Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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The Assist Summer Reading Portfolio

The Assist Summer Reading Portfolio

Last week, the Red Mug Coffee Circle community came together to share what we were reading this summer, what we wanted to read this summer if the opportunity were to arise, and what we think other members of the Alberta legal community might want to read. Most of our community members love to read, but some felt that law school took away some of the joy they found in reading for relaxation. Others find that their current work-life configuration made uninterrupted immersion into books challenging. But we all agree that books are great and that curling up with a good book in a bit of downtime is a favourite pastime!

Are you looking for some reading recommendations for your summer break (or evenings or weekends)? I curated the reading suggestions into theme groups—but without having read all of them, my categorization may not be perfect! This list is shared from one lawyer bookworm to all of you.

Many of our lawyer-readers access books through their local libraries—much more cost-effective than my periodic splurges at a certain retailer. If you were to place holds on several of the books below that appeal to you, you have a good chance of getting enough reading material for the rest of the summer season, which for me involves sitting in an Adirondack chair in my yard, with my sunglasses, my dog and my book of the day. Do you, however it works for you!

Non-Fiction Reading

I am going to get this one out of the way first. Lawyers read a lot, every day. Sometimes the thought of reading something serious, or “good for us” in our free time feels too much like what we do all day, but many Assist readers enjoy some serious stuff, even over the summer.

Fiction is my go-to. I read non-fiction occasionally if I really want to know more about a topic, but I find that, unlike my fiction books, I rarely finish the non-fiction ones. Once I am about 80% though, I start feeling like my quest for information has been satisfied and then I never pick the book up (other than to stick it on a bookshelf after weeks of mouldering on a coffee or end table.)

But with fiction, you can’t leave the final 20% unread—there are plot twists, character development and closure that you have to experience. There are only a handful of fiction books that I have abandoned, usually due to unpleasantness of the subject matter.

However, some the titles below may shake up my reading plan. The Audacity To Be Queen piques my interest (even though I think they mean Elizabeth II and not the band). And I am curious about Baseball as The Road to God. Given that I know next to nothing about baseball, I might do better applying what I know about God to learning about baseball!

Without further ado, here are the non-fiction picks (with comments from our RMCC readers in brackets):

Welcome to my comfort (and comforting) zone. Each time I looked up a book title mentioned by RMCC folks to confirm that we had it right and the correct spelling of the author’s name, I was mentally adding it to my personal reading list.
Right now, I am re-reading Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy (Wolf Hall, Bringing Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light), the story of how a scrappy blacksmith’s son becomes King Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor. Mantel tells this story through emotionally evocative vignettes which leave you seeing, feeling, and even smelling, Tudor London.
But one of our peer support volunteer-readers mentioned this series as an example of clever lawyering (and accounting since the professions were not separated or even regulated then!) When I came down with a nasty head cold last week, I decided to re-read the series (okay, I was a bit low on new books and didn’t feel well enough to venture out) from the lawyering angle. I armed myself with a pencil and underlined comments relating to lawyerly virtues or practice, and they are fascinating. My background is in corporate law, so I saw Cromwell progress from being a smart young lawyer being trained under Cardinal Wolsey, evolving into the General Counsel role upon Wolsey’s fall from grace, and then effectively becoming Chief Operating Officer role, all while dealing with  history’s toughest client who has a penchant for beheading those who offend him.
Besides providing a fascinating insight into lawyers in the sixteenth century, Mantel has another intersection with the Assist community: mental health. Mantel was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the 1970s where she was treated with antipsychotic medications which caused psychotic symptoms. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with endometriosis—a completely physiological condition, and a hysterectomy resolved her medical symptoms. She won the Booker Prize for both Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies, which is an amazing feat, and was longlisted for The Mirror and the Light, although I can’t imagine that her literary success actually reduced her emotional pain from her misdiagnosed psychiatric care.
If you are looking for something with substance but perhaps less dense than over 1900 pages of Cromwell’s life, may I recommend Amor Towle’s A Gentleman from Moscow, my favourite gift book?
I wish that I knew enough about the books below, but I have included comments from the group chat where possible. Please peruse at your pleasure, however. 

Guilty Pleasures

Children’s Books

Other Media in Lieu of Books

  • Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty: The Plantagenets on Acorn TV
  • Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies on Apple TV
  • The Tudors on Apple TV and CBC Gem
  • Lucy Worsley’s history series on BBC Select
  • Janet King, on Acorn TV (about an Australian prosecutor)
  • And Audible memoirs read by authors

Happy Reading! Please join us next time we chat about our favourite books.