If You've Never Read Anything By John Grisham, Here's The Book You Should Start With

The following article includes references to sexual assault.

Every autumn, the leaves change color, pumpkin spice pops up everywhere, and a new John Grisham legal thriller hits the best-seller lists. Grisham didn't dream of being an author. As a child growing up in Mississippi, he contemplated a career as a professional baseball player. Eventually, he settled on law school and became a criminal and personal injury lawyer (per Biography). "I had a lot of trouble saying no and therefore I never made that much money," he told The Guardian. "I represented real people, poor people, who often couldn't afford to pay a lawyer, but still had problems."

At the age of 28, he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives — but his political career was far from illustrious. "I didn't do any damage in my eight years, but there's not much of a record to brag about," he admitted to The New York Times Magazine. While working long weeks as a lawyer and politician, he took up a new pastime: writing a novel. "I would write for an hour or so each morning, then start to work. My goal was simply to finish the first manuscript. It was only a hobby, a very secret one," he said to The Book Reporter. That hobby has resulted in dozens of novels, plus some short stories, novellas, nonfiction, and kids' books.

If you're new to Grisham's work, where should you start?

A Time to Kill was John Grisham's first novel

In 1984, John Grisham watched the trial of a man who had brutally raped two young sisters. "It was one of those crimes you never forget," he told The Clarion-Ledger. Gut-wrenching testimony from the younger sister started Grisham thinking about what the girls' father might do for revenge if given the chance. That became the kernel of inspiration for his first novel, "A Time to Kill."

Writing the book was not an easy experience for Grisham. "Several times, I went a month or so without touching it. My wife always encouraged me to keep going," he explained to The Strand Magazine.

It took him three years to finish, then he received dozens of rejection letters before placing it with a small publisher. "Eventually 5,000 hardback copies were printed and I was thrilled. But they did not sell out, it did not get a second edition, it was not published in paperback or picked up for foreign rights," he said to The Guardian.

Despite this lackluster reception, Grisham has confessed a special fondness for the first of his published works. "It's impossible to rank them," he recalled to The Independent. "'A Time to Kill' will always be a favorite because of how it all started."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

His best-known novel is The Firm

Though many readers now consider "A Time to Kill" to be John Grisham's best book, it was his second novel that catapulted him onto the public stage. "When I finished 'The Firm,' I had no publishing contract because my first book was such a flop. For the first six months after 'The Firm' was finished no publisher wanted to buy it. However, my wife always believed that it would be a 'big book,'" he told The Strand Magazine.

Eventually, "The Firm" did find a publisher, and the novel became an instant hit. It remained on 1991 best-seller lists alongside titles by the likes of Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and Mary Higgins Clark (per Publishers Weekly). Kirkus called the book "terrifically exciting and likable" and said that Grisham "writes a stripped, cliche-free page that grips and propels." The compelling story about a tax lawyer who gets entangled in mob dealings was made into a 1993 movie starring Tom Cruise (and, almost 20 years later, into a TV series).

"'The Firm' set me free," Grisham told The Independent. "It found a market real fast, became popular, then went nuts when the movie came out. Suddenly I was bored with the practice of law and realized I could make more money writing about it." He was delighted to leave the 80-hour workweeks behind and embrace his new career as a novelist.

Hollywood has adapted many of his books

Either "A Time to Kill" or "The Firm" is a great first taste of John Grisham's writing, but truly, it's hard to go wrong with any of the master storyteller's more than 40 books. The author still focuses mainly on legal thrillers that keep readers frantically turning pages, but he's also branched out into sports books such as "Sooley" (about basketball) and "Calico Joe" (about baseball). His "Theodore Boone" books for kids focus on a 13-year-old aspiring lawyer who solves crimes.

"I love working on the books I write. It's never felt like a job," he told The Washington Post. And Hollywood certainly adores Grisham's stories. His first two novels were both adapted into successful movies, along with "The Pelican Brief," "The Client," "The Chamber," "The Rainmaker," and more (per IMDb). "I want all of my books adapted to film," Grisham said (via The Independent). "Who doesn't enjoy a good movie or series? I've been lucky with Hollywood: great directors, big name casts, good films."

And all those movies have certainly been good for Grisham's finances. Celebrity Net Worth estimates that he pulls in about $50 million a year and has a net worth of $400 million. "My name became a brand and I'd love to say it was the plan from the start," he said to The Guardian. "But the only plan was to keep writing books. And I've stuck to that ever since."