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Book Nook - 30-10-2017

Monday, October 30, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Big Scam
John Grisham seemed to have taken a beach holiday with the pleasantly breezy Camino Island, and, with his new book The Rooster Bar, is back to the kind of taut legal thriller his fans expect of him.

The general assumption is that the law is not such a big ass in the US, that justice may be occasionally denied but it is seldom delayed. The Rooster Bar exposes not just how scam-ridden the legal system is, but how rampant corruption is in banking and education sectors.

The three protagonists of this novel—Mark, Todd and Zola—discover just a semester before they are to complete their law course in a college called Foggy Bottom (how could a law school with a name like that even exist?) that they were victims of a huge education scam.

They were taken in by the career success fairy tales on the Foggy Bottom brochures, and took loans to enroll. They did not stop to think why they got the big loans so easily or how mediocre students like them were even admitted. They realized that the well-paid jobs they were promised did not exist, they could not possibly pass the bar exam, and that they had no means to repay the loans. One of their friends, the bipolar Gordon, digs into the workings of Foggy Bottom and its elusive owner Hinds Rackley and before committing suicide, tells them how the system has taken them for a ride. Rackley hides behind several shell companies and rakes in billions from hopeful, trusting and desperate students.

All three are in a financial soup with their massive debt; things are worse for Zola, whose family is about to be deported to Senegal, as illegal immigrants after twenty-six years of a tough life in the US.

Disheartened and disillusioned, the three decide to drop out of law school, head for the overcrowded courts and start hustling clients caught in minor cases, like drink driving, for cash payments. They rightly figure out that nobody will actually ask to see their licences. The set up a fake office about The Rooster Bar, where Todd is a part-time bartender, change their names and print cards for their phony law firm

For some time they are successful and dizzily happy at pulling off the stunt; it’s when Mark gets into a medical malpractice suit for big money that their deception starts to come apart at the seams. Their third rate college has not even equipped them with the basics they need to know to practice in courts.

In his author’s note, Grisham writes that his book was inspired by an investigative piece titled The Law School Scam, by Paul Campos, published in The Atlantic; around the facts he builds a somewhat convoluted by always absorbing thriller. The reader actually hopes the three get away with it, because the big guys who run their shady businesses seldom get caught. The book is not just an enjoyable read, but also wraps some eye-opening legal information in its pages.

The Rooster Bar
By John Grisham
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 374

 

Excerpt of The Rooster Bar
Mark lived in a five- story apartment building that was eighty years old and visibly deteriorating, but the rent was low and this attracted students from George Washington and FBLS. In its earlier days it had been known as the Cooper House, but after three decades of frat- like wear and tear it had earned its nickname as the Coop. Because its elevators seldom worked, Mark took the stairs to the third floor and entered his cramped and sparsely furnished flat, for which he paid $800 a month for five hundred square feet. For some reason he’d cleaned the place after his last exam before the holidays, and as he flipped on lights he was pleased to see that everything was in order. And why shouldn’t it be? The slumlord who owned the place never came around. He unloaded his bags and was struck by the silence.
Normally, with a bunch of students, and with thin walls, there was always a racket. Stereos, televisions, arguments, pranks, poker games, fights, guitar playing, even a trombone played by a nerd on the fourth floor that could rattle the entire building. But not today. Everyone was still at home, enjoying the break, and the halls were eerily quiet.

After half an hour, Mark was bored and left the building. Walking along New Hampshire Avenue, with the wind cutting through his thin fleece and old khakis, he decided, for some reason, to turn onto Twenty- First and stop by the law school to see if it was open. In a city with no shortage of hideous modern buildings, FBLS managed to stand out in its unsightliness. It was a postwar edifice covered with bland yellow bricks on eight levels slung together in asymmetrical wings, some failed architect’s effort at making a statement. Supposedly, it once was an office building, but walls had been knocked out with abandon to create cramped lecture halls on the four lower floors. On the fifth was the library, a rabbits’ warren of large, retrofitted rooms packed with seldom- touched books and some replicated portraits of unknown judges and legal scholars. The faculty had offices on the sixth and seventh floors, and on the eighth, and as far away from the students as possible, the administration carried on, with the dean solidly hidden in a corner office from which he seldom ventured.

The front door was unlocked and Mark entered the empty lobby. While he appreciated its warmth, he found the area, as always, utterly depressing. A huge bulletin board covered one wall with all manner of notices and announcements and enticements. There were a few slick posters advertising opportunities to study abroad, and the usual assortment of handmade ads offering stuff for sale— books, bikes, tickets, course outlines, tutors by the hour— and apartments for rent. The bar exam loomed over the entire school like a dark cloud and there were posters extolling the excellence of some review courses. If he searched hard enough he could possibly find a few employment opportunities, but at FBLS those had become scarcer by the year. In one corner he saw the same old brochures hawking even more student loans. At the far end of the lobby there were vending machines and a small coffee bar, but nothing was being brewed during the break.

He fell into a battered leather chair and soaked in the gloominess of his school. Was it really a school or was it just another diploma mill? The answer was becoming clear. For the thousandth time he wished he had never walked through the front doors as an unsuspecting first- year student. Now, almost three years later, he was burdened by loans he couldn’t imagine paying off. If there was a light at the end of the tunnel, he couldn’t see it.

And why would anyone name a school Foggy Bottom? As if the law school experience itself wasn’t dreary enough, some bright soul had, some twenty years earlier, tagged it with a name that conveyed even more cheerlessness. That guy, now dead, had sold the school to some Wall Street investors who owned a string of law schools that were reportedly producing handsome profits while cranking out little in the way of legal talent.

How do you buy and sell law schools? It was still a mystery.

Mark heard voices and hurriedly left the building. He hiked down New Hampshire to Dupont Circle, where he ducked into Kramer Books for a coffee and a quick thaw. He walked everywhere. His Bronco lurched and stalled too much in city traffic, and he kept it tucked away in a lot behind the Coop, always with the key in the ignition. Unfortunately, so far no one had been tempted to steal it.

Warm again, he hustled six blocks north along Connecticut Avenue. The law firm of Ness Skelton occupied a few floors in a modern building near the Hinckley Hilton. The previous summer Mark had managed to weasel his way inside when he accepted an internship that paid less than minimum wage. At major law firms, the summer programs were used to entice top students to the big life. Little work was expected. The interns were given ridiculously easy schedules, along with tickets to ball games and invitations to fine parties in the splendid backyards of the wealthy partners. Once seduced, they signed on, and upon graduation were soon thrown into the meat grinder of hundred- hour weeks.

 

ALSO RECEIVED
A behind-the-scenes memoir by former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is witty and candid. Says the synopsis: “Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator's early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders."But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican."Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon)."Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.”

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House
By Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 256

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