Books

bibliophiles

A handmaiden-like tale of societal devolution

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times/Redux

If you are a fan of popular thriller writer John Grisham, you never have to wait long for a new book. He publishes one nearly every year. In his newest, “The Rooster Bar,” Grisham, a lawyer as well as a novelist, follows the trail of three students who turn the tables on their third-rate, for-profit law school.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

GRISHAM: I just finished “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. I enjoyed that. I’m reading an advance copy of James Lee Burke’s new novel, “Robicheaux.” He’s one of my favorites. I just finished a spy thriller called “Need to Know” by a D.C. author, Karen Cleveland. She worked for the CIA.

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BOOKS: Is that characteristic of your reading?

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GRISHAM: I’m kind of all over the place. There are some writers that when they publish I’m going to get their books right then and read them: Ian McEwan, John Le Carré, John Irving, and some nonfiction writers. I really enjoy Michael Lewis and David Grann. “Killers of the Flower Moon” was really compelling. Scott Turow and I swap copies when we publish, and I always enjoy Scott’s books. Then I’ll drift back and read an old book by Mark Twain or John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

BOOKS: What is the last book you drifted back to?

GRISHAM: About every five years I reread William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice.” I just love that book. I wish I could write like that. I went back to read “To Kill a Mockingbird”for the first time in 15 years because I spoke at a Harper Lee symposium. I also read “Go Set a Watchman.” I wish that hadn’t been published. It takes a lot of the luster off Atticus.

BOOKS: How did “To Kill A Mockingbird” hold up?

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GRISHAM: Growing up in the Deep South in an all-white world, to see a person like Atticus Finch, who had the courage to fight injustice, had a huge impact on me and all Southern kids, really on people around the world. The book and then the film exposed Jim Crow to the world for really the first time.

BOOKS: Whom have you read the most by?

GRISHAM: I was going to say Steinbeck because he is my all time favorite, but when I was in law school a buddy and I started reading the “Travis McGee’’ series by John D. MacDonald. We started trying to find those books as secondhand paperbacks for $1. We put together a whole collection, probably 25 of them, and read them all.

BOOKS: Which Steinbeck speaks to you the most?

GRISHAM: I had a high school teacher who felt sorry for us because we had to read Faulkner. She gave us “Tortilla Flat,” then “Cannery Row,” and then “Of Mice and Men.” I was really into it. She was surprised I showed any interest in reading because I was a jock in high school or thought I was. She told me to read “The Grapes of Wrath” and that is still an important book for me.

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BOOKS: Do you ever make reading goals?

‘Reading should be enjoyable. . . . Now my goal is to read about 20 minutes each day.’

GRISHAM: No but about five years ago I had every one of Faulkner’s books lined up on a shelf. I started the first one on Jan. 1 and was going to read every one. I didn’t care how long it took, but I was going to read everyday. After about six months I had finished seven or eight books, and I got to this point where I said, “This is not any fun.” Reading should be enjoyable. I just quit. Now my goal is to read about 20 minutes each day. My wife and I crawl into bed about 9:30 after a long day, and we try our best to stay awake for 15 minutes.

BOOKS: What is the last book that kept you up?

GRISHAM: I remember reading “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris 30 years ago, a book you really couldn’t put down. I read his “Red Dragon” too. Talk about turning pages. I was losing sleep reading a book. It’s a great feeling.

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