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Originally published Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Lit Life

What to read while you're on jury duty: crime novels, biographies

Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn has jury duty next week. In this installment of her weekly column, Lit Life, she talks about the books she'll take along: "Washington: A Life," "Blood-Dark Track" and "The Reversal."

Seattle Times book editor

Lit life |

Your faithful correspondent has been called to jury duty. As anyone who has ever fulfilled this civic obligation knows, until you actually get picked for a jury (or not), there is a lot of sitting around and waiting. And then more waiting.

Many people in this hyperkinetic world might consider this an unconscionable imposition. For myself ... tell me I have to sit and wait with nothing to do but read a book? Oh, please don't throw me into the brier patch!

Here are the titles I will take along as I head to the courthouse. Because of my job, I get early copies: All these books will be in stores Oct. 5.

"Washington: A Life" by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press). I'm 100 pages into this 904-page biography of our first president, and let me just say that Chernow, winner of the 1990 National Book Award for "House of Morgan," knows how to tell a story. He reveals the young Washington as ambitious, emotional and a bit vain — by age 21 the young George had acquired thousands of acres of prime Virginia farmland, fought the French and the Indians and displayed a precocious gift for leading men in battle. (The vain part? A lifelong clothes horse, Washington had a weakness for bespoke suits from London tailors.)

Denied a commission in the British officer corps because of his colonial status, Washington nursed a distaste for British snobbery. Writes Chernow: "This young careerist brooded interminably over the discrimination leveled against colonial officers and betrayed a heightened sense of personal injustice — feelings that would assume a more impressive and impersonal ideological form during the American Revolution." Back atcha, Lord Cornwallis.

"Blood-Dark Track: A Family History" by Joseph O'Neill (Vintage). O'Neill is the author of "Netherland," one of my all-time favorite novels. This reissue of O'Neill's 2001 nonfiction book is his investigation into why two of his grandfathers landed in jail during World War II — his Irish grandfather for his IRA activities, and his Turkish hotelier grandfather on suspicion of being a German spy.

"The Reversal" by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown). Former crime reporter Connelly is a master at charting the intricate interplay between the courts, the cops and the press. In 1992's "The Black Echo," Connelly created his first unforgettable character in police detective Harry Bosch, a driven loner named after the 15th-16th-century painter who created surrealistic visions of hell. In 2005's "The Lincoln Lawyer," Connelly had the brilliant idea of creating another compelling character on the opposite side of the courtroom — Mickey Haller, a charming, flamboyant defense attorney and Bosch's half-brother.

In this fall's "The Reversal," Haller is appointed special prosecutor to retry a child murder case, Bosch is his investigator and Haller's "first ex-wife" sits in the second prosecutor's chair. Lots of fascinating familial interaction and, like all Connelly bad guys, the villain is both creepy and believable.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com. Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/pages/7598353

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