Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Mississippi”

A Place For The N Word

Last month I listened to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Two factors were involved in this decision. Firstly, having been educated in the land of Chaucer and Shakespeare, I am woefully ignorant of classical literature in the country I now reside. Secondly, I was about to travel to Louisiana and work a stones’ throw from the banks of the Mississippi.

Just when I began the book, the N-word controversy exploded. NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, announced it plans to release a new edition in February wherein the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave.”

The word appears 219 times in all, it is hard to miss. I was listening when my 12 year-old got into the car and the word was spoken twice. My son, a proud product of Berkeley tolerance, was shocked. We had a long conversation about literature and artistic license. We have already had a number of discussions as to why I can write swear words and have them published, words that he is not allowed to say.

JULIE BOSMAN in an excellent New York Times article – Publisher Tinkers With Twain – explains that the idea came from Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University in Montgomery.  The professor has been teaching Mark Twain for decades and talked about always feeling uncomfortable when reading out loud a common racial epithet.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”

Mr. Gribben, believes that Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have dropped off of many reading lists and wants to make the books more accessible.

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”).

Does he have a point? While my ancestors were enslaved in Egypt a few centuries ago, it is not part of our scarred psyche – there are far too many more recent acts that scar the Jewish  people. So I am unclear whether I should have a say in the debate.

I would love to hear from people of color whose ancestors were slaves in America. Would you share your opinions in the comments?

Either way, the special relationship that develops between Huck and Jim is what makes this novel so special. It is a timeless lesson in companionship, as relevant today as ever before.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Books That Matter: The Appeal

Having written a novel about a court case involving multinational corporations as the Goliath to the little guy’s David, there is no way I cannot enjoy this novel. I happen to love John Grisham novels, legal thrillers, and admire his tight writing technique.

I believe The Appeal is important as it focuses on the ability of those with money and power to manipulate the legal and political systems. What gave it particular validity for me was a review by a 30 year litigator.

H. Lehmann has worked… as a plaintiffs’ trial lawyer, having worked in that capacity for well more than three decades. I’ve directly handled or closely supervised more than 1600 civil matters, and have had good outcomes on all but a tiny few, partly because of having a “no asshole rule,” about the clients our office will accept. In the past, I’ve been disappointed and offended by some of John Grisham’s books, as he has often characterized tawdry and wrongful conduct by lawyers, including the plaintiffs bar, as though such conduct were common, when, in my experience, the opposite is true.

No system is perfect, but few that I’ve known from my generation of lawyers chose the law with money as a primary motive, and those that focused on that have not tended towards competency or guts. Consistent with his apparent belief in redemption, Grisham has redeemed himself from the uninformed callousness shown in some other works. This tale of the human spirit, and of evil, is an accurate portrait of very real problems faced by our society, issues and problems that the general public barely even imagines.

The Supreme Court election which is central to this story is reminiscent of what happened in California, in 1986, when the then-governor, Mr. Dukemajian, working with ideas from a major Republican PR firm, and as orchestrated by a campaign professional from San Francisco, at a cost of many millions, convinced the people to refuse re-election to three purportedly “liberal,” Supreme Court Justices, Bird, Reynoso, and Grodin, based on their alleged hostility to the death penalty. In fact, the support for the process came from the insurance industry, which sought, with ultimate success (through Judges with insurance backgrounds) to undue several cases which had been to the benefit of insurance consumers, notably Royal Globe vs. Butte (construing Insurance Code 790.03 (h) in a way that forced fair settlements), Paul vs. State Farm and Davis vs. State Farm, cases which were de-certified for publication (erasing them from the law by fiat of the Chief Justice), where those published appellate decisions had found a fiduciary level of relationship between the carrier and the insured.

These humane cases had cost the insurance industry, by insisting on fairness, and through politics, these cases were undone. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court resigned his position, I believe for personal reasons, about six months after an official determination that, no, strictly speaking, he had not violated ethical standards by taking all expenses paid trips from major insurance companies at the same time he was making decisions which happened to be on their behalf.

