Word by Word

Creating myself one word at a time.

Exploring the books from my past.

I went through this whole phase where I was a total book snob. If the author hadn’t been dead for at least 50 years, I wasn’t going to read it. In the last few years, I have returned to current day writing and I am so glad I did. There are fantastic writers giving the world amazing work.

There was a time before college, though, when I was reading current popular fiction. In high school I was a voracious reader with access to the entire school library as the library aid. Do you know how jealous the other students were that I got my hands on the new stock before they did? Yeah, they weren’t, but still.

John Grisham's The ChamberOne of the books I read my junior year was John Grisham’s The Chamber. I’d read The Client, The Pelican Brief (and loved this movie) and Time to Kill…well, I’d read most of his books published before The Chamber.

But, The Chamber was different. I felt this book and it’s topic in my gut. You want evidence of just how deeply? I still remember the day I finished it. Stupidly, I read the last pages on the bus home. As my bus pulled up to my stop the Panamanian afternoon rain started pouring. I trudged uphill in the rain forest sobbing. As I entered my house drenched and distraught, my dad saw me and immediately came to me.

“What’s wrong, Courtney?! Are you okay? What happened?”

“They…they killed him!”

“They killed him? Who killed who? Where did you see this?”

“No, no. They killed Sam.”

“Sam? Who is Sam?”

I thrust the book at my father. “Sam. I can’t believe they killed him.”

“You’re sobbing over a book? A book?”

And, I’m not sure I was crying because Sam died. I think I was crying for the choices: the choices that caused the brokenness for Sam, for his family and for his grandson Adam. In the end, Sam had made poor choices that took him down a very dark path.

“Look at me,” he said, glancing down at his legs. “A wretched old man in a red monkey suit. A convicted murderer about to be gassed like an animal. And look at you. A fine young man with a beautiful education and a bright future. Where in the world did I go wrong? What happened to me? I’ve spent my life hating people, and look what I have to show for it. You, you don’t hate anybody. And look where you’re headed. We have the same blood. Why am I here?”

This book did more for me than just highlighting how choices made today can impact many future tomorrows. In my world, I’d never given much thought to the death penalty and what it means. Grisham delivered a book that made you think about crime, punishment and the impact it has on society. Is state-sanctioned death murder? Who are the people on death row? What circumstances brought them to that point?

I would go on to explore more of these issues as I got older and studied political science in college. There have been fellow students who have gone on to write their doctoral dissertations on the subject. We’ve had lively debates and deep conversation on the subject. But, always in the back of my mind I’ve tried to remember that these are people. Granted, they are people who have made poor choices, but they are people with their own stories.

There are some who have committed heinous crimes, some who are on death row when they have been falsely convicted and some who once in jail have repented of their sins. As a society, we have to ask ourselves whether we believe that more violence will just beget more violence.

Those who believe that fiction does not have an impact, I offer you the example of The Chamber and its impact on me. I still remember it 17 years later.

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