May 21, 2006

"Anonymous Lawyer."

I've been sent a review copy of "Anonymous Lawyer," the novel Jeremy Blachman made out of his blog Anonymous Lawyer. Maybe you're already a fan of the blog, and, if so, I have a free copy of the book to give away, and I'll have the publisher send it to you if you're the one in the comments here to give me the best explanation of why I ought to read this book, given that I've formed a resistance to it after reading 20 pages.

My resistance is based on the thinness and emptiness of the narrator, who is a partner in a big law firm. I get the stark impression that the novel is not written from the perspective of a person who has ever lived such a life or has any desire to understand someone who has, but from the perspective of a young person who has worked as a summer associate in a law firm and hated it and hated people like the Anonymous Lawyer.

I already understand the bad feeling many young people get from working in law firms, and I don't want to spend my time reading what I think is merely projected hatred and not a real character that can be understood.

42 comments:

Bissage said...

Here's my entry: You ought to read the entire book in the interest of comprehesivity. Doing so will be a personally rewarding experience as you honor the author's hard word and good intentions. If you quit now, you will have judged a book by its cover to your great impoverishment and shame.

Seeing how I've already won, please have the publisher send that piece of crap to somebody else, not me. Why on earth would I want a book so awful it becomes painful to a reasonable, intelligent and educated person after a mere 20 pages? Life's too short.

Sheesh!

David said...

Interesting that we are discussing books/law firms at the same time that one of the most successful is being investigated for class action conspiracy.

Ann Althouse said...

Bissage: On what theory do I put any book ahead of any other book on my reading list?

CB said...

The Amazon description says the book is "written in the form of a blog." Does that mean you would have to read it from back to front?

Peter said...

I'd love a copy of the book. I haven't read it, so my recommendation you do so has to be qualified, but I've greatly enjoyed my occasional reading of the Anonymous Lawyer blog. I understand your point that Jeremy Blachman’s characters are unreal, but I like to think he's engaging in some pretty successful Swiftian satire rather than sophomoric cartooning of the adult world. Everything in that law firm world of his is heightened to absurdity. But it's not entirely unconnected from reality either. I spent nearly twelve years in that law firm world, and I would enthusiastically recommend working with or hiring the vast majority of my former colleagues. But are there healthy doses of pathological greed, cynicism, dishonesty, and stupidity in that world too? Of course. In the end, though, it may be that the Anonymous Lawyer can go down well in the small doses of a blog one need not read all that often. Whether its satire is good enough to sustain an entire novel I can't tell you yet.

Bissage said...

By judging the cover?

Me? I judge books by their covers all the time. And a lot of other things, too. So does everybody else.

I think it was Richard Avedon [sp?] the photographer who years ago said he reposes a great deal of faith in exteriors. That came as a shock to the young me but those turned out to be words of wisdom, within their limits.

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen said...

Haven't read the blog in a while, but did early on. I understand what you're saying, but whether it's useful as a critique of practicing law or not - you gotta admit it was funny, if you don't take it too personally you can get a good laugh out of it.

Ricardo said...

"On what theory do I put any book ahead of any other book on my reading list?"

Oh no, yet another test.

Some books are meant to be savored, and even the thought of getting to the book on your bookshelf (or nightstand, or wherever) can fill you with the expectation of a good read, or good companionship. These are often the books that we never want to finish, and so keep slowly working our way through them. Other books are meant to be disposed of, as summarily and quickly as possible, while still ingesting a reason or two of why you are taking such action. This book seems to fall in the second category. So speed read it, or just fan the pages, and do your intellect and literary passions a favor by moving into something that makes you happy to be alive. Move this book to the front of your list, for the sole purpose of moving it out the door quicker.

old walter said...

I'll bite.

I think that you might be looking at the book in the wrong light. (Of course, I haven't read it, but....) My sense from following Mr. Blachman's work is that he's shooting for something more along the lines of The Office: he's taking things to a level of absurdity (though perhaps unsuccessfully in this case). But I don't think that he's trying to "understand" a partner in a big law firm any more so than Gervais is trying to "understand" a boss at a paper company. Instead, both are playing on and exaggerating parts of both worlds that, when looked at from an outside perspective, seem ridiculous.

