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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bleachers, by John Grisham

Yeah, yeah, I know. Street cred out the window. I'll hang my head in shame just after I put one more tick on the ol' book-o-meter. I won't apologize for reading it, but I will try to get to #26 instead of stopping at #25.

So, Lincoln was supposed to be next. What happened?

NaNoWriMo got in the way. Football season got in the way. The fact that its 600 pages are rather dense in content got in the way. It was a bad choice for a year in which I'm trying to read more for quantity than quality. The funny thing is that I post-dated my review of Lincoln to August 31 way back when I started it. I usually work on a review while I'm reading it, then play this little game with myself where I predict the finish date. This was my least accurate yet. By three months. I was on pace to read more like 35 or 40 for the year, but Mr. Vidal's rich prose and deep attention to detail (there I go giving away the lead) made me want to take my time and savor the experience. I'll pick it up again in January. I'm about halfway through, so it might take a while.

You read your second John Grisham ever. What was it like?

Well, given that I love football and that I HATED the other Grisham I read (The Chamber), it wasn't as excruciating as I had feared.

Any regrets?

It only took about 2.5 hours to read... it takes longer longer than that to watch three quarters of a lousy football game, so nah. Any longer and I might have.

So, reading Bleachers was better than three quarters of a lousy football game?

Did you watch that Seattle-Green Bay game Monday night? It should have been called The Old Man and the Seahawks (get it? Because Brett Favre is about to retire, and... nevermind). Any more like that and I may have to buy Grisham's entire catalogue. Thank God they haven't cancelled Studio 60 yet. Oh yeah, I read over a hundred pages of Bleachers during the 4th quarter.

Let's segue into the book, while we're talking about football. Isn't that what Bleachers is about?

I guess. It's a tender story about a man reuniting with his high school football team on the eve of their head coach's death. He hasn't been back to the school in 15 years, since the night he won the state championship and broke his hand in the locker room at halftime. The reason is a little mysterious.

Sounds intriguing.

Yeah? Well, you'd think so.

So, what was good about it?

The description of "The Game" was good. The former players gather at their high school stadium and sit in the bleachers as they await word on the old man. One of the players from the state championship team of '87 brings a tape player along and they listen to the broadcast from the winning game. The pacing is good and it's pretty easy to follow. You probably need some knowledge of football in order to get the most out of it, like the significance of the coaching team's absence--if you were a soccer fan this would be nothing. Soccer managers sit and get drunk with the fans. You'd also need to know why it's so unusual that a team wouldn't throw a single pass in two quarters.

Why is it unusual?

Here, let me help you. I could explain it, in fact I could probably have a whole blog about football, but there I see it: street cred whittling away by the word...

So, back to Bleachers, the players are sitting on bleachers listening to the game and waiting for the coach to die. What happens?

They win. He dies.

Is that it?

Well, they have a nice memorial service for him. They even get a former player of his out of prison on a 24-hour pass to attend the funeral.

Awwww, that's sweet.

Ain't it?

What was he in jail for?

Who cares?

Does it explain about the quarterback's broken hand and why the coaches aren't on the field after halftime?

Sure. It's riveting.

Seriously, though, the best part of the book was another mystery where the QB goes to see his old high school girlfriend. Why did he break up with her all those years ago? What does he hope to gain with this reunion? That was good because it afforded the main character a point of humanity--he screwed up because he was a stupid kid and he wants to apologize. And no, they don't get back together. That was handled pretty well.

Any complaints?

Have you read a Grisham before?

A couple. C'mon, they're good!

Whenever I read something that makes me turn the pages, but where I'm constantly griping about the writing style, I can't quite bring myself to call it "good". The Chamber was another example. As is anything written by Dan Brown. When people display no care or love of the language they use, they piss me off. They do it moreso when they employ cheap tactics and tricks to keep me turning pages. Yes, I bought it. Yes, he got me. Yes, I think he accomplished everything he set out to accomplish, but what I'm saying is that I can't respect him as a Good Writer.

You take Roth or Franzen or even Chuck Palahniuk. Take Rushdie or Vidal or even Greg Iles. For God's sake, take Nabokov. They write stuff that harpoons you through the soul, and they do it with "love of language" as a foundation. Not like Clancy or Brown or Grisham, who most likely regard the actual writing as a by-product. That is the trunk from which their every branch emanates. How many more metaphors can I throw at it? All the energy they have for the story they write--it's injected into a universe where every word matters. They don't rely on cliche or archetype. They assume that you don't want everything explained to you. No, they refuse to explain everything to you. That's the way I write, and that's why I don't have all that much respect Grisham, and I don't like reading him.

This is not to say people shouldn't read Grisham. What the hell do I care what you bring on an airplane? What I'm saying is, it's not for me. I dip into this pool once or twice a year, and I never regret it. It gives me a chance to see "what's selling", it clarifies my own views on the kind of writing I want to do, and it gives me something to talk about over lunch with my father. I once recommended The Alienist by Caleb Carr and I still haven't heard the end of it. Imagine if I recommended Atonement!

Well, nice to know you're not a snob or anything, your highness.


What's next?

Book #23 will be The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway.

Oh, wow. I could never get into Hemingway.

And *scene*.



Blogger Jess said...

This post is 193.7 times as long as I anticipated :P.

Fri Dec 08, 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Ah... you want a six-word review, do you?

Here goes:

"Lunkhead denies he peaked years ago."


Fri Dec 08, 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Jess said...


I was imagining more like, "I read a John Grisham book." Remember?

Fri Dec 08, 02:02:00 PM  

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