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Just Published: My Latest Book

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I am delighted to announce that my latest book, The Art of Conflict: Tales from the Courtroom, has now been published.

Co-authored with Alan C. Kohn, the godfather of St. Louis litigators and the veteran of more than 100 trials, our book provides a unique set of perspectives on the trials and tribulations of the courtroom lawyer. It does so by pairing each of five of my courtroom stories with one of Alan’s essays on legal advice on the same topic.

What are the magical powers of the courtroom clerk? Is the “ethical lawyer” an oxymoron. What’s the real art of cross-examination? These are just some of the topics covered by the book.

As the Honorable Michael Wolf, retired Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and Dean of the St. Louis University Law School, writes in his review of the book:

Alan Kohn’s exemplary life as a lawyer shines through every other chapter of this fine book, with helpful insights on how law is and should be practiced, and a marvelous memoir of his days as a law clerk in the late 1950s at the United States Supreme Court, the highest honor a young lawyer can get. Every other chapter?  Yes, because the book has a clever twist —  Alan’s musings, instructions, and inspirations are interspersed with chapters of fiction by Michael Kahn, the remarkable lawyer-by-day, novelist-by-night (or vice versa), whose fictional lawyer Rachel Gold makes guest appearances in some of her best roles and, as a prelude to Alan’s essay on judicial activism, a chapter on the fictional Judge Howard Flinch, the worst judge in the history of Missouri (remember it’s fiction) and title character of The Flinch Factor, one of Kahn’s 12 excellent mystery novels.  This book is an enjoyable and enlightening read.

Fellow lawyer Mitch Margo, author of the brilliant historical legal thriller Black Hearts White Minds, wrote the following:

The Art of Conflict is a lively dance of legal dramas told in alternating fictional and non-fiction vignettes between lawyer/novelist Michael Kahn and trial attorney Alan Kohn. You don’t need to be a lawyer to love these reminisces (mostly Kohn’s) and legal page-turners (mostly Kahn’s). You can read this book in an afternoon, and you’ll want to do just that.

Hope you enjoy the book!

Most Important Books of All Time? Let the Debate Begin!

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Last summer I wrote a post about a cool web page that had created road maps for your favorite road-trip novels, from Jack Kerouac’s cross-country trip in On the Road to The Cruise of the Rolling Junk, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of the journey he took with his wife Zelda from Connecticut to Alabama in a old automobile he called the “Rolling Junk.”

Keilah Keiser, one of the creators of that post, teamed up with Jennifer Jones to put together another blog post on an equally alluring website, largest.org. As its name indicates, that website curates lists of anything and everything that could be labeled “largest,” from the largest baseball stadiums to, I swear, “the 7 largest catfish ever caught.”

But in addition to the largest pzzas ever made (and largest toy museums and largest sinkholes), Keilah, Jennifer, and the website team have compiled a list of 25 of what they claim to be “The Books that Made the Largest Impact in the World.” As the creators explained to me:

“Books will continue to introduce everyone to fresh and revolutionary ideas, as they’ve done throughout the past. Only a select few titles are held up around the world as international staples — most of which are known for going against the grain. Each masterpiece exposes a writer’s thoughts through their words.”

That list of 25 begins more than 1,000 B.C.E. with the Torah (the 5 Books of Moses), includes other great religious works (such as the King James Bible and the Qu’ran), and several significant pre-20th-century works that range from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species to The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

But where the list (and the reactions) get interesting–and controversial–is when we enter the 20th Century. More than half of the books on the list were published after 1900, and the final one, published in 2003, is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

I confess that I did the reader’s version of a spit-take when I saw that book on the list. Huh?? Dan Brown’s potboiler on the same shelf as the King James Bible and The Origin of the Species? To their credit, the website creators offer the following justification for ending their list with The Da Vinci Code:

It made a huge impact on the world, because it was strongly criticized by the Christian faith, and more specifically by the Roman Catholic Church, for its implications that the original story of Jesus Christ was mistold. However, many readers became enthralled in the story, and it sold 80 million copies worldwide. It was also translated into 44 languages and adapted into a motion picture film.

Well, maybe.

