Saturday, October 31, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

I just signed up to write a 50,000 novel in the month of November, at Nanowrimo, the official site of National Novel Writing Month. Except for a book called "My Grandpa, the Weirdo" that I wrote in 6th grade, I've never finished a whole novel before. I guess there's a first time for everything. Wish me luck!

Oh, and Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New writing quotes

The Quotes On Writing section has been updated with new quotes about writing and writers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Law-Related Quotes

Here are quotes related to the law, legal issues, law school and lawyers, that I have found and liked while reading books, articles, short stories, or websites.

"Few students enter college with all the points on the map plotted. The premeds commit early, because they have to. The prebusiness types drift into economis and psychology classes. The rest, a hodgepodge of majors, whose interests are vaguely creative, wander from art history class to philosophy seminar to life-drawing studio to the British novel until, one day, they matamorphose into nail-biting, neurotic law school applicants."

- Cameron Stracher, Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale of Greed, Sex, Lies, and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair

"Law school has become the graduate school for the great unwashed, the final resting place for a plurality of college graduates without an employable degree."

- Cameron Stracher, Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale of Greed, Sex, Lies, and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair

"For most . . . the decision to go to law school must be viewed as a combination of fear, coercion, curiosity, self-interest, self-delusion, and entropy . . . no one goes to law school at gunpoint. In a perfect world one could win the lottery, marry rich, lack material desires. But the world has never been perfect. The noisy clash between commerce and leisure is not an invention of this generation. Everyone has to work: the flawed, self-deluded, and famous. You look at the world and decide where you fit in, or the world fits you in. You make a guess, take a chance, leap into the void. But it's an educated guess, based on what you know about yourself and the world, which may not be much. Sometimes you guess wrong; sometimes the guess is right, but the world is wrong. In the end, you can change your mind, but you can't change the world. Thus, law school."
- Cameron Stracher, Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale of Greed, Sex, Lies, and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair

Browse more quotes and more at: Site Map

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Book Review: Double Billing by Cameron Stracher

Not as Dramatic as it Tries to Be: A Book Review of Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale Of Greed, Sex, Lies, And The Pursuit Of A Swivel Chairby Cameron Stracher

Double Billingis a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New York City. I bought this book for my fiance’s father, who enjoys legal thrillers by the likes of John Grisham. He had most recently been telling me about Grisham’s book The Associate. So, I thought, here’s a bird’s eye view into the world of a first year associate at a large law firm, a true story told by the former associate himself. The cover looked intriguing and mentioned the usual exciting suspects: greed, sex, and lies (although I wasn’t sure what the pursuit of a swivel chair part was all about).

After my fiance’s father read it, I decided to as well, because it seemed timely. I was working at the local office of a large law firm where I wasn’t happy. I thought that reading this book would help in a “misery loves company” kind of way. (Disclosure: By now I work at a small civil law firm, where I am much happier, so I am biased!)

The contents of Double Billing, however, not only disappointed me but, more often than not, annoyed me. I found the writing to be mediocre and the narrator to be self-indulgent. At some points I wondered if it was the author’s intention to upset the reader, because the book contained some sexist and racist comments, as well as downright condescending ones, such as this little gem:

“In the hierarchy of criminal practitioners, federal prosecutors are at the top, state prosecutors at the bottom . . . In the civil bar, personal injury lawyers—those who handle “slip and fall” cases—are at the bottom; lawyers at large firms who represent major clients are at the top . . . If you asked a personal injury lawyer whether he considered himself at the bottom of the civil law food chain, he would probably deny it and protest vigorously. On the other hand, his denials would have a strong whiff of defensiveness.”

