“I’ve never tried to be some kind of serious literary artist.”
John Grisham is nothing if not self-aware.
He knows who he is and he knows who his fans are.
And after thirty novels, a short story collection, and a work of nonfiction totaling over 300 million copies sold, he decided that, for the first time in a quarter-century, he wanted to go on a book tour. It made sense. Not only did Grisham’s friend, Stephen King, do a tour about a year ago and have a blast doing so, but books, bookstores, and booksellers are much of what constitutes his thirtieth and – until mid-October – latest novel, Camino Island, one of his stronger late-career offerings.
He visited thirteen bookstores, twelve of them independent outfits and invited one or two other authors to join him at each stop. As a long, longtime fan of Grisham (I remember my brother giving me his copy of The Firm in 1992 and reading The Chamber during afternoon study hall in the spring of 1995), I was bummed to have missed out on the opportunity, particularly since one bookstore, in Doylestown, PA is about twenty miles from my childhood home and another, the Barnes & Noble in Paramus, NJ, which is one of the largest in the country, is located about twenty miles from my home now.
I couldn’t be there, so I settled for the next best thing – a podcast that recorded each stop.
Each episode has a similar structure. Grisham begins each by interviewing the book proprietor about their background, the history of the store, and their view on the status of the industry – past, present, and future. He then speaks to the other author(s) about their entry into writing, their process, their experiences, and their views on it all; several of the authors turned it around and asked Grisham some of those same questions and most evolved into very good discussions. Finally, he fields questions from the audience. While Grisham’s accent has softened over the years, there’s still a touch of it and his folksy delivery makes the conversation feel relaxed.
Unlike many other authors, especially those of us that write online, he has rarely spoken in depth about his own process and it’s nice to hear how both he and his guests approach the craft. Moreover, it serves as a state of the book world in 2017 with knowledgeable discussion about the future of writing, publishing and everything in between. At times, it feels like eavesdropping on a dinner conversation of writers and booksellers as they trade notes and gripes.
But, of course, the focus is on Grisham. We learn a bit more about where he writes – a shed behind his home – his pet-peeves – writers that “talk their books to death” – his inability to get more books made into films – and the original titles for some of his books – The Pelican Brief was originally titled simply The Brief and The Chamber‘s original title was The Row (maybe Suge Knight could have been on the cover).
There were other tidbits that most Grisham fanatics probably already knew but more casual fans may not – A Time to Kill was originally titled Death Knell; The Chamber was the only film adaptation of his work that he did not like; he outlines each novel – every chapter is a paragraph – before he begins writing; and he begins every legal thriller on January 1st and finishes around July 1st.
I waited until all thirteen podcast episodes were available and then binged them all virtually in a row (around work, sleep, family time, etc.) and that’s probably not the best way to listen. There is a lot of repeated material, both in the form of Grisham’s jokes and anecdotes, and the audience questions, most of which focused on a few general topics. I can only think of a few questions about the novels that were not about A Time to Kill, The Firm, or Camino Island. There are a few questions I’ve wanted to ask Grisham over the past two decades or so and no one in the audience asked them (or, if they did, they were edited out). He also contradicts himself at times – claims never to have re-read any of his books, but then says that he reads Skipping Christmas (ugh) every year – but that could just be a slip of the tongue. In one of the more humorous moments, Grisham explains that he forgets the novels as soon as he done writing them and is thus perplexed when presented with questions about them, claiming that he had only correctly answered two of the five Jeopardy! questions on his work.
The episodes are not chronological – the episodes do not follow the same schedule as his stops and while this isn’t a big deal, it is a curious choice.
Still, for a writer or even just a fan of books, it’s a fascinating listen. Rarely do authors with such success and longevity go on the road and rarely do they expose themselves in this way while also spotlighting other writers at the same time. Grisham has said, “I try to write a high quality of popular fiction that appeals to a lot of people,” and he’s obviously succeeded.
- Northshire Books (Manchest Center, VT) featuring Jodi Picoult
- Parnassus Books (Nashville, TN) featuring Ann Patchett & Jon Meachma
- Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.) featuring David Grann
- Malaprop’s Bookstore (Asheville, NC) featuring Ron Rash
- Barnes & Noble (Paramus, NJ) featuring Christina Baker Kline & Harlan Coben
- Quail Ridge Books (Winston-Salem, NC) featuring Jill McCorkle & Randall Kenan
- Bookmarks (Winston-Salem, NC) featuring Charlie Lovett
- Square Books (Oxford, MS) featuring Richard Howorth, Ace Atkins & Tom Franklin
- R.J. Julia Booksellers (Madison, CT) featuring Roxanne Coady, Stephen Carter & Janet Maslin
- Lemuria Books (Jackson, MS) featuring John Evans, Greg Iles & Matthew Guinn
- Park Road Books (Charlotte, NC) featuring Sally Brewster & John Hart
- Scuppernong Books (Greensboro, NC) featuring Wiley Cash & Clyde Edgerton
- The Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown, PA) featuring Lisa Scottoline
Book Tour with John Grisham is available wherever you get your podcasts.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.