make its way into the law reports, as “the tombstone, the one public marker of the murder of those Africans on board the Zong,” and she opts to limit herself to that text, using it as “a word store” for the composition of her book-length sequence of poems. She literally deconstructs the decision, pulling apart the words with which it is composed, then rearranging them to construct her own text. Through the alchemy of poetry, she also thereby reconstructs the African passengers, so present aboard the ship, yet peculiarly absent from the legal decision. “In Zong!,” Philip writes, “the African, transformed into a thing by the law, is re-transformed, miraculously, back into human.”

These are poems in which the placement of the words on the page is as important as the meaning that those words convey. In the early poems, the words are spread thinly across the page, the spaces making visible the absence of African bodies and voices. But as the sequence continues, the poems become denser and denser, the words tumbling over one another, sometimes scoring one another out. The effect is disorienting, disturbing, and, ultimately, extremely powerful.

I recommend reading the book at least twice, the first time approaching the poems fresh, taking them on their own terms. Then again after having read the material appended at the end (Philip’s essay on the writing of the book, from which I’ve quoted above, and a copy of the Gregson v. Gilbert decision) to more fully appreciate how Philip has illuminated injustice by making poetry out of law.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, March 7-13, 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.

Art collector Robert Wylde has filed suit against the Gagosian Gallery in U.S. federal court for selling him a painting, Mark Tansey’s The Innocent Eye Test (reproduced above), that was partially owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wylde claims that Gagosian neglected to tell him when making the sale in 2009 that the Met, “where the work had once been on display, already owned 31 percent of it and had been promised by its longtime owners that the museum would eventually get the whole thing.” Gagosian has issued a statement asserting that it sold the painting in good faith, not knowing that the seller did not have clear title, and indicating that it will “vigorously defend itself.” (NYT)

The Art Newspaper reports that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work has escalated. The story began a decade ago when Norsigian stumbled upon and purchased the cache of negatives at a garage sale. Norsigian has not had the negatives authenticated via forensic testing, but nevertheless, last year, began offering for sale prints and posters billed as “Ansel Adams’ Lost Negatives.” The Trust, which has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute Adams’ images and to use his name, sued Norsigian for trademark infringement. Now, Norsigian “has launched a counter-suit, alleging slander, defamation, unfair competition, trade libel, civil conspiracy and wrongful interference with a prospective economic advantage.” In particular, Norsigian takes issue with comments made by the managing director of the Trust on CNN which cast aspersions on Norsigian and his authentication efforts. Further, Norsigian alleges that the Trust has pressured The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona to discredit his claims thereby interfering with his economic activities. The Trust continues to express doubt that the negatives are the work of Ansel Adams, and asserts the necessity of protecting his legacy. (The Art Newspaper)

Performance artist Marina Abramovic has won a copyright infringement suit against filmmaker Pierre Coulibeuf and Regards Productions. The superior court in Paris has ordered the defendants to pay Abramovic €75,000 for infringement of her rights and “for damage [to] the integrity of her work.” Further, the court has ruled Abramovic to be co-author of the contested films. (Clancco, The Art Newspaper)

According to the Guardian, the justices of the UK Supreme Court are this week “busying themselves with a case consisting of the heady combination of Star Wars, stormtroopers’ protective millinery, clay modelling and international copyright enforcement.” The case is the culmination of a longstanding dispute between George Lucas and Andrew Ainsworth, who produced the final 3D version of the helmet worn by stormtroopers in the first Star Wars film, and who subsequently made and sold copies. At issue is “whether or not it is a ‘sculpture’ for the purposes of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,” and, further, whether “a claim for infringement of a US copyright [is] justiciable, and indeed enforceable, by an English court.” (Guardian)

Five soldiers have appealed their defamation suit against Mohammed Bakri, director of the documentary film Jenin, Jenin, to the Israeli Supreme Court. They allege that the film portrays them as war criminals. The lower court ruled that the film does defame Israeli soldiers as a group, but that no reasonable person would interpret the defamation as being directed at the plaintiffs, who neither appear nor are mentioned in the film, as individuals. Supporters of Bakri allege political persecution, noting that the former Attorney General has declared his support for the plaintiffs and joined their appeal. (Haaretz)

In an open letter to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, archaeologists have called for the return of police to Egypt’s archaeological sites. They assert that “following the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month, a new unprecedented wave of looting and vandalism took place at various sites,” and urge immediate action to protect Egypt’s heritage. (Discovery News)

Publishers Weekly reports that the U.S. Supreme Court “this week granted a writ of certiorari in a case, Golan v. Holder, that questions the constitutionality of a federal statute that restored copyright protection to thousands of foreign works, including symphonies by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, books by Virginia Woolf, artwork by Picasso, and films by Fellini and Hitchcock.” The statute in question is a 1994 amendment to the Copyright Act designed “to implement intellectual property treaties.” The challenge was mounted by “a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers, film archivists and motion picture distributors who have relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods” and who argue that the amendment infringes their free speech rights. (Publishers Weekly, SCOTUS Blog, Wired)