I wondered what made the narrator think he knew so much about the practice of law when it came to making such blasé comments, when throughout the book, he makes a big deal out of the fact that he knows nothing about being an associate at a big law firm. (When given a document review assignment, he lies to a senior associate about having done one before, messes the process up due to his own ignorance, and then remarks, “There was no course called Document Production at Harvard. No one explained ‘Bates stamping’ or making multiple copies or reproducing file labels or sitting in a warehouse sweating your ass off.”) He also comes off as extremely immature at times, and almost disrespectful. (“We drove to the hearing in White Plains in [a partner] Caroline’s Lexus. On the drive back to the office, I drew stick figures on the air-conditioned window while Caroline spoke to [another partner] Eric on the car phone.”)

Having worked at a large and a mid-sized law firm, I had a pretty good idea what Stracher was writing about. Granted, I never worked—-and know by now that I wouldn’t want to work—-as an associate at a large law firm in New York City, but I have had many similar experiences as Stracher. He spends the first few months with little to no work, supposedly reading law review articles all day, which in my experience means you are either lazy or that the partners find you undesirable and you will eventually find your way to the door, by yourself or with an escort. After awhile, however, he does pick up some work, mainly a lot of document review and some discovery requests and responses, which is pretty typical of first year associate work. He even gets to help with a trial, which is a rare experience for a new associate that he at different points in the book appears to appreciate and take for granted.

Much of Double Billingcame off as whiny to me, and perhaps I have been numbed by the corporate law firms to which I sold my soul, but I don’t think anything he described was that bad. For one thing, as far as his rant about document production goes, paralegals have done the "bates stamping and multiple copying and reproducing file labels" work at all three of the firms where I have worked, and I can only imagine a large law firm having even more support staff on hand for these types of tasks. The “lies” he mentions are basically instructing a witness not to speculate about a situation if he or she doesn’t remember what was said or done, and playing discovery “games” with the other side by stalling or objecting before producing important documents. These situations and others have bothered me at various points in my career, but, as Stracher pointed out, that’s the way that practicing law sometimes works, and nothing that he saw violated the law or any professional or ethical rules. He also talks about partners giving busy work and tasks that he himself views as unnecessary to associates so that the firm can keep billing as many hours as possible. This complaint also has merit, but one person’s “busy work” is something another person deems necessary, and I wanted Stracher to deal with these important issues in a better way than casually mentioning them and then moving on.

As far as “sex” goes, there was little to none, and certainly not enough for a book that has the word in its subtitle. One of Stracher’s co-workers is secretly dating a paralegal. (How exciting.) More puzzling to me are Stracher’s sporadic mentions of his own personal life, without ever letting the reader in to the whole story. The book starts when he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend, having just passed the Bar, and ends when his girlfriend finally persuades him to change jobs. In the middle, there are random mentions of times when he has to cancel plans with her or leave her lonely at home because he has to work so much, and other times when she nags him to change jobs and stop working so much. Apparently they had been together for quite awhile and I kept waiting for some detail into their relationship beyond this surface level, and especially for resolution one way or the other-—a marriage proposal or a break up—-but there was none. I was left wondering why he even brought the girlfriend into the book at all.

And the swivel chair in the sub-title? Another disappointment. The entire story can be summed up as: his chair broke and he had to put in a request with the office manager, which was last on her list because he was a lowly associate and not a partner, and eventually, right before he quit, he got his chair. This plot line about sums up the excitement contained in the book as a whole.

If you are an attorney who has worked at a large firm before, or probably any sized civil firm, you will be able to relate to many parts of this book. At some points I was like, “Oh, yeah, exactly,” but other times I was bored because it was so commonplace. If you aren’t an attorney, but are interested in legal books, movies, TV shows, etc., you may like the insider’s view that this book presents. My fiance’s father liked it and it gave us some good conversation material, such as billable hours and different types of attorneys and areas of practice, etc. The book is definitely an easy and fast read. I wonder, though, if some of the legal mumbo jumbo may be confusing or frustrating to non-attorneys. The way that Stracher tries to describe legal issues was pretty annoying to me, full of dramatic language and unnecessary capitalization. (“Imagine: you’re the General Counsel of a Very Big Corporation that has just been sued by an Extremely Nasty Corporation for Unimaginable Injuries.”)

