What To Read During Jury Duty

by Charlotte Ahlin

I suppose that someone, somewhere, sees jury duty as an exciting opportunity to uphold their civic responsibility... but for most of us, it's a vaguely annoying detour from regular life. You have to go to a place, sit in a room with strangers and little to no wi-fi, hear your name pronounced a variety of incorrect ways, and then (probably) not even get picked to be on the jury for a cool murder trial. The one upside to being a responsible citizen, though, is that you have lots of time to read! Here are a few books that you can start and finish during jury duty.

After all, you can only check Facebook so many times in the middle of the morning on a weekday. You don't want to stare vacantly into space, or some well-meaning fellow citizen will try to talk to you. The only way you can turn your sacred civic duty into something fun and productive is to bring a good book. These books might be short, but they're all powerful enough to transport you far away from those uncomfortable benches and hilariously outdated informational videos on how juries work. So the next time you have to be a part of your country's judicial system, bring one of these books along and read it in one sitting:


'Very Good Lives' by J.K. Rowling

As you're sitting there thinking about all the ways that the legal system has failed the people of America, why not read about the fringe benefits of failure? If this is your first ever jury duty, you're probably freaking out a little about how you're a grown up who might be placed on a jury one day, and this book will inspire you to take a deep breath and not freak out quite so much at the idea of starting your adult life.

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'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi

One of the great things about graphic novels is that you can burn through even the heftiest of them in just a few hours. Persepolis is an absolute must-read classic for anyone, anywhere, who's ruminating on law and nationalism. Read about Marji's tumultuous childhood during the Islamic revolution in Iran while you sit forever in a non-air conditioned room trying to serve your own country.

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'Sula' by Toni Morrison

Nel Wright chose to stay in the town she grew up in. She got married, had kids, and became a prominent member of the black community. Sula Peace chose to leave, to seek a college education and city living, and now she's returned home with the reputation of a wanton rebel. Sula is a classic novel about living with the consequences of your choices, and Morrison's gorgeous prose will make you forget all about that uncomfortable courthouse bench you're sitting on.

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'Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Every moment is the right moment to be reading a feminist manifesto in the middle of a government building. As you sit thinking about how you're going to get picked for a jury and subsequently change all the laws in America, this book will give you some poignant, humorous, witty, and endlessly relevant feminist pointers by which to empower all your fellow citizens.

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'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by Neil Gaiman

If you're looking for an inventive fantasy to take your mind off of all that endless waiting, try The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A grown man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and finds himself flooded by utterly impossible memories of his own past, and of the wise, enigmatic Lettie who lived at the end of the lane.

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'A Room of One’s Own' by Virginia Woolf

Sitting with all of those other annoyed potential jurors for hours on end, you're probably wishing for a room of your own. But you can't have one. So why not do the next best thing, and read Virginia Woolf's famous essay on writing, feminism, and the need for personal space?

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'Dept. of Speculation' by Jenny Offill

You could fill those jury duty hours with a sweeping romance novel... or you could hunker down with Jenny Offill's brilliant, messy, brutally honest novel about marriage. A young woman struggles to balance her art aspirations with her husband, her baby, and her need to constantly over-analyze absolutely everything. The result is this funny, smart, and intensely suspenseful short novel.

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'A Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula Le Guin

A non-Euro-centric high fantasy novel full of wizards and dragons that can also be read in one sitting? Yes, please. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea gives you all the wonder and adventure of a classic high fantasy series without the 10,000 extra chapters about walking. You'll easily breeze through this one in a jury duty session, but you'll undoubtedly need to run out and buy the rest of the Earthsea books as soon as you're dismissed.

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'The Trial' by Franz Kafka

This one clocks in at a bit over 200 pages, so it's not quite as quick and breezy as the others. But if you're stuck in the middle of a legal bureaucracy for what seems like days or weeks on end, then it's time to break out Kafka's The Trial, and start feeling really weird and suspicious about the legal system as you wait to return to the real world.

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