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School reading: Tom Franklin on 'Jaws'

October 20, 2010 |  8:15 am

TomfranklinTom Franklin is the author of this fall's "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," part mystery thriller, part literary fiction. Set in rural Mississippi, it tells the story of two men in their 40s, one white, one black, and how their lives have intersected. Our critic, Sarah Weinman, says the book is "a wise and gripping account of manhood and boyhood that frames what we think we know in a greater context of revelation and surprise."

Franklin, who will appear in L.A. next month with "Mystic River's" Dennis Lehane, answers our questions about his favorite school reading. 

Jacket Copy: What was the most/least interesting book that you were assigned in school?

Tom Franklin: "Jaws." OK, not assigned per se, but I was given a book report, and chose "Jaws." I was rereading the sex scene with Hooper and Mrs. Brody when Mrs. S___ looked over my shoulder and caught me. She sent me to the library, where they had a Reader's Digest condensed-novel version of "Jaws."  It was cut down to a novella, with all the sex and gore gone, just pure story, actually a much better read. But I still wanted the sex.

JC: What grade/class were you in, and what was the name of your school?

TF: 7th. Clarke County High School, Grove Hill Ala.

JC: Did you read the book?

TF: Many times. The novelization once.

JC: What did you learn from it? Why does it stand out?

TF: I remember knowing the movie was better, and that was rare. Usually the book is.  But "Jaws" the movie is better the way the novelization was, the extra stuff, the fat, cut out. Plus the ending was way better. "Smile, you son of a ..." BOOM!

JC: Did you have to take a test on it, or write a paper? Do you remember what grade you got?

TF: Book report. Probably a B-

JC: Which teacher assigned it? Did she assign lots of good (or bad) reading?

TF: Mrs. S____.  Good reading, in the case of "Jaws."  In the case of "Silas Marner," not so sure. 

JC: If you were teaching that class today, what book would you assign your students?

TF: "True Grit." It's a perfect novel for almost any age. Every word, every quotation mark, is so true it makes my phantom wisdom teeth ache. It's a novel so deep you can swim in it forever. The Coen brothers are filming it now, with Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. That's the best news I've heard in a long time.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Tom Franklin. Credit: Maude Schuyler Clay