From well-known poet and memoirist Hall (Their Ancient Glittering
Eyes, 1992, etc.), a meditation-memoir on the theme of work that
becomes something much more when, midway through the writing, the
author learns he has cancer. At 63, Hall is mightily productive in
poetry, memoir, essay, letter, story, and review, and he sets out
to devote part of each working day (for Hall, there are seven of
these a week) to writing this book, its title bespeaking its theme.
In 1975, we learn, Hall gave up teaching and became a full-time
writer, retiring to the farm in Vermont that had once belonged to
his grandparents. As the book begins, Hall mourns the recent death
of a close friend, preacher, and hard worker; settles on a
definition of productive work as a state of "absorbedness"; touches
on history, family, his own literary output, his great love of the
work he does, the number of revisions he puts poems through, what
time he gets up, what he eats for breakfast and lunch, even when he
walks the dog and drops manuscripts off with the typist. A phone
call changes the tone of all of this when a routine blood test
shows a recurrence of cancer and sends the poet into surgery. A
couple of weeks later, facing both chemotherapy and newly
diminished odds for living more than another few years, Hall picks
up his narrative and - keeps going. Under the deepened shadow of
mortality, he writes with eloquent simplicity about the
old-fashioned working farm-life of his Vermont grandparents, the
declining health of his aging mother, and - with a consummate and
moving poise - his father's unhappiness in his own work, and his
early death from cancer. History, life, work, art, dedication,
love, and courage - all without becoming saccharine or smug or
maudlin, in a treasurable small book, poetic in its plainness,
about how to live well. (Kirkus Reviews)
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1993
Distinguished poet Donald Hall reflects on the meaning of work,
solitude, and love.
"The best new book I have read this year, of extraordinary nobility
and wisdom. It will remain with me always."
-Louis Begley, The New York Times
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