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Life Work

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  327 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
When Donald Hall moved to his grandparents' New Hampshire farm in 1975, his work as a writer must have seemed remote from the harsh physical labor of his ancestors. Hall, a prize-winning poet and author of several dozen books, has devoted his life to the literary arts. In this paean to work, Hall reveals a similar kind of artistry in the lives of his grandparents, Kate and ...more
Paperback, 136 pages
Published July 20th 1997 by Beacon Press (first published 1993)
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Tiffany Reisz
Oct 03, 2015 Tiffany Reisz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book I needed but didn't know I needed.

Donald Hall wrote this book about his love of writing, how it was his calling and his vocation. Then halfway through writing it, his cancer returned. He details his recover from cancer surgery in the second half. The tragic irony of the story is that it was written in 1992 and he says he knows if he starts a thought today he won't finish it in 1995. He was that certain of his own death.

But in 1995 his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, died. And he is still alive
Apr 22, 2013 Kristen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I love everything I've ever read by Hall - from his poetry to his essays to his children's books - and this short memoir was no exception. His work here was affected (I'd say enhanced) by his confrontation with mortality as he wrote it. I really liked reading about the way he structured his days and the glimpses into his relationship with his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon.
Nick Klagge
I enjoyed Hall's "Eagle Pond," but this one didn't do it for me so much. I enjoyed, again, the descriptions of rural New Hampshire life, but I had "heard that one before."

"Life Work" is divided into two parts, and after the first part, I thought that I really didn't like the book. The main theme of the first part seems to be, "Check me out, I work super hard, but it ain't no thing cuz I love what I do; also, I know some famous people!" This didn't feel really compelling to me. I also felt uneasy
Life Work is one long rumination on what it means to be dedicated to and consumed by one's professional choice. The author focuses mainly on artistic vocations (his own as a writer and those of his painter, sculpture and other creative friends), comparing it to the manual labor of his ancestors. Donald Hall goes on ad nauseum about his accomplishments, devoting pages and pages of this short book to his daily rituals and the lists he keeps and crosses off. The stories of his grandparents, althoug ...more
Jay McNair
This book deserves more than three stars, as work, but it rubbed me the wrong way, so I'm risking unfairness to try to be honest about my take.

I wrote down a lot of good sentences—well, he's a poet, and my kind of writer too if his prose is anything like his poetry. Nice and plain, but well said, though sometimes he kind of over-Hemingways the plainness (which could just be my young ears complaining against an older generation's, an older way of talking, without contractions). But for the most p
Jun 14, 2012 Heather rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
The first half is a way too detailed account of what this man does for a living. Utterly boring. Seriously? You've published, and presumably been paid for, a book which is half filled with your daily routine and details about your to-do lists.

The second half is a little more lively. Ironic, since he's convinced he's about to die through most of it.

You know it's bad when talk about his great and grandparents' work on their farms in the late 1800's to mid 1900's livens things up.

Sep 12, 2013 Stephen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mfa-readings
I read this for an MFA course called "The Writing Life". There are a handful of useful quotes int he book about dedication to work and such. But it's mostly memoir and recounts of other people's lives of hard labor. Overall, there were only a few passages of useful information and a few moments of inspiration. I get so much more from listening to the "Writing Excuses" podcast and reading blog posts by writers.
Jul 28, 2009 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Donald Hall's poetry and prose--it all reads like poetry to me. I especially love his recollections of his family history and the places that are dear to him.
Barbara A
Feb 15, 2010 Barbara A rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I flat out adore the soulfulness of Hall's writing. Memoir or poetry, poetry and memoir, they all entrace me.
Jan 12, 2013 Elise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a huge Donald Hall fan, so I entirely expected to enjoy "Life Work," and I did. Some of the stories about his family are familiar from having read "Eagle Pond." Hall meditates on the notion of work, usually illustrating from his own personal experience as a poet, as well as his ancestors' work on the family farm ("woik," as his Connecticut grandparents said, "wuk," as his New Hampshire grandparents said). Hall writes, "Contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are work ...more
Paul Hamilton
Let's assume you were wondering if there was ever a market for blogging before the semi-coherent daily ramble became a legitimate form of communication ten or twelve years ago. To confirm this, you need look no further than Donald Hall's Life Work, a semi-topical serialized set of quasi-daily ruminations on the subject of work, self, life, death, family, history and the intersections of all the above. Written in the very early nineties, this book is a blog, regardless of whatever memoir title mi ...more
I picked up Life Work based on a review that referred to it as a secondary source...the long way around. It's different from a lot of what I read but that was pleasantly refreshing.