I can think of at least three other books I’d add to that list–four if you could include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but that masterpiece, as vibrant as ever and performed every year in scores of venues around the world, is a play, not a book. In chronological order, my three additions are:

  • The Odyssey. by Homer. This epic poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon. It mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors. The cultural impact of this epic is widespread in both time and place, ranging from a key scene in Dante’s Inferno to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” to the Coen Brothers’ movie O Brother Where Art Thou? (which even inspired a flash card comparison of the movie to the original).
  • Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, was published in two parts (part 1, 1605, and part 2, 1615). The novel is one of the most widely read and widely celebrated classics of Western literature. By way of example, The Guardian placed it #1 on its list of the greatest novels of all time.
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. Epic in scale, this novel delineates in graphic detail events leading up to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. It is regarded as a central work of world literature and one of Tolstoy’s finest literary achievements
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

So read though that list of 25 on Largest.org. Is there a book you think should be included? If so, let me know.

A Tip of the Hat to the Genius of Parody Romance Novel Covers

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My last post opened with a discussion of the evolution of romance novel covers from the chaste era of the 1950s to the soft-core porn covers of later decades. But as I moved on to the more general topic of the history of all book covers, I became so focused on their role–from the original 1884 cover of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to more contemporary examples such as Jurassic Park–that I left no space for a salute to Mark Longmire.

Who, you may ask, is Mark Longmire and why is he relevant? Longmore is a brilliant and witty graphic artist whose  quirky website–The Wonderful World of Longmire–includes a clever and funny group of his creations. My favorite is the display of his collection of parody romance novel covers, which include the one at the top of this post and the one to the right of this paragraph.

Warning: Do NOT click on this link to Mark’s website until and unless you are prepared to get lost in there, to wander around like a giggly kid at an amusement park, and to emerge far later than you had imagined you would when you entered. Enjoy!

Maybe You Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover, But You Can Sure Sell It That Way

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I read a fascinating post on the Jezebel website by Kelly Faircloth  in which she recounted the history–or, per the title of her post, the “steaming, throbbing history”–of the covers of romance novels, from the sweet innocent covers of the 1950s to the soft-porn bodice-rippers of later decades, many of which featured the male model Fabio, such as the cover shown on the right for Johanna Lindsay’s Gentle Rogue. Some of those later covers edged even closer to hard-core porn, including the one at the top of this post for Tender is the Storm, which, as Ms. Faircloth writes, “features a frankly shocking amount of naked, manly haunch and appears to depict a man outright thrusting his penis between a woman’s abundant breasts.”

And thus while many of us invoke that old platitude that you can’t tell a book by its cover, those in the marketing departments of the major publishers roll their eyes and chuckle at our naiveté. And those marketing department chucklers, along with their insights, far predate the romance novel era of the final decades of the 20th century. Many of the most strikingly original covers date back to novels published before World War II–novels that can be found today not in the Romance section of your local bookstore but in the snootier Literature section.

For example, one of my favorite covers is, not coincidentally, the cover of one of my favorite novels, The Great Gatsby, which was published more than a half-century before Fabio and his ilk starting ripping bodices off of pretty young women.

Or let us go back a full century before Gentle Rogue to the top contender for the title of the Great American Novel, the first edition of which had a cover that was not too shabby.

To browse through a striking collection of book covers from that earlier era, check out “The Art of Book Covers (1820-1914) at the Public Domain Review, which includes these beauties:

 

And while design fashions change over time, a simple image is often the most powerful one to reel in your potential reader, as the covers of these two two mega-bestseller show:

 

My own novels have had a wide variety of covers, but the most interesting contrast is between the original hardback version of my first novel, published under the title The Canaan Legacy, and the paperback edition published under the title Grave Designs. (The change in title is a subject for another post.) At the heart of the novel is a mystery over the contents of a grave at a pet cemetery–and thus each of the designers chose to depict that mystery on the cover in their own way, as shown below:

So what’s my favorite cover? I confess my aesthetics may have been influenced by reading aloud a particular story dozens and dozens of times to each of my five children and now to several of my grandchildren. It also happens to be the cover of one of my favorite books as well. And for those of you with children or who have fond memories of your own childhood, you may have already guessed the title and the cover. If not, here it is:

