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.

–TD

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