Manju Kapur’s latest novel Custody is described in the Independent as a book “about the lives, loves and losses of wealthy, urban, middle-class Indians” in 1990s Dehli. But, Kapur says in an interview, it’s also “about child custody and the legal system. You can’t live in India and not be extremely furious about the legal system.” (The Independent)

Michael Eaude writes of Richard Zimler’s, The Warsaw Anagrams, a novel set in 1940-41 and featuring as narrator “a distinguished elderly psychoanalyst [who] has to leave his comfortable flat and move into the Warsaw Ghetto,” that it “is both a fast-moving, very readable mystery novel and a rich, serious book, in which Zimler makes us face the worst and pays tribute to those who died in the Holocaust.” (The Independent)

In a spotlight in the Telegraph, Gerard O’Donovan names his six favourite contemporary Irish crime novels⎯including on his list one of my own favourites, Tana French’s In the Woods⎯, and Val McDermid theorizes the enormous popularity of the genre in Ireland now.

In his classic crime column this week, Barry Turner highlights Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. I have long been a fan of the former, and am keen to check out the latter. (Daily Mail)

Douglas Star’s The Killer of Little Shepherds “charts the gruesome crimes of a man dubbed ‘the French Ripper’, Joseph Vacher, who murdered, mutilated and sexually assaulted 11 people” in 1890s France and, reviewer Rebecca Armstrong tells us, it is “more than a true-crime blockbuster with a historical edge; it is an account of the dramatic birth of forensic science, and a memorial not to a serial killer but to the pioneering men who caught him.” Armstrong concludes: “Star has created a book with every bit as much tension as a thriller, as much detail as a meticulous police procedural, and a court-room drama that’s up there with the best.” (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 28-March 6, 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.

In the latest stage of a drawn-out court battle over ownership of manuscripts that Franz Kafka entrusted to his friend Max Brod, an inventory of the long hidden archive has been filed, but it is not yet clear whether it includes unknown work. The battle is between Israel’s National Library, and sisters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler who acquired the manuscripts from their mother Esther Hoffe, Brod’s longtime secretary to whom much of his estate passed after his death in 1968. For a full background on the case and the many interesting issues it raises, see Elif Batuman’s fascinating and exhaustive account, current up to September, in the New York Times. (Reuters, Haaretz)

According to the International Publishers Association, books that had been banned by the recently ousted regime of Ben Ali are returning to bookstore shelves in Tunisia. And anecdotal reports from Egypt suggest that, similarly, “once suppressed titles [are] appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks” there. (Guardian)

Another week brings more legal challenges to proposed library closures in the UK, including one by Campaign for the Book, a pro-library campaign group headed by author Alan Gibbons, which involves a national challenge to the culture secretary’s response to library closures “in the light of his duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.” (Guardian)

The Guardian reports that a number of publishing houses, primarily in France, were subjected to early morning raids this week in connection with a European commission investigation into ebook price fixing. The commission released a statement indicating that it “has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices.” (Guardian)

The owner of now defunct publishing company New Century has been ordered by an Indiana court to pay a substantial sum in fines and restitution to authors whose promised books were never produced. (Indianapolis Star)

After an appeal hearing last week in Missouri, judges of the Eighth Circuit are considering whether or not Warner Brothers’ copyright in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie was infringed by a t-shirt company’s use of images of the characters. Though the images came from publicity posters, they were in the public domain because they were distributed prior to registration of copyright. The court below nevertheless gave judgment in favour of Warner Brothers on the basis that, beyond the actual images, the t-shirt company was exploiting identifiable and distinctive characteristics of the characters developed in the movie that were entitled to copyright protection such as “Dorothy’s inherent wisdom coupled with her Midwestern farm girl innocence” and “the apparent inconsistencies of Scarecrow, (without a brain vs. wisdom and leader), Tin Man (without a heart vs. compassion and tenderness) and Cowardly Lion, (without courage vs. bravery and chivalrousness).” A major difficulty with this analysis, as pointed out by Dennis Crouch in a recent post on Patently-O, is that “the particular identifiable traits of the characters identified here (apart from the portraying actors) were all derived directly from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel that is now out of copyright.” It will be most interesting to see what the appeal court concludes. (Patently-O, THR, Esq.)

In the culmination of a case that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, CBS has succeeded in having a defamation suit against it struck out under California’s anti-SLAPP law as an infringement of its free speech rights. The action was brought by a couple who alleged that a pair of unsavoury characters in a CSI episode were a thinly-veiled, highly defamatory portrait of them. The characters on the episode as finally aired had the same first names and occupations as the plaintiffs, but a different though similar last name. But the scriptwriter, who was acquainted with the plaintiffs through an unsuccessful real estate deal, had initially used their full names in the script, and through leaks, their full names had been linked with the characters in online plot synopses. Nevertheless, the appeal court found that the court below had erred in refusing CBS’s anti-SLAPP motion. According to THR, Esq, Justice Nora Manella wrote that “the creative process must be unfettered, and even though Goldfinger [the scriptwriter] didn’t need to use real names as placeholders for guest characters, it would be imprudent to place legal pitfalls that disrupt a writer at work.” (THR, Esq., Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

