A Man Called Ove: A Journey That Began When Mr. AMB Asked His Wife For Help (As He Should!)

OveVia Mr. AMB:

I didn’t like the books I was reading and so, like the curmudgeon I can be, I complained about it to AMB. She handed me her Kindle, which contained Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove.

Ove is the quintessential strong, silent type, the sort of man who can “take responsibility for things and fix a water heater if necessary.” However, with the loss of his wife and his job, he has lost his purpose. As a result, he sets about using his practical skills to engineer his exit from life. Whenever he’s about to go through with it, though, his pesky neighbors intrude upon his abode, forcing him to take responsibility for their problems.

If viewed solely through a plot summary, A Man Called Ove is predictable and sentimental. But dwelling on how the plot of A Man Called Ove is predictable is like dwelling on how the plot of A Confederacy of Dunces is implausible: it shows the reader has missed the point of the story.

As I was reading A Man Called Ove, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to A Confederacy of Dunces. Ove is, most assuredly, a “genius” in the sense of Jonathan Swift’s quote that inspired the title of John Kennedy Toole’s work: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” Both novels deftly and hilariously demonstrate the sheer absurdity that assails us continually in the course of human interaction. The difference, however, is that Toole’s Ignatius Reilly is utterly useless whereas Ove is just the man for the job, whatever the job may be. Correspondingly, Ignatius finds his solace in The Consolations of Philosophy, whereas Ove finds his by doing handiwork.

In the end, Ove gets much closer than Ignatius in actually applying Boethius’ lesson in The Consolations of Philosophy: “Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.” The path that Ove takes from misery to contentment may be predictable, but it is a worthy, fulfilling journey.

For more on A Man Called Ove, see these reviews (the ones that encouraged AMB to buy the book, which she still hasn’t read for some bizarre reason):


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Why Do You Write?

Have you ever wondered what compels writers to bring their pens to paper (or, in our modern world, their fingers to the keyboard)? This is how some of my favorite authors have explained their motivations to write:

(1) Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World (among other works), said: “Well, one has the urge, first of all, to order the facts one observes and to give meaning to life; and along with that goes the love of words for their own sake and a desire to manipulate them.” (via Paris Review)

(2) Lois Lowry, author of The Giver (among other novels), said: “I write books because I have always been fascinated by stories and language, and because I love thinking about what makes people tick. Writing a story… The Giver or any other… is simply an exploration of the nature of behavior: why people do what they do, how it affects others, how we change and grow, and what decisions we make along the way. Added to that, I love the process of finding the right rhythm of words, and then putting it all together, finally, to make a book.” (via Scholastic)

(3) Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five (among other books), said:

  • “I write books which express my disgust for people who find it easy and reasonable to kill.”  (Letter to Draft Board #I, Selective Service, Nov. 28, 1967). (via Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield)
  • “Writing well is more than a way to make money. My father Kurt senior wrote like an angel, simply in order to be civilized, to make the lives of those around him more amusing and interesting.” (Letter to Alexander and Jackson Adams, Jan. 18, 1997). (via Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield)

(4)  E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web (and other books), said: “I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.” (via Letters of Note)

These authors write for a range of reasons, including the need to process the world around them, express themselves, satisfy an urge, or entertain others. I particularly like White’s analogy of writing to a sneeze. In other words, he wrote because he had to.

Two Lovely Berries by AM BlairI write stories for many reasons too.

In the beginning, when I wasn’t sure whether I would ever share my writing with anyone, I wrote fiction to process the real-life horror stories I see through my work as a public interest lawyer (resulting in Two Lovely Berries, a New Adult novel that addresses family violence).

Amelia Elkins ElkinsI also write to escape from life’s drudgery and stress. With Amelia Elkins Elkins, a Persuasion-inspired “courtroom romance,” I combined my interest in the law with my love of Jane Austen, whose novels have always comforted me during stressful times.

Now, with Anusha of Prospect Corner (a work-in-progress), a multicultural take on Anne of Green Gables, my reasons for writing have grown to include my desire to engage with my children. We’re writing this story together. There’s nothing more rewarding than hearing them laugh at the lines we’ve created as a team.

