Summer reading list, Part I

Mix of fiction and non fiction – even one book of poetry – these cover a wide range and are in no particular order….if you have other ideas, please put them in the comments.

I think that one of these books will be the cannon fodder for the IFLS`s inaugural online book club! I’m struggling with whether it will be fiction/non fiction and i’m considering trying to run two at the same time – one theory book and one novel. Thoughts?p

Titles link to the publisher (almost always) and unless otherwise indicated, those sites are the source of the blurb.


Serena Mayeri’s  Reasoning from Race: Feminism Law and the Civil Rights Revolution.

Informed in 1944 that she was “not of the sex” entitled to be admitted to Harvard Law School, African American activist Pauli Murray confronted the injustice she called “Jane Crow.” In the 1960s and 1970s, the analogies between sex and race discrimination pioneered by Murray became potent weapons in the battle for women’s rights, as feminists borrowed rhetoric and legal arguments from the civil rights movement. Serena Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race is the first book to explore the development and consequences of this key feminist strategy.

Mayeri uncovers the history of an often misunderstood connection at the heart of American anti discrimination law. Her study details how a tumultuous political and legal climate transformed the links between race and sex equality, civil rights and feminism. Battles over employment discrimination, school segregation, reproductive freedom, affirmative action, and constitutional change reveal the promise and peril of reasoning from race—and offer a vivid picture of Pauli Murray, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and others who defined feminists’ agenda.

Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial

(from NYT review)

Now Malcolm has written her own tale of a murder trial. The accused is Mazoltuv Borukhova, a 35-year-old doctor indicted in the killing of her estranged husband, Daniel Malakov, in 2007, in the midst of a brutal custody battle over their 4-year-old daughter, Michelle. The evidence tying Borukhova to the crime includes 91 cellphone calls, in the weeks before Malakov’s death, between her and the hit man with whom she is on trial. Yet Malcolm feels a “sisterly bias” toward Borukhova because she is a “gentle, cultivated” woman. “She couldn’t have done it, and she must have done it,” the journalist writes. (NYTimes review)

Didi Herman An Unfortunate Coincidence: Jews, Jewishness, and English Law

Provides the first major account of legal thinking about Jews and Jewishness in England
Takes a sociological approach to show the extent to which racial identities are socially constructed and transmitted in ways that reinforce inequalities
Uses a broad range of case studies and historical detail to illustrate a compelling argument about the role of religion and race in determining judicial thinking

Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate my Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the new Girlie-Girl culture

“Orenstein has played a defining role in giving voice to this generation of girls and women…. At times this book brings tears to your eyes—tears of frustration with today’s girl-culture and also of relief because somebody finally gets it—and is speaking out on behalf of our daughters.” — Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

Ok, maybe the Cinderella book is a bit melodramatic.  Moving along…



Zong! M. NourbeSe Philip

Click here for my colleague Kate Sutherland’s thoughts on this book of poetry derived in an intriguing way from history and law.

Poetry and law may seem to some as incommensurable as dancing and architecture. Not so, according to M. NourbeSe Philip: “Law and poetry both share an inexorable concern with language⎯the “right” use of the “right” words, phrases, or even marks of punctuation; precision of expression is the goal shared by both.” But language may be used to very different ends in each realm: “The law uses language as a tool for ordering; in the instant case, however, I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through not-telling, will tell itself.”


Christine L. Krueger, Reading for the Law: British Literary History and Gender Advocacy

Taking her title from the British term for legal study, “to read for the law,” Christine L. Krueger asks how “reading for the law” as literary history contributes to the progressive educational purposes of the Law and Literature movement. She argues that a multidisciplinary “historical narrative jurisprudence” strengthens narrative legal theorists’ claims for the transformative powers of stories by replacing an ahistorical opposition between literature and law with a history of their interdependence, and their embeddedness in print culture. Focusing on gender and feminist advocacy in the long nineteenth century, Reading for the Law demonstrates the relevance of literary history to feminist jurisprudence and suggests how literary history might contribute to other forms of “outsider jurisprudence.”

The Orange Prize was created in 2006 to celebrate novels in English written by women.This year’s short list is enough to keep you busy for a week.