A court case which many asserted would break new ground in testing the application of defamation law to Twitter in the U.S. is not to be. Hole singer Courtney Love is reported to have settled the suit brought against her by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir over an allegedly defamatory Twitter rant for $430,000. (THR, Esq., Rolling Stone)

An archaeology professor from Loyola University in Chicago last week plead guilty “to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, admitting to removing 17 artifacts, including arrowheads, from public lands on two field trips to New Mexico.” He has agreed to return the artifacts and to assist the Bureau of Land Management with an investigation into a large-scale scheme to plunder New Mexico archaeological sites. (Chicago Tribune)

Barry Forshaw lauds Leif Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, the first book in a trilogy which has as its central focus the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, as “an intricately detailed crime narrative” and also “a powerful state-of-the-nation novel.” He concludes: “Those who feel that crime fiction can tackle truly serious issues should pay attention to Persson’s magnum opus. They may tussle with the 500-odd pages, but they will end up hungry for later volumes of this ambitious trilogy.” (The Independent)

In a New York Times review titled “CSI: Georgian England,” Jason Goodwin offers this tantalizing summary of Imogen Robertson’s first novel, Instruments of Darkness: “It’s a sensitive melodrama, investing almost every character with a dark and sometimes unsavory past, its plot filled with signet rings, wills, adventuresses, concealed letters and dissection, all set against the pleasantly unpleasant background of the Gordon Riots, which prodded a mob of Protestant Londoners into an anti-Catholic frenzy. The climax, as might be expected, involves a chase across the ravaged city to ensure that justice is done to the wronged and that the wrongdoers get their comeuppance.” (NYT)

Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies begins in 1985 on Guernsey Island, but reaches back to the Channel Islands’ WWII history of German occupation. Christian House praises the novel for dissecting “the legacy of this extraordinary time […] with precision and empathy.” He notes the unconventional means by which the tale is told, and ultimately describes the debut author’s achievement thus: “What is exceptional about this novel is the skilled manner in which Horlock records the domino-topple of such mistakes from one generation to another, a terrible inheritance in which yesterday’s conflicts undermine today’s peace.” I will definitely be snapping up a copy of this one. (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

A Foray into Italian Crime Fiction: Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness


A couple of months ago, when I tweeted a link to an article in the Observer that heralded “a new wave of Italian crime writers,” I quickly received a flurry of replies insisting that, of the writers mentioned therein, Gianrico Carofiglio was the one whose work I must sample without delay. One of my correspondents went so far as to dub Guido Guerrieri, the character at the centre of Carofiglio’s series of legal thrillers, “an Italian Philip Marlowe.”

Intrigued as I was by this description, it initially struck me as unlikely, given how thoroughly a product of 1930s and 40s Los Angeles Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe seems to me to be. But even if Marlowe is rooted in his time and place, noir certainly travels. The success of Akashic Books’ marvelous noir anthologies which serve up hardboiled crime stories from every corner of the globe amply demonstrates that point. It was undoubtedly the noir quality of Carofiglio’s books which my correspondent was lauding and, having now read Involuntary Witness, the first book featuring world-weary criminal defense lawyer Guido Guerrieri, I can echo the recommendation of him as a most intriguing noir antihero.

At the beginning of the book, Guerrieri’s wife leaves him and, despite the fact that he hadn’t seemed particularly invested in his marriage, this provokes something of a breakdown. It’s an existential crisis. Guerrieri hasn’t lost his life’s purpose so much as the illusion that he had a purpose in life. Work provides no counter-balance to his unraveling personal life for, there too, he realizes he has long been deluding himself. He had not become a lawyer out of a passion for justice as he had sometimes tried to convince himself. Rather, he “had become a lawyer by sheer chance, because [he] had found nothing better to do or wasn’t up to looking for it.” He had just been marking time in practice, “waiting for [his] ideas to clarify.” His wife’s departure brings a now unwelcome clarity: “Then the lid blew off and from the pan emerged a lot of things I had never imagined and didn’t want to see. That no one would want to see.”

But in the end, it is his work as a lawyer that brings him back to himself and into the world, when he is engaged to defend Abdou Thiam, a 31-year-old Senegalese pedlar who has been charged with the murder of a 9-year-old Italian boy. Thiam had been seen speaking to the boy on the beach on a number of occasions, and has been found to have a photo of him as well as some children’s books among his possessions. A bar owner has said that he witnessed Thiam walking towards the boy’s grandparents’ home on the day in question, and one of his fellow pedlars has said that he saw Thiam washing his car the day after. This tissue of circumstantial evidence, through the lens of the racism of witnesses, police, lawyers, and judges, is thought to add up to an airtight case. Guerrieri has no faith in his capacity to counter it, and initially advises Thiam to opt for “the shortened procedure” which would rule out an acquittal but perhaps lead to something less than a life sentence. But Thiam protests his innocence and wants to fight for an acquittal. Guerrieri’s growing belief in and sense of responsibility to his client, and the challenge of the trial gradually bring him back to life.

