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Last Gift of Time

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  234 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
When she was young, distinguished author and critic Carolyn Heilbrun solemnly vowed to end her life when she turned seventy. But on the advent of that fateful birthday, she realized that her golden years had been full of unforeseen pleasures. Now, the astute and ever-insightful Heilbrun muses on the emotional and intellectual insights that brought her "to choose each day f ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published April 7th 1998 by Ballantine Books (first published March 10th 1997)
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I found this really uneven. Some of Carolyn Heilbrun's writing resonates with me and makes me think. Some of it seems decades out of touch with the times, which might just reflect the difference in our ages. And, some of it isn't Heilbrun's writing. She relies heavily here on quotes and passages from others, and after a point it seems like padding. She hasn't quite shed the habits of an academic, either. She comes off as pedantic and disengaged, not a good dynamic in a memoir.

"I entered into a
Jun 28, 2010 Harley rated it liked it
I finally finished this -- a book I started probably 7 years ago -- before the author suicided at age 77. That fact makes an interesting backdrop to the book, because she talks about her initial decision to suicide at 70, and that she postponed that when she got to that age. I love the way she talks about the work we need to address as we get older and are "retired." It's a challenge to the way I've been dawdling.

She's pretty cranky at times, and I was disturbed a bit by her portrait of her good
Sep 06, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after reading Carolyn's obituary trying to find in this brilliant woman's book the reasons for her suicide. She has many very helpful ideas and lots of anger and no real notion of transcendence or that her life might be a gift for which she owes the Giver some contribution. I am very glad to have read it because she has many perceptive remarks about other authors and even ideas of how to sharpen the joy of life in your sixties or beyond (she killed herself at 77) but it is also ...more
Cathryn Conroy
Mar 27, 2014 Cathryn Conroy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a strange book. It was written by a woman (a former professor at Columbia University, author and noted literary critic) who was then in her early 70s as a reflection of how life begins a new chapter at age 60. Perfect, I thought! I just turned 60. But this is a selfish book--beginning with a lifelong intention she reveals: She had planned to commit suicide at age 70 so she would die before old age dragged her down. While she waited until age 77 to kill herself, her lifelong plan sent chi ...more
Feb 27, 2009 Tammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those wandering through middle age
There is something peaceful in reading the perspectives of a successful, intellectual, independent, and reflexive woman writing about what it is like to be entering the last chapters of one’s life. She can be blunt and politically incorrect about relationships (“men are boring”), and she can be lyrical about the last decades of life (“The piercing sense of ‘last time’ adds intensity, while the possibility of ‘again’ is never quite effaced.”). She offers the wisdom of perspective (“There is no co ...more
Feb 21, 2009 Chris rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 06, 2013 Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A set of essays about growing older. Carolyn Heilbrun reminds me of the Roman Stoics (she died of a suicide at age 77) and her writing is as clear and architectural as a classic Latin sentence. But the essays themselves were rather forgettable. She buys a house, just to be alone. She makes a big-to-do about wearking only pants and flat shoes (in the 1990s! Hardly a sartorial revolution by then!). She bemoans the dearth of novels about older, romance-less women. She explains at length why email i ...more
Mary Karpel-Jergic
Jul 19, 2016 Mary Karpel-Jergic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aging, memoir
I hadn't realised the backdrop to this memoir. Heilbrun was an American academic and feminist author who committed suicide at the age of 77 by taking sleeping tablets and putting a plastic bag over her head. This memoir is an account of her reasoning behind this.

