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A Time To Kill vs. To Kill A Mockingbird

July 10, 2015
Adding "To Kill" makes almost any title a little better.

Adding “To Kill” makes almost any title a little better.

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 ForestA Separate PeaceThe 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.

THE MOVIES

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.

WHICH ONE?

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.

39 Comments
  1. I liked that both books have a lawyer helping and protecting someone who is an underdog. A black man is accused in A Time to Kill and a slow nearly homeless man is helped due to a false accusation in To Kill A Mockingbird. I am not sure why you felt John Grisham didn’t make interesting characters. I liked both of these books for different reasons. . . 🙂

    • Agree with reorachran, I liked both these books. Sure, To Kill a Mockingbird is the memorable one, but doesn’t mean A Time to Kill was bad. It’s just that my expectations were different.

    • ” I am not sure why you felt John Grisham didn’t make interesting characters.”-

      Maybe I was in the wrong mood when I read A Time To Kill. People say I can be hyper-critical sometimes, especially with bestselling novels.

  2. Personally I have not read a time to kill, However I have read to kill a mockingbird twice both times in school, once in middle school and the other in high school. To Kill a Mockingbird in my opinion does not suck in fact it gives such a different point of view from what people are use to seeing nowadays, but the life lessons still remain you cannot simply believe someone is guilty based on the color of their skin, just like you cannot judge a book by its cover. (in the beginning of having to read To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought it was going to be about a bird….very surprised when it wasn’t). Although I do believe the person who commented before me either got a little jumbled with their typing, or they mistook one book for the other while typing. (: enjoyed reading this post. cant wait for more.

    • In the movie of A Time to Kill, you mat be right but the father of girl who got raped is black, too. Samuel Jackson played the one Matthew McConaughey defends. He was great in his role.

  3. New approach is much improved. But more importantly I wanted to be sure you know that Brick & Mortar is doing another James Patterson day on July 26. You do with that info what you will, it just seems like something I must make you aware of, if you aren’t already.

  4. To Kill A Mockingbird will always get my vote. Even now, I sometimes read it again and again. I have pre-ordered Go Set A Watchmen. My thoughts were along the lines of even if it’s horrible, I have to own it! Great comparison; it breaks my heart that innocent people still get punished for crimes they did not commit.

    • I just read about the first chapter being released today (and book reviews are already coming out). It looks like Go Set A Watchman is going to be SHOCKING!!! SHOCKING, I tell you!

  5. Reblogged this on OPTIMISM.

  6. If it makes you feel any better, earlier this year I read A Brave New World for the first time and I hated it, too. Well, maybe not so much hated it as was thoroughly unimpressed.

    • Brave New World is one of those books I was going to reread as an adult. I don’t trust most of the opinions that I formed in junior high and high school.

  7. Very interesting. I love Mockingbird and am curious about the sequel so I’ve preordered it too. I’m just mentally preparing myself for the fact that I might be disappointed!

    • Spoilers are out already. If you don’t want to know anything, stay off of Twitter or any other site that might give away SHOCKING revelations.

  8. Andy Weir: To Kill a Martian

    Would have become a bestseller years before. No doubt about it.

    • You’re right. To Kill a Martian is a much better title. At least The Martian is still getting some attention now, even if the title isn’t as catchy as it could have been.

  9. I disliked Brave New World in high school because it was disgusting….I’m not a prude, but implying the idea of kids having sex was just flat-out disturbing and kinda uncalled for. I liked 1984 though, which was somewhat similar to Brave New World, but still much more believable and cleaner in my opinion.

    But yeah, I pre-ordered Go Set A Watchman as well, even though the only time I pre-ordered before reading a book was Harry Potter lol. Oh the good old days…

  10. Reblogged this on themonkseal.

  11. I always felt that “A Time To Kill” was an attempt to write a homage to “To Kill A Mockingbird” from the POV of Atticus Finch. I don’t have anything to back that up–to the best of my knowledge Grisham never said anything to indicate it. But there are parallels in the plots that feel deliberate.

    I agree that “To Kill” would improve any number of titles. “To Kill The Great Gatsby”, for example, might actually be worth reading.

  12. To Kill David Copperfield
    (A Tale of )Two Cities To Kill
    To Kill Great Expectations…
    the possibilities are endless.

    This was great.