This is not a mystery novel. No attempt is made to get to the bottom of the question of who committed the murder. All of the suspense relates to the outcome of the trial. Following the process from beginning to end offers some fascinating glimpses into the Italian legal system. (The author served for many years as an anti-mafia prosecutor in Bari, the same southern Italian city in which the novel is set, so I’m confident that the depiction of the operation of Italian criminal law is an accurate one.) One facet of the novel that I particularly appreciated that Carofiglio has in common with some of my favourite Scandanavian crime writers is that he eschews the Hollywood version in favour of what seems a more realistic portrayal of the progress of a case through the justice system, adeptly conveying its plodding pace and bureaucratic nature without thereby producing a plodding read.

I was quickly caught up in Guerrieri’s life, and in Thiam’s fate, and found Involuntary Witness overall to be an always interesting, sometimes riveting, and ultimately very satisfying read. Carofiglio has written four novels featuring Guerrieri as the central character, three of which have so far been published in English translation, with the final one due out later this year. I am very much looking forward to continuing on to read the rest.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 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.

Last month, Stephen Hillard and Cruel Rune LLC, the author and publisher of Mirkwood, a novel featuring J.R.R. Tolkien as a character, received a letter from the Tolkien estate threatening immediate legal action for violations of intellectual property unless all copies of the book are destroyed. But it is Hillard and Cruel Rune who are now taking preemptive legal action, seeking a declaration from a Texas court that the book, which they describe as “both a work of fiction and a critical analysis of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” is protected by the fair use doctrine and the First Amendment. Given the current popularity of works of fiction in which historical figures appear as characters (termed “faction” by one recent commentator), the implications of the case could be far-reaching. (THR, Esq., Courthouse News, Observer)

Fawzia Afzal-Khan has self-published her fictionalized memoir, Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani Style. It was published by Syracuse University Press last spring, but quickly spiked after the press received threats of legal action from a woman in Pakistan who alleges that one of the characters in the book is a defamatory portrait of her. The National Writers Union and others have criticized SUP for failing to champion the author and her right to freedom of expression, particularly in light of the protection now afforded by the U.S. SPEECH Act against the enforcement of foreign libel judgments. You can read SUP’s statement here, TWU’s statement here, and the author’s account of her experience here. (Inside Higher Ed, TDR, change.org)

The International Publishers Association is concerned about the fate of Shahla Lahiji, founder of Roshangaran, an Iranian press that publishes books on women’s issues, after she is said to have been named on a “blacklist, reportedly circulated by a chapter of Iran’s Basij militia at Khajeh Nasir University, contain[ing] names of Iranian publishers it thinks are displaying ‘evidence of soft overthrow and velvet revolution.’” (The Bookseller)

A UK teacher is waiting to hear from an employment tribunal whether she’s entitled to compensation for her 2009 dismissal. She was fired for gross misconduct over a short novel she wrote that was intended to get students in difficulty interested in reading by including them as characters. Though by all accounts the project succeeded in this aim, the controversy that led to her dismissal erupted when the book, replete with sexual references and swear words, was inadvertently made publicly available through an online self-publishing site. (Guardian)

On behalf of UK library users, a Birmingham-based human-rights law firm is mounting a court challenge to Somerset and Gloucestershire library closures on the basis that proposed cuts violate “the statutory obligation under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act for local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service for everyone wanting to use it.’” (Guardian)

The family of animator Max Fleischer has been unsuccessful in a bid to claim exclusive ownership of his creation, comic character Betty Boop. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld a lower court ruling denying the family’s copyright and trademark claims on the basis that they were unable to prove a valid transfer to them in the intervening decades of the rights that Fleischer sold to Paramount Pictures in the 1940s. Of the trademark claim, Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote: “If we ruled that Avela’s depictions of Betty Boop infringed Fleischer’s trademarks, the Betty Boop character would essentially never enter the public domain.” (THR Esq., WSJ, Clannco)

Accusations of plagiarism flew around the music world this week, leveled against Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Britney Spears. Only the claim against Spears appears poised to spark a lawsuit, with the Bellamy Brothers complaining that her new single “Hold It Against Me” is “too close” to their 1979 hit “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”, and indicating that they “will without doubt take the appropriate legal action if [their] attorneys agree [they’ve] been ripped off.” (The Daily Beast, Jezebel, Starpulse)

Bunhill Fields cemetery in north London has attained the protected status of a Grade I designation on English Heritage’s register of parks and gardens of special historic interest. “The cemetery, founded in the 1660s as a burial ground for nonconformists, radicals and dissenters, holds the remains of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, and the poet and artist William Blake, among thousands of others.” To see a slide show of photographs taken there by Graham Turner for the Guardian, click here. The photograph above and to the right is of the monument to Daniel Defoe. (Guardian)

John le Carré has donated his literary archive to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The archive includes multiple drafts of his novels, and many boxes of correspondence and personal photographs. Le Carré was a student at Oxford, as was his most famous character, fictional Cold War spy George Smiley. “Oxford was Smiley’s spiritual home, as it is mine. And while I have the greatest respect for American universities, the Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest,” said le Carré. The Bodleian plans to make the archive available to researchers online. (Telegraph, Independent)

