Arts & Culture

A Southern Survey with John Grisham

The mega-best-selling author dishes on his favorite cookbooks, the Mississippi haunt that started it all, and why he won’t describe his new book in one sentence

Photo: Donald Johnson/The New York Times

Author John Grisham.

Here’s the thing—the John Grisham faithful will read his new book, no matter what. The titan of thrillers, Grisham could write about margarine and make it riveting. Thankfully, The Boys from Biloxi hits all the very best Grisham buzzwords: Southern, family, revenge, crime, and punishment. 

Set in Mississippi, Biloxi explores the dark underworld of a resort town, following two families’ intertwining sagas of violence and redemption from the 1960s onward. We asked the author to describe the book in one sentence, but he wouldn’t. We asked him to describe it in one word, and he got a little cheeky. Read on for our friendly-fire interrogation.

What have you been reading lately?

A lot of stuff you don’t want to read. Books about criminal injustice. Research.

What have you been watching lately?

Foyle’s War. The Adams series based on David McCullough’s book. Lots of college football.

Describe your new book in one sentence:

It’s 450 pages long—no way.

Describe your new book in one word:


Something that’s giving you hope lately?

We produce enough food in this country to feed everyone, then some. Childhood hunger is a huge problem but one that is solvable.

Something that’s made you laugh lately?

My six-year-old grandson has just informed me that he has retired from both baseball and soccer and will play only golf.

Read any good cookbooks recently?

Lots of ’em. Renee [his wife] and I love to read cookbooks. Lunch in Provence; Ashley Christensen’s Poole’s; Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table; all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks; Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking.

Something delicious you ate recently:

Duck confit with pommes frites and goat cheese salad on a sidewalk café in Paris. The kind of meal that Peter Mayle described as one “that the French take for granted and tourists remember for years.”

Bourbon or sweet tea?

Neither. I’m a wine guy.

Favorite Southern scent:

Moon flowers. Renee has them planted all over the farm.

A classic you reread from time to time:

The Grapes of Wrath.

Oak tree or magnolia?


What does “Bless your heart” mean?

It means that you are so harmlessly stupid that you have no idea how stupid you really are.

What’s a good name for a dog?

Scout. Our current mutt.

Something about the South that people get wrong all the time:

The Southern accent. You got it or you don’t.

A stereotype about the South that does hold true:

Life moves a bit slower, thankfully.

Your favorite place in Florida and why:

Amelia Island. It’s really Southern and laid back and unlike most of Florida. Plus, great beaches. [Read Grisham’s G&G ode to Amelia Island here.]

Your favorite place in New Orleans and why:

The Superdome. Last April. The Final Four, semifinals. Watching with great delight as the Tar Heels beat Duke again.

Your favorite place in Mississippi and why:

Oxford, the upstairs porch at Square Books. Where it all started.