Dear Mr. Grisham,
This fan letter mostly likely brings nothing new to your table; just another reader, or worse—writer wannabe, expressing his gratitude and admiration for your body of work. While I expect this will end up unread in your personal slush pile, or perhaps if you are so inclined, read and responded to by an intern, I understand.
I was first introduced to your writing when I purchased The Firm in paperback. Great book. It felt as if my favorite writer at the time, Joseph Wambaugh, had traded in his cop cred for that of an attorney. Next for me was The Pelican Brief followed by A Time to Kill. I was hooked. Taut legal thrillers with a social conscience—magnificent!
I continued reading your books for several years, enthralled by your plotlines and the tension they created, forcing me to examine my own values on the social issues of our time. Your legal knowledge, sharp mind and ability to create interesting characters that a layperson could relate to ensured you remained at the top of the bestseller list. Then sadly, I lost interest.
This is not at all an indictment on your writing, it’s just that every time I saw one of your new books, (and God knows you are a prolific writer), my initial thought was, been there-read that. So I started exploring other writers, many in genres I had previously ignored. Some I loved, others not so much, but overall I felt as if I was growing as a reader and hopefully, as a writer.
Then one day I saw A Painted House at the bookstore and it stopped me in my tracks. I reread the by-line and it was clearly you, though the title didn’t sound very lawyerly. I waited until I could purchase it at Half Priced Books, (sorry-it was the economy!), and I loved it. To me it felt very Steinbeck-esque. I particularly enjoyed the way you humanized the characters through baseball, in this case, the St. Louis Cardinals and Stan the Man Musial.
I again moved on to other writers until one day at the library, I saw Bleachers on audiobook. Another non-legal sounding title by the greatest legal writer of our time; I was intrigued. Your story, about a dying high school football coach and the former players returning to pay homage, brought me back to a time in the 70’s where, having moved to a small town, I was immersed in the passion that is high school football. Three consecutive years our small school (A when most of the competition was AA and AAA) went undefeated. It brought unity to our town during a period when the country was divided by Vietnam, the decline of the American automobile industry and Watergate.
Recently the coach during that period, and for many more at our small school, was honored with a statue at the re-dedication of a refurbished field. Former players returned in groves to honor the man that had so influenced their young lives. It felt good—the antipathy of what occurred at Penn State. I was glad he was alive to see it…he has since passed.
Your next book that captivated me was Playing for Pizza. What a wonderful story. Your protagonist, a NFL quarterback exiled for blowing a playoff game for the Cleveland Browns, is convinced to play in Italy until things settle down. It is there that he discovers the important things in life; good food, good friends, family, and a passion for the game. Perhaps it was my own three years spent in Italy during my early Air Force days that enamored me, but I will freely admit that it is one of my all-time favorites.
Finally, you wrote Calico Joe. This time your protagonist is a major league baseball player in 1973. I listened to this on audiobook in my car, not wanting to shut it off to go into work and excited each morning to revisit that world on my way home. Perhaps I was so enthralled because you write of a time that was magical in my life. This fictional account of a rookie phenom embodies the person I wanted to be; a gifted athlete performing unprecedented levels of greatness.
In 1973 I was thirteen years old and listening religiously to radio broadcasts of the Big Red Machine, a team you rightfully mention in Calico Joe as the most dominant team of the 70’s. I vividly remember the players you mention in the book, not just in the Reds but also the teams Joe played for and against. His nemesis, the Mets, defeated my Reds in the 1973 playoffs; a series tainted by the brawl initiated when the cowardly Bud Harrelson attacked Pete Rose after a hard slide at second base.
It was a great time to be a Reds fan and a baseball fan. It was a special time, pre-steroids, pre-strikes and more than a decade before Pete’s fall from grace. It was the time of innocence—if not for the game, then for myself. A time when all dreams, hopes and aspirations were still possible and the realities of the world had yet to manifest themselves to me.
So in closing I want to thank you for your writing, especially for what I will call the sports books. Critics may not praise them as much as your legal thrillers, but for me they are even better. Why? Because you are writing with your heart instead of your head…and in the process awakened mine.
In this time of a deeply divided nation, we once again call upon you to help us remember, help us heal, help us reunite. I look forward to your next sports story.
Process Efficiency Manager by day and daydreamer by nature. Tom, wife Andrea and their ‘Gumbert Mountain Kitties’ live in a log cabin overlooking the Ohio River near an Adena Burial Mound. Tom feels fortunate to have had his writing published alongside that of his literary heroes in a variety literary magazines including Riggwelter Press, The Sunlight Press, Five:2:One, Mystery Tribune and Anti-Heroin Chic.