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The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  420 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
From the best-selling author of Drinking: A Love Story, and Appetites: Why Women Want comes this unforgettable collection spanning fifteen years of observations on modern culture and women's lives. Caroline Knapp's readers are known not just for their number, but for their intense connection to her work. Knapp connected so well in part because of the intense focus she brou ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Counterpoint (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Thomas
I love Caroline Knapp. I miss her, too; she died in 2002. Little did she know that her writing would leave such a lasting mark on a gay Vietnamese guy born and raised in Virginia, several years after her passing. I first encountered Knapp through her brilliant book Appetites , an anorexia memoir with several layers, which I still worship as my bible. Now, two years later, I just finished The Merry Recluse, a collection of Knapp's writing about her alcoholism, her dogs, her anorexia, and so much ...more
Abbi Dion
Feb 17, 2011 Abbi Dion rated it it was amazing
Caroline Knapp is part of the pantheon of writers who know how to write. I admire her work tremendously—her insights, her turns of phrase, her sheer intellect, her honesty and wit. The following quotes are from her collection of essays and commentary, brilliantly titled: The Merry Recluse.

On life without booze…
From Life Without Anesthesia:
Anxiety looms and you think: This is why I drank. Sadness washes up: This is why I drank. Rage surfaces, or doubt or self-loathing: This is why I drank. Addic
...more
Dawn
Sep 30, 2010 Dawn rated it really liked it

After reading Caldwell's "Let's Take the Long Way Home," the story of her soul-mate friendship with writer Caroline Knapp who died in 2002 of a brain tumor I wondered what Caroline herself had written. The title of this book spoke to me, "The Merry Recluse" because I could so easily become a recluse myself.

This is a compilation of many of the articles, columns and essays she wrote over the years, published after she died, and organized by topic rather than chronologically. I found myself checki
...more
Jean
Sep 20, 2008 Jean rated it really liked it
Of the three Knapp books I've recently read-- "Drinking, A Love Story", "Appetites, What Women Want" and this-- this is the best. There's quite a bit in this one about both drinking problems and eating disorders, but stays to the personal. The other two drag in statistics and overviews at times which dilute the appeal of the books. This collection of essays was interesting throughout to me and gave some good insights at time. Among others, I liked the essay about wanting to "be Italian" so (or s ...more
Alexandra
Feb 03, 2012 Alexandra rated it it was amazing
This book is a collection of essays Knapp wrote for various publications (the majority for the Boston Phoenix). Fantastic writing, as always, so it definitely deserves 5 stars.

However the organization of the book was awful! It's organized by theme, rather than chronologically, so there are pages and pages of somber essays, followed by a single chapter containing all of the funny ones. It was particularly annoying trying to figure out where Knapp was in her life at the time of the essay (which t
...more
MountainShelby
Sep 26, 2011 MountainShelby rated it it was ok
Knapp is an engaging writer, but I find myself more intrigued by the details of Knapp's brief life rather than by the essays she left behind. I love her relationship with Lucille, her beloved rescue dog, and I admire her frankness about her life. The three final essays on solitude and the essays on loss are quite well done. But the columns on shopping, fretting over the whims of society, etc. are just not my cup of tea. I admit I prefer collections to have one unifying theme, rather than the com ...more
Grey
Mar 16, 2008 Grey rated it really liked it
The more Caroline Knapp I read, the more I like her writing style. Some of the essays in this collection are overkill. If I had been the editor of this book, I probably would have chosen fewer essays on certain topics, but I gravitate to her writing because the issues of which she writes are familiar and universal to a lot of women. It's an easy book to skip around in -- you don't have to read it straight through but can pick-and-choose without worry.
Carleen
Jan 11, 2008 Carleen rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Chrissy
I wish I would have known of Caroline Knapp while she was still alive. Known best for her intimate "confessional" books Appetites and Drinking: A Love Story, Merry Recluse is more light hearted, full of short columns that she wrote for various news outlets throughout her career. She's full of insight and wit. I think I might have a girl crush on her.
Katie
Jul 09, 2007 Katie rated it liked it
I'm shallow, I guess. I like my serious writers to be serious and my humorous writers to be humorous. Knapp is amazing when she's describing her grief and healing after family death, her struggles with alcoholism and her reconciliation of a childless life. Not so much when she talks about buying shoes.
Grace
Dec 05, 2007 Grace rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: new Caroline Knapp fans
Shelves: 2007
By the time I was introduced to Caroline Knapp's work in 2005, she had already been dead for several years. When I learned this, after reading and being astonished by her book, Pack of Two, I was heartbroken. I went on to read her other books, Drinking: A Love Story and Appetites: Why Women Want and found myself very sad that I couldn't read the newspaper column she refers to writing or any of her magazine articles.