Kate Taylor profiles Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, “a bestselling Swedish crime-writing duo with the most unlikely background: They met through a mutual interest in the rehabilitation of ex-cons.” The profile suggests that their books exemplify the best qualities of the current wave of Swedish crime fiction with which they are associated in that they simultaneously provide entertainment and social commentary. (Globe & Mail)

Vit Wagner highlights the best of Canadian crime fiction in an article primarily focused on author Ian Hamilton whose debut novel, The Water Rat of Wanchai, the first installment in a Toronto-based mystery series featuring forensic accountant Ava Lee as sleuth, has just been released to rave reviews. (Toronto Star)

James Bartleman talks with Mark Medley about his first novel, As Long as the Rivers Flow, which centres on the residential school experience of the main character and its aftermath. “It’s not, Bartleman says, ‘an indictment of white society,’ but rather a novel showing how a wrong committed against one person can echo for generations.” He hopes “that this book would appeal to marginalized people everywhere.” (National Post)

Kate Sutherland

Freedom to Read Week



It’s Freedom to Read Week in Canada, an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, “that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

This means thought-provoking displays to peruse and events to attend all across the country.

Here are some of my options in Toronto:

Censoring Manga for Fun and Profit
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at 7:00 pm at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Christopher Butcher, manager of famed comic book store The Beguiling, will talk “about the many surprising and unfortunate ways manga are censored in North America, as artistic integrity is sacrificed out of fear and a desire to maximize profit.” On his website, Comics212, Butcher gives a bit more detail: “As for my talk, it’s going to go after particularly heinous examples of censorship, get into some of the reasons behind the changes, and into a larger discussion about censorship and manga in regards to the new laws in Tokyo and with our own beloved Canada Customs. It should be a lively discussion. Oh, and there will be adult images shown, so get parental permission before coming out kids!” For a bit of background on the issues he’ll be addressing, click here to read a recent interview with Butcher in the Toronto Star.

Sexual Outliers: Censorship, Advocacy Journalism and the Gay Press
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at 7:00 pm at the Yorkville Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Pink Triangle Press (PTP), publishers of Xtra and fab, will present a salon discussion “on moral puzzles involving censorship and free expression as covered in the gay press.” The question of how “queer communities [are] struggling to reconcile the fights for freedom of sexual and political expression with their desire to fight homophobic expression” will be explored through “case studies rang[ing] from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Toronto Pride Parade, to murder music, Canada Border Services Agency and queer-themed film.”

Challenging Books: Who Should Decide What Our Children Read?
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at the Gladstone Hotel, this panel discussion will be the centerpiece of the Book and Periodical Council ‘s annual celebration of Freedom to Read Week. The panelists will be: “Patsy Aldana (Award-winning founder and Publisher of Groundwood Books); David Booth (Professor Emeritus in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department in the OISE at the University of Toronto); Eve Freedman (Student and winner of TWUC’s Freedom to Read Award) and Peggy Thomas (Librarian and Library Service Manager at the Toronto Public Library)”. Questions to be addressed include: “Why is it that we continue to see controversial books removed or challenged in our school libraries and classrooms? When is removing a book justified? Where do we draw the line? Can we raise a generation of critical thinkers if we remove controversial publications from the system? Where should children learn about these difficult topics, if not in an educational setting? How can we prepare educators to address these controversial subjects?” Doors open at 6:00 pm, and the festivities begin at 6:30.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Hate
On Friday, February 25th, at 7:00 pm at the Toronto Reference Library Atrium, PEN Canada and the Toronto Public Library will present a panel discussion addressing such questions as: “How should we define hate speech? Who should censor it, and when should the right to free expression be invoked? “ The panel will be moderated by Steve Paikin, Host of TVO’s The Agenda, and will feature these panelists: “Susan G. Cole, author, playwright, broadcaster and senior editor at NOW Magazine; Jonathan Kat, op-ed columnist and comment pages editor for the National Post; Janet Keeping, President of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership; and, Richard Moon, author and Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor.” Tickets are $10 at the door and the proceeds will go to PEN Canada.

For a listing of Freedom to Read Week events elsewhere in the country, click here.

Of course, you could also stay home and exercise your freedom to read.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 14-20, 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.

Ablene Cooper has filed a lawsuit against author Kathryn Stockett over her best-selling novel The Help. Cooper, who has spent much of life working as a maid, including twelve years in the employ of Stockett’s brother, claims that one of the characters in the book, a maid named Aibileen Clark, “is an unauthorized appropriation of her name and image, which she finds emotionally distressing.” The complaint details a number of similarities between the complainant and the character. Stockett’s publishers have indicated that they “don’t think there is any basis to the legal claims.” (NYT, Guardian)

The UK government has indicated that it may take control of libraries if local councils “are overzealous in closures,” out of concern that “some communities, particularly rural ones, may end up with no access to library services,” and worry over “the effects of the closures on children and the elderly.” (The Bookseller)