This is an insightful and honest look at ageing and how one individual chose to handle it. It's not like she had any external reasons for suicide; she was wealthy, lived a life of choice, a longstanding husband and a family. Instead this
Apr 03, 2016 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful story of a life well lived and recorded. I would love to have had Professor Heilbrun in college - her openness and frank discussion of feminism was perfect for her time and opened the door for us to follow.
May 25, 2014 Barb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essays exploring Ms Heilbrun's life after 60 and into her 70's. In the more intimate essays dealing with her dog, her house, her marriage and her family, she writes with honesty and keen insight into her feelings. The most personal essays were the most successful in my opinion. A couple which were more general in tone (E-mail, new friendships) were less interesting to me. However, Ms Heilbrun (whom I have enjoyed reading for many years) is always a good companion in print.
Jean Grant
I was disappointed by this book which I had so eagerly looked forward to reading. That said, some of the essays spoke to me, e.g. Unmet Friends, Sadness, England. Heilbrun can write clearly--see her Amanda Cross mysteries--but here she did not. It was far too intellectual for my taste. I think her editor should have dissuaded her from including her essay on email which now seems terribly dated.
Apr 18, 2014 Jocelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-reads
Some interesting chapters in this memoir; a good beginning and ending, but the middle? not so compelling.
Jun 24, 2009 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rated-five-stars
"Never having expected to retire, not having yet considered it before it came upon me, I discovered retirement to be a gift especially suited to my sixties, when I could relish it's delicate flavor."

"Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend."
Sep 18, 2009 Jean rated it really liked it
Okay, I admit it. I like memoirs from certain slightly peevish women aged 60 and beyond. May Sarton, MFK Fisher, and Carolyn Heilbrun all appeal. This passage from Heilbrun in this book is typical: “The major danger in one’s sixties—so I came to feel—is to be trapped in one’s body and one’s habits, not to recognize those supposedly sedate years as the time to discover new choices and to act upon them. To continue what one had been doing—is, I came to see, and the vision frightened me, easy in on ...more
I remember really liking Heibrun's book, Writing a Woman's Life and I enjoyed the mysteries that she wrote under the pseudonym Amanda Cross. So when this book appeared on the donation shelf at my library, I decided to read it.

I am about to start my sixties, and I will start them as a retired person. So, I was intrigued by the quotes on the cover of this book. Apparently, the reviewer for the LA Times found this book "Thoughtful...Often humorous" and the Boston Globe thought Heilbrun "honest, uns
Nov 06, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was recommended to me by a F/friend as we talked about aging and facing the end of one's life. She'd read it and thought that I might appreciate Heilbrun's take on the matter.

