Review A Lesson Before Dying

I enjoyed a fabulous discussion somewhere (where?! –  do you know?) about reviewing styles and touches on the professional reviewer vs.  the casual ‘reader’ reviews.   I copied/cut&pasted this format.    I regret to say that I did not copy the link of the source post where I saw a comment from Ramya on what makes a good review…    Please, if anyone knows, I would appreciate the information.    Thank you Ramya for commenting this (her words in blue) – I give you full credit as my inspiration.

1. A picture of the cover. I go a lot by first impressions and most of the time, I am right.

Reader Review & Opinion  albdejg A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, Vintage Contemporaries Vintage Books 1993, 256 pages

2. A short summary of the book. This is very important for me. There are certain books I usually don’t like and I am not going to read further if this is one of them.

A young uneducated black man is accused of murder and sentenced to hang.   The young man’s elderly godmother encourages his cousin, the Negro teacher in town, to persuade the young man to go to his death with dignity.   The book asks the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” and explores how both men are changed by the experience.   Set in the deep South, late 1940s.

3. What the reviewer liked about the book – the cover, the writing style, the length, the characters.

I don’t often select books by their covers, certainly not this one.   I read this because I had heard the title as one being ‘important.’    I knew it as one that could be genre-fied to be African-American and the title definitely implies deep and heavy material.   (Yes and no – heavy but not difficult.)    I liked the book, the style was just fine  – – ugh, I am not good at critiquing style;  If it was not distracting and pulled me into the story = wonderful.   The characters were believable, the action and ideas interesting, the descriptions exact, real and not distracting.    The mood was not maudlin nor melancholy and not really angry exactly but reluctantly/resignedly hopeful – a book about death and futility yet with the realization that we are what we think we are and that dignity is personal.

4. What the reviewer didn’t like about the book (in many cases, this is more important than (3) but these days, with the advent of ARC*s, reviewers shy away from writing what they didn’t like about the book:(

I am rating this book THREE PIEs but I know that over time, I will like this book more and more.    I can’t find any faults with it.   I just didn’t experience that over the top emotional pull.     SPOILER?    Maybe once the connection happened, it transformed too quickly?    and yet, cerebrally, I don’t think it could have been played any better.     But, yea, maybe I didn’t quite buy the ending in that I wanted more about what happens to the teacher and that wasn’t the main point of the story.

5. Personal tidbits – I love a personal review. Most of the bloggers I visit often are my friends now and I love to read some personal detail about them in their review… my way of getting to know them better!

Why did I read this:    Because I saw in on a shelf at the discount store and love a bargain?     I allow books to call to me.    I do think that it is an important book.   I think it would be an excellent book discussion book – I know that I missed BIG THOUGHTS and would appreciate a few clubs over the head to ‘think about THIS’ and I know that I don’t have enough connections in my life to not be uncomfortable with the concept of race relations and don’t quite have an idea how to work that out.  [Whoa – that was an awkward but accurate sentence.]

I really want to see the movie.    I might have to have my own African-American Film Festival and watch this (starring Don Cheadle – one of my all time favorite actors, AND Mehki Phifer AND Cicely Tyson ) and Their Eyes Were Watching God with Halle Berry.

“I also believe that you are what you have to defend, and if you’re a black man that’s always going to be the bar against which you are judged, whether you want to align yourself with those themes or not.  You can think of yourself as a colourless person, but nobody else is gonna.”

– Don Cheadle, from his profile on

pieratingsml pieratingsml


* For your information – I never read *new* ARCs – sometimes I’ve read discarded old ones…   The only publisher-sent book** that I did read was so incredibly awful and offensive that I’m scarred for life.   I usually read books after the buzz and sometimes decades later.   I bounce around genres and themes and often fail my challenges because I read whatever and have a hard time sticking to a plan.      I felt the need to state this since the hot topic these days is free books and requests for positive reviews.     I’ve got so many books I want to read, I am boggled you guys sign up for this ARC heartache.   ARC-ache!?

** I didn’t even record the title but Raych read it and gave it the scathing review it deserved.


13 thoughts on “Review A Lesson Before Dying

  1. I don’t shy away from writing what I didn’t like about an ARC! I tell it like it is. But, yeah, ARCs can be more trouble than they’re worth. I have two stacks of them and I feel like I can never, ever catch up. I’m usually very careful about which titles I request, but I’ve gotten a few that were so awful I only mentioned them in my monthly wrap-up, and even then it pained me to do so.

  2. Hey, this was helpful. I am dabbling in “casual” reviewing but see there are elements I should include nonetheless. And I’m glad to hear that seeing the cover is important even though we were all taught otherwise!

  3. Ah, to explain: I was just referring to the old thing about “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But indeed, I do (to an extent!)

    Anyway, I misread what the review suggestions meant – yes, yes, include a picture of the cover! And you’re right – it adds to the text, breaks it up, adds a lot to it.

    1. oh! Yes, typical me – reading way too much into it? Of course! I thought you were saying we learned how to review books in some way. And I suppose we did. I’m sure I did a ton of book reviews in primary school. I don’t remember many.

      What’s fun about covers is that you can have a mental image of the book when you go to look for it! and some ARE just prettier than others. Or, you can see which version you read compared to someone else. And to consider the marketing efforts and if the cover does match the content/story line. etc and then some. I’ll stop now.

  4. I really liked your review of this one! I haven’t read it although I’ve been meaning to because it’s one of those “important” books but somehow I feel like I have to be in the mood for this story you know.

    Thank you very much! Mood is a funny thing, isn’t it? I am glad I read this.

  5. Good review! I read this a long time ago, when Oprah picked it (her book club was pretty new at the time). I remember thinking it was very good but I don’t remember too many details, so this was a nice refresher. Would probably be a good one for me to re-read, if I was the type to do that.

    Thank you! yes, I always say I want to do a re-read, but rarely do. Just not the type?

  6. I only gave this three out of five stars, but that’s because I thought the main guy was such a bloody ass and horrible teacher that I found the rest of the book’s message paled in comparison. That being said, I do want to try more of Gaines, because obviously he’s a great writer if he can get such a rise out of me!

    LOL! You are too cute.

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