Books of My Life: John Grisham on le Carré, Mark Twain, and other favorites
To celebrate the publication of his 28th novel, Rogue Lawyer, the legal-thriller maestro took our cheeky book questionnaire.
My favorite childhood book
As a small child I can remember reading and rereading Dr. Seuss. When I was about 10, I read Emil and the Detectives many times. Then I discovered Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and I’ve been reading Mark Twain ever since.
The book I enjoyed most in school
There is a state law in Mississippi that requires every high school English teacher to cram Faulkner down the throats of all 11th graders. While we were floundering, a teacher allowed us to read something far clearer, something we could actually enjoy: The Grapes of Wrath. I fell in love with John Steinbeck.
A book that cemented me as a writer
When I was struggling to finish my first novel in 1987, Scott Turow published Presumed Innocent. It was a blockbuster, and Scott was the newest literary star. I can’t say I felt cemented, but the book certainly motivated me to finish A Time to Kill.
The classics I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
There are so many, but I’m not really that embarrassed. Moby-Dick, Ulysses, Crime and Punishment, to name a few. But at least I’ve tried. I’ll give almost any book 100 pages, especially a classic, before I fling it across the room.
The books I’ve read over and over again
There are three, actually. I mentioned The Grapes of Wrath. I reread John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl every five years or so, just to remind myself what brilliant suspense sounds like. And I’ve read William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice at least five times in the past 25 years.
A book I’ve pretended to have read
The Sound and the Fury. I’ve pretended twice, once in high school (see response to question No. 2) and once after being challenged by a Faulkner scholar at Ole Miss. Neither worked.
A movie adaptation I loved
Three Days of the Condor. I saw the movie when it came out 40 years ago and loved it. Years later I read the book and enjoyed it, too, though it is quite different from the movie. It’s one of those rare times when the adaptation improves on the novel.
The best adaptation of one of my own novels
The Rainmaker. Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed the movie, and he was determined to stick to the novel.
The time I bought my own book
Once I was out of town and headed to a fund-raiser. I had promised a few books for door prizes. My latest novel had just been published, and Doubleday’s marketing plan was hitting on all cylinders. It was a large store, a chain, and the entire front of the store was covered with displays, stacks of my books, even my mug smiling from floor to ceiling. I bought eight copies, paid with a credit card, and the clerk never said a word, never looked up. Actually, I was relieved and laughed all the way to my car.
Do I ever read my own books after they come out?
Almost never. By the time a book is published I’m really tired of it, tired of the story, and I’m already working on something else. Twice I’ve made the mistake of reading my books for the audio editions — Bleachers and Ford County — and have no plans to do that again. The stuff just seems old and stale to me by then.
What I’m reading now
Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee, and The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner (just kidding).