I just finished reading John Grisham’s eighteenth book, The Broker (Dell, 2005). Like all of Grisham’s best-selling legal fiction, this book is well-written, interesting, and contains a plot taken from recent front pages. And most surprisingly of all, it’s clean! That’s right. Grisham has made a very good living as a contemporary author who has not found it necessary to resort to four-letter vulgarity and sex-laden chapters to sell books. His kind is increasingly rare.
You’d think that finding a good novelist who writes books for the annual $24 billion publishing business which are largely free of gratuitous language and sex wouldn’t be all that difficult. But it is. Promiscuous protagonists rule the day. Sure, there are a few good authors left. Mary Higgins Clark comes to mind. She, Grisham, and a handful of others make a rather small book club.
I’m not prudishly arguing that my sensibilities are too tender to survive here and there what we used to call a “bad word,” or even a descriptive of expression of human sexuality. I am saying that I am weary of trying to find television programs, movies, or books that are not thoroughly immersed in our culture’s preoccupation with sex and shock-value language.
I’m currently reading, for example, Billy Crystal’s book called 700 Sundays: A Memoir (Warner Books, 2005). This is an at times heart-warming, frequently funny account of Billy’s childhood memories of a rather remarkable Russian Jewish family in New York City who made an early mark on the Jazz industry. More specifically, it’s Billy’s memories of his father who died too young. Billy figures he only got to spend “700 Sundays” with his father.
My own son read this book and gave it to me. It’s something we can talk about as father and son. It’s got some good things to recommend it. But for some reason Billy Crystal apparently couldn’t write the book without a considerable measure of everyday profanity, what I’ve always called low level “bathroom humor,” and even frequent use of the “F word.” Now Billy’s family likely used this language, so he’s probably remembering them accurately. But I find it curious that he so easily mixes references to his Jewish religious consciousness with language rejected by Judeo-Christian teaching.
The “F word” quit being funny for me, Billy, in the eighth grade. Why do I need to read it now? How does this kind of language help me understand or respect your father? Or you?
John Grisham’s The Broker is currently fourth on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list (Crystal’s 700 Sundays is 108). It deserves this ranking. It’s a good book about a “broker,” a lobbyist—not unlike Jack Abramoff, whose bribery and fraud scandal is lighting up Washington, D.C.—who makes a gazillion dollars bilking people of their money and buying influence on Capitol Hill. He and the excesses of the lobbying system do not make a pretty picture. John Grisham’s trademark slightly cynical look at our legal system is also on display.
And you will find a few, a very few, “bad words,” so not even Grisham writes a fully sanitized book. But he writes good fiction that does not depend upon titillating words or sexual scenarios to keep you interested. This from a man who once told an interviewer that he avoided such material because he wanted “to write a book my Mother could read.” I appreciate his efforts.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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