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To Kill a Mockingbird vs. A Time to Kill

February 6, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I remember reading (and hating) a lot of books in junior high and high school.  Students universally hated A Light in the Forest, A Separate Peace, The Odyssey, and even Brave New World.  It’s not that they were bad books.  That’s a different debate.  It’s that as teenagers, we had to work to read them, and teenagers hate(d) it when reading is (was) work.

There was one book that was universally thought of to be an exception (at my school anyway), and that book was… Massage Parlor by Jennifer Sills.

Man, we loved Massage Parlor.  It was completely different from anything we had ever read in school.  It dealt with topics that no other book ever had.  From the very first page, we were gripped by the intensity of…

Okay, I’m kidding.  Massage Parlor (maybe it was Massage Parlor II) got passed around a lot (by boys), but it was not in my school’s curriculum.

C’mon, this isn’t exactly a dramatic opening.  The novel that everybody respected was To Kill a Mockingbird.  I’m not saying everybody liked To Kill a Mockingbird, but everybody at least respected To Kill a Mockingbird.  And this was at a time when kids weren’t allowed to watch movies in school.  We liked (and respected) it without seeing the movie.


Every worthwhile synopsis of To Kill a Mockingbird has already been written a hundred times over.  On the other hand, A Time to Kill is not worth a synopsis.

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

Literary legends in the 1990s claimed that A Time to Kill was John Grisham’s first novel, but no publishers would buy it.  It was only after The Firm became a monster hit (kind of deservedly so… it was a pretty good book) that A Time to Kill was published and a bunch of critics and readers were fooled into thinking it had been a travesty that the publishing world had passed over such an inspired first time effort.

I think the truth (not the legend) was that A Time to Kill was published a couple years before The Firm, but so few copies were printed that it was like not being published at all.

Either way, the publishers had it right the first time.  A Time to Kill was dreck, with the worst of one-dimensional characters and blatantly manipulative melodrama.  It was a brilliant public relations campaign to convince the reading public otherwise.


Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and that was it.  Even though an adoring public wished for more, Harper Lee left us (she hasn’t “left” us, if you think that’s what I meant) with one classic.  Always leave your audience wanting more.

John Grisham followed up The Firm (a pretty good book) with a bunch of mediocre novels.  I kind of wish he had stopped with The Firm.


To Kill a Mockingbird just came out in blu-ray, and supposedly it’s one of the few movies (especially old black and white ones) where picture quality makes a huge difference.  I don’t care.  I’d watch it, no matter how grainy the visual quality was.

I think A Time to Kill came out on dvd.  A couple cable stations even still run it every once in a while.  I’m not sure if it will come out in blu-ray.


Remember a couple decades ago when Hollywood was trying to pass off Mathew McConaughey as the next great leading man?  A Time to Kill was one of his early starring roles, but I don’t remember the lead character’s name.  Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an America...

Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch before Matthew McConaughey was even a gleam in… you know what I mean. Image via Wikipedia

Yeah, this is not a fair comparison.

Gregory Peck:  one of the greatest American actors of all time!

Mathew McConaughey: decent actor who looked great with his shirt off (at least, that’s what women told me).

Really, the only way you could compare Mathew McConaughey with Gregory Peck is to say that Mathew McConaughey had better pecks than Gregory Peck.  To be fair, I don’t think I’ve seen Gregory Peck’s pecks, but they were probably s(peck)tacular.

Go ahead.  Just punch me in the face right now… in a metaphorical way.


If you have some time to kill, don’t read A Time to Kill (yeah, just punch me in the face again); read To Kill a Mockingbird.  If you don’t have time to read it, then watch the movie.

I found an old copy of Massage Parlor II a few years ago.  It wasn’t as good as I remembered.   Man, stuff like that can be really disappointing.


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