This week Borders, the second-largest bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Publishers are particularly hard hit by this latest blow to the book industry, as much of Borders’ debt is owed to them. (Los Angeles Times)

Just a day later, Australians were shocked by the “collapse of REDgroup, which owns the country’s largest bookshop chain Angus & Robertson, as well as Borders and the Whitcoulls chain of newsagencies in New Zealand.” The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this occurrence is not linked to the fate of the U.S. namesake of Borders Australia, though the bricks-and-mortar book trade on both sides of the Pacific has similarly “suffered from the rise of internet book sales and constrained consumer spending.” The affected chains have been “placed into voluntary administration.” (The Bookseller, Sydney Morning Herald)

David LaChapelle has launched a copyright infringement suit against Rihanna, alleging that the recently released music video for her song “S & M” borrows heavily from the imagery of his photographs. (NYT, Radar Online, Daily Mail)

In another case allegedly involving the use of real names in fiction, a lawyer for CBS was in court in California this week seeking the dismissal of a defamation and invasion of privacy suit brought against the network over an episode of television crime drama CSI. Scott and Melinda Tamkin claim that the episode, featuring a couple named Scott and Melinda Tucker, was penned by the scriptwriter “using their names and likeness at a time when he was angry with them because of a real estate deal gone awry.” A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal will issue its decision within 90 days. (Daily News)

Jayme Gordon, a Boston illustrator, has filed a copyright infringement suit against Dreamworks Animation. He alleges that characters in the hit movie Kung Fu Panda “are substantially similar to illustrations of characters he created and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2000 that are collectively titled Kung Fu Panda Power,” and that “DreamWorks rejected illustrations he sent to them in the 1990s.” (The Unruly of Law)

Irish artist Jim Fitzpatric is seeking to secure copyright to his iconic picture of Che Guevara. He explains that he hadn’t sought royalties earlier despite the proliferation of the image because he’s never cared about money. But now he wants to establish ownership “so he can hand over the rights to the Guevara family and the Cuban people” when the Che Guevara Cultural Centre opens in Havana in September. (The Irish Times)

In accordance with a ruling now made final by the U. S. Department of the Interior, the University of Pennsylvania must return sacred Tlingit artifacts, including “ceremonial hats and helmets” that “were purchased by a curator in the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from 1918 to 1925.” (Chronicle of Higher Education)

An exhibition at Rome’s State Archives reveals the truth behind the bad boy image of Renaissance painter Caravaggio. His crimes, detailed in carefully preserved “handwritten police logs, legal and court parchments” from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, ranged from assaulting a waiter with a plate of artichokes, to carrying a sword and a dagger without a permit, to killing a man over a gambling debt. (BBC)

For four decades, Camilo José Vergara has been photographing murals “in the poorest and most segregated communities in America.” Now he has assembled a slide show of some of these images to showcase the unique view of black history that they offer: “Official murals painted on schools, hospitals, government offices, and community organizations often portray a cheerful and optimistic view of racial progress, but murals on the walls of convenience and liquor stores, barbershops, fast food restaurants, churches, and abandoned buildings offer a lively alternative to this bland vision.” The photograph that heads this post was taken by Vergara in Compton, California in 2000. (Slate Magazine)

This week an exhibition of new work by artist James Hart Dyke opens in London. It includes 40 paintings, 25 drawings, and prints that document a year he spent shadowing MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. He was invited to do so by then head of the organization, John Scarlett, at the behest of MI6 officers who felt that the paintings he would produce would be a suitable way to document their history “as part of the run-up to the 2010 centenary year.” Praised by Scarlett as “highly evocative of life inside MI6,” Hart Dyke’s exhibition promises to be “an unexpected treat for that section of the British public who are endlessly fascinated by spies and their world.” (Guardian)

Thriller writer Charles Cumming is interviewed by Jake Kerridge about his new novel, The Trinity Six, “a yarn about an academic’s attempts to uncover the identity of a previously unsuspected sixth member of the Cambridge spy ring.” (Telegraph)

Thirteen lost short stories by Daphne Du Maurier, tracked down by Ann Willmore, a Cornish bookseller and longtime Du Maurier fan, are to be published by Virago Press in May. Says Willmore of the stories: “They have a sting in the tale, and are quite sinister. They are different from her novels.” My curiosity is thoroughly piqued. (The Independent)

According to Charles McGrath, Wesley Stace’s Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer is at once a murder mystery and a novel about classical music that features both “a convincing fictional composer” and “an entertaining fictional critic.” (NYT)

Brett Alexander Savory pronounces Keith Hollihan’s debut novel, The Four Stages of Cruelty, “powerful” and “mesmerizing.” Set in a maximum security prison, with a female corrections officer as the main character, Savoy tells us, it offers “startling moments of insight into what separates people from monsters⎯not much at all.” (Globe and Mail)

Hallie Ephron praises Kate Taylor’s historical novel A Man in Uniform for offering a fresh take on the Dreyfus affair. In it, lawyer François Dubon finds his orderly life in 1897 Paris turned upside down when he is persuaded to assist Captain Dreyfus after he has been convicted of spying for Germany. Along the way, Dubon “rediscovers the passion for justice that led him to practice law in the first place.” Ephron concludes: “It rewards the patient reader with a rich sense of time and place while offering a fascinating look at a historically based what-if.” (Boston Globe)

