Summer Reading Recommendations


These books by Columbia Law School graduates (and one about a CLS graduate) might be just the thing to bring to the beach or up to the mountains.

Cooking for Stein and Toklas

The Book of Salt
By Monique Truong '95
(Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2003)

Inspired by a story of two Vietnamese who cooked for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the infamous Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, Monique Truong's The Book of Salt has won praise from Newsday, the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times. Opening in Paris of 1934, the story follows the fictional Vietnamese character Bình as he decides whether to follow long-time employers Stein and Toklas to America, remain in France, or return to his native Vietnam. He is a refugee from his homeland, where he was banished because of a homosexual relationship. After wandering for three years at sea, he answers Toklas's ad. Bình's answer on where to go lies in his memories, his musings, and his observations. The tale is told in Bình's internal voice, and he is a spellbinding narrator, as adept at describing the contents of Toklas's kitchen as Stein's literary salon. Ms. Truong, who was sent to speech therapy as a child in North Carolina because there was no English as a Second Language class available, infuses the story with both her own feelings and memories, though the narrative itself is firmly embedded in the 1930s: Law School alumnus Paul Robeson ‘23 and even Ho Chi Minh make appearances.

Harry Potter Meets Kung-fu

Wandering Warrior
By Da Chen '90
(Delacorte Press, New York, 2003)

Da Chen's first work of fiction, for children 12 and up, draws on a genre that has entertained children in China for generations: the kung fu novel. In a mythic Chinese past, young Luka lives as a wandering beggar, until his protector, the Buddhist monk Atami, tells him he is destined to be emperor. Atami teaches the boy the basics of kung fu, which Luka soon uses against the evil Mogo usurper Ulanbaat Ghengi. Captured and separated from Atami, Luka awaits execution in a Mogo prison, where he meets Gulan, Atami's kung fu master, who helps him escape and find his way to the hidden monastery of Xi-ling. As Gulan hovers on the brink of death, Luka deepens his skills, preparing for his final confrontation with Ghengi. Although traditional kung fu novels portray heroes whose mystical, quasi-religious training endows them with superhuman skills, they are not usually set in a fantastic world. Mr. Chen's tale includes terrifying monsters reminiscent of the 16th-century epic Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. Relying more on action than character development or profound themes, Luka's adventures are not for the squeamish. The characters endure appalling hardships and suffer excruciating injuries in a world in which scorpions literally get under one's skin.

Two Ships that Collide in the Night

Out of the Fog: The Sinking of Andrea Doria
By Algot Mattsson; edited by Gordon W. Paulsen and Bruce G. Paulsen '49; translated from Swedish by Richard E. Fisher
(Cornell Maritime Press, Centreville, Md., 2003)

The Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria, with its murals and sculptures, was thought of more as a floating museum than a cruise ship. First launched in 1951, she made 50 successful voyages before her last when she struck the Swedish-American liner Stockholm off Nantucket, Mass. The reasons for the collision are as shrouded in mystery fog as the vessels themselves were obscured in haze on the night of July 25, 1956. Both ships were equipped with radar, and officers aboard each vessel were aware of the presence of the other. Stockholm was badly damaged but able to return to New York under its own power. Andrea Doria sank 12 hours after the collision. Fifty-two people perished.

The preliminary hearing held after the tragedy probably raised as many questions as it answered. The two companies that owned the ships chose to settle out of court before all the testimony had been given, leaving no documented resolution. Out of the Fog provides information and insights not previously available in English. Mr. Bruce G. Paulsen was one of the lawyers who represented the Swedish-America Line. Mr. Mattsson was the information officer for Swedish America Line and had close access to Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen, the sole officer on the bridge at the time of the collision. The book describes the events leading up to the collision from the perspective of both ships and the largely successful rescue effort that followed. The book also contains testimony given at the hearing, an appendix that provides a legal opinion from an attorney directly involved with the case, and a host of illustrations.

This Land Is Your Land

A Patriot's Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love
By Caroline Kennedy '88
(Hyperion Publishing, New York, 2003)

The rich and sometimes discordant strains of American self-scrutiny fill this wide-ranging anthology. Ms. Kennedy arranges the more than 200 selections according to themes like "The Flag," "Freedom of Speech," "Work, Opportunity and Invention" and "The Individual," and devotes equal space to the official, the devotional and the oppositional. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are reprinted in full, along with a large selection of presidential inaugurals and farewells and excerpts from landmark Supreme Court decisions. Popular songs include "Yankee Doodle," "This Land Is Your Land" and "Surfin' USA." Poems and fiction from such luminaries as Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen Crane, Alice Walker and Annie Proulx explore the variegated textures of American life. The dissident voices of Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass hold America to account for its injustice; H.L. Mencken castigates it as a commonwealth of third-rate men; and Oscar Wilde raises a sardonic eyebrow at the whole dubious enterprise.