And there's always the stock advice of not giving up a book until at least 100 pages in. I can think of handfuls of books that weren't all that good for the first 50 pages or so, but which turned out to be quite good thereafter. (For example, Madame Bovary.)

Ann Althouse said...

Old Walter: I'd thought of the comparison to "The Office" too, but it was in the context of trying to put my finger on why I really can't bear to watch it -- either the British or the American version. And that's a situation where reviews have convinced me the show is excellent. I'm willing to assume that. But something prevents me from enjoying it. And I'm not generally squeamish about misanthropy. I'm capable of finding misanthropy quite funny. Maybe I have post-traumatic stress disorder about offices! I really do have a strong flee reflex about offices.

Jacques Cuze said...

What is to be made of a profession which claims to be doing such goods for society and claiming for itself such honors and privileges that organizes itself in such a horror-filled, unequal, 80-hour, abusive fashion?

No wonder you had to escape that, but why then teach it to others?

Dave said...

You should sent it to me so that I can see why so many of my fellow New Yorkers are miserable misanthropes?

Who knows, maybe such an experience will convince me life's better in Madison!

What better reason could there be?

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: You're not getting the rules of the contest. It's not who needs the book the most or who begs for it most sympathetically!

Palladian said...

Dave,

I think so many New Yorkers are misanthropes because of the population density here- you get a much more concentrated view of human nature, which of course makes one hate people. Those living in other, less densely populated places have less humans to interact with, therefore see less of the truth about human nature.

Plus people in New York often are more loathesome than people in other places. Think of all the New York Times articles about bed-scarf users and fennel-sausage arguers and emotional needs pet owners and "cranky-pants" banana nibblers; those people are the products of this loathesome place and could not exist anywhere else.

Palladian said...

"Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here."

Ann Althouse said...

"bed-scarf users and fennel-sausage arguers and emotional needs pet owners and 'cranky-pants' banana nibblers"

Hey, good memory for all the Althouse posts in one category!

Anyway, yeah, it's much easier to love people when you've got a lot of distance from them. Not saying it's better. It's just easier.

Finn Kristiansen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Finn Kristiansen said...

You should read the book because sometimes there is nothing else to do when on the toilet accept look at the tiles or towels on the opposite wall.

And why bring a cherished book into the bathroom, when something lite and frivolous will do? Further, it does not take from the time of your day by multitasking during bathroom time.

Having read the book, you will then be free to loath it in more expert fashion, employing venom to sound use. As a side issue, maybe the author is foxy, and will see you talking of him, and a hook up will ensue.

So, greater efficiency in bathroom time, more expertise in pontificating, and theoretical shagging.

(Of course, my true advice would be, dump it... the book that is).

Palladian said...

""bed-scarf users and fennel-sausage arguers and emotional needs pet owners and 'cranky-pants' banana nibblers"

Hey, good memory for all the Althouse posts in one category!"

Yeah, I always notice those posts because it's one of my favorite categories of things to bitch about- annoying, neurotic, upper middle class New York weirdos.

Dave said...

"Dave: You're not getting the rules of the contest. It's not who needs the book the most or who begs for it most sympathetically!"

Why I'm not a lawyer. Who needs rules?

Palladian: not sure I get the sausage reference but I do suppose dense populations do wonders for the soul.

Ann Althouse said...

"Who needs rules?"

People who want to win a free copy of "Anonymous Lawyer."

Dave said...

Relax, it was a joke.

I'm sure there's someone out there who needs the book more than I.

jeremy said...

My entry:

You shouldn't read it. Life is too short for fiction that you aren't enjoying after 20 pages. And, reading it could take away time that would be better spent doing your own writing (i.e., this blog). The only way you would continue to read it at this point is if someone said something in the comments that caused you to rethink your earlier reaction, and, by the time you finished, you'd more likely than not return to the conclusion that you shouldn't have stuck with it. Also, I wish to point out that I have no need or desire for this book, but should still win this contest because I am giving you the right advice.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

why I ought to read this book, given that I've formed a resistance to it after reading 20 pages.

Grist for the pod-casting mill. Fits right in with your blogging-as-art meme.


Did I win?

Maxine Weiss said...

Is this book in large-print? I can't read anything that isn't in 16-point, preferably 18-point etc...