The Merry Recluse fixes that problem, at least to some extent. Published several
...more
Christine
Mar 03, 2013 Christine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Being small and cold-natured, I take an inordinate number of hot baths in the wintertime - even in Nashville's mild cold, even a winter as notably mild as this one has been - and Caroline Knapp's collection is a good bath read. Subtitled "A Life in Essays," the pieces contained within are more like short notes dashed off for a weekly column, tiny little bites of lighthearted thought.

I first came to know Knapp's work through her thoughtful memoir about addiction and recovery, "Drinking: A Love St
...more
Laura
Jul 16, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of those "how did I end up with this book?" reads - I suspect a colleague weeding her collection, possibly grabbed because of the title. However it happened, this is a wonderful selection of essays that will remain in my mind and on my shelves.

Knapp is incredibly honest about her life as an anorexic and alcoholic (both of which are also covered in her two previous books), funny about her problems as a nester and compulsive shopper, open about her reaction to September 11, men named
...more
Barbra
Jan 07, 2008 Barbra rated it really liked it
I love reading essays and this posthumous collection by Carolyn Knapp is a gem. Topics range from eating disorders, alcoholism and social phobia to puppy training, sisters and popular culture.

Anyone who loves dogs will howl with laughter at her description of her first days and weeks with her puppy. Her description of her years suffering from anorexia and bulemia is the best personal account I've read on the subject.

The thing that I kept thinking about long after finishing this book is how iron
...more
Ann
Aug 01, 2010 Ann rated it really liked it
A collection of Knapp's columns. It took me a while to read this one because the columns are good, but it's not as compelling as the books she wrote--Drinking: A Love Story_ and _Appetites: Why Women Want_. While _Appetites_ was also published after Knapp's death of lung cancer, this felt less like Knapp than the other two meticulous books. I liked it, and I will next read her _Pack of Two_ about her relationship with her dog, but I was torn between knowing that it was published after her death, ...more
Nancy Daley
Jan 17, 2008 Nancy Daley rated it did not like it
you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead. or, you can't harm the dead. (depends on which philosophy articles you've read.) still, even if you are dead, your writing shouldn't be so...precious. oh, i am full of flaws, kiss kiss kiss kiss. oh, i suffer. oh, i smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and never wash my sheets and wonder why not one ever wants to stay over oh well i don't like anyone anyway.

i always want to like essays. when they fail, i am disappointed. read marjorie williams's "woma
...more
Ingrid
Jun 05, 2009 Ingrid rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this collection of essays as much as the two previous books by Caroline Knapp that I read: Drinking and Pack of Two I always appreciated how honest the author was even when it reflected negatively on herself. She was at one point in her life a functioning alcoholic and was anorexic. She writes about that time in her life as well as feelings of loneliness and her devotion to her dog. Some of these essays cover the same subjects covered in the other two books, but there were also essays ...more
Jessi
Mar 10, 2011 Jessi rated it liked it
I would like to give this four stars, I really would. I hold back only because there is an entire section about dogs and well, I have a hard time getting excited enough about dogs to read about them, and because--well this is a mishmash of essays and some of them feel uncomfortably dated. Feh.

