On a recent October afternoon, Scott Turow entered Evanston's Brothers K Coffeehouse, near his home on the north shore. Dressed in a Cubs cap and winter jacket, Turow walked up to the counter and ordered us coffee. No one stopped him, no one asked for an autograph. Turow seems to prefer it that way.
The best-selling author of Presumed Innocent, its 2010 sequel Innocent and nine other books, Turow has leaned on his experience as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago to create Kindle County, the fictional locale for his tales of legal intrigue, murder and deeply complicated protagonists. His work has been adapted on TV and on the silver screen, most notably 1990's Presumed Innocent, starring Harrison Ford.
Turow, an alumnus of New Trier Township High School, remains active in Chicagoland, as he continues to write here and practice law as a longstanding partner at SNR Denton, an international law firm.
In a wide-ranging interview, Turow talked about everything from his disagreements with Amazon.com to getting robbed at gunpoint.
In the section below, we offer a highlight of Turow's upcoming speech at Oak Park's Unity Temple on Oct. 25. But, since the author was kind enough to talk in-depth with Patch, we've edited the rest our conversation into four parts.
Part 2: Turow on his writing process, the book he's currently working on and the influence of Chicago writer Saul Bellow on his work.
Part 5: For fanatical Turow fans, we offer the longer, more complete interview.
Here, Turow takes on Amazon.com, predicts the future of ebooks and reflects on his time as a prosecutor.
Q: Can you give us a preview of your upcoming lecture?
Scott Turow: I will talk about the future of the book in the digital era and the many different threats that exist for our authors. And I’ll talk principally from the perspective of both the lawyer and author and president of The Authors Guild. I don’t think reading’s going to disappear. I don’t think books are going to disappear. The fact of the matter is that the e-book is such a huge economic winner for publishers, that they’re gonna drive things that way.
Q: What do you think about Amazon publishing its own authors?
Turow: I refer to Amazon as the Darth Vader of the publishing industry. I am very concerned about what they do. When I went to law school, I thought that kind of vertical integration, where the book seller also becomes the book publisher, I thought that was supposed to be against the law, but you know, it’s supposed to be an anti-trust violation, but I guess the anti-trust laws have evolved in a way that I haven’t thought of.
There are rumors that Amazon will offer books exclusively through Amazon.com, and given the disparities in capital between Amazon and the book publishers, this is an enormous threat because it’s the best-selling authors that keep the publishers afloat.
If Amazon goes out and makes an offer to Stephen King or John Grisham that they can’t refuse — they won’t completely sink their publishing houses, but they’ll put a hole in the hull. And the other problem with Amazon is that you worry that they will behave as a monopolist. They play the game so that they always win.
Q: What about the evolution of ebooks? There are authors--Neal Stephenson for example--who are making books with soundtracks and interactivity and mobile apps. Is that something you’re interested in?
Turow: I’m a novelist. I work with words. I don’t mean to sound like a real old dog who can’t learn new tricks, but I would not naturally feel expert enough to be putting a soundtrack with my novel. But I do think we’ll pretty quickly get to the point that, when you read a scholarly work, you’ll be able to jump to every source that it’s citing, and I think that’s great. And I think books and maps and pictures and probably film clips are going to be regularly embedded.
Q: ...You were intimately involved in Operation Greylord, which battled corrupt judges.
Turow: That blew me away. And that was a longtime Chicago tradition. And the bottom line was: You could not get more honorable people to sit on the bench in the Circuit Court of Cook County. There were some, like Marvin Aspen, who was eager as hell to get out of there for just that reason. And the other bad part was the people who didn’t participate just turned a blind eye because they knew when they came in there what was going to be going on. And they knew they had to accept it.
Q: And speaking of moral reckoning, there’s a confrontation at the end of Innocent in which a prosecutor says to a defendant, in essence, “Listen. I will not prosecute you, just tell me the real truth.” Is there a case in your life or a defendant that you would love to have that conversation with?
Turow: Yes, but I’m not gonna name him.
Q: Can you at least tell me circumstances?
Turow: One of the judges I convicted. This is somebody who I thought was a good guy. And I’d just like to know, you know, “What the hell happened? How could you be doing this?” Some people speculated it was gambling debts. I remember one person telling me that he probably needed the money to support his elderly parents. But I would just like to be able to say, “Why? I don’t get it.” But he always comes to mind as a kind of moral enigma, because I thought he was a very good guy.
Scott Turow will present the sixth Barbara Ballinger Lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 pm at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St. in Oak Park. A reception, book sale and signing will follow the lecture. The event is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 7 pm. The Main Library's parking garage will remain open through the reception.