Anyway, Cameron Stracher already wrote the definitive "firm" book....."Double Billing"....

He's got a blog, though not about firm life, thank goodness.

I've worked in law firms for donkey's years.

There's nothing anyone can tell me that I don't already know.

No new revelations for me.

Guess I won't win the contest.

Ann, you should start selling raffle tickets. Remember that I Love Lucy episode, .....The Ladies' Overseas Aid---love that one!

Peace, Maxine

Johnny Nucleo said...

You should read it because it might help you overcome your aversion to The Office, which breaks my heart. A friend of mine has a similar aversion to Curb Your Enthusiasm. This also breaks my heart.

Maxine Weiss said...

"I get the stark impression that the novel is not written from the perspective of a person who has ever lived such a life "---Althouse

Touche. Me too. After reading some of the blog, It seems like it isn't written by a hiring partner at all.

The blog itself feels distinctly, secretary, or receptionist. Someone very low-level with an axe to grind.

Someone like ME.

Just kidding.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

The problem he's got is this: Law doesn't make for great entertainment. It's boring IMHO IMHO IMHO IMHO, with the exception of Ann's classes, of course.

My favorite office movies are the non-law ones. 1987's 'Wall Street' that famous Gordon Gekko line...."Greed Is Good". ----Investment Bankers

And then the classy, charming 1940s "His Gal Friday" with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel. ---a busy Newsroom.

Hollywood hasn't managed to make the law as interesting as other fields.

Peace, Maxine

reader_iam said...

review copy.

why I ought to read this book

1) So you get more free "review" copies from publishers. That may or may not be a good thing, of course.

2) So that you can form a deeper bond with those schmucks among us who make our living reading things to which we often have a strong resistance (lol).

3) So that you can write a review here (or just skip that part) and submit it to some newspaper somewhere and make some pocket change. Think of it in terms of the the number of espressos--or whatever it is you drink at coffee bars--that it will buy.

Then again, maybe reading it wouldn't be necessary for that; more often than I'd like, I'm suspicious as to whether a reviewer has really read the book about which he or she is writing.

4) So that you encourage paying markets for bloggers.

5) So that you can use the occasion to explore the deeper cultural and artistic of the blogger-to-book movement, only incidentally addressing the content at hand.

6) So that you can riff on the projected hatred meme and why the "just an empty suit" theme never goes out of style.

7) So we that don't have to (but can pretend we did).

8) Because you can.

9) Because you can't (bear it).

10) Because it's there, and didn't your mom tell you should always finish what you start?

Or you could just happily adopt the attitude that life is two short to drink bad beer or read boring books.

(And goodness' knows, I don't need another book on my bedside table.)

Maxine Weiss said...

"Anyway, yeah, it's much easier to love people when you've got a lot of distance from them. Not saying it's better. It's just easier."---Ann

Not with my imagination. I'll conjure up the most gruesome, bizarre scenes of people that I've not heard of yet.

The evil you don't know, versus the evil in your midst.

I think most people fear the stranger more.

Consider....that UFO's aren't landing on 57th and Lex. They always land in some remote place.

Obviously, the scariest of characters are in the most remote areas, going by the UFO theory. Good news for New York City.

Peace, Maxine

Sean said...

I had never read the Anonymous Lawyer blog until this post sent me to it, but it's actually pretty funny. I'm only a very junior partner at my firm, I'm afraid, but this blog is exactly the way I think. The reason you should read it, Prof. Althouse, is so that you see what you would have turned into if you had stayed at S&C.

When I say "turned into," I don't mean that the blog represents the thoughts you actually would have had, but it represents the thoughts that you would have had to have to do your job without internal contradiction. Of course, most people, including, I presume, you in your job, don't do their jobs without any internal contradiction.

Maxine Weiss said...

Not necessarily. The short time I spent in law school, and I do mean short short short---(got out of that Dante's Inferno as fast as I could!)

....I noticed a lot of jaded robots, automatons, grasping for tenure, chairships etc....

You'd be surprised the levels of misanthrope and craven reprobates lurking in Law School Faculty, (not our sweet Ann, of course) or any of the Professional schools...

Don't think that Academia is immune...to all that subterfuge etc..

"Anonymous Lawyer" is little more than a glorified James Frey. "Lawyer" has to make it spicy, or you won't read it, and he can't sell books. Nobody reads fiction these days ('cept me).....