  • Emma Donoghue (Irish) – Room; Picador; 7th Novel
  • Aminatta Forna (British/Sierra Leonean) – The Memory of Love; Bloomsbury; 2nd Novel
  • Emma Henderson (British) – Grace Williams Says it Loud; Sceptre; 1st Novel
  • Nicole Krauss (American) – Great House; Viking; 3rd Novel
  • Téa Obreht (Serbian/American) – The Tiger’s Wife; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st Novel [I think I’m going to start with this one…]
  • Kathleen Winter (Canadian) – Annabel; Jonathan Cape; 1st Novel

Collateral Knowledge: Legal Reasoning in the Global Financial Markets Annelise Riles

The argument of the book is that …. financial governance does not just happen in legislatures and bureaucracies.  Indeed, it does not mainly happen there.  When we put the technical aspects of regulatory practice at the center of the analysis, as market insiders do, we come to see that many more kinds of agents–from financiers to back office administrative staff to ordinary retail investors, and including even some non-human agents such as computer programs and legal documents–are indispensable agents of market governance.

Martha Nussbaum Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach

The Capabilities Approach to human progress has until now been expounded only in specialized works. Creating Capabilities, however, affords anyone interested in issues of human development a wonderfully lucid account of the structure and practical implications of an alternate model. It demonstrates a path to justice for both humans and nonhumans, weighs its relevance against other philosophical stances, and reveals the value of its universal guidelines even as it acknowledges cultural difference. In our era of unjustifiable inequity, Nussbaum shows how—by attending to the narratives of individuals and grasping the daily impact of policy—we can enable people everywhere to live full and creative lives.

Lea Vandervelde, Mrs Dred Scott

“Lea VanderVelde reminds us of what lawyers too often forget, that very real human beings are the subjects of the ‘great cases’ of constitutional law. Among the human beings involved in the infamous Dred Scott case was Harriet Scott, Dred’s wife. Given the paucity of conventional materials about specific slaves, VanderVelde does a remarkable job of historical excavation to reconstruct the circumstances of her life. She illuminates American social, as well as legal, history. A bravura performance!”–Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School and author of Our Undemocratic Constitution
“Lea VanderVelde wisely appreciates the significance of lives that have long been invisible to historians and constitutional scholars. She has worked with diligence and ingenuity to recover the lost voice of Harriet Robinson Scott. Our understanding of the Supreme Court’s infamous and consequential decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford will be forever changed and profoundly enriched by her work.”–Peggy Cooper Davis, author of Neglected Stories: The Constitution and Family Values

Resnik and Curtis, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms.

with NYTimes review here, and earlier post about this book here.



Cheryl D. Hicks Talk with You Like a Woman:African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

With this book, Cheryl Hicks brings to light the voices and viewpoints of black working-class women, especially southern migrants, who were the subjects of urban and penal reform in early-twentieth-century New York. Hicks compares the ideals of racial uplift and reform programs of middle-class white and black activists to the experiences and perspectives of those whom they sought to protect and, often, control.


Iris Marion Young  Responsibility for Justice

In her long-awaited Responsibility for Justice, Young discusses our responsibilities to address “structural” injustices in which we among many are implicated (but for which we [sic] not to blame), often by virtue of participating in a market, such as buying goods produced in sweatshops, or participating in booming housing markets that leave many homeless. Young argues that addressing these structural injustices requires a new model of responsibility, which she calls the “social connection” model. She develops this idea by clarifying the nature of structural injustice; developing the notion of political responsibility for injustice and how it differs from older ideas of blame and guilt; and finally how we can then use this model to describe our responsibilities to others no matter who we are and where we live.

Seema Kazi In Kashmir: Gender, Militarization and the Modern Nation-State

In Kashmir re-centers the focus of this battle for justice on the most resilient survivors of the pervasive multi-state violence: Kashmiri women. Making thoughtful use of rare, candid interviews, Seema Kazi constructs global lessons from the experiences of women living under intensifying militarization, manifested in the Kashmir valley as a daily onslaught of sexual violence, murder, family destruction, grinding poverty, and social death.

Ethan J. Leib OUP Friend v. Friend: The Transformation of Friendship–and What the Law Has to Do with It

In Friend v. Friend, Ethan J. Leib takes stock of this most ancient of social institutions and its ongoing transformations, and contends that it could benefit from better and more sensitive public policies. Leib shows that the law has not kept up with changes in our society: it sanctifies traditional family structures but has no thoughtful approach to other aspects of our private lives. Leib contrasts our excessive legal sensitivity to marriage and families with the lack of legal attention to friendship, and shows why more legal attention to friendship could actually improve our public institutions and our civil society. He offers a number of practical proposals that can support new patterns of interpersonal affinity without making friendship an onerous legal burden.