Our version of Anne is named Anusha. She’s a redheaded Sri Lankan American, like my twins, and she lives in a diverse community that is quite different from Anne’s racially homogeneous Avonlea. Each week, I write a chapter or two of the story, which they critique (they are quite opinionated little writers/editors). Then, I rewrite the chapters and write the next one based on their suggestions.

We’re just over 40,000 words into the story, about 5,000-10,000 words away from the end. I’m going to be sorry when it’s over, but, as I’ve explained to my kids, Anusha has a whole lifetime of adventures ahead of her. I feel a sneeze coming on…😉



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Is This What Equality Looks Like? (Thoughts on Curtis Sittenfeld’s Modern Take on Jane Austen)

PP and Eligible

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is more than a romance, much like the novel on which it is based: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As I said in Why Jane Austen Appeals to Girls (and Boys) Who Don’t Just “Want a Boyfriend,”

Yes, [Pride and Prejudice] is a love story at its core, but its historical context, multi-dimensional characters, and commentary on social hierarchy and human nature add weight to the ‘girl meets boy’ plot.

In Eligible, Sittenfeld gives us the romance we expect (though not necessarily in the way we expect!), as well as a perspective on how far women have come in the two centuries since Pride and Prejudice made its debut. We see progress in how most of the Bennet sisters react to Mrs. Bennet’s adherence to bigoted values and stereotypes. We also hear it in what Kathy de Bourgh, a Gloria Steinem-like feminist who is quite different from her counterpart in the original, has to say when Liz finally gets ahold of her.

I enjoyed this novel, though I am still processing how I feel about the latter half of it. [A minor spoiler ahead] Liz disappointed me by inadvertently outing someone to Darcy — and Elizabeth Bennet isn’t a character I expect to disappoint me — but I appreciated seeing her growth by the end of the novel.

Eligible takes place in 2013, when women are able to inherit wealth and are no longer confined to the domestic sphere as they were in Austen’s time. There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way in the last 200 years, but questions remain about the meaning of the “equality” we’ve achieved in comparison to men.

Eligible touches on this issue, if only briefly, when the updated Bennet sisters discuss the Bachelor-like reality television show that stars modern Mr. Bingley.

Eligible is degrading to women,” Mary said, and Lydia said, “Of course that’s what you think.”

“But every other season is one woman and twenty-five guys,” Kitty said. “That’s equality.”

“The women humiliate themselves in a way the men don’t,” Mary said. “They’re so desperate.”

Today, when women get the opportunity to do what men get to do, is it truly an equivalent experience?

For the women on Eligible, and the shows on which Eligible is based, maybe not. Do the producers cast them because they seem “desperate”? Do they direct them to be that way? That behavior comports with stereotypes about women, keeping viewers happy by giving them what they expect.

Mary’s description of this reality TV show made me think of other examples of dubious “equality.”

The first example that came to mind was women in sports, where even our most powerful female athletes are reduced to sexual objects in tiny shorts (i.e. women’s volleyball) and don’t receive equal pay even for superior athletic performance (i.e. women’s soccer). Then, of course, we have the lingerie football league, where women are tools for male sexual gratification under the guise of “sexual freedom.” None of these female “opportunities” threaten the gender hierarchy Jane Austen would’ve recognized (as scandalous as scantily clad women in a public venue would likely seem to her).

Meanwhile, in the workplace — where we’ve made great gains since Austen’s Anne Elliot lamented how women “live at home, quiet, confined [where] our feelings prey upon us” in Persuasion — sexual harassment and unequal pay are so ubiquitous and difficult to challenge that many women simply accept it. It’s “just part of the job.”

In the 21st Century, women have far more opportunities than they did in Austen’s time, but so much of our success still depends on pleasing men and keeping quiet. That’s not equality.

For more on Sittenfeld’s Eligible, see these reviews:

  • Austenprose — A Jane Austen Blog: “Within the limitations of the Austen Project, Eligible delivers engaging characters and witty dialog, along with the pleasure of comparing favorite original scenes with new ones.”
  • Literary Treats“I’m not completely sure I’m comfortable with how race and gender identity are treated in the story, though Sittenfeld is very careful to voice disapproval (via Liz’s thoughts) of the offensive views (usually Mrs Bennet’s). […] All that being said, I still really enjoyed this book. It’s certainly one of my favourite Austen adaptations by far, and one of the few I that I think actually succeed at updating Austen’s story for contemporary times.”