That out of the way, Caroline Knapp is a gem. The essays about solitude, addiction and friendships stand out the most here. In our age of normalized narcissism and me-moirs, few write with this level of ho
...more
Tina
Mar 22, 2012 Tina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
It's always hardest to review the very special books. The ones that just hit the mark.
I read "Drinking" before I read this one and already admired and had grown fond of Caroline Knapp. She has a unique and natural way to talk about her most personal feelings, her strenghts and flaws. "The merry recluse" allows the reader to watch her grow out of her alcolism and find to herself.
It is sad to know that she died so young, but it's comforting that she found her way through the obstacles life had i
...more
Carly
Mar 03, 2014 Carly rated it it was ok
This was a tough book to rate, because it so wildly vacillated between excellent and poor quality writing. The essays about Knapp's experiences with addiction, the letter to her father and her self-reflections, are smart, funny and clear. Her essays about fashion, gender roles and any humorous list-style essays, fell totally flat for me. They're trite and uninteresting, and actually painful to read. We clearly do not have the same sense of humor, not in the least. Knapp, to me, is at her best wh ...more
Kathleen
Feb 20, 2011 Kathleen rated it really liked it
Caroline Knapp is now ranked on my list of favorite authors right up there with Anna Quindlen. A collection of her columns and magazine articles, The Merry Recluse reminds me of Quindlen's "Life in the Thirties" column for The New York Times. At times Knapp's work teeters on the edge of self-indulgence - but she writes so beautifully I'm willing to forgive her.
"Let's Take the Long Way Home" - a book reviewed earlier by me on Good Reads - is a memoir of her friendship with (and by) Gail Caldwell.
...more
Chrystal Lamb
May 19, 2011 Chrystal Lamb rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book tremendously. Her writing is very emotional and easy to read. It really makes you think about the problems in your life and realize that some people really do have more on their plate than you do. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a little bit of happiness and a little bit of pain because in every word throughout this book you get the opportunity to experience every emotion right along with the author.
Susan
Jul 03, 2011 Susan rated it it was amazing
In my endless pursuit to lighten my load of books, I have been picking up books that have sat on my shelves for years. I am sure I started this book years ago when it was originally purchased, but did not connect with it. On my second attempt I am pleasantly surprised, this is an amazing collection of Caroline Knapp's magazine/newspaper articles. Ms. Knapp's writing is funny, painful, sad, familiar, and personal. I loved this collection. It is sad to lose a great at such a young age.
Kimberly
Jan 06, 2014 Kimberly rated it it was amazing
Pick and choose as you will. I enjoyed The Merry Recluse for a select number of essays that spoke to the very essence of the 30 something American woman. I will venture to say that some of the passages are poetic, like a symphony drifting through my brian. Others speak the truth but without the eloquent trail of words she leaves behind in numerous passages. All are worthwhile… some are profound.
Melani
Oct 02, 2007 Melani rated it liked it
I liked this book for the wrong reasons. Caroline Knapp died in her early 40s, and I liked reading what she was thinking about before she knew she would die. But, it isn't profound or particularly well written. It is a collection of her writings from the column she wrote in the 80s and 90s, many of them focusing on her anxieties and obsessions, and I was moved by what she feared would happen to her in a future that never manifested due to her early death.
K
Aug 23, 2015 K rated it it was amazing
I read this after reading Gail Caldwell's book about her and Knapp's friendship. I thought the essays were very insightful and several of them connected with me on a personal level (the ones on shyness, in particular). I originally expected to donate the book after I read it, but am keeping it to read again.
Susanne Clower
Jan 29, 2008 Susanne Clower rated it it was ok
I think Knapp is a good writer but the format of the book - a collection of newspaper columns - just wasn't right for me. The pacing just didn't vary and I put it down in the middle of reading it. But I do like her take on the demons we all struggle with. I think if you like Anne Lamott you'll like Caroline Knapp.
Tally
Mar 14, 2008 Tally rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tally by: Sheryl
Knapp's essays are well-crafted and so insightful about the human condition. Whether she was writing about death, friendship, or dogs, it felt like she was writing about me. This may sound tasteless, but it could be a good gift for someone going through the grieving process. It was given to me with that in mind and some of the essays really touched a nerve. In a good way.
V
Jan 12, 2016 V rated it it was amazing
Profoundly haunting and beautifully written, like all of Caroline Knapp's works. She was a tormented genius taken from us in the prime of her literary life. Part of what makes her so readable, for me, is that I constantly mutter to myself "yes, those are my thoughts and feelings she is so aptly describing."
Marsmannix
Jun 07, 2016 Marsmannix rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up, essays
This book of essays triggered all my usual hot buttons: upper class white woman complaining about how hard it is to survive in the upper echelons of the literati in the Northeast.
Having said that, the author is clever enough in some of her observations.
Most of the material reads as very dated, though at the time i'm sure it was "edgy".

Meh.
Robin
Dec 16, 2011 Robin rated it really liked it
Although most of these essays are older, I can still relate to Caroline Knapp's viewpoint on many, many subjects. I wish she were still able to provide some colorful commentary on almost any subject. I wish I hadn't waited so long to ready these wonderful essays.
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Caroline Knapp was an American writer and columnist whose candid best-selling memoir Drinking: A Love Story recounted her 20-year battle with alcoholism.

From 1988-95, she was a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, where her column "Out There" often featured the fictional "Alice K." In 1994, those columns were collected in her first book, Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity
...more
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