April 09, 2007
Simulblogging Scott Turow
Posted by Gordon Smith

Scott Turow is speaking at the University of Wisconsin today. For some reason, I feel drawn to attend. I enjoyed reading One L before law school, but realized partway through my first year that the book is ridiculous. I tried to read one of his subsequent legal thrillers, and I couldn't finish it. Yet, here I sit with a couple hundred other people waiting for Audrey J. Harris Legal Studies Endowed Lecture, sponsored by the Legal Studies Program at the UW.

Professor Don Downs is introducing Turow, and he encourages all of the prospective law students to read One L so that "you can know what you are getting into." Noooooo! (By the way, can you believe that Scott Turow was born in 1949? I am definitely getting old!)

Ok, here he is. His topic: "Reflections of a Man with Two Heads." (Presumably lawyer and author?)

He is a "unique creature": a lifelong Chicagoan who has never been to Madison. Shame!

Now he is talking baseball. He obviously is a big Cubs fan and enjoys telling the story of the time he threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game and met one of his fans, Bobby Bonilla (then playing for the Mets).

Stories about his early education at Amherst and his desire to be a novelist. According to Turow, Phil Knight is one of his fans, and Turow has told Knight that Nike stole the novelist's slogan: "Just Do It."

More early novelist stories. His first novel is a story set in New Orleans, even though he had never been to New Orleans. Rejected all around. His second attempt in the late 1960s is a novel featuring a black superhero: "John Henry Steele: The Protector." Turow is funny and self-deprecating in describing the universal rejection of this book. (He claims that his roommates agreed to attend class for him, take notes, make outlines, etc. in exchange for a cut on sales of the book. They are all successful business people now, and Turow makes a joke about being the "first victim of an LBO." I don't get it.)

The Stanford Years. He takes a writing class from Wallace Stegner. Turow writes and writes and writes, trying to "will his way to literary success." This is the wrong approach: "I was killing myself with self-consciousness." He also was not smitten with the world of academic English, but he finds to his surprise that he likes lawyers! "Writers often write because they cannot be themselves in the flesh, but laywers are gregarious...."

Around this time, he writes another failed novel, the plot of which hinged on the implied warranty of habitability. (That one made me laugh out loud.) Anyway, Turow turns down a tenure-track position from a "school in the East," and armed with a contract from Ned Chase, father of Chevy Chase, to write One L, Turow decides to attend Harvard Law School.

Turow wonders: "Why is One L still in print?" Good question. "There is no question that law school is different. Law schools are a kinder and gentler place than they were then." Were law schools ever like the place he descibes?

He allowed One L to be published while he was still in law school. One of my professors at Chicago was in Turow's class, and he didn't much appreciate One L. Apparently, one of Turow's professors didn't appreciate it either. Turow's bad-man professor wrote an exam question during Turow's third year, asking students to develop theories under which a "fictional" law professor might sue a student who had portrayed the professor and his lectures in a bad light.

Now Turow is talking about his life as a lawyer and why he writes about law: "I am often asked, 'Can you write about something other than lawyers?' I suppose I could, but why would I?" He self-identifies as a moralist, and he finds all of the themes he wants in writing about law. He is preaching to the choir at Wisconsin. He says that his novels explore "the need to make rules and the impossibility having those rules contour themselves to the particular circumstance."

Oddly, he stops telling stories as soon as he starts talking about his life as a storyteller.

Concluding thought: "I still like laywers." Me, too. That was fun.

UPDATE: During Q& A, Turow blows off a question about 9/11 conspiracies by the government. He concludes with some eloquent thoughts on the death penalty.

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