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The Worst Pick-Up Lines in Literature

Literature is full of awkward attempts at romance. Here are a few of my favorite examples, including two from a certain someone who turns 200-years-old this week (that is, if she hadn’t died in 1855). Oddly enough, more than one of these propositions/icebreakers was actually successful!

Here goes:

Harry Potter

  • (1) Romilda Vane: “Fancy a gillywater?”

Romilda’s seemingly innocuous question to Harry Potter could have been an appropriate icebreaker if the offering hadn’t been a love potion. Basically, don’t trick anyone into going out with you. Voldemort’s mother learned that lesson the hard way.

Source: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Anne of Green Gables

  • (2) Gilbert Blythe: “Carrots!”

Oh, Gilbert. As the modernized Anne from Green Gables Fables makes clear in her Top Five Worst Flirting Techniques, insulting a person’s physical appearance is just bad manners!

Source: L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables; see also, Who Says Redheads Can’t Wear Pink?!

Anne of Island

  • (3) Jane Andrews: “What do you think of my brother Billy? […] Would you like him for a husband?”

A bewildered Anne replies, “Whose husband?,” to which Jane answers, “Yours, of course.” Honestly, I feel bad for both Anne and Billy, who is simply too shy to court anyone. Still, if he’s old enough to be married, he’s old enough to ask them himself.

Source: L. M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island; see also, Would You Choose to be Born in December?


  • (4) Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara: “My news is this,” he answered, grinning down at her. “I still want you more than any woman I’ve ever seen and now that Frank is gone, I thought you’d be interested to know it.”

Well, Rhett can get away with anything. That’s all there is to say about that.

Source: Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind; see also, Mr. AMB on Gone with the Wind (& Looking for the Past in the Future).

Persuasion 2

  • (5) Mr. Elliot: “The name of Anne Elliot,” said he, “has long had an interesting sound to me. Very long has it possessed a charm over my fancy; and, if I dared, I would breathe my wishes that the name might never change.”

Ah, the disingenuous Mr. Elliot of Persuasion, one of my all-time favorite novels. These days, in which marrying relatives is less common than it was in Jane Austen’s time, the idea of sharing the same last name as a future spouse before marriage can be a bit uncomfortable (a subject I play around with in Amelia Elkins Elkins).

Source: Jane Austen, Persuasion; see also, Reviews of Amelia Elkins Elkins (A Modern Take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion).


  • (6) Mr. Collins: “Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there NOT been this little unwillingness… Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did.”

Honestly, I think Mr. Collins doesn’t deserve the criticism he often receives from readers for his business-like proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. In his time, and to some extent in ours (as I explore in Two Lovely Berries), marriage was a business arrangement. I can’t fault Mr. Collins for planning to choose a wife from Longbourn, which he will inherit from Elizabeth’s father, so that “the loss to [the Bennets] might be as little as possible.” That’s admirable. What isn’t admirable, though, is dismissing Elizabeth’s “unwillingness” as mere modesty. Ugh.

Source:  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; see also, Why Jane Austen Appeals to Girls (and Boys) Who Don’t “Just Want a Boyfriend.”

  • (7) Mr. Darcy: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

It’s a good thing Mr. Darcy improves his technique the second time he proposes to Elizabeth.

Source: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; see also, More Reasons Why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Isn’t Just for Girls Who Want a Boyfriend.


  • (8) Mr. Elton: “To restrain him as much as might be, by her own manners, she was immediately preparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity of the weather and the night; but scarcely had she begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate and joined the other carriage, than she found her subject cut up—her hand seized—her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping—fearing—adoring—ready to die if she refused him; but flattering himself that his ardent attachment and unequalled love and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and in short, very much resolved on being seriously accepted as soon as possible. It really was so. Without scruple—without apology—without much apparent diffidence, Mr. Elton, the lover of Harriet, was professing himself her lover. She tried to stop him; but vainly; he would go on, and say it all.”

Mr. Elton’s approach is just so over the top.

Source: Jane Austen, Emma.