I assume that the intended audience of Double Billingis the general public—-readers who want to know what it’s like to be a young, big wig attorney at a large law firm. On that premise, this book does deliver, although I think the entire “spend a lot of hours doing seemingly useless work, until you can pay back your law school loans and go in-house” spiel could have been told with a lot more excitement.

I recommend this for people who are in law school or thinking about going to law school because in my opinion it gives a realistic portrayal of being a junior associate at a big law firm. The problem is that those big law firms are boring and stuffy, so the book is a little bit like that, too. Still, I think many people go into good law schools (and a lot of debt) with a lot of ambition and high hopes, only to find out that they must sell their souls to large law firms to be able to pay for their education, and this is not the kind of work or the kind of environment they had in mind when they signed up for the gig in the first place. A bit depressing, really, but also remember that not all law firms/ law jobs are like that. In my opinion this book seems to accurately depict large, big-city law firm life. To that I can only say "blah" -- to the idea and to the book!

Rating: I give this book two and a half stars -- I didn't really like it but some people might and it's not absolutely horrible.

Read: March – April, 2009

Buy this book at (I will receive a small percentage of the proceeds):

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Index of Book Reviews -- By Genre / Category

(Last updated on January 28, 2011 with the addition of Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen)


* Classic

--> Novels
---> Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
---> The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
---> Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

--> Short Stories
---> Flappers and Philosophers: 8 Short Stories By F. Scott Fitzgerald
---> The Wife, and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

* Contemporary

--> Novels
----> My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
----> Mourning Ruby by Helen Dunmore
----> The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
----> The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
----> Women Like Us by Erica Abeel

--> Short Stories
----> Best American Short Stories, 1991 Edited by Alice Adams and Katrina Kenison
----> Best New American Voices, 2006 Edited by Jane Smiley, John Kulka and Natalie Danford
----> Glimmer Train Stories: Issue # 48, Fall 2003


* Creative Non-Fiction

--> Memoir
----> Loose: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen
----> Lucky, a Memoir by Alice Sebold
----> Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale of Greed, Sex, Lies and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair by Cameron Stracher

--> Instructive
---> Career and Corporate Cool: How to Look, Dress and Act the Part-- at Every Stage of Your Career by Rachel C. Weingarten

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wake Up Call: First Rejection Letter for Coach K Arrives

I've been waiting to hear back from the five literary journals to which I sent my personal essay/memoir piece "Coach K" almost a month ago. I received an email from Creative Nonfiction inviting me to view their website and receive a discount on a subscription. Although it was obviously a form email, it included my name and the title of my piece, which gave me hope. It said they take up to six months to respond, though, so I went back to waiting.

Every day I check the mail to no avail. Except last night, after getting home from a bar with my fiance and one of our friends, my fiance checked the mail for me and there was an envelope from Alaska Quarterly Review. Sure enough, it was a rejection letter. :( A standard form one stating that my work does not meet their needs at this time. Someone did write "Re: Coach K" and "With Thanks" on it, which was a nice little gesture, but I didn't even notice that until this morning I was so bummed, which the alcohol didn't help, so I just tossed the letter to the side and pouted. I just wanted to go lay in bed and cry. I had to smile, try to ignore it (I did whisper to my fiance that I got a rejection letter -- he looked genuinely surprised and crestfallen, which was sweet, and then he said something funny like "Those fools are stupid for not recognizing your talent!") and play Beatles Rock Band.

