A law library is a fraught thing. For some, it’s a place of terror and trauma that recalls 1L year and the hopelessness of understanding dusty and irresolvable common-law doctrines. For others, the musty tang of low-level stress and the whine of intermittently functioning printers become comfortable and familiar, like a ratty old favorite sweater. For yet others, it’s just a place to work or sleep or photocopy entire coursebooks.
Regardless of your relationship with the place, we tend to forget that a law library is full of books. While we occasionally may have to look up something in hard copy, all of the dusty volumes—and there are many—are sort of quaint, the kind of things that lawyers in old-timey movies have behind them, but that seem useful only as paperweights or weapons against would-be assailants.
I fall into the old-sweater demographic mentioned above. My times among the tomes have included much work but also much procrastination. When I want to stop working but am too lazy to leave the library (or too lazy to bundle up, which would enable me to leave the building entirely), I go into the stacks and try to find the strangest book I can. Below are some standouts of my three years here:
- Litigating Year 2000 Cases by Ronald N. Weikers, et al. Remember the Y2K bug? This manual for practitioners confidently predicts that while the glitch will “generally not be catastrophic” for the United States, litigation arising out of it “will take up the better part of the next decade.” The author leaves off soothsaying in favor of a tedious canvassing of all aspects of possibly relevant law, but the book’s mere existence as a window into the (now-innocent) cultural preoccupations of the ’90s makes it worth a look. You’ll find it on the shelf behind the printing area to the right as you enter.
- Space Law and Government by Andrew Haley. This 1963 book has it all: a sententious foreword by the sidelined and incredibly depressed then-Vice President LBJ; a 584-page, thoroughly imagined regime of “space law” derived from precedents in tort, ad law, public international law, and admiralty; and a delightful last chapter on “meta-law,” or “a legal structure to regulate man’s behavior with respect to extraterrestrial sentient beings.” (With relevant legal commentary thin on this last subject, he turns to the Torah, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan.) Sadly, today the book reads a bit like a metafictional lament for a liberal, optimistic, aspirational time in our culture and public life. The flyleaf indicates that this very curious volume was presented by Dusan J. Djonovich. Google indicates that he was once the assistant curator at NYU Law and, more notably, edited a volume of collected U.N. Resolutions that was heavily cited for a time. A quiet legacy, his: you can find his gift to the library at K4135 in section B1 (one floor down).
- Legal Laughs: A Joke for Every Jury by Gus C. Edwards. A sample of the humorous offerings of this compendium, astoundingly and questionably reissued in 1993 and 2016: “What is a court of last resort, Pa?” “Courting an old maid.” A joke for every jury, if your jury enjoys (1) long, anecdotal pieces with low payoff or (2) off-color ethnic humor, often written in what the author thinks is “dialect.” Don’t read it. I include this book as a representative of the consistently bad and misguided “humor” books located at K163. Lawyers are not funny; they’re better off sticking to outer space and apocalyptic computer bugs.
- Courting the Yankees: Legal Essays on the Bronx Bombers, edited by Ettie Ward. The Venn diagram intersection of Yankees fans and lawyers is, I’m sure, rather large. I fit in there myself—assuming I pass the bar. (Perhaps not the most popular constituencies in America, however, separately or together….) Sadly, the book is listed as “Missing.” Maybe some brigand took it for a personal library, and perhaps some sympathetic donor might consider replacing the book.…
I encourage you to spend some time browsing in the stacks. As with any library, I’m sure there’s plenty more in the way of gems, and dross, to be found.