In Louise Dean’s “darkly comic” and “bracingly acerbic” novel The Old Romantic, Nick Goodyew, an English divorce lawyer, through the efforts of his put-upon younger brother, reunites with his parents from whom he is estranged, and who are estranged from each other. Sylvia Brownrigg writes of the novel: “Although class markers are a recurrent theme, The Old Romantic is essentially a highly entertaining, vivid evocation of love and marriage in its various forms.” (NYT)

In an omnibus review of new books about print magazines, Steven Heller finds much to like in a pair of books about the publications that provoked and emerged in the wake of the 1954 institution of the Comics Code in the United States. Heller says of The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read!: “In addition to offering a generous helping of controversial comics … Trombetta’s book provides insightful history.” And he sums up The Weird World Of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds! as “a curiously wonderful, weird and eerie tale of magazine history.” (NYT)

Kate Sutherland

Lawyer-Writers: Louis Auchincloss’s Compromise


The first fiction that I assign in my Law and Literature class each year is a couple of stories by lawyer-writers. I do this partly to provide inspiration to students who are writers and who fear that embarking on a legal career will mean abandoning their literary aspirations. But mostly, because it seems to me that one of the best ways to begin an exploration of the connections and tensions between law and literature is in the company of guides who straddle the boundary. On both counts, Louis Auchincloss fits the bill perfectly.

Auchincloss, who died last year at the age of ninety-two, spent forty years practicing law in a Wall Street firm, and also published more than sixty books in his lifetime, including forty-seven works of fiction. His star has never burned as brightly in the literary firmament as those of fellow New Yorkers Edith Wharton and Henry James, but his work garners sufficient respect that his name is sometimes mentioned alongside theirs.

As he revealed in his 1964 memoir, A Writer’s Capital, by virtue of his family, Auchincloss felt himself situated at the intersection of law and literature almost from birth. His father practiced corporate law at a single New York firm for fifty-seven years, and his mother was “an omnivorous reader” whose “literary opinions were pungent, incisive, always interesting,” and she was a skilled storyteller besides.

That’s not to say that law and literature fell into an easy accord for Auchincloss in adulthood. He spent many years zigzagging between the two pursuits. Initially, he doubted his literary powers, and was all but resigned to the idea that it was his destiny to follow his father into the legal profession: “I believed … that a man born to the responsibilities of a brownstone bourgeois world could only be an artist or writer if he were a genius, that he should not kick over the traces unless a resounding artistic success, universally recognized, should justify his otherwise ridiculous deviation. The world might need second-class lawyers and doctors; it did not need a second-class artist.” Perhaps it’s not surprising then that when his first novel, written as a Yale undergraduate, was rejected, he promptly enrolled in law school.

Auchincloss found, to his surprise, that he enjoyed the study of law: “For what was a case but a short story? What was the law but language?” For a time, his duties on law review served as a satisfying substitute for fiction writing. But once he’d graduated and taken a job in practice, the fiction bug bit again. He spent all his spare time writing and before long he had a couple of published novels under his belt. It didn’t interfere with his legal work and the partners at his firm regarded his writing good-naturedly as an interesting quirk. But if the writing didn’t interfere with his legal work, he feared that the same could not be said in reverse: “I was increasingly bothered by a nagging apprehension that I might be slighting my literary muse by not devoting myself full time to her.”

Once again, Auchincloss felt he must choose and this time he chose literature. He resigned from the firm to write full time. But after only a couple of years, he realized that this was a failed experiment: “To sum up the account of my nonlegal years, they added nothing to my stature as a writer. The main thing about them, of course, was to have been time, but even that proved an undependable friend. My writing hours increased, but both the quantity and quality of my writing remained the same.”

Auchincloss continued to write but also returned to practice: “People ask me how I manage to write and practice…. All I can say is that a great step was taken when I ceased to think of myself as a ‘lawyer’ or a ‘writer.’ I simply was doing what I was doing when I did it.” He termed this a “compromise” but it seems to me that it was something more than that. For it wasn’t simply a matter of allowing the two to co-exist, but of recognizing that both were of central importance to him and that, ultimately, they fed each other. He chose to practice in an area of law rich in human drama that offered inspiration for his fiction: “It is probably not a coincidence that my work has been largely with people and personal problems: planning of wills, of estates, setting up trusts, handling marital separations, divorces, as opposed to the more impersonal matters of corporate or municipal financing.” And in several of his novels and stories, he shone a light back on his legal milieu, creating incisive portraits of law firms and lawyers.

Much of Auchincloss’s fiction has no overt legal content, including the novel that many critics regard as his best, The Rector of Justin. (Although even here there is a legal footnote, as Auchincloss once revealed that he based the main character on Judge Learned Hand⎯yes, he of the formula that still lies at the heart of negligence law.) If you’ve not yet encountered Auchincloss’s work, you may wish to start there. But if you’re interested in his legal stories, I recommend the suite of stories in Tales of Manhattan about the firm of Arnold and Degener; the “loose-leaf novel” The Partners; and his final novel, Last of the Old Guard.