But really, any job----has drones, and cynical jaded robots.

Who wrote that book "The French Loaf"--- It was that book written by that French gal....an ode, an anthem to all the underlings---loved that book!

Peace, Maxine

Sean said...

I'm not sure the previous post was very clear. I think the blog does a pretty good job expressing the state of mind that would be necessary to run a law firm without suffering doubt, ambivalence or psychological contradiction. As such, the persona portrayed in the blog is simple and superficial, because law firms are simple places, whereas real people (even law firm partners) are complex.

In contrast, government (the only other place I have worked) is very complex. To portray the mental state that corresponds to a government agency requires Kafka or someone like that.

I suspect that law schools are more like law firms, i.e., the level of ramification in personal relationships is low, because each person mostly does his or her own thing, many of the actors (i.e., students and associates, respectively) are transitory, and most people have no interest in the larger institution. But I don't know enough to be sure.

The Mechanical Eye said...

I suspect that law schools are more like law firms, i.e., the level of ramification in personal relationships is low, because each person mostly does his or her own thing, many of the actors (i.e., students and associates, respectively) are transitory, and most people have no interest in the larger institution. But I don't know enough to be sure.

Having just graduated from a law school this past week, I'd have to concur - I described law school to a friend, who compared my description to that of a military's basic traning. You go in because you have to and you leave as soon as you can. Few people have warm and fuzzies for their law school.

Then again, the esprit de corps at my law school is small to begin with, considering our special issues with the ABA.

Du

Ann Althouse said...

Being a tenured lawprof is very different from being a partner in a law firm. And being an untenured lawprof is very different from being an associate (or is it the students who supposedly are like the associates?). Billing hours is not like charging tuition. The biggest difference in the way your life feels is that you're not keeping track of your hours and having everything you do represent a dollar amount. The other huge difference is that you define your scholarly projects based on your interest in the subject and how important you believe it is, and when you write, you say what you believe is true. A lawyer must represent a client and frame arguments that will help a client achieve its goals. Teaching students may seem more like representing clients, but it is quite different. You're still structuring the course according to your understanding of what is important and presenting the subject in the way that you think is accurate and useful.

Truly said...

You should keep going on the off chance that it might improve. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for example, absolutely grinds to a halt when Hugo begins describing the view of Paris in excruciating detail. However, if you can survive that, the book really picks up from there.

Not to suggest that this is even on the same level, but you might be surprised.

On the other hand, I get savage pleasure from reading bad books and marking/tabbing everything about it that I find worthless, poorly written, or otherwise objectionable. Alan Dershowitz's stuff is great for that sort of thing.

I question whether you have to have experience with something to be able to make good fiction about it. Jane Austen did a pretty good job talking about love/marriage/courtship/romance and yet, famously, never married.

Peter said...

On differences between law firms and law schools: I think Ann is entirely right, but I'd add a couple of things. There's no reward in practice I found that matches the reward I find in teaching my students. There are similarities in educating clients and students, but the relationships are so entirely different I wouldn't begin to be able to equate them. On the other hand, I experienced much more teamwork, cooperation, and, yes, even a sense of institutional mission (on behalf of the firm and the client) in the law firm world than in academia. That might have to do with, as Ann referred to, matters of status.

Ann Althouse said...

Peter: The lawprof's work feels much more solitary. You have the students, but what you're doing and what they are doing is entirely different. You have your colleagues, but you don't usually work on joint projects. You have interaction with people, but you are thoroughly responsible for yourself and it's nobody's job to support you no matter how senior you are. Some people like that and some don't. Personally, I like it a lot, but it can be lonely, and I can see how some people would really feel sad and disconnected doing it.

Truly said...

So have we changed your mind? Will you read the book?

Legally Intoxicated (Retired) said...

I'm not participating in the contest, since I already recieved my own advance copy, and I've already read it. The main reason to read it is because it's funny. I mean, the main characture is just a caracature. No one really throws scissors at their associates, just like coyotes don't really order high-tech weaponry to hunt roadrunners. But it's still fun to read.

Legally Intoxicated (Retired) said...

Also, it's really short. I finished it in a single sitting, so it's not like it's a real time-commitment.