What I’ve Been Reading: Second Half of October Edition


Back when I was a law librarian people would ask me for a book about being a lawyer. I’d steer them to One L, the now-classic on Harvard Law School. Today I have a new go-to-book: Biglaw. Hopefully, by giving this book as a gift I can save the person years of debt, stomach ulcers, marital discord, and occasional suicidal thoughts. This book is so accurate it should have a trigger warning on the front cover. Written by a former associate at a large New York law firm, this story shows the blatant treachery, the fraternity boy shenanigans, the mean-girls crappola and the just plain awfulness that too often characterizes working as a young lawyer in a law firm.

It’s no accident that so many lawyers come from the hallowed Greek Letter Associations, Secret Societies and Dining Clubs of undergraduate life. Back in the day before online research was the norm, these wanna-be-partners would tear cases out of books, articles out of journals, hide volumes of Shepard’s and do other dastardly tricks to get ahead–and that was just in the first year of law school. Still today, hazing rituals abound in law firms. Secret and not-so-secret drinking flourishes. Coke-a-cola gets drunk and coke gets snorted. Red Bull flows like a river. Sex is used to advantage and refused to disadvantage.

Life as an associate in a law firm is like the old joke about a recruiter showing a prospect a job in heaven, where all is dull, and then in hell where all is exciting. When the fool says he’ll take the job in hell, he goes to work his first day to find folks eating out of garbage cans (true), working with no sleep for days (true) and backstabbing anyone for face time with the biggest gun of the place (true). When he questions the recruiter she tells him “Yesterday we were recruiting you, today you work here.”  Law firms employ that recruiting strategy all the time.

But people want the dream–the supposedly sky-high income (not very much at all when you divide it by the number of hours worked), the “prestige” of working at XYZ Law LLp and, of course, the elusive goal of Partner status, a corner office, name on the door and, in really old world firms, a name high up the letterhead.

Not being a lawyer, I put up with it because my pay WAS great, I got bonuses I couldn’t believe and  as I always said, mostly the men are good looking, well dressed and good smelling. Not bad.

Of course those are generalizations. Not every law firm eats its young. Not every “four corner partner” (love that phrase) demands lunches with privileges. Not all fraternities sexually harass pledges or force them to drink to the edge of death. But it’s so common the stereotype came about.

In Biglaw, Mackenzie gets the big prize dangled before her eyes and reaches for it. The rest is classic law firm. Be careful what you wish for on steroids. And remember, be nice to your secretary. She can make or break your career.

Biglaw by Lindsay Cameron–this one is Not To Be Missed. A Must Read.

harriettWhat a fun book!! If you remember the classic t.v. show “This is Your Life,” of any take-off of it, you’ll enjoy this energetic look at the life of a suburban housewife beginning life as a widow. Sounds “cheery” (not!) you say? It’s so well-told, so perfectly paced that you’ll not put it down till you’re done. I didn’t finish it in one sitting because I wanted it to last longer!

Harriet, now widow of Bernard, discovers he has paid for a vacation cruise to Alaska before he died. Naturally, she feels she “owes it” to him to take the cruise. When he longtime best friend turns down the offer to accompany Harriet, the “fun” begins. Anyone with a family can understand parts of this book for Harriett’s grown kids chime in, too.

By seeing Harriet and Bernard’s marriage at various stages we get a better picture of their lives both separately and together. I’m not big on non-linear story telling, but this book gets it so RIGHT.  Kudos to Jonathan Evison for eveything–just everything about this lively book. Book clubs will love this one. I just know it will spawn a few lousy copy cats though. This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison.

The two hardest things about reading fiction series are: 1) Waiting for the next volume and 2) knowing its the last volume. CaddyEA

I’ve been raving about Hilary McKay’s kids series, the Casson Family. While I did not like Caddy Ever After as much as the other volumes (it was told a little differently and change, while nice for the author, often upsets the reader) I liked it well enough to charge on to the very last Casson story. That leaves me a little unsettled. No more darling Bill and Eve with diet-coke-and-gin out on the pink couch in the shed. My kind of parents. No more hip Indigo and spacey Caddy or Saffy and best friend Sarah. No more missing Tom or darling Michael. And no more Permanent Rose Casson, but wait! There’s more! Yes, more! Darling Hilary has gone back in time and penned a Casson #0. Yes! Now if she’d take my suggestion and pen a grown-up novel about Bill and Eve, I’d be in reading bliss. Yes, bliss. No, I don’t think that’s too strong of a word. Bliss. It’s underused these days, but bliss is bliss. Bliss is not simple happiness. Happiness is finding out we can wear jeans to work for an extra day this week. That’s happiness. Bliss is finding out I won’t be Casson-less for a while yet!  Caddy Ever-After by Hilary McKay.

BrghearIs mental illness inherited? Does stress cause it? Grayson Todd has it all–great education, great job, wife and daughter he loves. But…..there has to be a “but,” doesn’t there? But he also is also wildly bi-polar. As was his father. Grayson’s descents into the depressive phase of his illness are vividly portrayed. The types of therapy available to patients in the 50s, 60s, and 70s are as well. It’s hard to remember a time when Valium was a wonder drug and doctors still told patients with anxiety to have a nightly cocktail or to smoke. Truth. Light up to cure your anxiety. Stressful job? Knock back a couple of martinis and feel good again. To most of us today, Prozac, Zoloft and the like make it seem easy. But before those little gems existed people were give electric shock or rest cures. For Grayson the mania/depression/anxiety/paranoia go out of the bounds of “manageable.” If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live with the disorder, this is a pretty good look at it. To Bright to Hear to Loud to See by Juliann Garey.

traitorMean Girl circa 1778. Compelling story–the Arnold treachery lends itself well to fictionalization. The dialogue though just about ruins it. Peggy is a totally one-dimensional, completely unlovable witch. Clara almost has depth. Arnold is a buffoon. The rest are just names. I feel the author was completely let down by pre-readers and editors. The laundry list of things they should have caught is very long. Hopefully, though, this will become a movie or Masterpiece program. Then it will shine if the dialogue is tweaked and the characters given some depth and life.The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

Leave me a comment and tell me what you’ve been reading this month.

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