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The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon
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The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  451 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
A candid memoir of love, art, and grief from a celebrated man of letters, United States poet laureate Donald Hall

In an intimate record of his twenty-three-year marriage to poet Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall recounts the rich pleasures and the unforeseen trials of their shared life. The couple made a home at their New England farmhouse, where they rejoiced in rituals of writing,
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 8th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 2005)
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Apr 29, 2008 Ruth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have, for quite some time, been fascinated by the Jane Kenyon/Donald Hall marriage and its tragic end. I came to it through JK's poems, which I continue to find deep and yet deceptively simple. I didn't find her until just after she died.

When DH published his book Without I bought it immediately. However, I was somewhat disappointed. While some of the poems were deeply affecting, I found others to be closer to just a flat out retelling of the events around Jane's death.

When I saw DH read about
Aug 15, 2011 Carol rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: survivors, poetry lovers
Recommended to Carol by: Borders Liquidation Sale

Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be
Pmalcpoet Pat Malcolm
Jul 12, 2009 Pmalcpoet Pat Malcolm rated it it was amazing
This is among my favorite books. Donald Hall's stark portrait of his own grief has allowed me to feel the cherishment that existed within their relationship. This gift they gave one another is framed within the minutiae of everyday living, heightening the sense of their bonds of love and mutual respect for the reader. For me, it was an opportunity to gain some limited emotional access to a kind of relationship I've always believed to exist, but which I've not experienced in my own life. Poetic w ...more
Dec 10, 2015 Susanne rated it it was amazing
A close friend always remarks about Jane Kenyon's poetry - and I'm not even familiar with her work. (now I am) So, when I came across this book, I just downloaded it. This was not an easy book to read, but it is one of the most impactful books I've read recently. The book is from Donald Hall's , Jane's husband, perspective as he cares for his wife, Jane, during her battle with leukemia. He's writing posthumously - you know that from the outset; what works so well is that interspersed with chapte ...more
May 09, 2012 Nan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir-bio, favorites
No one, with the possible exception of C.S. Lewis, writes about the loss of a spouse as accurately and movingly as Donald Hall. Gave it four stars last week, thought about it more, and raised it to five. That good.
3.5 stars

I have a dream/fantasy of being half of a literary couple. Of living a literary life. My husband, who self-identifies as a blue collar worker, generally doesn't play along. But there are isolated moments when we read a book aloud together, or sit at the table of an evening and both work on a writing project. We have fun discussions, wading in the current of ideas, exchanging quotations, exploring thoughts out to their conclusions.

This kind of book fuels those dreams. It's a sad book of
Jan 01, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it
Best poets: worst memoir. Love the poetry of Jane Kenyon, like the poetry of Donald Hall (except for his collection Without, which I personally could have done Without), but the tedious details in this book are only for scholars of the couple and/or their marriage. Which makes me sound hard-hearted, given the topic.....I guess maybe I am....not really though. I just want the author to do the work of selecting the details that should have meaning for readers, not cataloging all of them.
Apr 24, 2008 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Donald Hall, who was U.S. poet laureate a few years back, released this book shortly after the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon. It's mostly a memoir of their love affair, but it's honest enough that it doesn't feel gushy. I loved it, and I plan on reading it again.
Nov 16, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Donald Hall was a poet laureate of the U.S. I had read his book Work about the rhythms of his day regarding writing, reading, and analysis, and quite enjoyed it. That experience influenced me to pick up this book that traces his 23-year marriage to Jane Kenyon, also a poet. Alternating chapters cover year one through about year 21 of their time together. The other chapters discuss the 18 months from her diagnosis of cancer until her death. This is a very intimate view of their marriage, to the p ...more
Feb 21, 2015 Jan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A devastating love story

I haven't read poetry in a long time, but Donald Hall's account of his 20-year marriage to fellow poet Jane Kenyon was so beautiful it inspired me to do so again, and I immediately found a book of Kenyon's collected works, and will continue reading Hall. This is a lovely, lovely account of a marriage and life of a devoted couple through their meeting, love affair, marriage and life together, and also about Kenyon's battle with leukemia, which she eventually lost to the di
Feb 17, 2015 Belle rated it it was amazing
Just yes.
May 11, 2016 Cynthia rated it it was amazing
The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon by Donald Hall

