John Grisham, 2001
Luther and Nora Krank are fed up with the chaos of Christmas. The endless shopping lists, the frenzied dashes through the mall, the hassle of decorating the tree... where has all the joy gone? This year, celebrating seems like too much effort. With their only child off in Peru, they decide that just this once, they'll skip the holidays. They spend their Christmas budget on a Caribbean cruise set to sail on December 25, and happily settle in for a restful holiday season free of rooftop snowmen and festive parties.
But the Kranks soon learn that their vacation from Christmas isn't much of a vacation at all, and that skipping the holidays has consequences they didn't bargain for...
A modern Christmas classic, Skipping Christmas is a charming and hilarious look at the mayhem and madness that have become ingrained in our holiday tradition. (From the publisher.)
A 2004 film version of the book, renamed Christmas with the Kranks, stars Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis.
• Birth—February 8, 1955
• Where—Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA
• Education—B.S., Mississippi State; J.D., University of Mississippi
• Currently—lives in Oxford, Mississippi and Albermarle, Virginia
John Ray Grisham, Jr. is an American lawyer, politician, and author, best known for his popular legal thrillers. He has written more than 25 novels, a short story collection (Ford County), two works of nonfiction, and a children's series.
Grisham's first bestseller was The Firm. Released in 1991, it sold more than seven million copies. The book was later adapted into a feature film, of the same name starring Tom Cruise in 1993, and a TV series in 2012 which "continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere and his family 10 years after the events of the film and novel." Eight of his other novels have also been adapted into films: The Chamber, The Client, A Painted House, The Pelican Brief, Skipping Christmas, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, and his first novel, A Time to Kill. His books have been translated into 29 languages and published worldwide.
As of 2008, his books had sold over 250 million copies worldwide. Grisham is one of only three authors to sell two million copies on a first printing; the others are Tom Clancy and J.K. Rowling.
Early life and education
Grisham, the second oldest of five siblings, was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Wanda Skidmore Grisham and John Grisham. His father was a construction worker and cotton farmer; his mother a homemaker. When Grisham was four years old, his family started traveling around the South, until they finally settled in Southaven in DeSoto County, Mississippi. As a child, Grisham wanted to be a baseball player. neither of his parents had advanced education, he was encouraged to read and prepare for college.
As a teenager, Grisham worked for a nursery watering bushes for $1.00 an hour. He was soon promoted to a fence crew for $1.50 an hour. At 16, Grisham took a job with a plumbing contractor. Through a contact of his father, he managed to find work on a highway asphalt crew in Mississippi at the age of 17.
It was during this time that an unfortunate incident made him think more seriously about college. A fight broke out among the crew with gunfire, and Grisham ran to the restroom for safety. He did not come out until after the police had "hauled away rednecks." He hitchhiked home and started thinking about college.
His next work was in retail, as a salesclerk in a department store men's underwear section, which he described as "humiliating." He decided to quit but stayed when he was offered a raise. He was given another raise after asking to be transferred to toys and then to appliances. A confrontation with a company spy posing as a customer convinced him to leave the store. By this time, Grisham was halfway through college.
He went to the Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi and later attended Delta State University in Cleveland. Grisham drifted so much during his time at the college that he changed colleges three times before completing a degree. He graduated from Mississippi State University in 1977, receiving a BS degree in accounting.
He later enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law planning to become a tax lawyer. But he was soon overcome by "the complexity and lunacy" of it. He decided to return to his hometown as a trial lawyer, but his interest shifted to general civil litigation. He graduated in 1983 with a JD degree.
Law and politics
Grisham practiced law for about a decade and also won election as a Democrat in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990 at an annual salary of $8,000. By his second term at the Mississippi state legislature, he was the vice-chairman of the Apportionment and Elections Committee and a member of several other committees.
With the success of his second book The Firm, published in 1991, Grisham gave up practicing law. He returned briefly in 1996 to fight for the family of a railroad worker who had been killed on the job. It was a commitment made to the family before leaving law to become a full-time writer. Grisham successfully argued his clients' case, earning them a jury award of $683,500—the biggest verdict of his career.
Grisham said that, sometime in the mid-1980s, he had been hanging around the court one day when he overheard a 12-year-old girl telling the jury how she been beaten and raped. Her story intrigued Grisham, so he began to watch the trial, noting how members of the jury wept during her testimony. It was then, Grisham later wrote in the New York Times, that a story was born. Musing over "what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants," Grisham took three years to complete his first book, A Time to Kill.
Finding a publisher was not easy. The book was rejected by 28 publishers before Wynwood Press, an unknown publisher, agreed to give it a modest 5,000-copy printing. It was published in June 1989. The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on his second novel, the story of an ambitious young attorney "lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared." The Firm remained on the the New York Times' bestseller list for 47 weeks and became the bestselling novel of 1991.
Beginning with A Painted House in 2001, the author broadened his focus from law to the more general rural South, but continued to write legal thrillers. He has also written sports fiction and comedy fiction.
In 2005, Grisham received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. The award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.
In 2010, Grisham started writing legal thrillers for children 9-12 years old. The books featured Theodore Boone, a 13-year-old boy, who gives his classmates legal advice—everything from rescuing impounded dogs to helping their parents prevent their house from being repossessed. His daughter, Shea, inspired him to write the Boone series.
Marriage and family
Grisham married Renee Jones in 1981, and the couple have two grown children together, Shea and Ty. The family spends their time in their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi, and their other home near Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Innocence Project
Grisham is a member of the Board of Directors of The Innocence Project, which campaigns to free unjustly convicted people on the basis of DNA evidence. The Innocence Project argues that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. Grisham has testified before Congress on behalf of the Project and appeared on Dateline on NBC, Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, and other programs. He also wrote for the New York Times in 2013 about an unjustly held prisoner at Guantanamo.