Now We Can All Take That Road Not Taken! The Copyright Freeze Has Melted

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Once again my dual lives as a lawyer by day and an author at night have intersected in what is unquestionably a happy new year for all of us–including even Mickey Mouse. Two decades ago the Congress passed an amendment to the Copyright Act that added an additional twenty years to lives of the copyrights in all original works created on and after 1923. Had Congress not acted, hundreds of original works–books, songs, plays, photographs, paintings, poems, and the like–would have fallen into the public domain on January 1, 1999.

And once a work falls into the public domain, it is free for you to use anyway you want. You can make copies (and even sell copies), create derivative works (such as a movie from the novel), market t-shirts with your favorite lines from a poem, or otherwise exploit a work that, if still under copyright, would constitute infringement and expose you to the risk of a lawsuit and financial loss. For example, William Shakespeare’s plays and Jane Austen’s novels and Mark Twain’s novels are all in the public domain. And that means that you don’t need to pay anyone for the right to stage “Hamlet” (or make a movie version) or to download a free copy of Huckleberry Finn or to add zombies to your sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

The copyright laws, which date back to the enactment of the U.S. Constitution, are premised on the belief that you will enrich the culture if you give creators a financial incentive, and that incentive would be a monopoly over all rights in their creations for a limited time. Back then, that limited time was 28 years after creation. By 1978, that “limited time” had grown to the life of the author plus 50 years or 75 years total for a work of corporate authorship (such as a motion picture). And then, in 1998, pursuant to “The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” (also derisively labeled “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by critics who viewed the extension as a money-grubbing attempt by The Walt Disney Company to maintain their monopoly over Mickey Mouse), Congress added another 20-year term to all works made during or after 1923. In other words, copyrighted works created in 1923, which would have fallen into the public domain on January 1, 1999, would now remain under copyright until January 1, 2019.

But now the freeze has ended. If you’d like to see the lists of creative works that fell into the public domain shortly after we all uncorked champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve, you can go here or here. And if you’d like to read my legal blog post on the topic, you can go here.

As for the title of this post, many (or perhaps all) of you recognize that line from one of Robert Frost’s most powerful poems. That particular poem had actually fallen into the public domain seven years before the 1998 extension. But another powerful–indeed, magical–Frost poem is among the hundred of works that fell into the public domain, free to all, on January 1, 2019. If you’d like to put that poem on t-shirts or greeting cards or use it as lyrics for a song, go for it. And, if like me, you love that poem so much that you want to end your blog post with it, have at it! Enjoy:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Beers, Brands, Books, and Brawls

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My bio describes me as a lawyer by day and an author at night–and I generally try to keep those two identities separate. But a recent trademark brawl over the word SCHLAFLY–a name associated with both the late conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly and her nephew Tom’s brewery–inspired me to write a post on that lawsuit for my law firm’s blog, and in the process got me to mull over the many examples of men and women who turned their last names into trademarks associated with the companies they founded.

The Simon and Schuster of Simon & Schuster

In particular, I thought about the publishing world, and quickly realized that the names of the big publishing houses are so established that it’s easy to forget that those names were, once upon a time, the names of the founders. Just as, say, many of us may not realize that Goodyear Tire’s founder was Charles Goodyear and Bird’s Eye Frozen Foods owes its name to Charles Birdseye, I didn’t realize that Doubleday, the publisher of my novel The Mourning Sexton (under the pen name Michael Baron), was founded by Frank Nelson Doubleday, whose image is displayed at the top of this post.

Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster combined their efforts to create Simon & Schuster. James and John Harper and William Collins created HarperCollins. Louis Hachette founded Hachette. MacMillan got its name from its founders, Alexander and Daniel.

So if you’re thinking about naming a company after yourself or you’re just curious to learn more about the family brawl over the name SCHLAFLY, you can find my blog post here. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud’s famous (and perhaps defensive) remark about cigars, sometimes a beer is just a beer. But sometimes that beer can trigger a brawl that may yet end up in the United States Supreme Court.