What I am Reading – John Grisham

 Back before Harry Potter. Before Twilight. The release of a John Grisham novel was a book event. 

It’s true. In fact, the first book event I ever attended (and the last that involved me actually purchasing a book for myself) was a midnight release for John Grisham’s The Partner. I was struggling with insomnia, not an uncommon occurrence, and I recalled a mailer Books-a-Million had sent me about the event. So, I showed up, where I joined about twenty other men, roughly the age I am now, in searching the stacks of the store for a hidden free copy of Grisham’s new release. I don’t recall finding the book, so someone else must have won, and I must have parted with a double sawbuck and few extra Washingtons ($20+ ) and came home with Grisham’s latest legal thriller.

Years later, I attended several Potter and Twilight saga midnight events.  Sometimes with Jill, often by myself…but always to pick up the new book for her. I never got into Harry Potter or the sparkly vampires, but I’ve always loved how popular these books became.  They seemed to be the foil to the doom and gloom crowd, who always wanted to remind us that “nobody reads anymore.” The people, who say this, obviously never attended one of these events. When I think about waiting in line with all those kids and their parents, and the overall level excitement they had for getting a book it makes me smile. A whole generation of new readers were born with these books.

But enough about those books I’ve never read.  

I first read John Grisham when I was in college. The first three books were out, and everywhere. I read them back to back to back, and lost sleep and valuable study time to do so. I anxiously awaited the next release, The Client (and regularly complained that it wouldn’t be available in paper for at least a year after the hardcover release – $20+ for a college kid was too steep).  That annual anticipation of a new Grisham release continued through the release of The Partner (which I could actually afford in hardcover). Then, for whatever reason, I drifted away from Grisham.

Years ago, I heard or read, a fellow writer, mention something along the lines of “I’ve never read Grisham. I tried his first book, and gave up almost immediately because it was so poorly written.” I honestly cannot remember whether this was a face-to-face discussion or online communication, and I can’t recall who said it. I only recall roughly what was said, and my kick in the gut reaction.  Now, looking back on it, I chuckle and think, “Writers,” shaking my head.  A couple reasons for this:

1) This was Grisham’s first book. Of course, it’s going to have some offenses to the silly writer rules, and yes it probably has craft elements that hadn’t matured to the level of a later stage commercial fiction writer.

2) Grisham obviously did something right.  Millions upon millions of people (including myself) have read and loved that story.

It’s pretty common to use criticism as a way to bring someone down to the critics level in all facets of life. Writers are no exception. I’m sure I have been guilty of it, and sure I will continue to be. But I’m trying to see it for what it is, and stop this nonsense. 

One of the interesting results from watching all those JLB interviews was hearing some of the other authors talk about their work, and it has me interested in getting re-acquainted with some of them (no need with Connelly, I still check in on him). So, when I heard Grisham explain that he returned to the Jake Brigance character of his first novel, A Time to Kill, for  the novel Sycamore Row, I actually made it into a bookstore (with mask and socially distanced) for the first time since March and purchased a Grisham novel. It was like 1996 all over again.

I’ll just get it out of the way right now. I lost sleep reading this one, too! And to the person, who says Grisham cannot write, I’ll just offer that any author that can keep me turning the pages with anticipation for a story about probate court is a far better storyteller than me (and probably you). 

I read this book immediately after finishing JLB’s A Private Cathedral, and admittedly nobody is going to accuse Grisham of being a match for Burke as a prose stylist. But once I got over that, I was able to sit back and enjoy it for what it was, an incredibly satisfying read with plenty of suspense and twists and turns throughout the entire 600+ pages.  

People, 600 page books are not my thing. Grisham’s book was a breeze.

No deep philosophical themes. I won’t need to re-read this to see what I missed the first time. But it was a fine story.

A third book featuring Brigance is expected to come out later this fall.  I’m anxiously awaiting it. Like I did for Grisham releases in my twenties.

It’s good to be back.


What I am Listening to – Kathleen Edwards

 My wife knows me really well. So, it is no surprise that she gifted me Kathleen Edwards’s new record Total Freedom for our anniversary. Ms. Edwards is probably my favorite Canadian Singer-Songwriter not named Neil Young. 

I will not attempt to type out the story of Kathleen’s break from music. It can be found ad nauseum all over the world wide internets. Let’s just say that it has been a loooong wait for new music from her, and in a year that has featured some outstanding new releases, this is the one I’ve been most looking forward to.  (Yes, in a year that has featured new releases by Bob Dylan, Drive-by Truckers, and Jason Isbell).  

And it is great. I have not taken it off my turntable in days.  If you are not familiar with Kathleen’s work this is as good a place to start as any (and that is saying something).

She recently recorded a live Album Release event for NPR at her coffee shop, Quitters, and it features her playing the album in full.  I’m not sure who mixed the sound, but it’s pretty damn impressive…I can’t imaging a coffee shop being optimized for acoustics.  At any rate if you’re so inclined you can listen here:

Not that it really matters but my favorite songs are the 1st, “Glenfern,” and the 5th, “Options Open.”  And the other thing of note is how great it is to see the sheer joy on her face when they launch into the first song. It seems the face of someone who is creating her art on her terms.  

“Glenfern” seems to be about coming grips with one of life’s bad rolls, and  learning to look back on it seeing the good “stuff”, while still being cognizant of the life lesson.  “Options Open” resonates with me because it’s all about realizing that at some point doors need to be shut behind you… keeping your “Options Open” only works for so long. *  

I hope she’s back with us for good.

*I believe in any art, that once it is introduced to the listener, viewer, reader they take over the ownership. So, while these may not be the themes Kathleen was exploring. I am confident that this is what the songs are “about”, because it is how they move me, the listener.


The 20th Year

 Oh, ho, oh. What is this tom-foolery, you ask?

Yes, I did celebrate my 49th birthday earlier this month, as we have already established.  I am celebrating my 19th wedding anniversary, today.

As far as I’m concerned, this is more worthy of celebration. It certainly has been more challenging, than existing for 49 years.

My wife, Jill, of course, deserves most of the credit. In fact, she probably deserve a medal of honor, of some sort. I also don’t think I’m alone in this. I suspect many of the lesser gender acknowledge the real work is done by their better half.

One of the fascinating discoveries I made early on in my marriage was that I never truly knew my strengths and weaknesses until I looked into the mirror of my wife’s eyes.  And yes, something happened when we made it official. Those eyes were more telling. A truer reflection of my good and poor qualities cannot be found outside how my wife reacts to them.  The happiness, the pride, the humor.  The anger, the disappointment, and yes, sometimes, the embarrassment.

Marriage, seems to me, is a journey all about tilting the scales in one direction. And becoming a better person because of it.

Happy Anniversary Jill Marie DeCastro, with love.