  • (9) St. John: “Jane, come with me to India: come as my helpmeet  and fellow-laborer. […] God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”

Well, at least St. John is honest that he doesn’t have romantic feelings for Jane. I can’t blame her for refusing his offer, though.

Source: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre; see also, “I Wish Juliet Stevenson Would Read Supreme Court Opinions to Me.”

  • (10) Mr. Rochester to Jane: “You — you strange, you almost unearthly thing! — I love as my own flesh. You — poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are — I entreat to accept me as a husband.”

As I said in “Covering” the Classics: An Homage or a Rip-off?, in comparison to Mr. Rochester’s declaration of love to “plain” Jane, Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth is positively smooth!

Nevertheless, it works, for reasons Mr. AMB (my other half) discusses in Jane Eyre: A Contemplative Traveling Companion:

As unromantic as his marriage proposal might be — e.g., “you strange, you almost unearthly thing!” — it makes sense in the context of their relationship. He is captivated and vexed by Jane’s extraordinary intellect and self-control, and is inescapably drawn to it. When they talk, he’s constantly asking her what she thinks (despite caring not one bit about the thoughts of anyone else) because he knows she has some sort of piercing remark, and yet she also has the ability to hold back and restrain her impulses. This quality vexes Rochester greatly, which is why he repeatedly refers to her as having come from the Devil, but it’s also why he’s so intrigued by her, and so desperate to understand her and to win her love.

Before quoting Rochester to a potential love interest, make sure the object of your affection is a Jane Eyre fan before calling them “poor and obscure,” “small and plain”!

Happy Birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

The person responsible for the last two items on my list–Charlotte Brontë–would’ve been 200 years old on April 21st. In her short life, which spanned only 38 years, she produced unforgettable novels we still read today. It’s impressive for any author to attain this achievement, but most especially for a female writer in the 19th Century who had to publish her works under a male name.

We’ve come a long way in 200 years, but perhaps not far enough. Even today, books by and about women don’t receive the same literary recognition as books focused on men. However, if the Brontës and Jane Austen are any indication, those overlooked female authors might end up being the ones with staying power.

I wonder what books from our time our descendants will be reading in 200 years.


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Making The Most of Over-Parenting (Our #BusStopBook)

Ready to Read #BusStopBook

Beezus and Ramona Quimby enjoy a level of independence that many young readers today will never experience first-hand during childhood. The fictional Quimby girls walk to the library on their own at only nine and four-years-old, the four-year-old plays at the playground without anyone watching her, and they stay at home by themselves.

Would their parents allow them to do any of that now?

The stars of Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby series made their debut in the 1950s, when the United States was a different place. How we raise our children has changed quite a bit in that time — for better and for worse.

I assume the freedom Ramona and her sister enjoyed in their 1950s fictional world reflects the reality of the time. My own childhood in the 1980s was similar. I can’t say my parents would have left me at the park on my own at the age of four, but I played outside of our house on my own around that age. At five, I walked to the bus stop by myself. I remember dumping the carrot sticks from my lunch bag in our neighbor’s woodpile every morning before boarding the bus (Sorry, Mom and Dad! I acquired a taste for carrots later in life).

These days, before I go to work, I wait at the bus stop with my 8-year-old twins. If they want to dump anything from their lunch boxes, they’ll have to wait until they get to school.😉

When will they be old enough to wait at the bus stop alone? I have no idea.

For now, we make the most of our time together by reading a book. They’re strong independent readers–yay for independence, whatever the form!–but I think it’s important for them to hear me read from time to time. As I said in Reading Aloud: Ephemeral Entertainment I Wish Would Last Longer:

Reading aloud to my kids — and having them read aloud to me — is one of the most enjoyable parts of parenting… Not only is it an opportunity for me to model literacy for them and assess their reading progress, but it also gives me a chance to talk to my children about topics that wouldn’t come up otherwise.

Hearing the way I pronounce words has been particularly helpful for my girls, who have wondered why so many English words don’t sound the way they should (“It’s not ‘is-land,’ kiddos!”).

