Ernest J. Gaines A Lesson Before Dying

Last updated date: October 29, 2019

DWYM Score
9.2


Why Trust The DWYM Score?

DWYM is your trusted product review source. Along with our in-house experts, our team analyzes thousands of product reviews from the most trusted websites. We then create one easy-to-understand score. Learn more.

Look for the DWYM seal for products that are the best in the category.

We looked at the top Oprah Book Club Books and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best Oprah Book Club Book you should buy.

Overall Take

This story about a young black man sentenced to the electric chair for a murder he didn't commit tackles antebellum attitudes and racial tension. Its lessons are, unfortunately, still poignant today. In our analysis of 130 expert reviews, the Ernest J. Gaines Ernest J. Gaines A Lesson Before Dying placed 2nd when we looked at the top 10 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

Editor's Note November 4, 2019:
Checkout The Best Oprah Book Club Book for a detailed review of all the top oprah book club books.

Expert Summarized Score
8.3
9 expert reviews
User Summarized Score
8.6
1,207 user reviews
Our Favorite Video Reviews
What experts liked
Another wonderful read by Gaines. Gaines is an author to be trusted, he knows exactly how to handle his reading audience. He sure can stir the emotions but he also stirs the mind.
- Good Reads
"This majestic, moving, novel is an instant classic, a book that will be read, discussed and taught beyond the rest of our lives." — Chicago Tribune
- Best Products
June 24, 2019 | Full review
Gaines's first novel in a decade may be his crowning achievement. In this restrained but eloquent narrative, addresses some of the major issues of race and identity in our time.
- Publishers Weekly
A powerful and moving novel which touches on man's inhumanity, but also allows us to witness small acts of humanity from the most unexpected sources. This book presents many moral dilemmas, and challenges the reader to experience a time and place in African American history that is all too real even today.
- ByBlacks
June 10, 2017 | Full review
By containing unbearably painful emotions within simple declarative sentences and everyday speech rhythms, Gaines has written a novel that is not only never maudlin, but approaches the spare beauty of a classic.
- Kirkus Reviews
May 20, 2010 | Full review
A novel that celebrates the moral heroism of two black men.
- Spirituality and Practice
Gaines paints a compelling portrait of the two men, locked in a struggle to obtain the dignity of manhood, before it’s too late.
- Kiss FM
A deep and compassionate novel about a young man who returns to 1940s Cajun country and visits a black youth on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Together they come to understand the heroism of resisting. This was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
- Spy
February 20, 2019 | Full review
Gaines's novel details what happens after Jefferson, a Black man, is the only survivor of a shooting that left one white store owner killed. Oprah announced this selection in 1997.
- The Oprah Magazine
September 23, 2019 | Full review
What experts didn't like
I'm really ashamed to say that I didn't like this book, as it is a greatly valued and important piece of literature. However, I just didn't.
- Good Reads

From The Manufacturer

From the author of A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman comes a deep and compassionate novel, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. A young man who returns to 1940s Cajun country to teach visits a black youth on death row for a crime he didn't commit. Together they come to understand the heroism of resisting.

Overall Product Rankings

1. Lisa Wingate Before We Were Yours
Overall Score: 9.5
Expert Reviews: 17
2. Ernest J. Gaines A Lesson Before Dying
Overall Score: 9.2
Expert Reviews: 9
3. K.L Randis Spilled Milk
Overall Score: 9.2
Expert Reviews: 4
4. Pearl S. Buck The Good Earth
Overall Score: 9.1
Expert Reviews: 7
5. Wally Lamb She’s Come Undone
Overall Score: 9.1
Expert Reviews: 9
6. Tayari Jones An American Marriage
Overall Score: 9.1
Expert Reviews: 29
7. Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex
Overall Score: 8.8
Expert Reviews: 7
8. Imbolo Mbue Behold the Dreamers
Overall Score: 8.6
Expert Reviews: 23
9. Inglath Cooper That Month in Tuscany
Overall Score: 8.3
Expert Reviews: 6
10. Lisa Grunwald Time After Time
Overall Score: 7.2
Expert Reviews: 10

An Overview On Oprah Book Club Books

Reading more books is a common personal goal, but it’s tough to accomplish without some good recommendations. In 1996, Oprah Winfrey decided that it was time to give her viewers some much-needed guidance on their next book choice.