My familiarity with this comes from deep practice experience in the affected areas, including involvement with two of the major cases which were de-certified by this process. The law was politicized, and still has not reached the impartiality that was present when I was originally in practice, though there have been, in fairness, genuine strides away from the dark. This story, in fiction, illustrates what is at stake when greedy preoccupation with material gain is allowed to have its way with law. Also, the legal analysis and issue handling shows a level of practical depth seldom seen in fiction. For these reasons, I have just purchased an additional copy of this book for our long time exchange student from Germany, as she is entering law school next year, and I do not know of a better tale to warn of the dangers which society faces when the high calling of honorable legal practice is subjugated to the goals of those who hold money as a life goal. This is an important and worthwhile book.

Click here for a review by Thomas M. Loarie on Amazon.com.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

Books That Matter – The Appeal

Having written a novel about a court case involving multinational corporations as the Goliath to the little guy’s David, there is no way I couldn’t enjoy this novel. I happen to love John Grisham’s legal thrillers, both the stories themselves and his tight writing technique.

I believe The Appeal (click here for synopsis) is important as it focuses on the ability of those with money and power to manipulate the legal and political systems. What gave it particular validity for me was a review by a 30 year litigator.

H. Lehmann has worked… as a plaintiffs’ trial lawyer, having worked in that capacity for well more than three decades. I’ve directly handled or closely supervised more than 1600 civil matters, and have had good outcomes on all but a tiny few, partly because of having a “no asshole rule,” about the clients our office will accept. In the past, I’ve been disappointed and offended by some of John Grisham’s books, as he has often characterized tawdry and wrongful conduct by lawyers, including the plaintiffs bar, as though such conduct were common, when, in my experience, the opposite is true.

No system is perfect, but few that I’ve known from my generation of lawyers chose the law with money as a primary motive, and those that focused on that have not tended towards competency or guts. Consistent with his apparent belief in redemption, Grisham has redeemed himself from the uninformed callousness shown in some other works. This tale of the human spirit, and of evil, is an accurate portrait of very real problems faced by our society, issues and problems that the general public barely even imagines.

The Supreme Court election which is central to this story is reminiscent of what happened in California, in 1986, when the then-governor, Mr. Dukemajian, working with ideas from a major Republican PR firm, and as orchestrated by a campaign professional from San Francisco, at a cost of many millions, convinced the people to refuse re-election to three purportedly “liberal,” Supreme Court Justices, Bird, Reynoso, and Grodin, based on their alleged hostility to the death penalty. In fact, the support for the process came from the insurance industry, which sought, with ultimate success (through Judges with insurance backgrounds) to undue several cases which had been to the benefit of insurance consumers, notably Royal Globe vs. Butte (construing Insurance Code 790.03 (h) in a way that forced fair settlements), Paul vs. State Farm and Davis vs. State Farm, cases which were de-certified for publication (erasing them from the law by fiat of the Chief Justice), where those published appellate decisions had found a fiduciary level of relationship between the carrier and the insured.

These humane cases had cost the insurance industry, by insisting on fairness, and through politics, these cases were undone. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court resigned his position, I believe for personal reasons, about six months after an official determination that, no, strictly speaking, he had not violated ethical standards by taking all expenses paid trips from major insurance companies at the same time he was making decisions which happened to be on their behalf.

My familiarity with this comes from deep practice experience in the affected areas, including involvement with two of the major cases which were de-certified by this process. The law was politicized, and still has not reached the impartiality that was present when I was originally in practice, though there have been, in fairness, genuine strides away from the dark. This story, in fiction, illustrates what is at stake when greedy preoccupation with material gain is allowed to have its way with law. Also, the legal analysis and issue handling shows a level of practical depth seldom seen in fiction. For these reasons, I have just purchased an additional copy of this book for our long time exchange student from Germany, as she is entering law school next year, and I do not know of a better tale to warn of the dangers which society faces when the high calling of honorable legal practice is subjugated to the goals of those who hold money as a life goal. This is an important and worthwhile book.”

Makes one want to read more legal fiction as a porthole into the reality that is so often hidden from us. Anyone read The Accidental Activist?

——————————————————————————————————-

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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