  13. I saw the movie A Time To Kill (didn’t read the book. I don’t like Grisham) and though I always been a fan of Samuel L. Jackson (when he’s doing other rules than being Shaft) It was a speech from Matthew Mcconaughey that is engraved in my memory. It goes like this: Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.

    To kill A Mocking Bird I didn’t see nor read. But I saw a very touching movie based on real life of a feral child named Genie with a Mockingbird in the title. I think it’s Mockingbird don’t sing.

  14. LOL To Kill Musical Youth, To Kill The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude To Kill in the Moonlight, To Kill Oh Gad!… just trying out your ‘kill’ theory with my books…I see what you mean. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my forever classics…love that book… so I clicked on this link originally because it seemed so out there to even put it in the same book bin as A Time To Kill (and I’m not hating on Grisham…I thoroughly enjoyed The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, and, yes, A Time to Kill back in the day). But as one of the commenters has said there is a loose sort of connection, both with strong protagonist lawyers fighting the good fight against a blatant racial wrong… still, yeah, Harper Lee dropped the mic on To Kill a Mockinbird (it’s in a class by itself and it holds up in ways A Time to Kill, good for its time, doesn’t). Even so, like you, I’m not inclined to buy her new book sight unseen.

    • “Dancing Nude To Kill in the Moonlight”-

      This might be going too far. Adding the word “Nude” in a book title automatically makes it better too. I don’t think you’re supposed to combine both “To Kill” AND “Nude” in the same book title. I mean, it’s not official or anything, but it might be frowned upon. Or I might just be making that up.

  15. I would suggest that you didn’t dislike Odyssey, but rather the translation. I

    I, too, don’t pre-order books, but I recently broke that rule and ordered The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett; I had two reasons for doing this:

    First, I made a little extra money and was told to “buy something nice for myself.”

    Second, Sir Terry passed away, and this will be the very last novel in his Discworld series.

  16. Nice article. I have yet to read Mockingbird, only seen the movie, but your article is enlightening.

  17. Follow my blog! First time blogger and in need of more bloggers! Thank you! Peace and love! ✌

  18. Lovely comparison. I love both books but To Kill A Mockingbird has a special place in my heart. I think because the first time I read it I struggled through it (elementary school struggles) but I can truly appreciate the life lessons that both bring to readers, especially young readers.

  19. I just pre-ordered Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. We were in an MFA program together, and it’s a retelling of the Cinderella story, which I love, so I had two reasons to pre-order it. I also pre-ordered Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, but those are the only times I’ve gotten a book early.

    Book Title Suggestions:

    Sex & To Kill in the City by Candace Bushnell
    To Kill Unaccompanied Minors by Alden Jones
    It’s Probably Nothing…To Kill by Micki Myers
    An Age of License to Kill by Lucy Knisley
    Scoot Over To Kill Skinny: A Fat Fiction Anthology edited by Donna Jarrell
    and lastly…
    Why Be Happy To Kill When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

  20. I am pretty sure that the Iliad would have sold much better if Homer had called it “Kill Achill”.

  21. Call me Cordelia permalink

    I enjoyed both books and both movies; “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a timeless classic but “A Time to Kill” is just good. I do enjoy the ATTK movie version, but when I read it I enjoyed the story more (and was unpleasantly surprised at what was changed for the movie). Samuel L. Jackson’s performance was spectacular!

  22. How about a mash up?
    ‘A Time to Kill Christian Grey’? Maybe I should send this to E.L James – give her a hint?

    Have never read any Grisham, so it’s unfair of me to say but the film of TKAMB wins hands down, as does Atticus Finch over … whatever the hell Matthew McC’s character is called. Finch is so full of intergrity, such a decent human being – he’s everything all of us should want to be without being annoying or sanctimonious.

    Great comparison, by the way.
    What’s next? ‘A Tale of Two Citties’ VS ‘The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle’?
    ‘Pride and Prejudice’ VS ‘Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies’?

    • A Time to Kill Christian Grey would probably sell a lot of copies. People who would never read a 50 Shades book might read A Time To Kill Christian Grey. I might even read that one.

      • I’d sign up to buy a copy at the mere suggestion of it being written. Might not be able to bring myself to read it, though – don’t want that dirty devil lounging around my head, even if he is deceased 🙂

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