Lately I'd been thinking more and more about whether I could ever leave the law to be a writer, and if so, when. I had been joking wih my sister while I was in PA over the weekend that if I were hit by a car and bleeding to death on the side of the road, I wouldn't think about my legal career, accomplishments, downfalls, etc. at all. I'd think of my family and friends and then I'd think, "I never got to publish a book! I didn't spend enough time writing!" We were laughing and she was going, "Help me officer, I'm bleeeeeeeeding and I just want to publish a book!" But then on Wednesday after I returned home I was actually involved in a scary car accident in which my tire blew out on the highway on the way from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. I thought I was going to die but I walked away completely fine. I called my sister and told her we shouldn't joke about me being in a car wreck! But since then I've had this eery feeling, like life is trying to tell me something.

Of course, last night, when I received the rejection letter, my first thought was, "Good thing I have a good day job!" It would be really hard, if not downright impossible, to rely on writing to pay the bills. And I do enjoy my job and the law. So maybe life is trying to tell me to continue to write and pursue publication as much as I can in my spare time (which is very limited) while being grateful for my legal career during most of my waking hours. ????

On the other hand, I know that rejection is just a part of the writer's life. Did I really think that the first literary journal that I sent my piece to was going to say, "wow, what a literary genius, we must publish her immediately!" I guess I kind of did. ;) But that obviously isn't very realistic.

For laughs, I enjoyed this cartoon on the stage of rejection that writers go through: From Writer, Rejected

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: Career and Corporate Cool

Tries Too Hard To Be "Cool":
A Review of Career and Corporate Cool (TM): How to Look, Dress and Act the Part--at Every Stage of Your Careerby Rachel C. Weingarten

I'll give this book credit for marketing. It really attracts attention and looks like the total package, complete with pink letters on the cover! But inside, it reads like a bunch of articles in Seventeen Magazine. (It even has cutesy chapter titles like "Career-o-rama," and cartoon cutout-like drawings of fashionably dressed women at work). Instead of advising you on what to do on your first date, it tells you how to be cool and sophisticated at work. Because the writing is anything but sophisticated, I didn't find it very convincing. It was really hard for me to take a book seriously that is supposed to be about a professional, mature career image but projects the image of a 16-year-old.

The sub-title of the book is deceptive, because this book does't talk at all about "every stage of your career." Instead, it seems to assume that everyone has a glamourous job but still somehow needs to figure out how to fit in. Much of the advice contained in the book is just plain common sense. The description in the inside jacket (which I should have read before the rest of the book, and then maybe I wouldn't have bought it) states, "While an off-color joke generally won't play in a cubicle environment, it can be a job requirement for a professional comedian. Fortune 500 companies tend to frown on perceived sexual harassment in the workplace while massage therapists touch naked strangers on a daily basis." Oh really, Rachel, you don't say?

Speaking of the dear author Rachel, she writes the entire book with a super chatty tone, like a thirteen year old, I guess in an attempt to relate to the reader (who is supposed to be caring about their professional career). But I found it condescending at some points, and downright annoying at others. She touts her own horn to no end. On page 169 of the book, she is still reminding us how "cool" she is: "I'm not a doctor (thought I'm known as a heck of a spin doctor and freuquently revive brands that are on death's door), and I'm certainly not a nurse (though I regularly nurse clients' and colleagues' bruised egos, and nurture projects from concept to fruition.) I am a marketing strategist and consultant who works on
high-profile projects and glamourous launches and events." I don't know about most readers, but I certainly do not care how many times Rachel wants to remind me of what she does and how important her work is. What I want to know are tips to succeed in my own career.

And that's where her book falls completely flat, in my opinion. My biggest objection is that it's all fluff and no substance. It also seems to jump from one topic to the next unrelated topic and back again. For example, Chapter 3 is called "Culture Club" and the index at the front states that it will teach you how to "understand and adapt to your firm's unique corporate culture without becoming just another clog." But Chapter 3 has one section called "Follow your bliss," which belongs more in a section about choosing a job or profession, another section which advises you to "be yourself" (gee, thanks for the tip) and the last and longest section is about email etiquette.

