Ages ago my colleague and friend Sanna challenged me on facebook to post a book I love a day for ten days without explanations. I didn’t like the no explanations thing but eventually decided to play anyway and use the blog to add explanations – short ones, not full book reviews. I posted the books in random order, not ranked in any way. The first one I posted was Footnotes by Vybarr Cregan-Reid. Now I don’t really need to explain this one – I reviewed it here. I loved the writing and it all instinctively made sense to me. What is interesting is that I keep coming back to passages and it often pops into my head. It’s one of the few books that I have read relatively recently that is actually staying with me.
Book two was House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende. It probably wasn’t but it feels like it was the first ‘grown up’ book I read, certainly in English. I read it not long after the film came out (which I saw after) so I was 15 ish. I remember laughing and crying and being captivated by the story telling. I remember the affinity I felt with the strong but complicated women and the slightly unsettled feeling much of the story left me with. I also remember seeing the film and not really liking it that much. The characters weren’t what I had in my head. Clara in particular just wasn’t quite right in the film and Blanca wasn’t as complex as I wanted her to be. This book might well have been my first ‘stick to the book’ moment. I also realise now that I probably didn’t know anywhere near enough about Latin American and in particular Chilean history so some of the context will have been lost on me. I might re-read it. Although part of me wants to just remember how I felt reading it the first time round. This was also one of the first books that left me with that empty and not ready to re-join the world or start another book feeling that often leaves me aimlessly wandering the house trying to work out what to do with myself when I have finished a novel.
Book three: Affinity by Sarah Waters. I can’t remember whether I saw or read Water’s Tipping the Velvet first. I was vaguely fascinated by a lesbian story line and impressed with the way Sarah Waters builds characters but I wasn’t gripped. Then I read Affinity and I couldn’t shake that novel off for weeks. I read it in one on a grey, cold, gloomy afternoon which probably helped it along nicely. I remember being transported into the novel, like I was there, watching. I remember holding my breath, biting my lower lip wanting desperately to know how the story unfolds but not wanting it to end. The sense of fear, desperation, darkness and other-worldliness was real. As I write this, I realise that I couldn’t tell you the story line in any detail, what I remember from reading Affinity is foreboding, a feeling of powerlessness and a sense of darkness that took a while to lift.
So book 4 – and now for something to completely different. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. I’ve really only just finished this. I like it because it’s readable science. I’ve never really had problems sleeping and I have always known sleeping is good for me. I often sleep myself better and I really enjoyed reading more about what happens, scientifically, when we sleep. Intuitively the science described makes sense to me although I really don’t know enough to evaluate whether the studies cited to support the arguments are robust. Occasionally I had questions about methodology and how the things that were supposedly controlled for could have been but overall I thought the case for sleep was compelling – I knew that really but I enjoyed reading some of the evidence.
And finally for this post, book 5. Ah this book. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law by Albie Sachs. It is as close to perfect as a book can get. I read this book in a lovely little hotel in Capetown in January 2012 and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a special piece of judicial writing that is so very different from any other legal writing or judicial memoir. It is open and honest and doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of making the big (legal) decisions. It’s a stunning insight into how one of the best and most emotionally intelligent legal minds of our times thinks and worries about law and its application. It made me laugh and cry and it made me think. I love re-reading bits and I find new things to think about every time and I love using it in teaching because it’s accessible and readable and yet so intelligent and full of meaning. I think maybe I love this because it encapsulates everything I love about thinking about law.
More books in round two!
I’ve been meaning to do this shameless self promotion post since our book was published but somehow never got round to it. But now we are waving the summer off and are hitting the new academic year hard it seems sort of ok to do this. I’m not really keen on the ‘yay look at me’ stuff so this post is really about the book and the process of writing it. If you happen to want to persuade your library to buy a copy or two that would of course be awesome too! You can find it on the Publisher’s website here.
So the book. Well it’s basically an examination of the Court of Justice of the European Union and its work on a couple of substantive law areas and it is written from a feminist perspective. In writing the book we were interested in understanding the role gender plays in the CJEU’s work. The first half sets out our approach and the background – composition of the Court, how it works etc and the second half looks at gender equality case law, equality case law more generally and citizenship case law. If you do read it, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
I am really proud of this book – not necessarily because of the content and the writing, I can already see plenty of ways it could all be improved – but because it was such a genuine collaboration and joint effort which proved that collegiality is alive and well and because we were able to work with one of our undergraduate students and use sections of her dissertation as part of our research. It was such a privilege to work with Dr Sanna Elfving who I had appointed and who is an absolute star and with Sophie Mayat, a fabulous former student particularly because I missed supervising most of her dissertation while off sick with depression and anxiety just before I left Bradford. It was amazing to see the hard work she put in and the genuinely high quality research, thinking and writing that she produced.
I learned a lot during the writing of that book. First, it always takes longer than you think it will, a lot longer. Second, I need to work with people who have much more patience than I have a right to ask for. I will at some point in the process fuck up and/or fall off the wagon and I need to trust my co-authors to stick with me, call me out, catch my mistakes and point me back in the right direction. That means they need to have incredible patience and they need to be able to cope with me being a bit of a control freak (ok a lot). Sanna deserves a medal. Third, working with someone who works very differently from me is great. The writing process was really interesting. It seems I map out, Sanna inserted tons of information, I edited, Sanna sorted the references. I had the big picture in my head, she took care of the detail. We are good at different things and that means we can focus on the things we like and are good at but all of it still gets done.
I think the key thing I learned was that a book needs to be really strictly mapped out. We had way too much material and trying to work out how to do it all justice caused some of our issues about structure and the overall argument. Once we decided we would just have to leave some of it out, it actually came together well. We have a couple of ideas for some of the stuff that didn’t make it into the book and definitely have more to say on the subject.
Writing a book is a long slog and I thought that it might be like a PhD or running a marathon – you have to forget the pain before you can even begin to think about doing anything like it again – but actually I’d like to write another one, it was overall a really enjoyable experience. Sure, it had its moments but it was also fun. I have a couple of ideas but lots of research work to do before I can begin to really put pen to paper (probably actual pen to actual paper) but watch this space.