Thursday, February 28, 2002

Thoughts from the selection panel: Why we chose this book

        Here is what members of the On the Same Page selection committee have to say about A Lesson Before Dying:

        “I believe it is a good idea for Cincinnati to read A Lesson Before Dying for several reasons, but none more important than helping to establish a larger sense of community.

        “A common reading assignment like this will enable us to invest in a meaningful message about the primacy of human dignity and how we elevate one another through our shared commitments.

        “A Lesson Before Dying provides a focal point for a dialogue about shared human values that unite us in spite of our differences.

        “Communities are built when we share common values and aspirations and when the dialogue is robust. Unfortunately, we have too few shared experiences of this nature. As a result, the current dialogue is one of conflict, one that weakens the fabric of our community.

        “A Lesson Before Dying has great meaning to me personally. I read this book last year with my twin sons, Jeremy and Joshua (Sycamore High School seniors), as a father/son reading project, and it had a profound impact on us.

        “We found ourselves having many different conversations about the meaning of life, how to live and die with dignity, how to achieve the just society, and our collective responsibilities to one another, etc.

        “When I informed Jeremy and Joshua that A Lesson Before Dying had been chosen for the On the Same Page project, their eyes lit up and we immediately picked up on the conversations that we had last year.

        “I am confident this book will have the same impact on Cincinnati, and it will give us an opportunity to dialogue about our shared humanity.”

        — Mitchel D. Livingston, vice president, Student Affairs & Human Resources, University of Cincinnati


        “A Lesson Before Dying is a harsh examination of what it means to be human, to have dignity. It is a moving and disturbing book that forces the reader to think about the insidiousness of racism.

        “I think that honest discussions of the issues raised and recognition of those things we all share, such as our need for community, for dignity and respect, have the potential to lead us to view each other as human beings first, regardless of race.

        “This is not an easy book to read, but it is an important book.”

        — Becky Kennedy, branch manager, Mariemont Branch, Public Library of Cincinnati and & Hamilton County


        “One of the main attractions about this book is its author, Ernest Gaines. Here is a gentleman who is open about himself, about race, about manhood, about emotions. This is a man who listed his career as “writing, five hours a day, five days a week.”

        “His ego is not massive, or even assertive, in his writings. No, his compassion, his talent for making other people care, loom large in his work.

        “Mr. Gaines' books are about justice, about the lessons we can learn from history, but they're also about real human beings dealing with other real human beings — not racial archetypes.

        “When we read A Lesson Before Dying, we won't forget what we've learned.”

        — Denise Smith Amos, columnist, The Cincinnati Enquirer


        “The task of helping to choose the book that Cincinnatians will read and discuss was exciting; however, it was equally daunting to choose a book that would resonate with the largest number of people and would linger long after the last page.

        “While there were a number of nonfiction titles that certainly fit those criteria, A Lesson Before Dying worked so well as a fiction choice. It raised as many questions as it answered; it redefined the term “hero,” it examines the many faces of prejudice and lovingly portrays examples of dignity without reaching for easy sentimentality.

        “Our city will be well served by spending time On The Same Page with Ernest Gaines.”

        — Janet Koehne, master bookseller, Joseph-Beth Booksellers


        “The story is tense, confrontational and insightful.

        “I hope that we in the Cincinnati metropolitan area will read A Lesson Before Dying and find the parallels between the book and our racially divided communities.”

        — Carolyn Kindle, Hughes Center librarian cq


        “It's a disturbing book. It's a book that makes you question. It's a book that makes you think. . . .

        “It's wonderful writing that I'm sure many people will appreciate.

        “I think that folks will be able to discuss A Lesson Before Dying on a lot of levels and that we, as a community, will be elevated by what it has to say.

        “It will be a very good discussion book. I am excited that so many people will be challenged by it.”

        — J.C. Morgan, Kenton County Library cq


        “A Lesson Before Dying wasn't my first choice for On the Same Page, but the story is one that will certainly touch and inspire many Tristate readers.

        The most striking thing about the novel is the fact that while both of the main characters are imprisoned, one by society and one by the penal system, they both eventually learn what it takes to be a man.”

        — Amanda Boyd, managing editor, Cincinnati Magazine

        Local libraries and bookstores are stocking extra copies of the book, and there will be many opportunities to join in book discussions. To find out more about the project and how you can become involved, visit the Web site www.Cincinnati.Com/bookclub.


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