Finally, Career and Corporate Cool (TM)just seems out of touch with reality. It doesn't contain many practical tips for the typical career girl. Instead, it seems to think we all live in Hollywood and have jobs that involve throwing elaborate parties for famous people. Under a section called "publicity," Rachel writes, "If your event is newsworthy, then promote it--but first create an outstanding and newsworthy story. Court and invte key media and create individual pitches and stories for their particular publications. Follow up with details that make the story juicy, fun, or relevant. For instance, yet another party on Oscar night might not be newsworthy, but an event that boasts 12 celebrity chefs, with 12 major designers creating the table decor, and boasts such an ubercool guest list that Jamie Foxx, the night's winner in the best actor category, gets turned away at the door along with throwns of celebrites--well, that's a great party story! The extremely pricy launch party for another luxury building in Manhattan? Not a thrill. The launch party for another luxury building in Manhattan, at which one attendee wins a multimillion-dollar penthouse apartment? Now that's a great story." (No, I did not make this paragraph up. That is seriously a paragraph taken from this so-called "career guide." Now you see why I had so many problems with it.) The book also includes a strange chapter on how to dress your guy for your successful events, which includes having his eyebrows waxed and teaching him how not to be afraid to go to the spa to get a facial. At that point, I would think even a teenage reader would be thinking, WTF?!

The only parts of this book that I didn't totally hate were the small splatterings of advice on organization and productivity. And the "what to wear to work" section was okay. But you can get much better advice on the former topics in Women for Hire's Get-Ahead Guide to Career Success (which I will review soon, because it is a much better career guide than Career and Corporate Cool (TM)!), and much better "fashion for work" advice in Dress Smart for Women. There is nothing in Career and Corporate Cool that isn't in any other career book. And there is a lot of annoying stuff that isn't in those other books. So my advice is to skip this book unless you happen to be buying it for a 17 year old who has the means to organize a launch party complete with a multimillion-dollar door prize.

My rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5) - I pretty much hated it.

Buy this book at

Browse other career guide books at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Website Review:

Click here to go to!

The other week or so, I had what I thought was a unique idea -- what if there was a website where people could swap books? Alas, I didn't have the time or money to create such a website. Out of curiosity, though, I typed in "swap books" on Google and, much to my amazement, such a website already existed! It's Paperbackswap and it's pretty cool. I may be the last person in cyberspace to have heard of this site, but I told my mom and my former office manager, both who love to read, about it, and neither of them had heard of it either. Apparently it is five years old, so word is slow to spread... at least to me and my mom and my former office manager!

Paperbackswap is kind of like eBay or Amazon -- you just enter a book you want, and it comes up, but you can "order" it for free, with credits. You get two credits for listing ten books, and then one credit thereafter for every book that you send to someone else. (You type in a book that you want to list and add it to your "bookshelf" for other people to browse). Despite its name, it doesn't deal in just paperbacks. One paperback or hardback book cost one credit, while audiobooks cost two credits. The only thing you have to pay for is to ship the book to whoever orders it (which is why it's beneficial to trade paperbacks). There are no other fees or charges.

The great thing about Paperbackswap is obviously that you can get free books! The only negatives I have found so far are few in comparision to that fantastic fact. But, for the sake of full disclosure, here they are. For one thing, someone doesn't always have the book you want to order, online on Amazon or usually eBay. In that case you can put it on your "wish list" and be notified when someone lists it. I have so many books to read that I don't mind the wait. But if you want a brand new, popular book that a lot of people have added to their wish lists (you have to wait in line behind whoever requested it first), this might not be the place you should look. Likewise, if you list a bunch of hot-off-the-press bestselling books, you may be inundated with a flood of books you have to mail, because everyone else has wish listed them and requests them right away. This was not my problem, by the way. I guess I have obscure tastes because no one was in a rush to order my books. I listed ten about a week ago and have sent two out. So, in my case, it's harder to get credits than if I were a fan of the latest thrillers or what have you.