For the most part, I did. Her journey from wearing what I'd call Junior League outfits to comfortable pants and shoes mimicked her journey towards accepting who and what she was and becoming more and more comfortable in her own skin. I enjoyed those parts, as well as how she talks about being a solitary person. That ve
Jane Wolfe
Jul 27, 2015 Jane Wolfe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed Heilbrun's essays. Although several pieces seemed a little dated, this collection is eclectic, well written, and interesting. Some essays remind me of the debt I owe to professional women who worked so hard to be recognized. The essay, "Unmet Friends," about Heilbrun's relationship to poet Maxine Kumin as well as between reader and writer is well done. Several essays include her relationships with her children, husband but not in a way that reveals intimate off-putting details. The ess ...more
Dec 24, 2014 Linda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I checked this book out of the library because I thought there would be words of wisdom about growing older. Instead it felt more like the kind of chitchat you'd have with a neighbor you barely knew when you ran into her while walking the dog. Why she bought a house. Why she liked email. Why she quit wearing pantyhose. I was looking for profound insights into being over 60 years of age and what I got was some pleasant Saturday afternoon gossip.
Aug 27, 2010 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned alot about getting ready to die in this book, and it was a good thing. I am turning 65 soon and Heilbrun relates that at this age, you could easily die and have people think, "well, she wasn't old, but she wasn't that young." We are in our time to die now. And, she has suggestions for how to prepare for death as she reflects on the great life she has had. I first came upon Heilbrun as the author of AMANDA CROSS novels. Amanda Cross is her pen name. Heilbrun was a professor at Columbia ...more
Feb 08, 2012 Chris rated it liked it
The back flap is a pretty good description of the book as a "celebration" of aging. The subtitle of the book could be "what's new to me as a sixty-something," which includes chapters about getting a new dog, using email, and meeting distant family members. The more abstract musings about mortality and meaning I was looking for? Not very substantial, not even in the chapter entitled "On Morality" which seemed like a restatement of the chapter "Sadness," concerned with the continued existence of h ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you fear, as May Sarton did, that your house is out to get you? Have you decided, as Vanessa Bell did, not to go to parties,,,,"If one has to encounter humans, why not do it in some other ways -- any way that doesn't entail dressing up..."
Do you feel like you are "wearing" life rather than living it? Perhaps you'd like to read this fine book.
Jan 18, 2013 Helen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a young woman Carolyn Heilbrun told herself that living to 70 was long enough and she thought she'd commit suicide when she turned 70. Interestingly, at 70 she decided that her 60's were among her best years and decided to choose to continue to live for as long as she wanted to past 70. (She committed suicide at 77). With this premise, she has written a book full of moving and witty insights that I enjoyed partly because she is about 10 years younger than my mother would be now, had she lived ...more
Jun 29, 2014 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
What struck me about this book was that it is a very positive book about an age that the author had not expected to be positive about. Carolyn Heilbrun wrote this book in her 70s, a decade she had dreaded reaching. Instead of feeling obsolete, she discovers that she can maintain her intellectual curiousity and still engage with the world. What's most shocking is what isn't in the book -- her suicide in 2003 despite not suffering any ill health, either physical or mental. Perhaps I'm too young to ...more
Terri Ann
I was sorely disappointed. Heilbrun spoke only briefly and fleetingly about her own feelings, experiences and hesitation at growing older. Instead she repeatedly felt the need to mention that she had grown up "of privilage", souring the book of any human contact. Her writing is cold and distant, lacking warmth and emotion. She is too busy quoting other authors, artists and friends; poems, quotations, relaying other's perspectives. I didn't read the book to read about other's takes on growing old ...more
When I read this book, I was looking forward to reading about what gifts the author found in her later years of life. While some of the chapters met this expectation, such as one on getting a new dog and one on buying a new country home, others just left me puzzled. In one such chapter, the author spends time discussing May Sarton's last years and how angry and embittered May was over how her life turned out. In another chapter, she puzzles over the differences between men and women and how we'r ...more
Sep 13, 2012 Linnet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a lovely reflection on life near the end of life. We are equipped to give the young "the essence of having lived long, it is the unstated assurance that most disasters pass, it is the survival of deprivation and death and rejection that renders our sympathy of value." Quoting Sylvia Townsend Warner: "I rose up and danced, among the cats and their saucers and only when I was too far carried away to stop did I realized that I was behaving very oddly for my age -- and that perhaps it w ...more
Jun 02, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
Reminded me of my mother. Eloquent yet practical and wise.
Jun 10, 2008 Gail rated it really liked it
More really a set of essays, this wonderful book explores age, choosing suicide, the benefits of solitude, dogs, and various other topics in Heilbrun's erudite, witty style. This is a great book for anyone who is over 50 or who cares about someone over 50. A wonderful read. A special treat is her chapter on Virginia Woolf.
Update now that I found my commonplace book again: The essays are a bit uneven in quality, but those dealing with email, clothing, and the author May sarton are outstanding.
May 16, 2015 Sharen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very, very interesting.
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Carolyn Gold Heilbrun (January 13, 1926 – October 9, 2003) was an American academic and prolific feminist author of both important academic studies and popular mystery novels under the pen name of Amanda Cross.

Heilbrun attended graduate school in English literature at Columbia University, receiving her M.A. in 1951 and Ph.D in 1959. Among her most important mentors were Columbia professors Jacques
More about Carolyn G. Heilbrun...

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“. . . the most potent reward for parenthood I have known has been delight in my fully grown progeny. They are friends with an extra dimension of affection. True, there is also an extra dimension of resentment on the children's part, but once offspring are in their thirties, their ability to love their parents, perhaps in contemplation of the deaths to come, expands, and, if one is fortunate, grudges recede. []p. 209]” 4 likes
“Men are not listeners . . . They hear what they expect to hear, or want to hear, or are certain they will hear, and women, being supple creatures trained to please, have often told them what we women knew would satisfy them. [p. 167]” 3 likes
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