Law and Literature reading list for 2013

by on January 9, 2013 at 3:36 am in Books, Education, Film | Permalink

The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition

Billy Budd and Other Tales, by Hermann Melville.

The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka.

In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott.

Conrad Black, A Matter of Principle.

Kate Summerscale, Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady.

Glaspell’s Trifles, available on-line.

Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, volume 1.

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov.

Moby Dick, by Hermann Melville, excerpts, chapters 89 and 90, available on-line.

Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

Running the Books, by Avi Steinberg.

Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman.

The Pledge, Friedrich Durrenmatt.

The Crime of Sheila McGough, Janet Malcolm

Errol Morris, A Wilderness of Error.

Leslie Katz, “John Keats’s Attitudes to Lawyers,”

Some additions to this list will be made as we proceed, mostly a few short articles.

We also will view a small number of movies on legal themes. You will be responsible for obtaining these or for viewing them in the theater.  These include:

Capturing the Friedmans

Anatomy of a Murder

A Separation

Memories of Murder

affk January 9, 2013 at 4:14 am

I, as a science graduate, never understood how those majoring in social sciences / humanities deal with these huge reading lists. This list corresponds to reading about one book a week and if you have several courses like this going on, you can spend about two days per book. This seems awfully little for any book that requires any thinking. I personally can read only about 100 pages of a book that doesn’t contain any equations in a day and still remember the main points of the book.

RPLong January 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Wow, chill out…

jtf January 9, 2013 at 10:02 am

As both a science and humanities graduate it’s worth noting that roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the people don’t fully do the readings on any given week. You’re also dealing with completely different people in terms of absorbing information. I, a lowly political economy guy, can read roughly 1 page of a fiction paperback a minute, nonfiction at about the same rate. My fiancee, also a science major but with a degree in literature as well, roughly doubles that for fiction but halves it for nonfiction.

Go Kings, Go! January 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm

As a rower in the cabotage trade, I can only efficiently read books on astrolabes, chthonic and water deities, sewn plank construction and celestial navigation.

Go Kings, Go! January 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I should add, that my wife, a glottochronologist, can consume volumes of books in one sitting so long as they are limited to craniology, phrenology and dendochronology.

Curt F. January 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I think this is my fav MR comment ever.

Jeffrey January 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm

phrenology? really?

Yogesh January 9, 2013 at 4:22 am

So, when is THIS class coming to MRUniversity?

EP January 9, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Hopefully soon!

Steve Sailer January 9, 2013 at 5:00 am

How many times faster do you read than the average George Mason student?

prior_approval January 9, 2013 at 6:44 am

This list is considerably less comprehensive than my Western Lit 201 (from a certain professor who assumed a new identity), Victorian Lit (something – 3 or 401?), or SF course (from Amelia Rutledge, apparently the first female black graduate from Harvard – admittedly, I auditted her course as a FCPS sophmore, before she became the English Dept. acting chair after Jan Cohn retired) at GMU – not that I would argue that GMU’s standards have slipped in the last couple of decades.

Why yes, I predate a number of things at GMU mentioned at this blog, one of my motivations in commenting here.

And I still recommend Njal’s Saga as a great work of art, first encountered at GMU –

Unfortunately, I don’t think it is possible to link to Cordwrainer Smith’s The Game of Rat and Dragon here (seek and ye shall find, however), but for true golden age SF, it is a rarefied treat.

Obvs January 9, 2013 at 7:29 am

Was he asking you or Tyler? Anyway, I think the trend you identify is not just at GMU. A lot of schools are requiring less these days. Just look at the trends in the average time that students dedicate to their coursework and average college GPAs. Perhaps college students are learning just as much due to gains from technology and improved teaching methods, but I have not seen any evidence of this. When you account for how many students are going to grad school now, it may make up the difference.

Jan January 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

It matters in that the comparisons are different. Tyler probably has more insight into today’s average GMU student.

prior@approval January 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

‘It matters in that the comparisons are different. Tyler probably has more insight into today’s average GMU student.’

Possibly – nobody in my family is attending GMU this year. But then, when they were attending, they were actually students, not professors. Want to guess who knows more about being a student, an actual student or the general director of the Mercatus Center, and a star of MRU’s Youtube channel?