In 2007, former legal officials from Oklahoma filed a civil suit for libel against Grisham and two other authors. They claimed that Grisham and the others critical of Peterson and his prosecution of murder cases conspired to commit libel and generate publicity for themselves by portraying the plaintiffs in a false light and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. Grisham was named due to his publication of the non-fiction book, The Innocent Man. He examined the faults in the investigation and trial of defendants in the murder of a cocktail waitress in Ada, Oklahoma, and the exoneration by DNA evidence more than 12 years later of wrongfully convicted defendants Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. The judge dismissed the libel case after a year, saying, "The wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz must be discussed openly and with great vigor."
The Mississippi State University Libraries maintains the John Grisham Room, an archive containing materials related to his writings and to his tenure as Mississippi State Representative.
Grisham has a lifelong passion for baseball demonstrated partly by his support of Little League activities in both Oxford, Mississippi, and Charlottesville, Virginia. He wrote the original screenplay for and produced the 2004 baseball movie Mickey, starring Harry Connick, Jr. He remains a fan of Mississippi State University's baseball team and wrote about his ties to the university and the Left Field Lounge in the introduction for the book Dudy Noble Field: A Celebration of MSU Baseball.
In an October 2006 interview on the Charlie Rose Show, Grisham stated that he usually takes only six months to write a book and that his favorite author is John le Carre. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/6/2013.)
For all its clever curmudgeonly edge and minor charms, no way does this Christmas yarn from Grisham rank with A Christmas Carol, as the publisher claims. Nor does it rank with Grisham's own best work. The premise is terrific, as you'd expect from Grisham. Fed up with the commercial aspects of Christmas, particularly all the money spent, and alone for the holiday for the first time in decades (their daughter has just joined the Peace Corps), grumpy Luther Krank and his sweeter wife, Nora, decide to skip Christmas this year to forgo the gifts, the tree, the decorations, the cards, the parties and to spend the dollars saved on a 10-day Caribbean cruise. But as clever as this setup is, its elaboration is ho-hum. There's a good reason why nearly all classic Christmas tales rely on an element of fantasy, for, literarily at least, Christmas is a time of miracles. Grisham sticks to the mundane, however, and his story lacks magic for that. He does a smartly entertaining job of satirizing the usual Christmas frenzy, as Luther and Nora resist entreaties from various charities as well as increasing pressure from their neighbors (all sharply drawn, recognizable members of the generic all-American burb, the book's setting) to do up their house in the traditional way, including installing the giant Frosty that this year adorns the roof of every home on the block except theirs. And when something happens that prompts the Kranks to jump back into Christmas at the last minute, Grisham does slip in a celebration of the real spirit of Christmas, to the point of perhaps squeezing a tear or two from his most sentimental readers (even if he comes uncomfortably close to It's a Wonderful Life to do so). But it's too little, too late. The misanthropy in this short novel makes a good antidote to the more cloying Christmas tales, and the book is fun to read. To compare it to Dickens, however, is...humbug.
Accountant Luther Krank is a Scrooge for the new millennium. He calculates that he and his wife, Nora, can take a Caribbean cruise during Christmas for much less money than they spent during the previous year's Christmas season. But Luther doesn't just want to take a vacation during Christmas; he wants to take a vacation from Christmas and skip it altogether. This means that the Kranks will not buy a Christmas tree or calendar, put up any decorations, send any Christmas cards, give any gifts, or attend or host any parties much to the chagrin of their hyperfestive neighbors. However, an unexpected phone call at the last minute leads to a change in plans. Hilarity ensues, but the poignant conclusion is unforgettable. Grisham astutely captures the way many people spend the holiday season, from fighting the crowds to commenting on their neighbors' Christmas trees. A Painted House was Grisham's first departure from the legal thriller genre, and this further demonstrates his ability to tell a story with nary a courtroom in sight. Highly recommended for all public libraries. —Samantha J. Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
• How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
• Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
• Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)
Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Skipping Christmas:
1. This book has been called a "modern day Christmas classic." What does the term mean—what makes the book a "Christmas classic"? Do you agree that it is?
2. As you were reading the book, did you find yourself siding with the Kranks' decision to skip Christmas...or disgreeing with them?
3. What are your feelings toward the Christmas holidays? Has this book affected how you will view the season?
4. When friends and neighbors learn that the Kranks plan to skip Christmas, they try to convince them to change their minds. Why do the neighbors find the Kranks' plans so disturbing? Do you find the neighbors' interference appropriate ... or inappropriate?
5. When the Kranks learn Blair is returning from Peru for the holidays, they decide to cancel their cruise and celebrate the holidays as they had in the past. Yet they decided not to tell Blair what they had been planning. Why? Does it seem strange that parents would behave this way toward an adult child?
6. Have you seen Christmas with the Kranks, the 2004 film based on the book and starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis? If so, how does it compare to the book? If not, do you want to see it after having read the book?
7. Talk about the commercialization of the Christmas season. Do you agree with the Kranks that it's excessive and detracts from the true meaning of Christmas? Or do you feel that the holiday with all its commercial trappings is festive and exciting...that the Kranks are Scrooges...and that you need to take the good with the bad? (There's no "right" answer here....) Is it possible to avoid or escape the commercialism and still celebrate Christmas?
8. Once the Kranks change their plans with Blair's arrival, the neighbors pull together to help them pull off their traditional holiday celebration. Did your opinion of the neighbors change?
9. If you skipped Christmas, what would you miss the most? Alternatively...what would you enjoy the most?
10. Did you find this story enjoyable, even endearing? Or do you think John Grisham should stick to writing legal thrillers?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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