This was a difficult book to read, but at the same time it was sweet and tender. Older poet, a professor, meets younger poet, a student. They marry. They enjoy nearly twenty years together, living, with their cats and dog, their books and typewriters, in an old New Hampshire farmhouse that had belonged to the husband’s family for three generations. One day the wife was diagnosed with leukemia. She lived for fifteen more months, unde
Ellen Keim
Mar 25, 2015 Ellen Keim rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
I've only read one other book by Donald Hall (Essays After Eighty) and neither book was poetry, which he is best known for. I plan to remedy that in the future, especially after having been introduced to his nonfiction. His writing intrigues me: he is very detailed, almost to the point of making his prose too cluttered, but he redeems himself by inserting observations and bits that show that he was never lost in the details; that, in fact, he was just noticing things more closely than some (most ...more
Christy S
Jan 27, 2014 Christy S rated it really liked it
I was going through my library’s biography and memoir collection, and almost got rid of this one: no one had checked it out much, or in several years, and we need room for things that will check out much, and this year. Instead I took it home on a whim… was it the cover I liked? The synopsis? Maybe I read a page or two and enjoyed Hall’s narrative.

I am not a reader of poetry, and so I didn’t read this book for know the names of the poets Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall. I am often drawn to books abo
Jun 30, 2015 Reese added it
Shelves: favorite-memoirs
1977: I read in a rhetoric/reader Donald Hall's "An Ethic of Clarity," and I immediately became a Donald Hall fan. Jane Who?

1993: I watched A LIFE TOGETHER, a Bill Moyers documentary about Hall and Kenyon; and Kenyon's reading of her poem "Otherwise" made me a Jane Kenyon fan. Donald Hall had recently undergone surgery to remove cancer in his liver, a metastasis of previously treated colon cancer; and in "Otherwise," Kenyon's anticipation of the loss of her beloved is hitched to her appreciation
Andrew Sydlik
Apr 13, 2011 Andrew Sydlik rated it it was amazing
Absolutely heartbreaking….A powerful account of Donald Hall’s and Jane Kenyon’s lives together, especially dealing with Kenyon’s leukemia in the last few years of her life. I decided to read this after being awed by Kenyon’s Collected Poems, which often reference incidents or aspects of life mentioned here. I am also reading Hall’s Without (not too familiar with his work), a poetry collection focused on Kenyon’s last days (as well as other losses they experience during that time, such as the dea ...more
Nancy (essayist)
Aug 10, 2013 Nancy (essayist) rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I don't know what to make of this book. I didn't know much about Hall or Kenyon before reading it. The title popped up as a recommendation because I'd read Joan Didion's "Blue Nights," but if you're looking for a spare, elliptical memoir like that, . . . well, this isn't it. In some ways this is a very old-school kind of autobiography with reports of visits and travels that sometimes just pass by in a blur. And while this is clearly a book about Hall and Kenyon's relationship, I did wonder what ...more
Sally Rosen Kindred
Jun 16, 2008 Sally Rosen Kindred rated it really liked it
While this book will have more meaning to readers of Kenyon's and Hall's poetry--and I suggest at a minimum, reading Kenyon's _Otherwise_ and Hall's _Without_ for a better sense of context before beginning--I thought it was a remarkable memoir of a marriage of artistic minds committed to living in many ways outside of modern consumer society, and an intimate portrait of a life together and the loss of that life.

The structure of the book is particularly powerful: Hall juxtaposes chapters on thei
Judith Hannan
Mar 17, 2013 Judith Hannan rated it it was amazing
I first read this book a couple of years ago when I was putting together a marketing plan for my own book, also a narrative that has at its center a medical story but which reaches far beyond to become a tale of family and relationships. I decided to read it again because I missed so much during my initial scan; I'm glad I did. I have followed Hall for some time, not only for his writing but for a very non-literary reason--I spent my weekends and summers at a home in New Hampshire very near Hal ...more
May 23, 2012 Krista rated it really liked it
I read Hall's Unpacking the Boxes late last year, and was a little disappointed to find out that he didn't really spend much time on his marriage to Jane Kenyon - that was in a different book (this one). The two were originally intended to be one book, but editors thought it better to separate them. I can see the benefits of the two volumes being separate, but I can't really think of them distinctly. While I really appreciated both, The Best Day is a much more painful read; if you have had famil ...more
Oct 08, 2007 Carissa rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who enjoy wallowing in deliciously sad memoirs
Shelves: finished
I haven't read much of his work, but I like what I know of Donald Hall. Former U.S. poet laureate, gifted poet and essayist, husband of the late New Hampshire poet laureate Jane Kenyon.

