What I Read: A Lesson Before Dying

 3/5 Pineapples

(Back to pineapples we go :))

What I Read: A Lesson Before Dying

I wanted nothing more than to love this book.

Ernest Gaines wowed me with "A Long Day in November." I walked away from that story thinking, "dang, I wish I could write like that." I walked away from A Lesson Before Dying thinking "wait...what happened?"

After I've thought about it for a few days I can't help but think... nothing.

It's the plot's fault. The characters were solid, the language great. But it wasn't until chapter 21 that I felt like things started happening. Twenty-one out of 31 chapters. Before that chapter, the book was mostly about the narrator, Grant Wiggins. Grant whines and complains about being "stuck" in his community and wants nothing more than to just marry his girlfriend and leave Louisiana. It's a very flat story line, and not what I read this book to hear about.

I read this book because I wanted to know about Jefferson, the young African-American sentenced to death for, essentially, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wanted to better understand incarceration of young black men in the 1940s in order to put the problem today in perspective. Alas, that did not happen.

Until chapter 21, Jefferson wants nothing to do with people. He sits in his cell feeling sorry for himself (rightfully so), but hurts the people who love him. I really didn't like his character through the first two-thirds of the book. The sympathy I felt for him at the beginning was swept away by his selfishness.

Then, all of a sudden, his death date is set. And BAM- Jefferson is a new man. Just like that.LessonBeforeDying2

I was really confused why he suddenly talked to Grant, why he suddenly decided he was willing to eat, and why he suddenly stopped calling himself a pig over and over. The rising action to this climax simply wasn't there, since Gaines had spent most of the time on Grant and his woes.

After those first 20 chapters, however, I did get into the book. Jefferson became sympathetic, Grant took his "Nick Carraway" role, and I started to feel something for these people. By the end of the book, I was left frustrated and anxious. I can't exactly explain why (no spoilers here :)), but looking at the end of Jefferson's story, I wondered if American injustice will ever change.

The end was the only glimmer that helped me to understand today's messed up "justice" system. Gaines wrote this in 1993; he wanted readers to look at more than just the 1940s south. Yet due to this book's "first-draft" feel, I didn't get the powerful takeaway I expected.

What do you think of A Lesson Before Dying? I might be the only crazy person for feeling this way about a classic, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Below the Line:

  • My "back-to-school" series is coming at you next week! I'm starting with a college post freshmen are definitely going to want to check out.
  • Went on a reading spree the past few days while I was traveling. Look for a We Were Liars review coming soon!
  • I had a half-day trip to San Francisco while I was in California this past week. It was a ton of fun! But my goodness, those hills...unlike any hills this Hoosier has ever seen. Let me know if you'd like to see a post on this trip below :)

My To-Read Books of the Summer

To-Read Books Over the school year, I slowly collect any and all books I want to read on my Goodreads "to-read" shelf, waiting for their time to be moved to "currently reading." I start the summer with a mile-long list of books I'm thrilled to read and the excitement of getting to read books I actually want to read. By the time the end of August comes around, however, most of them are left on that "to-read" page for the next year. And I just feel sad.

So: I've decided to make a solid list of the books I can conceivably read this summer, in the hopes that I can not only stay on track for my 50 books in 2014 goal, but not feel so defeated when it's time for school again and many books remain unread. If I can check off at least one list of books, I'll feel a lot better about the countless others left waiting for another year, another time in my life. Hooray for short-term goals!

So, without further ado- the list:

  • Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi. I saw a lot of great reviews for this book, and with a cover that beautiful how could I resist? (My friend Danielle will tell you, I'm a huge judge of book covers). But the plot sounds pretty intriguing too and it's a long book- perfect for the summer when I can continuously read a book for a long period of time.
  • A Lesson Before DyingErnest Gaines. My mom has recommended a lot of books to me lately, both from her collection and my sister's really great school summer reading list. I loved Gaines' novella "A Long Day in November," so I really want to read one of his novels. I recently purchased A Lesson Before Dying at the resale bookstore in my city, so it's definitely getting picked up this summer.
  • The Bean TreesBarbara Kingsolver. Another author I read last semester is Kingsolver, who as a writer really fascinates me. I've only read her essays so far, and I want to get into her fiction. I thought I would start with a shorter novel than The Posionwood Bible before getting too committed, but if this goes well you might see next summer's list start with another Kingsolver novel.
  • Mrs. DallowayVirginia Woolf. I want to like Virginia Woolf sooo bad. But after my struggle with and ultimate defeat by To the Lighthouse, I just wasn't so sure if Woolf was the author for me. But she's so important in the female writer world, I'm going to give her as many chances as it takes! My mom recommended Mrs. Dalloway as a good take two, in conjunction with Michael Cunningham's The Hours. We'll see how this one goes, but I'm determined to actually finish it- I hate leaving books behind, half-read.
  • We Were LiarsE. Lockhart. Basically, I'm just really intrigued about this one. It's gotten a lot of hype, but I'm always nervous about young adult novels (they can swing in all sorts of directions, as far as quality of the novel goes). Is it good, is it bad? Is it really that mysterious? I'm curious enough to figure it out for myself.

So there you have it, the five books I want to be sure to read this summer. I'm currently reading Cry, the Beloved Country (um, AMAZING so far, by the way) and once that is complete I will start my mission to read all of these books. What books are you trying to read this summer?