Oprah’s Book Club started off as a new segment in Oprah’s hit daily talk show. She’d choose one book per month (usually a novel) for her viewers to devour and discuss. The segment was a massive hit, and Oprah’s power in the publishing world remains unsurpassed. One expert estimated that a recommendation by Oprah increased a book’s sales by 20 to 100 times the normal rate. 

During the club’s initial 15-year run, Oprah selected 70 books. They ranged from older classics, like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” to indie titles like Breena Clarke’s “River, Cross My Heart” and Tawni O’Dell’s “Back Roads.”

Oprah shuttered her original book club in 2011, but revived it in 2012 as an online version called Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Even with her long record of excellent recommendations, it might still be tricky to find an amazing book that works for you.

If it’s been a while since you last sat down with a book and you want to get the most for your money, take a hint from Socrates: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Your own interests and life experiences will dictate which books you’re drawn to and which ones you set down after the first chapter.

Do you have children who are growing into young adults (or are you reminiscing about your own adolescence)? A coming-of-age tale among Oprah’s picks might be a good fit for your bedside table. Interested in exploring your family’s roots? Look for a novel featuring people with your background set hundreds of years ago. Itching for a story from a powerful writer? Check out the Classics section on Amazon and immerse yourself in a legendary book. 

Of course, writing and reading are meant to build bridges. You’ll miss out if you only select stories that directly relate to your current or past experiences. Look for Oprah’s Book Club selections by authors from a different race, ethnicity or socioeconomic class to expand your horizons. Stories that you couldn’t even imagine experiencing will open your mind and create empathy for a broader, more inclusive look at the world.

Now that you have an overview of what Oprah’s Book Club was all about (plus some general book-choosing guidelines), trek on over to our Tips & Advice for more detailed information.

DYWM Fun Fact

Oprah’s Book Club reignited a love of reading for millions of people. However, things got tense for OBC fans in 2006. Oprah selected James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” for her club in September 2005, and readers couldn’t get enough of Frey’s memoir. It was a true account of his life as a drug addict, criminal and jailbird — or so Oprah thought. 

A few months after her stamp of approval (and after his book sold several million copies), critics began questioning Frey’s stories about his time in rehab and jail. As more accusations surfaced, Winfrey brought Frey back on her show in January 2006 and confronted him. After an intense exchange, Frey admitted that he’d lied about his time in jail and was unsure about other large sections of the book. Oprah also confronted Frey’s publisher Nan Talese on air, forcing her to admit that she hadn’t fact-checked Frey’s account. 

Oprah’s audience booed Frey, and she said that she felt “duped” and apologized to her viewers. However, Winfrey made a personal phone call to Frey in 2008 and apologized for the on-air brawl. The bad book blood was put to bed, but viewers never forgot “Frey Day.”

The Oprah Book Club Book Buying Guide

  • Making room in your life for more reading is admirable, but life doesn’t always want to cooperate. Take a realistic look at how much free time you have before you invest in a 500-page novel. It’s better on your psyche (and your wallet) if you choose a shorter book that you actually have time to complete.
  • That being said, a book’s physical length isn’t always the best indicator of how much time you’ll have to devote to reading it. Short books with complex language, difficult vocabulary and challenging themes can take much longer to read than lengthy books with shorter sentences and quicker action. You can get a sense of a book’s difficulty from the free, short samples that Amazon provides for most of its books.
  • A great book combines a riveting plot with deep, well-developed characters, but many stories lean more heavily on one of those components than the other. Books that are more driven by plot usually (but not always) move a little faster as you read them. Books that lean on character development and move forward by drawing you into the fold of a character’s mind might seem a bit slower. Many readers prefer one over the other, but both types of literature become riveting in the hands of a deft author.
  • Oprah’s recommendations are meant for adults, so the language and themes might not be appropriate for younger readers. If you’ve got kids in the house, give them age-appropriate books so you can bond over reading without exposing them to a book they’re not ready for. 
  • To ebook or not to ebook? That’s the eternal question of the digital age. Choosing an Oprah’s Book Club title in ebook form has a lot of benefits. You can tote it around with your entire library of books in one slim e-reader, so it’s much easier to take with you while traveling. It won’t take up tons of space in your home either — that’s a relief for anyone who’s tried to pack and move shelves full of books. You’ll also save some paper by forgoing a traditional book. However, you might want to go for a physical copy if you have a job that requires staring at a screen all day. Your eyes get tired without a break from screens, and you’ll do your vision a favor by reading a paper book. Traditional books also look lovely in your home.