My bet is already obvious. Though maybe I should check how many classes Prof. Cowen is teaching this spring semester. Or not, because really, I could care less.

Jan January 9, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Yeah, you definitely went to GMU.

Cliff January 9, 2013 at 9:44 am

Or perhaps you misremember to your advantage…

prior_approval January 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Sure – but then, I’m one of those FCPS AP English students who took a GMU 201 lit course as a freshman. Well, OK, Prof. Rutledge’s class was something I auditted as a high school sophomore, though I did later take a course from her for credit.

Rahul January 9, 2013 at 10:44 am

That reading list translates to 4908 pages, courtesy Amazon data. And that’s excluding the Bible.

Wikipedia says: “The average adult reads prose text at 250 to 300 words per minute”. Let’s also use 350 words per paperback page as an estimate.

That gives 5726 minutes of reading time == 95 hours. Actually it doesn’t sound as impossible as I’d thought it would ; but I’m convinced I’d be totally overwhelmed! Don’t think I’ve ever read that many pages in a semester.

londenio January 9, 2013 at 5:44 am

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” Woody Allen

Ray Lopez January 9, 2013 at 5:44 am

What? Scott Turow’s One L did not make the list? I hear it’s a classic. Mark Twain defined a literary classic as “a book which people praise and don’t read.”–same goes here. Unless you can speed read. Here’s what I found works. Scan the whole page, reading keywords. Fill in the blanks. If it’s something that you already know, move on. The other day I read all of an investment book by Peter Schiff in one hour that way. This technique will not work with “meaty” books like math books…or TC’s posts! I highly recommend this book on economic history: John Cassidy “How Markets Fail” (Pulitzer Prize runner-up, 2009). Very very good on econ history (key economists, their contributions). Has a left of center bias but you can skim through those parts.

Stewart January 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm

My wife and daughter (just into Two L) both got half way into One L this last month and both gave up. “Totally boring”. “Nothing happens” “This is just a boring story about doing One L – nothing interesting at all”. I guess Harvard is not as fun a place to study as Otago University NZ or maybe the writer didn’t do anything but study.

Anders M.L. January 9, 2013 at 6:47 am

What, no Pratchett?

Ray Lopez January 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

This one? The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents -is a children’s fantasy by Terry Pratchett, published by Doubleday in 2001- The Amazing Maurice is a sentient cat who leads his ‘Educated Rodents’, a group of sentient rats, as they go from town to town posing as a plague so that their accomplice, a teenage human piper named Keith, can “lure them all away” from the town, after which they share the money the piper receives. The rats had gained intelligence from eating the waste from the rubbish tip behind Unseen University

Anders M.L. January 9, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I would suppose that – apart from general silliness – there is more of an exploration of community-enforced norms and an official balance-of-power approach to order (“if you’re going to have crime, it might as well be organized crime.”) in some of the Night Watch Discworld novels like “Men at arms” or “Thud” than the one you suggest. But since you would disregard 99% of his work in favour of digging up a minor childrens’ story about rodents, some aspect of it clearly must have made an impression. Pray tell.

Stewart January 12, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Aside from his stumbling first two books (Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic) everything else by Pratchett is laugh out loud genius. A modern Dickens. Parodying modern life through his “Discworld”. Start at book 3 and work forward 6 or 7 then go back, then finish the complete works. Well worth it.

Ted Craig January 9, 2013 at 8:13 am

This is an interesting list of literature, but I’m not sure what it does for future lawyers. They’d be much better offer reading John Grisham and watching “My Cousin Vinny” than going through this pretentious pile.

Zach January 9, 2013 at 8:45 am

Nobody needs to be taught pulpy legal thrillers; such a class would be a waste of time. I was fortunate enough to be a student in the class last year. It made me think harder about the law than perhaps any other class I took in law school. Certainly I found it the most rewarding by a wide margin.

I think of all of the selections, The Pledge has stuck with me the most. It has become my go-to recommendation for literary-minded friends looking for something they might not find on their own.