This book is a memoir of his life with Jane, his beloved wife. She died in 1995 after a long struggle with leukemia.

The clarity that Hall brings to the documentation of his wife's demise is heart-rending. I find it fascinating to watch a writer deal with his own grief in such a lucid manner. (Come to think of it
Mary Raihofer
Jun 09, 2009 Mary Raihofer rated it it was amazing
I was first introduced to the work of Donald Hall when one of his titles caught my attention - "Unpacking the Boxes." Upon reading the book, I made the acquaintance of his wife, the poet and writer Jane Kenyon. I became fascinated by the woman who while a student at Michigan took one of his poetry courses and became hooked on poetry and writing. Having written some poetry myself, I am fascinated by how someone shapes their craft and writing style. "Unpacking the Boxes" is the story of how Donald ...more
Feb 23, 2015 Angela rated it really liked it
This a fabulous book! The love between Kenyon and Hall is inspiring. I really liked how he portrayed how the seemingly mundane events of every day life really were actually the foundation of their love. The concept of "the third thing" caused me to fold down the page to go back and re-read.

I actually went out and got two books of Kenyon's poetry and have been reading her work alongside this memoir. I highly recommend that as much of it is referenced.

I was a little confused about the last parag
Jan 10, 2010 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Donald Hall's book about life with Jane Kenyon is a worthwhile read. The style of writing felt odd initially, not exactly elegant prose. Instead Hall writes a clipped chronicle, almost a list at times of the things the two did during their time together. I found it a bit disconcerting at first, having especially admired Hall's Life Work which was beautifully constructed prose. Was the man getting old? Losing his proficiency with words?

No, I decided as I read on and found myself falling into the
Heather Wilensky
Dec 13, 2014 Heather Wilensky rated it did not like it
Excellent prose and some sentences stopped you in your tracks and compelled you to re-read whole paragraphs. However, the grueling recounting of Jane's death by cancer -- the meticulous noting of medications, procedures, daily activities, and sickness -- disengaged me as a reader, making me cringe and pull away from the story.
Katie Stafford
Dec 04, 2013 Katie Stafford rated it liked it
This memoir tells the story of dying in all its tedium and profundity. Poet Donald Hall describes his poet wife Jane Kenyon's long and painful death to leukemia sometimes poetically and other times pedantically. I found parts of this book to be absolutely profound, inspiring, and brilliant. Certain lines brought me to tears and deep emotion. But death is not always poetic, as this book so consistently reminds. Much of the memoir is dedicated to describing minute and banal day to day life and day ...more
Judith B
Feb 05, 2015 Judith B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An honest and moving story about Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall's relationship and her struggle with and defeat to cancer. Made me want to read her poetry (which is surprisingly accessible) and I felt as though I had lived a bit of my life with these two people by the end. Glad I read it.
Marcia Miller
Dec 01, 2015 Marcia Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written and heartbreaking memoir of the author's life with poet Jane Kenyon, who, at 19 years his junior, became his second wife. The book remembers the joys and sorrows of their 23-year marriage, culminating with her untimely death from leukemia at age 47.
Kristina Meschi
Oct 15, 2014 Kristina Meschi rated it it was amazing
One of the most real, heart-rending memoirs I've ever read. It made me love Donald Hall even more as if that we're possible!
Jan 20, 2015 Barbara rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I'm not sure how I heard about this book... especially since I have never read the poetry of the author or Jane Kenyon. But it was really cool to get an intimate look into a real marriage, the highs and lows of their 20 years together. I felt like it was brave for him to talk about the excruciating details of her cancer treatment, and contrast it with all the little details that made up their life. I'm glad I read it since it helped me appreciate the little things in my own life. (The book inclu ...more
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Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928. He began writing as an adolescent and attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference at the age of sixteen—the same year he had his first work published. He earned a B.A. from Harvard in 1951 and a B. Litt. from Oxford in 1953.

Donald Hall has published numerous books of poetry, most recently White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1
More about Donald Hall...

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