Careers, Study and Well-being / Careers, Study and Well-being with Katie Cowan / Life

Summer reading from the library of joy

Hello, fellow nerds.  It is the time of Christmas and summer, when most of you will, with any luck, have time for some leisure.  As nerds, I expect some of your leisure might take the form of reading, and I am here to help.  (For the moment I am going to ignore what I know happened to me and others while at law school, whereby the volume of mandatory reading left no room or appetite for joy reading, even in the holidays.  I remember reading some A.J. Jacobs part way into my first year of practice and thinking, “Oh right!  Reading can be fun!”) 

I am very proud of my book collection.  Not only does it have a lot of amazing books that I have loved and regularly dip back into, it does not have any of the dumb books I bought but didn’t like or never wanted to read.  About two years ago I Marie Kondoed my books and got rid of about half of them.  The residual joy from my remaining books, no longer blocked by a plethora of obligation books, shines forth from them like a force of nature.  If you come to my house I will show you to my book cases and ask you to say, “Oooh”.

So for this final column of 2018, here are some recommendations for excellent leisure reading.  I must offer three caveats: first, now that I am no longer a law student, reading books to learn things is fun again, and many of my joy books are learning books.  Second, my favourite genre of book is “person does a thing and thereby learns about humanity and themselves”.  I am not sure if other people share my affection for this genre, but almost all of my books fit into it.  Third, I talk about Brene Brown, Amy Poehler, Dan Kahneman all the time, so while today we will be spending some time away, please do follow those leads if you’re interested.

In no particular order, here are some books I have read that made me joyful, and that may serve as possibilities to also make you joyful over the summer break and beyond:

  • Papa Goose by Michael Quetting.  In Papa Goose, the author, a research scientist in Germany, fosters some goslings in order to track their flight patterns as grown up geese.  The second half is a bit technical about the research, but the first half is full of delightful sentences like this: “It doesn’t take long for [the goslings] to subject the plane to a rigorous inspection to see how it holds up to being nibbled.”
  • Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo.  I feel like this book is a hard sell for joyful summertime read (Harvard student opts to teach high school English in one of the poorest parts of the USA before going on to become civil rights lawyer, all the while examining privilege, power, and the legacy of historical and structural racism).  However, it made me so joyful, I’m keeping it on this list; if any of those themes your interest, just trust me and read it.
  • Creative Schools by Ken Robinson.  Ken Robinson is a giant in education innovation and this book made me so excited I had to stop reading every few pages to make notes, and it took me over a year to finish.  You might not get so excited about education, which is weird but fine.  The book is really an examination into the humanity of learning, and made me think differently about all kinds of things I have taken for granted since I started school.
  •  Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So by Mark Vonnegut (yes, Kurt Vonnegut’s son).  So much writing about mental illness is filled with despair, which is good and important since mental illness is a terrible and human-reducing thing, and we are better for looking directly at it.  But it can also make you weary, especially if the topic is close to home.  I loved Vonnegut’s account of being a successful doctor who suffers bouts of schizophrenia (or bipolar disorder; his diagnosis changes).  It’s the kind of story you don’t hear much and it was great, mixing the darker stuff with humanity and humour.  Bonus points for being a slim volume, making it a zippy wee read.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  This is ostensibly a book about writing, but is really just lovely company with a cool lady with a lot of interesting perspectives on how one goes about life.  Sample sentence:  “I know I set out to tell you every single thing I know about writing, but I am also going to tell you every single thing I know about school lunches, partly because the longings and dynamics and anxieties are so similar.“

There are more, obviously, but I’ve capped it here. 

My hope for you, lovely readers, is that you allow yourself the space and permission to do some capital L Leisure this leisure period, to do things that really light you up, alone and with cool people you love, and to rest with a fun book no-one is testing you on.  To be honest I wish you these things year round, but I hope the pause in ordinary busyness lets you really lean in.  It’s a time of feasting, leisure-wise, and I wish you all the best of it.


Katie Cowan is a former commercial litigator who now runs a legal consulting and coaching practice, as well as writing for the Law Society’s “Law Talk” magazine and presenting her own podcast, The New Lawyer, available at Check out her website for more details at: Katie’s recommendations and opinions are her own, do not represent the views of LexisNexis or its affiliates and are of a general nature. None of Katie, Symphony Law Limited or LexisNexis are responsible for any loss or damage suffered by a party as the result of following this advice, so please seek independent professional advice before relying on it. Please click here for full website terms and conditions.