Of books that I have read recently, I think The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin would be an excellent addition to the list. It is quite explicitly about law and economics; very Coaseian.

Ted Craig January 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

Well, Zach, veteran lawyers say King of Torts is one of the most accurate accounts of a modern class-action suit, so I’m not sure it’s a waste of time as compared to surrealism for the 1920s or sci fi.

The Anti-Gnostic January 9, 2013 at 9:25 pm

My Cousin Vinny is excellent. In the trenches, a lot of work goes into building the record for those concise summaries in the appellate opinions. A law professor I particularly admired used to say you need to “hold the facts in your hands.” I’ve seen a lot of newly minted lawyers with impeccable academic records crash and burn because they couldn’t master that process.

Alan Gunn January 9, 2013 at 8:13 am

The movie version of “Anatomy of a Murder” isn’t nearly as good as the book. Much of the book is about a small-town lawyer crossing swords with the state’s best prosecutor and doing well. In the movie, the state’s supposedly best prosecutor, played by George C. Scott is a loudmouthed fool who demolishes his own case. He violates the most basic rule of cross examination by asking a question when he has no idea of the correct answer.

CPV January 9, 2013 at 8:53 am

Herman, not Hermann.

Edward Burke January 9, 2013 at 9:33 am

Doubtless too late, but the next time the course is offered, consider: Classic Crimes by Wm Roughead, NYRB has a serviceable edition; On Murder (OUP ed.), essays and story by De Quincey (the original “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” may help keep students awake). For film: Bresson’s terse take on Dostoevsky (didn’t he write a novel based in part on an Edgar Allan Poe story?) , Pickpocket, offers much for reflection. No Hitchcock (Parradine Case, Dial M for Murder)?

libert January 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

“The Trial” seems a more appropriate Kafka book for Law and Literature than “The Metamorphosis”.

Cornflour January 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

I can’t comment on whether it deserves to be on the list, but “Memories of Murder” is a terrific movie. I’m assuming this is the Korean movie (Salinui chueok) that came out in 2003. I was working in Korea at the time, and in the midst of a two-year Korean film binge. This was among the best. Would be very curious to hear students’ reactions.

Parker January 9, 2013 at 10:55 am

Who speed reads good literature?! I took law and lit at Harvard Law two years ago and it was the most rewarding class I ever had. We read some of the Mellville Tyler has included, but the professor was quick to point out that we should effectively scrap the “Law” portion of the course heading, unless, of course, we wanted to discuss that thematically (or include it in one of the brief response papers we wrote)… we never did.

JK January 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

The Errol Morris Piece stands out as a poor choice. A good filmmaker, but why waste time reading him? Besides, a truly excellent writer, Gene Weingarten, thoroughly vitiated Morris and that column:

Curt F. January 9, 2013 at 10:01 pm

That was an amazing article. Thanks for the link.

Vivian Darkbloom January 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Flaubert, in a letter to his mistress:

“Comme l’on serait savant si l’on connaissait bien seulement cinq á six livres!”.

(What a scholar one would be if one knew well only 5 or 6 books).

The modern tendency to substitute quantity for quality and superficial reading for thorough reading is evident here.

Lion of the Blogosphere January 9, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Billy Budd, Sailor is the only book on the list which I read when I took Law and Literature in law school in the 1990s.

TallDave January 9, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Never read Kafka. Have to try that when I finish rereading Marooned in Realtime. Also Year’s Best SF 9.

J. Ott January 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Other recommended movies with legal elements:

…And Justice For All
My Brother’s Keeper
The Staircase (although more of a T.V. series than a movie)

Ted Craig January 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

…And justice For All is nonsense.

byomtov January 9, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Twelve Angry Men?

Ghost of Christmas Past January 10, 2013 at 1:54 am

Movies you might consider for next time: A Man For All Seasons; Breaker Morant; And Justice For All.

Carolus January 10, 2013 at 11:44 am

Tyler, you can’t leave out The Oxbow Incident — a central piece of literature on the rule of law, written in the penumbra of Nazism but still very much alive today. Mob rule is still a real danger, elsewhere and even here. And the book has the most eloquent, fiery speech on the importance of rules you will find anywhere. Critical reading!

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