Our current “bus stop book” is Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, a non-fiction work by Kay Frydenborg that teaches us the difference between “cacao” and “cocoa” (another word that isn’t pronounced the way it’s spelled):

So the tree is cacao, and cocoa is the substance that is made from the seeds of the tree. The parts of the cacao tree that are not processed into cocoa, such as the leaves and flowers, remain cacao.  And we shouldn’t confused either of these terms with coca (pronounced ko-ka), the evergreen shrub from which the drug cocaine is made.

chocolate coverThe book is best for young teenagers, but my 8-year-olds have no trouble understanding it with my help. Our foray into the past and present significance of chocolate has broadened my daughters’ vocabulary as well as their understanding of world history, starting with the indigenous tribes in the Americas that learned how to turn bitter seeds into a delicious chocolate.

For Europeans, their interaction with cacao begins with Christopher Columbus, who mistook the seeds for strange-looking almonds.

The book’s modern portrayal of Columbus as a “confused man” who stole treasures from the so-called New World and went to his grave believing he’d been in Asia is quite different from the favorable way Beverly Cleary’s Beezus describes him to her younger sister. Beezus calls him “the man who discovered America,” yet another reminder–along with Beezus and Ramona’s independence–that the Ramona Quimby series comes from another time.

*Thank you to the Clark County Public Library’s blog for the book recommendation!


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Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Sam In the Sky With Diamonds

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday, my 8-year-old has reviewed the Ramona Quimby series:

I love the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. I’ve read 8 books in all. I hope you like them too.      

I like them because Beezus (which is short for Beatrice!) and Ramona are sisters who always get into trouble.

And they always find a funny solution. One time Beezus thought that Ramona was dead because she couldn’t find Ramona anywhere. When she finally found Ramona, the good news was that Ramona wasn’t dead. The bad news was Ramona was still in big trouble and not for just disappearing.

My favorite book in the series is Ramona and Her Father. I like it because Beezus and Ramona try to stop their father from smoking before he almost…

Well you can read it and find out.


Sam devoured all eight of the Ramona Quimby books on her Kindle, a very modern way to read a series that is more than half a century old. The first story in the series landed on bookshelves in the mid-1950s, when the United States was a different place from what it is now. For example:

  • More women are working outside of the home, comprising about half of the workforce today versus 30% in 1950;
  • The American population has more than doubled, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse; and
  • Thanks to the proliferation of indoor entertainment and the rise of so-called “helicopter parenting,” among other reasons, the average American child spends far less time outside today than they did in 1950.

Cleary’s series is certainly a product of its time with references to such places as the radio-and-phonograph store, its portrayal of highly independent young children, and its reliance on traditional gender norms. At one point, for example, Ramona’s mother and her friend wonder why a little boy would ever want to play with a ribbon, a “girly” item.

Though Ramona’s world is quite different from ours, my daughter identifies with the Quimby girls. Beezus’s uptight nature, Ramona’s penchant for mischief, and the sororal bond between them are timeless. I have no doubt that generations to come will enjoy reading about Ramona’s antics and Beezus’s frustrations just as much as my children do.

Little S*The picture at the top of this post is what happens when my twins get their hands on Photoshop. (Sam’s response, which she typed herself after reading this post over my shoulder: But mommy let us!)


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Would Your Goodreads Profile Get You Out of Jury Duty? Should It?

To Kill A Mockingbird_Misfortune of Knowing Blog

As I continue to grapple with To Kill a Mockingbird’s legacy — including whether it’s time for schools to replace it in the curriculum now that Harper Lee’s estate has made it less affordable — I’ve been thinking about what it provides to its readers that other books might not. One lesson I hope readers glean from its pages is that jury duty is vital to our democracy, giving citizens the ability to uphold our nation’s laws and affect the lives of the people who come before the court.

In Mockingbird, Atticus Finch highlights the importance of the jury in the closing argument to his defense of Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of raping a white woman in Lee’s fictionalized 1930s Alabama. He says,

I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system — that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.

Still, far too many people do everything they can to avoid this duty. Some of those people might even count To Kill a Mockingbird among their favorite books.

Why do people want to avoid jury duty? I’ve been called for jury duty twice and empaneled once (lest there are lawyers out there who think their JD gets them out of their civic duty). It was a fascinating and worthwhile experience. However, I can’t deny that serving on the jury was time-consuming and inconvenient.