All of that, I can work with. The only thing that really bugs me is that it seems to take much longer to get a book from Paperbackswap than from other book sites. When you order a book, the seller is given *five* days to click a button saying that they will mail it "now" (within 2 days) or "later" (within 5 days, I think). Plus everyone only mails media mail since they aren't getting paid for the book OR to mail it. So if you need a book in a hurry, this is NOT the site where you should order it. I ordered two books with my first two credits, both by Andre Dubus. Maybe this can be blamed on my comparatively obscure taste, but the owners of both of these books took the full five days to respond. One responded at the last hour that they would mail it within five days. The other one never responded, in which case the request goes to the next person in line who listed that book. That person, bless their heart, did respond and send out my book right away. I think it's a bit ridiculous that people have *so* long to send a book they list as wanting to trade, just because it's a trading site, whereas on other sites a reasonable confirmation response and shipping time is expected.

Despite that complaint, I really love this site and plan to get most of my books on here from now on (since I rarely need them in a hurry and rarely feel like buying a hot-off-the-press book). I recommend it to any reader! If you do sign up, please mention my name (voracia) because then I'll get a credit as a referral bonus. :) For everyone who has tried this site, what do you think? Has it been a positive experience or a negative one? Do you recommend it?

Click here to go to!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Read To Me Corner

Last weekend I volunteered to read to children at the New Mexico State Fair, through the Albuquerque Business and Education Compact (ABEC)’s “Read To Me” program. My assignment was to lay out a blanket and a bunch of books by a tree and a sign that said “Read To Me Corner.” I arrived at the designated spot, the “Kids’ Pavilion,” to find that it was placed smack in the middle of a lot of entertaining activities for children – the petting zoo, an outdoor science museum with experiments like making bubbles out of a humongous wand, a tunnel to walk through, games to play, and an arts and crafts tent right beside me. Even though my love for reading and books started at a very young age, my first thought was, “What kind of a kid is going to want to have a book read to him when there’s all of this other fun stuff to do?”

The kids proved me wrong. And they proved to me that reading as a form of education and entertainment is as alive and well as when I was their age. My first “customer” was a baby named Theo, who literally crawled over to my blanket and pounded his hands over the row of books I was still laying out. His parents laughed and told me he loved books. He sat cross-legged and enthralled while I read him Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You'll Go! and when I read the line, “you have feet in your shoes,” he grabbed his tiny little shoes.

A girl of about seven sat straight and tall, while I read her a book called Recycle Every Day! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. The book is about a bunny rabbit named Minna who has a school assignment and contest to make a poster about recycling. It’s very entertaining but shows the rabbit family recycling every day of the week, and I was afraid that my listener might start to lose patience. Instead, she listened carefully until I finished the book and Minna had won the contest for her poster that said “Re-re-re-member to re-re-re-cycle every day.”

I loved seeing the children interested in reading, and I must admit I enjoyed browsing the book selection (which was provided by ABEC). Many of the children loved the book Emma Kate by Patricia Polacco, which is about a little girl and her imaginary best friend elephant (the illustrations are superb). Another favorite – one little boy knew it by heart and said his teacher read it to him – was Beatrice Doesn't Want To, by Laura Numeroff. It was about a little dog who doesn’t want to go to the library with her big brother, until she discovers a book she likes about roller-skating. Another good one was A Pocket Can Have a Treasure in It, by Kathy Stinson.

I would like to volunteer to read books to children again in the future because I think it’s something that both I and the kids enjoy. I am not sure if all state fairs have something similar to a Read To Me corner, or only New Mexico. I found this opportunity by visiting the mayor’s website of upcoming events that need volunteers – at the Mayor’s Office of Volunteerism and Engagement. But there were many similar opportunities at – it’s just that many of them require a weekly commitment that I honestly don’t have the time to give right now. I think that projects like this are great volunteer opportunities for people who love to read and write! It’s refreshing to be able to bring a smile to a child’s face by doing what you love to do anyway.