Fiction for Attorneys

By Ian Pisarcik, Legal Publications Attorney Editor

As an attorney, two things are reasonably certain to occur in your lifetime: Sallie Mae will deduct an astronomically high student loan payment from your checking account and someone, somewhere will ask you if you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird and if you were aware that John Grisham used to be a real honest-to-God practicing attorney. It is at this point that you will calmly try to explain that you read more than just legal thrillers or you will begin shouting and waving your arms like a windmill with a broken turbine. Take solace in the fact that it could be worse. You could be a doctor. Doctors are asked similar questions (insert The House of God and Michael Crichton) followed by a request to diagnose the inquirer’s mysterious malady.

In the spirit of recognizing that your interests extend beyond the narrow scope of your profession, here are ten lesser-known books worth reading that have only a tangential connection to the practice of law.

  1. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: Released in hardcover last month, Fourth of July Creek is already receiving a lot of praise. The novel tells the story of a social worker who finds a nearly feral eleven-year-old boy living in the Montana wilderness. Dependency attorneys will relate all too well.
  2. Plainsong by Kent Haruf: This novel features a plot that will also strike a chord with dependency attorneys. The story, which would be intriguing in the hands of a lesser writer, is nearly flawless in the hands of Kent Haruf (for my money, one of the best writers alive).
  3. The Hermit’s Story by Rick Bass: Acclaimed writer and environmental activist Rick Bass will appeal to environmental attorneys, lovers of wild places, and fans of powerful writing.
  4. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson: Attorneys could learn a thing or two about being concise from this epic story about a day laborer in the American west told in a mere 128 pages.
  5. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage: Attorneys understand the complexities of human beings and perhaps no fictional character is more complex and fully-realized than Phil Burbank in this novel that inspired the better known novella, “Brokeback Mountain,” by Annie Proulx.
  6. Canada by Richard Ford: While most people think of John Grisham and Scott Turrow when asked to name lawyers who became writers, many forget the formidable Richard Ford.
  7. Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman: Megan Mayhew Bergman lives on a farm in rural Vermont with her veterinarian husband, four dogs, three cats, two goats, chickens, and a handful of rescue animals. These animals are featured in many of her stories (my favorite is about a woman who drives hundreds of miles to visit a parrot so that she might hear the voice of her deceased mother one more time). Animal attorneys rejoice!
  8. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell: A dark, gritty novel about taking the law into your own hands.
  9. In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien: The lauded author of The Things They Carried crafts a complex story about a failed politician who may have murdered his wife in his sleep. A story fit for a bar exam hypothetical.
  10. Independent People by Halldór Laxness: An epic novel set in rural Iceland, Independent People tells the story of a sheep farmer determined to live independently on a nearly unmanageable patch of land. The novel doesn’t have a great deal to do with the law, but it’s beautifully written and most attorneys have at least considered quitting their jobs and moving to a sheep farm in the middle of nowhere.

Honorable Mentions: Meditations from a Moveable Chair by Andre Dubus; Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin; Fencing the Sky by James Galvin; Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg; Winter in the blood by James Welch; and Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro.

They say if you want to write well you must read good writing. Perhaps reading some of this great fiction will improve your writing for that next big brief in which you must somehow keep the attention of a judge while explaining your client’s complicated fact pattern.

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2 Responses to Fiction for Attorneys

  1. Pingback: Summer Reading: Law and Non-law Fiction for Attorneys | Oregon Legal Research Blog

  2. Evan Guthrie says:

    Thanks for the suggestions on books to read for attorneys. Will check them out.

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