Sunday, 23 February 2014

Last Will and Testament of the Bestseller Read-In: John Grisham's Sycamore Row

I 'm not being a downer. Grisham's book IS partially about lynching, so check out the link.


Sycamore Row is one of the books for which I have managed not to read the first book in the series. The first in the series and the first book John Grisham wrote, A Time to Kill, was published in 1987. Sycamore Row makes sure to recap events from A Time to Kill, though, so I didn't feel lost.

Sycamore Row is a good example of the kind of book that I have suspected dominates the best-selling books and that I have managed to say away from for the most part. It is a book by a famous writer, and it has its points of interest, but the book is not, at least for me, special enough to warrant spending my precious reading time.

The legal case itself was fairly interesting. Mississippi lawyer Jack Brigance has a dead client, but Jack fights for the client's will as though the client were still alive. The book sets up the scenario and its stakes very early on, though, so the legal finagling ends up being slow-paced considering how long the book is.

As well,  the book highlights race relations in the early and late 20th century. For some people, violence and race may be a foreign topic. For those who have some knowledge of this aspect of American society, the book's conclusion was not much better than the Agatha Christie drawing-room revelation in which important information is revealed at the last minute. I don't need this book to remind me that race has been an issue in America for a long time.(Check out the current Mississippi state flag below, for instance.)

What remains, then, is the book itself. I wanted more than what the book gave. Characterization gets little attention, for example. Lawyers and judges are crotchety because Jack and other characters say they are, so the book doesn't attempt to show them being crotchety except to indicate how many other characters think they are crotchety or, for some reason, how much the characters drink. Drinking too much is okay unless the characters get into a car accident while drunk and kill two nice teenagers; as typical in this book, only bad guys do bad things like that, even though the good guys are as likely to drink and drive as the bad guys. Jack himself is fawned on by everyone in town, but nothing about Jack is charming enough to warrant being on his side except for him being the main character and being told by other characters he is charming.

File:Flag of Mississippi.svg
Yes, that's a Confederate flag on the current Mississippi state flag. Want to go house shopping there anyway? Click on the flag.
The book seemed padded, too. For example, I was displeased by how many times the book explains the same basic information about the legal case. The repetition was a sign of limited substantive editing on Grisham's part, or else the author didn't trust the reader to understand the details even the third or fourth time. The book also takes weak tangents: I didn't care what kind of house Jack Brigance wanted to buy. The book spent more time than necessary dealing with Jack and his dull wife and child trying to buy the most beautiful house in the count.

Sycamore Row is an "easy read," that's true, but I don't care if a book is an easy read.  Dr. Seuss is an easy read, too, but I love the whimsy and optimism of its simple words. I also know Dr. Seuss is for children and so should be easy to read.

In Summary

This is the kind of book I had expected to find more of in my bestsellers' list, but it is the only book that met that expectation. I liked two of them, was so-so with one of them, and disliked or was bored by the rest.  For what it's worth, I rank them in terms of most liked to least liked as follows:

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
2. The Kite Runner
3. The Game of Thrones
4. Sycamore Row
5. Twilight
6. The Da Vinci Code
7. The Shack
8. Fifty Shades of Grey

All this time I have wondered if I were doing myself a disservice in not reading bestsellers, and in the end I have decided that I haven't done myself a disservice. I'm always going to find myself reading things I am not particularly interested in reading but have to, just because of my work. I don't regret reading these eight books, but I am glad it's over. In terms of my free reading time, I have been doing what I should be doing--reading books that I think will expand my knowledge of the world in some way and that will help me learn things to strengthen my own writing.

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