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 "A sustained meditation on work as the key to personal happiness. . . .Life Workreads most of all like a first-person psychological novel with a poet named Donald Hall as its protagonist. . . . Hall's particular talents ultimately are for the memoir, a genre in which he has few living equals. In his hands the memoir is only partially an autobiographical genre. He pours both his full critical intelligence and poetic sensibility into the form."-Dana Gioia,Los Angeles Times "Hall . . . here offers a meditative look at his life as a writer in a spare and beautifully crafted memoir. Devoted to his art, Hall can barely wait for the sun to rise each morning so that he can begin the task of shaping words."-Publishers Weekly(starred review) "I am delighted and moved by Donald Hall'sLife Work, his autobiographical tribute to sheer work--as distinguished from labor--as the most satisfying and ennobling of activities, whether one is writing, canning vegetables or playing a dung fork on a New Hampshire farm."-Paul Fussell,The Boston Globe "Donald Hall'sLife Workhas been strangely gripping, what with his daily to do lists, his ruminations on the sublimating power of work. Hall has written so much about that house in New Hampshire where he lives that I'm beginning to think of it less as a place than a state of mind. I find it odd that a creative mind can work with such Spartan organization (he describes waiting for the alarm to go off at 4-45 AM, so eager is he to get to his desk) at such a mysterious activity (making a poem work) without getting in the way of itself."-John Freeman's blog (National Book Critics Circle Board President)
Since 1975, Hall has been a free-lance writer, working at home, which is on the farm of his maternal great-grandparents in New Hampshire. Throughout these essays, he ruminates on the connection between his love of writing and his grandfather’s love of farming. “It is the family farm . . . that provides a model for my own work; one task after another, all day all year, and every task different.”
Hall loves to redraft the things he writes. With one poem, “Another Elergy,” he talks about doing 600 drafts of it over a number of years. "I am swept away: I am happy; I am manic. . . . Who else counts the number of drafts?" Later he talks about helping his grandfather with scythe mowing on the farm. “Finding a meter, one abandons oneself to the swing of it; one surrenders oneself to the guidance of object and task, where worker and work are one: There is something ecstatic about mowing with a scythe.”
For Hall, "contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are working." He regrets that his own father hated his work doing the bookkeeping for his father’s dairy business. He wanted to teach but succumbed to the pressure to join the family business. “It pains me to think of my father's work. . . . He always loathed his work at the dairy. . . . He detested what he did.”
Fortunately, for Hall his father made sure this would never happen to him. “He hated what he did and I love what I do. Opposites are never accidental. He shook his fist over my cradle, I was always told, saying, ‘He'll do what he wants to do’--and he stuck to it years later even when it turned out to be poetry that I wanted to do.”
This is an outstanding book and the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is because the second half is not as good as the first. This is understandable--Hall finds out his cancer has returned and isn’t sure how long he has to live. Luckily, for us, he is still here 17 years later. Highly recommended--4 1/2 stars--and one of my favorite books of 2010.