RELATED CATEGORIES

All Categories

Too Late to Die Young Nearly True Tales from a Life

Harriet McBryde Johnson

Picador

0312425716

9780312425715

Trade Paperback

272 Pages

$18.00

Request Exam Copy Request Desk Copy
Due to a congenital neuromuscular disease, lawyer and activist Harriet McBryde Johnson has never been able to walk, dress, or bathe without assistance. With help, however, she manages to take on the world. From the streets of Havana, where she covers an international disability rights conference, to the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, to an auditorium at Princeton, where she defends her right to live to philosopher Peter Singer, Johnson lives a life on her own terms. Along the way, she defies and debunks every popular assumption about disability. This unconventional memoir opens with a lyrical meditation on death and ends with a tough sermon on pleasure. In between, readers encounter the tales Johnson most enjoys telling from her own life—important tales to be told and shared and learned from; stories that matter. Too Late to Die Young is not a book "about disability" but it is nevertheless certain to surprise and enlighten anyone who thinks life with a severe disability is inherently worse than another kind of life.

REVIEWS

Praise for Too Late to Die Young

"There is a small but discrete literature by writers who have experienced personal or family tragedy: William Styron on his depression, Reynolds Price on his paraplegia, Kenzaburo Oe on his brain-damaged son . . . To read these stories can deepen everyone's humanity. Too Late to Die Young can proudly take its place among these other books."—The Washington Post Book World
 
"Too Late to Die Young is a wonderful mix: a keen mind, exuberance, activist politics, along with a special brand of Southern women's wit."—Adrienne Rich

"Masterfully paced and structured . . . Too Late to Die Young serves as both a memoir and a kind of revolutionary act itself."—Mary Johnson, Ragged Edge Online
 
"Johnson is armed with in-depth knowledge of the law (especially disability law), and she's not afraid to use it . . . [Her] rich, descriptive writing, humor, and Southern cadence make the book entertaining, thought-provoking, and meaningful. Light and funny essays lead into more contemplative ones . . . The stories she writes tell of a very interesting life with some incredible occurrences. That, of course, is her point. Johnson is not suffering, not miserable; she's here, and she's having a good, productive time."—Jennifer Krist, The Post and Courier (Charleston)
 
"She insists on being her own complicated lady, a Southern lady, for instance, as well as a socialist, an atheist, a lawyer, and a born storyteller with a wicked sense of humor . . . But her writing is so vibrant, so interesting, and so funny that you can't help but feel as if you're in her world, sitting beside her and hearing her story for yourself."—The Tampa Tribune
 
"A remarkable portrait of a woman who is proof that the disabled can live lives filled with purpose and pleasure."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
"As a seven-year-old diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease that required her to use a wheelchair, recalls Johnson, she found Jerry Lewis's Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) telethon imbued with such a sense of pity and doom that she felt she must die young. Now a feisty middle-aged attorney and disabilities rights activist still using a wheelchair, she realizes that it is 'too late to die young' and continues the advocacy that early exposure to the 'pity approach' inspired. Her honest and engrossing memoir is full of lively vignettes that reflect her experiences as she takes on the nondisabled world with bravado, stubbornness, and a bit of Southern charm. From her first demonstration against the MDA telethon to her celebrated debate with Peter Singer of Harvard, who has stated that killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person, this lady pulls no punches. An entertaining look at an activist who insists on living life her way, disability or no; strongly recommended for most collections."—Ann Forister, Roseville, California, Library Journal (starred review)
 
"It's hard to believe that one Charleston, S.C., woman, from the seat of her wheelchair, has faced off President Reagan's Secret Service detail, disrupted a National Democratic convention, joined disability advocates in Cuba and—for 13 years straight—protested the Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon. Indeed, folks with a sentimental attachment to 'Jerry's kids' should start at chapter one, where Johnson explains how it felt as a youngster to watch a televised 'childhood death sentence' every year. Johnson, who was born with a congenital neuromuscular disease, wants kids with disabilities to grow up 'prepared to survive,' not merely waiting to die. Equally problematic for the spirited lawyer are media heroes like the late Christopher Reeve, who revived 'telethon melodrama' by displaying himself as 'a disability object, presumably tragic but brave, someone to gawk at.' Johnson, whose law practice specializes in disability advocacy, has a personal assistant, a motorized wheelchair and a supportive circle of family and friends that make her active, satisfying life possible. Readers inclined to feel sorry for people with disabilities, to offer them prayers or a pat on the head—Johnson has endured both—should spare them the very real burden of providing 'disability awareness training to everyone who happens by,' and read Johnson's feisty book instead."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

BACK

BOOK EXCERPTS

Read an Excerpt

Harriet McBryde Johnson has been a lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, since 1985. Her solo practice emphasizes benefits and civil rights claims for poor and working people with disabilities. For more than twenty-five years, she has been active in the struggle for social justice, especially disability rights. She holds the world endurance record (fourteen years without interruption) for protesting the Jerry Lewis telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She served the City of Charleston Democratic Party for eleven years, first as secretary and then as chair. She is a frequent contributor
Read the full excerpt
BACK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Harriet McBryde Johnson

  • Harriet McBryde Johnson has been a lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, since 1985. Her solo practice emphasizes benefits and civil rights claims for poor and working people with disabilities. For more than twenty-five years, she has been active in the struggle for social justice, especially disability rights. Johnson holds the world endurance record (thirteen years without interruption) for protesting the Jerry Lewis telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She served the City of Charleston Democratic Party for eleven years, first as secretary, then as chair. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and to the disability press.
BACK

READING GUIDE

OTHER GUIDES

Reading Group Guide
BACK