Magazine article Book

The Jury Is out, Reading. (Epilogue)

Magazine article Book

The Jury Is out, Reading. (Epilogue)

Article excerpt

THE ROOM IS SO QUIET I CAN HEAR JUROR NO. I SWALLOW as she sips coffee and turns a page in her book. Jurors drink lots of coffee, but we seldom speak. The first day, we gabbed about the weather, the waiting, the bathrooms, the X-ray machines we pass through when we enter the courthouse. Now, mostly we read. Juror No. 1, a criminal-justice student, turns another page in her book, a bestseller about biological weapons. "Looks like scary stuff," I whisper, and she nods.

To my left, Juror No. 5, a young attorney fresh from his bar exam, reads a Harry Potter book. I glance around the room, taking inventory of the other jurors' books: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. The new Annie Proulx novel. A courtroom potboiler. Directly across the table from me, Alternate No. 2, a juvenile-corrections officer, flips through the sports pages, which must not qualify as news or someone surely would have said something. Reading the news, the judge has warned us, is forbidden during the course of the trial, though I can't imagine that this trial--a trip-and-fall case involving an elderly nanny injured in a big-name drugstore-would be covered in the media. Still, I'm staying away from newspapers. Instead, I've brought The Merchant of Venice to research a poem I'm writing about justice and mercy, two subjects Portia had a lot to say about in her famous courtroom speech.

I wonder if the judge would confiscate the play if she knew what I was reading. We jurors have been told to leave our sympathies outside the courtroom, and up until today I've done fairly well. Yesterday, I stared stonily when the plaintiff's eyes--and those of her daughter--teared up. And when the attorney mentioned the plaintiff's age, I tried not to think she was the same age as my mother. But now Portia is softening me up: "Though justice be thy plea, consider this, / That in the course of justice none of us / Should see salvation."

Maybe it would be better, for justice's sake, to choose nonreaders as jurors. Reading is all about sympathy; literature survives on it. Through books, opinions are formed and reformed, behaviors altered. Will Juror No. 1 look at the world more soberly now that she's halfway through the book on biological weapons? Now that she's glimpsed the underworld of secrecy and plots, she may be less willing to believe a witness's testimony. And what about the juror finishing The Corrections? Maybe she's thinking the plaintiff's family is dysfunctional too, that the daughter, angrily testifying on her mother's behalf, was herself the negligent party. Parents and children: a minefield of possibilities, I'm thinking as I reconsider a line in my poem, a reference to Shylock's betrayal by his daughter. …

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