Another negative is that jury duty might also be an invasion of a potential juror’s privacy because of what lawyers have to do in order to ensure that their clients receive a fair trial.

Mockingbird’s Tom Robinson did not get a fair trial. His life was in the hands of “twelve reasonable men,” according to Atticus, but “something [came]  between them and reason.” That “something” was racism.

Today, while racism is less apparent then it was in the time period To Kill a Mockingbird depicts, bias still exists, and lawyers have an obligation to root it out. They do this through an investigative process called voir dire, when lawyers and/or the judge question prospective jurors about their backgrounds and beliefs.

Voir dire provides lawyers with the information they need to strike prospective jurors for cause (for example, because the potential juror knows one of the parties personally and thus is unable to render an impartial decision) or by the use of peremptory challenges (because the lawyer has a feeling they’d rather not have that person on the jury).

At times, the questions in voir dire are invasive, such as: Have you or someone close to you suffered the loss of a child? Or, have you or someone close to you been the victim of child sexual abuse? The answers might be relevant to a lawyer if they are, for example, representing someone accused of abuse or murder of a child, but a prospective juror might not feel comfortable providing these answers to complete strangers.

To limit the invasion of privacy, some courts have implemented a number of strategies, including (1) “anonymous juries,” when jurors receive a fictitious name or a number that judges and lawyers use to refer to the person throughout the jury selection process, and (2) questioning each prospective juror individually.

The extent to which lawyers may pry into a prospective juror’s personal history became an issue in Oracle America v. Google, a copyright lawsuit over Android. There, the lawyers for the two parties wanted extended time so they could mine the Internet for information about prospective jurors.

Lawyers’ use of the Internet to research prospective jurors isn’t new.* However, there isn’t much concrete guidance out there about how attorneys should do it. Ideally, they would do it in a way that balances their client’s right to a fair trial with the prospective juror’s right to privacy.

Two weeks ago, the trial judge in Oracle America v. Google issued an order in which he referenced To Kill a Mockingbird to illustrate one of the dangers of permitting lawyers to google prospective jurors (namely, that the research “will facilitate improper personal appeals to particular jurors”):

For example, if a search found that a juror’s favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, it wouldn’t be too hard for counsel to construct a copyright jury argument (or a line of expert questions) based on an analogy to that work and to play upon the recent death of Harper Lee, all in an effort to ingratiate himself or herself into the heartstrings of that juror.

That could backfire, though, especially if the lawyer tries to make eye contact with that juror. If I were that juror — and To Kill a Mockingbird is actually one of my favorite books — I’d be completely creeped out by it. The number one rule of “Internet stalking” is to never let the person know you did it!

But I digress. Internet searches tied to the jury selection process are different from the googling a person might do about the new neighbors or the parents of their kids’ friends (not that I’m speaking from personal experience…😉 ) Potential jurors should definitely know that lawyers will look for their so-called “digital fingerprint.”

In Oracle America v. Google, the judge ended up announcing a procedure he hoped would protect jurors’ privacy while allowing lawyers to do their jobs (if the parties refused to agree to a ban on researching jurors on the Internet): The lawyers must inform the prospective jurors of the extent to which they will search for them on the Internet, limiting the searches to publicly available information and giving the jurors a couple of minutes to adjust their social media privacy settings through their cell phones. The lawyers may not use the information they learn through the Internet to make personal appeals to jurors or use their affiliation with tech companies to research information not otherwise available to the public (such as search histories).**

Generally speaking, this protocol makes sense to me. I don’t mind lawyers performing internet searches for publicly available information about me or other prospective jurors. If I were representing a defendant like a modern-day Tom Robinson, I would want to know whether a prospective juror raves on Goodreads about racist books like The Bell Curve or its more recent iteration, The Triple Package.*** I wouldn’t want them on the jury any more than I would want to empanel the shockingly racist version of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird’s sequel early draft, Go Set a Watchman.


*Jurors, however, are not supposed to google the case or the lawyers involved in it for fear the information they see could inappropriately sway them.

**See the this article (scroll down for the order from the Northern District of California) for additional details.

***Googling a person’s name and “goodreads” will sometimes bring up their goodreads profile. If that’s a problem for you, visit the Goodreads account settings to see what you can do to adjust the privacy level.

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