Saturday, November 18, 2006

Life is So Good

Life is So Good by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
"The old man who could not read lives alone in a house that is small and square, in an area that some people call the ghetto....The old man got by until 1996, when a young man knocked on his door and said he was recruiting people for the Adult Basic Education classes at the old high school.

"'I've been alone for ten years,' the old man told him. 'I'm tired of fishing. It's time to learn to read.'" (Seattle Times, Larry Bingham, February 1. 1998)
Recently I read It Doesn't Take a Genius (McCutcheon and Lindsey), a book about which I've yet to blog, a student in a forensics class was searching for the perfect selection to present in the final round of the national forensics tournament as a dramatic interpretation. He found it in the book Life is So Good, an autobiogarphy about the life of an Afro-American man who learned to read at 98 years old and wrote his autobiography when he was 102 years old. So, on to another book off my scheduled, but ever-changing, reading list.

Life is So Good, George Dawson recounts his life which spans parts of three centuries, offering an insightful look into typical life of Afro-Americans in the post-Civil War era into and through the 20th century. Through his story, we see how life changes and how it stays the same for Afro-Americans. Early in the book, George describes the first lynching he witnessed. Then as we follow him as a boy who grew up with the necessity of hard work and never knowing anything different, he forms an excellent and admirable work ethic from which he profits throughout his long life. When he reaches his early twenties, George decides that he wants to see the world beyond his little Texas hometown and spends several years traveling to and working in different places in the U.S. The last few chapters of the book elaborate on why and how George Dawson learned to read and write beginning at age 98.Life is So Good is a profitable book that gives the reader a glimpse into a common life, a profitable life in spite of hurdles, and a contented life for which we often strive, all bound up into one remarkable human being. I am adding this book to my required high school reading list which also contains Gifted Hands and The Big Picture by renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson, incidently another Afro-American.

Excerpts from Life is So Good:

"Funny how death can bring out the nicest side in some folks. Mr. Little wasn't given to praise. Any other day I would have had to work hard not to get too prideful from such words coming from him. That day, I heard the kindness in his voice toward me, but the words didn't do much. That moment was as close as we could ever get to all of us just being people --- not colored and white people, just people."
George's father's mantra:
"Papa got a serious look and said, 'Always remember, a man is born to die. A man is born to die.'"

"[George] said, 'The children wanted to know what life was like.'
"[His son] said, 'They don't have any idea how rough it was.'
"[George replies], 'Or how good it was either! People forget that a picture ain't made from just one color. Life ain't all good or all bad. It's full of everything.'"
"Some people are growing children, not raising children, and there's a big difference."
Conversation between co-author Richard Glaubman and George Dawson:
[Dawson] "I'm glad you came too. It all worked out after that."

[Glaubman] "It has, but it didn't get any easier for me at first. I only focused on the story and I had a direction in mind for that. And at first, I asked the right questions and got just the answers that I wanted and expected. Then you gave me an answer that threw me off the track. I remembered that you had to leave your family at age twelve to work for less than a dollar fifty a week. I gave you the opportunity to tell me what you would do if you saw that man, Mr. Little, today. I was looking to give you the chance to voice your anger, to share your outrage about losing your childhood."

"Except that I don't have any anger."

"I know. Your answer wasn't what I expected and the rest of my questions didn't make sense anymore. I had come to record a life of hardship and was not prepared to hear of gratitude. I lost my story and had to start over and return for another visit."
Life is So Good is an excellent book that you will not regret reading.


Poiema said...

I love your book recommendations! Can't wait to read this one.

Carol in Oregon said...

Janie, this sounds excellent. I can't imagine learning to read at 98. We always talk about raising "lifetime learners" -- what a wonderful example of an adventurous spirit.

Wouldn't it be such a privilege to speak with Mr. Dawson?