The Revolution Starts at Home:  Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities

Ching-In Chen (Editor), Jai Dulani (Editor), and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Editor); Andrea Smith (preface)

Based on the popular zine that had reviewers and fans alike demanding more, The Revolution Starts at Home finally breaks the dangerous silence surrounding the “open secret” of intimate violence—by and toward caretakers, in romantic partnerships, and in friendships—within social justice movements. This watershed collection compiles stories and strategies from survivors and their allies, documenting a decade of community accountability work and delving into the nitty-gritty of creating safety from abuse without relying on the prison industrial complex.

Terry Castle, “The Professor and Other Writing”

Publisher’s website here.

“Stanford professor and longtime contributor to the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, the New Republic, Slate, and other publications, Terry Castle is widely admired for the wit, panache, intellectual breadth, and emotional honesty of her writings on life, literature, and art. Now, at long last, she has collected some of the more personal of her recent writings in a single volume. Several pieces here are already acknowledged classics: ‘Desperately Seeking Susan,’ the celebrated account she wrote in 2005 of her droll and somewhat bittersweet friendship with Susan Sontag; ‘My Heroin Christmas,’ a darkly humorous examination of addiction, her family and stepsiblings, and the late, great jazz saxophonist Art Pepper; and the picaresque ‘Travels With my Mother’, a rollicking travelogue that brings together Castle’s complicated relationship with her mother, lesbianism, art, and the difficult yet transcendent work of the painter Agnes Martin.

At the center of the collection, however, is the title work, published here for the first time: a candid and wrenching exploration of Castle’s relationship, during her graduate school years, with a female professor. At once hilarious and rueful, it is a pitch-perfect recollection of the fiascos of youth: how we come to own (or disown) out sexuality; how we understand (or don’t) the emotional needs and wishes of others; how the ordeals of desire can prompt a lifelong search for self-understanding.

Susan Gubar, ed., “True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School” (but, not out till late summer)

Rather mouthwatering table of contents here.

In a series of autobiographical reflections, the contributors to True Confessions, including Gayatri Spivak, Sandra M. Gilbert, Hortense Spillers, and Martha Nussbaum, among others, tell us what experiences ground their activism and how they confronted the dilemmas they faced in the course of their training and careers. Why do a family’s religious practices captivate or repel girls grappling with their parents’ faith? What happens when a lesbian graduate student assumes she must be closeted, or when a female professor encounters hostility from other women on the faculty, or when a feminist professor is accused of sexually harassing her graduate students?

Also coming out too late for the summer book club but looking very interesting is

Dean Spade: Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law

The abysmal life chances for trans people here and globally are most often due to violence: police violence and outright murder, to be sure, but also the administration of the seemingly banal state and legal frameworks that invisibly define the most basic contours of everyday life. Within these frameworks, where being trans is not even an acknowledged possibility and the systems in place aggravate some with long lines at the DMV while imperiling the survival of many others, what guarantees can anti-discrimination, equal access, or equal protection laws actually deliver? This question is particularly critical in the current neoliberal context, with popular social movements paradoxically centered on appeals for “equality” by the most privileged within marginalized communities. But if we are to save our own lives, we must not to be sidetracked from the struggle for comprehensive justice. Rather, we must make the necessary interventions into dangerous intersectional systems of repression—and demand the most essential of legal reforms—while remaining steadfast on the path toward liberation.

While you wait for the book, this Guernica interview with the Author.



Thank you to the IFLS members and readers who contributed to this post and/or were enthusiastic about the idea of a book club including Davina Cooper, Kim Brooks, Kate Sutherland, Emily Grabham, Pina D’Agostino, Lisa Philipps,  and my dear friend who is secure and honest (and anonymous here) and so when asked what she was reading, responded that she and a friend were reading:

One thought on “Summer reading list, Part I”

  1. This is a great list Sonia, and I’m really excited about the book club idea! So much more fun to be able to discuss with others.

    For what it’s worth, these would be my picks for an inaugural book:

    – Janet Malcolm
    (I love her! But the book got mixed reviews… Still an interesting one to think on issues of gender, journalism, crime and law)
    – Terry Castle
    – Anniliese Riles
    – Serena Mayeri

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