A Time To Kill vs. To Kill A Mockingbird
Besides a similarity in titles, there’s not a whole lot in common between A Time to Kill by John Grisham and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. First of all, both books have great titles. It’s tough to mess up a book title when you put the words “To Kill” in it. Adding the words “To Kill” will improve almost any book title. If Gone Girl had been Gone To Kill the Girl, the novel might have won a Pulitzer. If The Goldfinch had been To Kill The Goldfinch, it might have won a Pulitzer AND the Nobel Prize.
If you’ve got a book and you’re not sure what to title it, just throw in the words “To Kill,” and you’re set. The only catch is that you can only use that trick once. If Harper Lee had titled her sequel/prequel To Kill a Watchman, it would have set off a bunch of literary alarms.
Even without the words “to kill” in the title, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a bestseller before it’s even come out. I don’t buy books before they come out, no matter how much I’m looking forward to them. I don’t like paying for something before I’ve had a chance to check out the quality of it. I don’t give contractors money before they do work. I don’t pay for a car until I’ve inspected and test driven it. I’m not going to buy a book until I’ve read a few pages of it myself. It’s not that I don’t trust Harper Lee; I don’t trust her estate.
John Grisham is almost the opposite of Harper Lee. Unlike Harper Lee, John Grisham writes a lot of books. The books don’t win (m)any awards, but they sell a lot of copies. I read several John Grisham books in the 1990s, but other than The Firm and A Time To Kill, I don’t remember anything about them, except there was one where a lawyer took on a corrupt corporation about something. And I think there was another one where the guy on Death Row was innocent, but that might have been a different author. There are a bunch of legal thrillers where the guy on Death Row is innocent.
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. It’s that as teenagers, we had to work to read them, and teenagers hate(d) it when reading is (was) work.
The one book that was universally thought of to be an exception (at my school anyway) 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 having seen the movie. I’ve never heard anybody complain that To Kill a Mockingbird sucked, and in middle/high school I was surrounded by friends who were happy to declare that books sucked.
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
A Time To Kill hadn’t been written yet when I was in school, but I’ve still heard several people claim that it sucks.
According to literary legends early in the 1990s, 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 just okay, an easy-to-read novel with a bunch of one-dimensional characters and blatantly manipulative melodrama. It was a brilliant public relations campaign to convince the reading public otherwise.
HARPER LEE vs. JOHN GRISHAM
Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and that was it, as far as we knew for 50+ years. 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) hanging for a long time before publishing her sequel/prequel Go Set a Watchman. Maybe the sequel will be worth it
John Grisham followed up The Firm (a pretty good book) with a bunch of mediocre novels, but almost everything he writes turns into a best-seller.
To Kill a Mockingbird: An American classic.
A Time to Kill: Some of the lower tier cable companies still occasionally show it.
GREGORY PECK vs. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
A couple decades ago when Hollywood declared Mathew McConaughey as the next great leading man, A Time to Kill was one of his early starring roles, but hardly anybody remembers the lead character’s name. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Everybody remembers Atticus Finch.
Gregory Peck: one of the greatest American actors of all time!
Mathew McConaughey: decent actor who looks great with his shirt off. I don’t remember if he took his shirt off in A Time to Kill.
Maybe, just maybe, Mathew McConaughey had better pecks than Gregory Peck. I don’t think I’ve seen Gregory Peck’s pecks, but they were probably s(peck)tacular.
If you have some time to kill, don’t read A Time to Kill; read To Kill a Mockingbird. If you don’t have time to read it, then watch the movie.
What do you think? What book would you like to add the words “To Kill” to? Have you bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman yet? Do you ever preorder books? Are you the one person who thinks To Kill a Mockingbird sucks? Do you think A Time to Kill is better than To Kill A Mockingbird?
A few years ago, I wrote about the exact same topic. Most of the words are the same, but I took a slightly different approach to the topic. I’m not proud of it.