* The photograph of Louis Auchincloss that heads this post is taken from the cover of his posthumously published memoir, A Voice From Old New York.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 7-13, 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.

Plans to release a trove of unpublished writings by Malcolm X, including journals he kept during 1964 trips to Africa and the Middle East, have been thwarted by a longstanding feud over the estate of his widow, Betty Shabazz, between their six daughters. (NYT)

A recent English translation of “a Russian reworking of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” is proving popular with fans, but Tolkien’s estate is not pleased, deeming it copyright infringement. Publisher David Brawn elaborates: “Online there are lots of infringements which it is extremely difficult to do anything about,” he said. “When you get something as popular as Tolkien, fans want to create new stories. Most are pretty amateurish. Tolkien himself isn’t around so it’s the estate’s view that it’s best to say no to everything. If you let one in, you’d open the floodgates.” (Guardian)

Emma Thompson is seeking a declaration from a New York federal court that her latest film script does not infringe the copyright of a play by Gregory Murphy. Both film and play focus on “a love triangle featuring the 19th century poet and critic John Ruskin.” (Guardian)

Lawyers for Amanda Knox are suing to prevent the airing of a television movie about the murder for which she has been convicted in Italy, arguing that it “could prejudice perception of the case just as the appeal process gets underway.” The victim’s family also wishes to stop the film, fearing that it will make their struggle to put the tragedy behind them more difficult. (Hollywood Reporter, Media Law Prof Blog)

New Orleans “Mardi Gras Indians work to copyright costumes” in a bid “to get a slice of the profits when photos of the towering outfits they have spent the year crafting end up in books and on posters and T-shirts.” (NPR, Clancco)

“A bill introduced [this week] in the Iowa House calls on the University of Iowa to sell its famous Jackson Pollock Mural painting, valued at $140 million, to set up a trust fund for student scholarships.” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, The Art Law Blog)

In a profile of Barry Gifford, best known as the founder of Black Lizard Press and an author of noir thrillers, Allen Barra stresses the originality and versatility of his recent work. (Salon)

Carlo Wolff makes Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X sound irresistible to this aficionado of international crime fiction. He lists “murder, philosophy, forensics, and a culture of repression” among its ingredients, and pronounces it a compelling noir novel “that ratchets up tension to the end, providing excitement and insight into the psychology of modern Japan along the way.” (Boston Globe)

Jennet Conant describes Douglas Waller’s Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS & Modern American Espionage as “an entertaining history” and notes: “Waller is more concerned with the politics of personality, and the legacy of Donovan’s complex, larger-than-life character. As he amply shows, Donovan was a combination of bold innovator and imprudent rule bender, which made him not only a remarkable wartime leader but also an extraordinary figure in American history.” (NYT)

Fancy tracking the Socratic method back to its source? Steve Donoghue trumpets Bettany Hughes’ The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life as “a beguiling book” and “history, and historical reconstruction, exactly as it should be written.” He concludes: “The Socrates Hughes creates is ultimately a towering yet intensely human figure. He lives and speaks again in these pages: It’s a singular accomplishment.” (Washington Post)

* The image above is a reproduction of Jackson Pollock’s Mural (1943, oil on canvas, 8′ 1 1/4″ x 19′ 10″), owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Kate Sutherland

The Stories Behind Great Cases

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending a launch for my colleague Allan Hutchinson’s new book, Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World.

In the book, Hutchinson tells the stories behind, and assesses the legacies of, eight well-known cases from across the common law world. Well-known, that is, to law students, law professors, and lawyers. But the book is intended to have a broader appeal. By setting each case in social and political context, and focusing on character and incident rather than on legal doctrine, Hutchinson seeks to put a human face on law, and to convey the “evanescent, dynamic, messy, productive, tantalizing, and bottom-up” character of the common law.

Having now read a couple of chapters, I have no doubt that the book will be embraced by a non-legal audience. These are great stories, told in a compelling and accessible style. But it’s also illuminating reading for those of us already fully steeped in law, as most of us will have encountered these cases before only in diminished form. Here Hutchinson restores the richness that is routinely stripped away as cases make their way through the courts, and into law reports and casebooks.

Every year I offer my first year torts students a brief introduction to the field of law and literature in a session titled “A Closer Look at the Facts.” We look beyond the facts articulated in a judgment to demonstrate that they’re not simply an objective account of the relevant evidence, but rather a narrative carefully crafted to support a particular legal resolution. Then we broaden our lens still further to discuss the layers of storytelling that precede the courtroom and continue on after the issuing of the judgment.

Hutchinson’s Is Eating People Wrong? promises not just an interesting and entertaining read, but also some excellent new material for that exercise. I skipped straight from the introduction to the chapter on Donoghue v. Stevenson, and I can tell you that I will most definitely be integrating it into my next torts syllabus. Now, on to Roncarelli v. Duplessis and Hadley v. Baxendale