We are all in varying degrees of lockdown, deeply worried about the sustainability and survivability of the profession and, more personally, of our good selves and our loved ones. In this crisis, we also worry about how to function in difficult if not incomprehensible times without abandoning our sense of professionalism and integrity. How to adapt and survive and provide an ethical and competent service remotely? Almost a contradiction in terms.
Let us not focus here on the awful particular and particulars to come. Our esteemed Chair with her customary sense of balance and rectitude has issued strong statements and positive suggestions about money, support, conduct of hearings, and health mental and otherwise.
Putting fawning aside, my mission here is to support this agenda in a different way. Japanese guidebooks to wisdom and simplicity and meditation help, as do turmeric and chili recipes. I have recently recommended to Chambers the splendid book Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. You cannot cut wood in overcrowded conurbations and, with decamping like Wittgenstein to a wood on pain of potential arrest, how best to cope?
With restrictions and emergencies to come I suggest we read some books and texts, to use a fashionable vernacular. To supplement the advice of the Bar Elders this reading list for literary health for lawyers contains a personal selection of the popular and grand, serious and light. Films and music too.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Devils. The danger of extremism and how it submerges moderation. Also perhaps the greatest work of fiction ever written.
- José Saramago: Blindness. When blindness becomes an epidemic. When panic and the abuse of civil liberties become a pandemic. Be vigilant.
- Albert Camus: The Plague. The great voice of moderation, the man of letters, moderation, humanism and cosmopolitanism.
- Elie Weisel: Night. A cautionary tale about the Holocaust relevant to our times of economicide and social Darwinism.
- Samuel Beckett: Worstward Ho, Company and The Unnamable. For legal aid workers or duty solicitors attending court: ‘You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.’ ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’
- Daniel Defoe: Journal of the Plague Year. In retrospect. Do not listen to official statistics. The poor are treated badly and many people get lost or dehumanised; a cautionary tale.
- Louis-Ferdinand Celine: Death on the Installment Plan. We are all faced with that now. David Graeber’s Debt: the First 5000 Years might also provide illumination.
- Christopher Isherwood: Goodbye to Berlin. How fascism develops.
- EP Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class. Now, as then, people need our support. Also Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
- Simon Schama: Rembrandt’s Eyes. Look closely at what is going on.
- Robert Blake: Disraeli. A caring conservatism? Johnson’s epiphany. The need for statesmanship.
- Slavoj Zizek: Like a Thief in Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Human Capitalism. The present impasse.
- PG Wodehouse: The Code of the Woosters. Laughter in the dark. On this theme, try also Hawks’ Bringing up Baby (1938); The Groucho Letters by Groucho Marx.
- Peter Cook on Clive Anderson Talks Back: the English Football Manager, Naturalist, Judge (of great relevance) and Rock Star. One must understand what it is to be British in the rustic sense and to have a sense of humour.
- Greta Thunberg: Our house is on fire. Is this the warning sign?
- The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Savage Romanian film farce. Our own healthcare system: under-resourced, privatised and on the brink of collapse.
- Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Fascism as vaudeville. A very necessary understanding.
- Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Time for reflection, drifting clouds, time passing, family and mortality.
- Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. Black comedy in the age of Trump.
- Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski. Most relevant re: the pleasures of enforced idleness.
And a couple of bonus music tracks – the always-relaxing Glenn Gould Plays Bach or Bob Dylan’s Love Minus Zero.
Perhaps we could start a shared cultural competition to keep us occupied.