2. A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines
“A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines (Vintage, 256 pp.) is told from the perspective of Grant Wiggins, an educated schoolteacher enlisted to instill pride and dignity into an innocent man facing the death penalty. Although they both come from the same African American community, the two men could not be more different. Grant’s initial reluctance to transform his charge falls away as the novel approaches its deeply touching conclusion.