Being American in Japan

When the Butterfly Stings
By Richard C. Cramer '01
(Upfront Publishing, Leicestershire, England, 2002)

"Your job is as much a cultural ambassador as an educator." With these words ringing in his ears, Richard Cramer starts his job as a JET (a participant in the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program) with high hopes of carrying out this dual role. Enthusiastically he embraces life in Japan, absorbs Japanese culture, learning the arts of the tea ceremony, the shamisen, makes Japanese friends - an ex-kamikaze pilot, a purple-haired tea master, mafia 'thugs', to name but a few - and immerses himself in Japanese philosophy. Young and idealistic, he sees a need for improvement in the teaching of English, but when he tries to introduce changes he hits a brick wall. The teachers just aren't interested in new ideas. Reluctantly, he realizes that to survive he will have to stop rocking the boat and learn to accept the 'Japanese way' of doing things.This does not stop him asking questions, and when it comes to the problem of bullying in schools, he refuses to let the matter rest. When his concerns are ignored - with tragic results - he blames himself. Should he have tackled it the 'American way' instead of the 'Japanese way'? Mr. Cramer's experiences as a JET are fascinating, his evaluation of Japanese philosophy, culture and the education system sharp and incisive, and through the eyes of a young foreigner readers are provided with an exciting pictures of life in modern Japan.

Being Japanese in America

The Challenges of the Legal Elite---My Studies at Columbia Law School
By Douglas Freeman ‘99
(Shoji Homu, Tokyo, 2003)

This book, in Japanese, describes the rigors of the U.S. law school experience as seen through the eyes of a Japanese lawyer (bengoshi). It humorously covers the trauma of being grilled under the Socratic Method, the harrowing first-year exams, the challenges of making Law Review, and the craze of clerkship application process. The book also covers what Mr. Freeeman calls the splendors of the summer associate experience. The author was born in Japan, raised bilingually, and became a bengoshi in 1996.

The book attempts to shed light on what the author views as the unique aspects of an American legal education: the emphasis on legal argumentation in a common law system, the intense competition in class and in the legal profession in general, and the challenges of finding one's place in the legal profession in a competitive market. Although Scott Turow's One L (?) has been translated into Japanese, Mr. Freeman's book truly introduces Japanese readers to the full scope of the U.S. law school experience. It is a particularly timely book, as Japan is the midst of a historical reform process of its legal education system and is creating one patterned on that of the United States.

Wild Bill Rides Again

Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas, America's Most Controversial Supreme Court Justice
By Bruce Allen Murphy
(Random House, New York, 2003)

Born in 1898 in Yakima, Wash., William Orville Douglas '25 cured himself of polio by sheer force of will as a child, served in the first world war, traveled to New York as a hobo to attend Columbia Law School, where he graduated second in his class. He taught as a professor at Columbia in the late 1920s, and became the youngest-ever appointed Supreme Court Justice in 1939. Had he, rather than Truman, been nominated as Roosevelt's vice-presidential candidate in 1944 - and he almost was - Douglas would have become president in 1945.

This is the standard history of Justice Douglas, repeated in his many biographies and his autobiography. But according to Bruce Allen Murphy's recent book Wild Bill, only half of this is true. Mr. Murphy spent 15 years researching Justice Douglas' life and presents evidence he claims refutes much of Justice Douglas' legend: he was not poor, he never served in the armed forces, he was supported both on his way to Columbia and in New York by his wife, and he did not graduate second in his class from Columbia Law School. What is clearly true in the book is that Justice Douglas missed, by a hair, achieving the goal he set for himself as a child - becoming president of the United States - and that his self-perceived failure tormented him for the rest of his life. According to the author, Justice Douglas wanted to be a politician, not a judge. Whether a lying misogynist, as Mr. Murphy claims, or an exemplar of the American dream, Wild Bill adds to the growing body of knowledge on the colorful Justice Douglas. It also begs an important question: How much of his personal biography is crucial to analyzing his judicial legacy?

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