Donald Hall, who wears a poet's cap among other literary hats, writes a series of short essays/ponderings on work, the nature of work, why we labor, the value it brings to our lives, etc., while at the same time reflecting on the working life of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in 19th and early 20th
Nancy Hartney
Aug 11, 2012 Nancy Hartney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On impulse, I picked up a copy of Life Work by Donald Hall. A poet, children’s author, short story writer, and essayist, Hall extolls the pleasure of work, the satisfaction of meaningful production, the identity of self reflected in labor. He rakes through the history of work and workers, seeing these endeavors as a great life anchor. He focuses on his ancestors with their pre-dawn to dark manual labor. He turns to contemporaries and examines their thoughts on creative, productive days.

For mont
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
I love all of Donald Hall's writing, poems and prose, and this book is no exception. To say that he has a way with words is an understatement. He writes about the importance of meaningful work in this book, well, work that is meaningful to you, which can be any work. He also writes about the habits of getting work done, especially writing, his own and that of some other writers he knows.

I wish that everyone would read Donald Hall's books. He is just so good and evokes so much emotion with his w
Mar 02, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Donald Hall's Life Work is a quiet, reflective, steady--if not sturdy--piece of work, slice of life. It is/was written as an extended meditation and brief memoir highlighting multiple generations in the hardworking family Hall of fame and fortune. Recurrent themes include Hall's daily devotion to poetry and prose writing as making/scratching a meaning/living and accomplishing everyday tasks and, penultimately, in defiance of death, in consideration of its cancers. Is not life work and work life? ...more
Sep 09, 2015 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
for Book Group
Michael Borshuk
Jul 16, 2016 Michael Borshuk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an inspiration. Hall's quiet, concise essay on "work" thoughtfully differentiates between the labor of occupation and the small, love-filled quotidien efforts that account for life's deeper joys.
Feb 03, 2016 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an odd little book. At only 124 pages, it's a pretty quick read. As a memoir, it's pretty interesting, telling of the author's family and life growing up in New England. Unfortunately, at the halfway point, Hall became convinced that he was dying, and he pretty much whines his way to the end. Somewhat embarrassingly, he did not die, and actually reissued the book ten years later with a new preface. So, as I say, it's odd.
Aphasia Kindly
Jan 21, 2014 Aphasia Kindly rated it really liked it
Signed. Thanks for your talk and it was my pleasure to meet you.
Sep 18, 2009 Jean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-male
Memoir from a poet and author that loosely hinges on “Work”, which for the author is mostly writing. He fluffs things out a bit with details on ancestors and olden days. There’s really not enough material brought in to make this memoir memorable or instructive. The author was married to poet Jane Kenyon before her premature death at 48. That’s what I would have liked to have heard more about.
Carolyn Pina
Interesting book. I enjoyed it.
Brian G. Fay
Aug 30, 2013 Brian G. Fay rated it really liked it
It was really two books, part I and part II. I enjoyed the first book much more than the second because he really focused on his own work in part I and that's where my interests are. The second part was gripping and I read it much faster, but I kept wishing for part I. So it goes.
An interesting- somewhat amusing- and somewhat informative book about Hall and his writing life. Talks a great deal about his relatives- and their lives as farmers and dairy owners- and how all this ties into his own work ethics as a writer. Worth reading again.
jojo the burlesque poetess
Jul 10, 2009 jojo the burlesque poetess marked it as limbo-unfinished
Shelves: fo-schoo
gonna be writing my 3rd semester craft paper on Hall/Kenyon (go team creative writing MFA programme!), and i found this at a used bookstore while looking for 'unpacking the boxes,' but i'll take what the fates have sent my way. so far so great!
Mar 28, 2013 Zach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading is a sedentary activity. This book sings the virtues of physical, engrossing work. I was engrossed by the book, yet antsy that my reading it prevented me from doing real work. King of irony.
Chris Salzman
Jul 16, 2012 Chris Salzman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best description of vocation I've ever read. Hall was a poet laureate and his prose is proof of that. If I can find half as much fulfillment in the work of my life as he has I'll be a happy man.
Jan 10, 2008 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Life Work' reads like a pre-write for 'The Best Day/The Worst Day', where he comes off much more human & loving, and less self-righteous & egotistical than he does here.
Tanya Lemke
Nov 21, 2015 Tanya Lemke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A simple, wonderful meditation on ways to spend a life, containing not a scrap of judgement. I found many moments to return to.
Rolin Bissell
Feb 02, 2013 Rolin Bissell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice little memoir. Will appeal to you if you are interested in writing, life in rural New England or the nature of work.
Oct 05, 2009 Rynell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an inspiring book on many levels. I read it years ago and it still sticks with me.
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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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