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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

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  341 ratings  ·  59 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
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ebook, 272 pages
Published November 8th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 782)
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Ruth
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
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Carol
Aug 15, 2011 Carol rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: survivors, poetry lovers
Recommended to Carol by: Borders Liquidation Sale
Otherwise

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
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Pmalcpoet Pat Malcolm
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
Lauren
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.
Nan
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.
Jennifer
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
Christy S
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
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Reese
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
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Andrew Sydlik
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)
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
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
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Judith Hannan
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
Krista
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
Carissa
Oct 08, 2007 Carissa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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Mary Raihofer
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
Patricia
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
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Katie Stafford
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
Kristina Meschi
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!
Shari
Matt gave me the Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems for my 27th birthday and I have loved her ever since. I came to appreciate Donald Hall later, but just as much, and his memoir of their marriage and Jane’s death is nearly perfect. It’s strange to think of such a book as beautiful, and even -- at times -- uplifting and inspiring, but it is. Still, I read the last two chapters very slowly, not wanting to read the inevitable end. It is a book both heavy and light, and I think this is one that will sta ...more
Margaux Laskey
donald hall, jane kenyon's widower (and the former poet laureate of the united states), writes a gut-wrenching and beautiful memoir about his life with jane kenyon. chapters alternate back and forth between before her death and after her death. if you read "the year of magical thinking" by joan didion, this one will rip your heart out even more... if you're into that sort of thing... and i am, apparently.
Marybeth
Two poets marry. She, Jane Kenyon, a poet of note. Donald Hall, former poet laureate, author of this memoir, and most importantly to me, a teacher of writing who could write about how to teach writing better than anyone else I encountered in three decades of teaching writing myself. Hall marries Kenyon, they move to his ancestral home in New Hampshire. There, too soon, Kenyon discovers she has a cancer that will kill her. Hall journeys with his young wife, 19 years his junior, to her death.
Jessica
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.
Mary Mackie
It was an interesting read that bogged down from time to time. My mind, working the way it does, kept wondering what these two incredible people would have done if they hadn't been blessed with the money to do everything they could to save Jane's life? And that's the part that made me sad: for everyone who is able to fight this fight the way Hall and Kenyon did, there are thousands who cannot do it, for so many reasons. I am glad that I read this, but don't know if I would recommend it.
Barbara A
I feel inspired to muse about this book today. Earlier this week, Terry Gross, on Fresh Air, interviewed Donald Hall, who embodies so much of what I admire in a life: a religious fervor for hardscrabble New England, deep ties to the land, great love and respect for ancestors, the ability to tell and re-tell his story, and while doing so, only deepen the adoration of his audience. The elegance and simplicity of his language is a benison.
Lesley
I cried. A lot. It was full of heartache. At times I felt embarrassed by the intimate details of Donald and Jane's life, their marriage and her illness; I felt like an intruder. At times I was bored with the "in-between" chapters, which bookended the devastatingly tragic chapters of Jane's battle with leukemia, though many times there was a tiny detail or quiet moment that made me smile. All in all, sad. I left this book with little hopefulness.
Stacy Lewis
Without a doubt, the best book I've read this year (and that includes some dogs as well as some gems). The book alternates chapters about Jane Kenyon's illness and their struggle together with chapters about their life together before leukemia. I think I have Donald Hall's book of poetry about Jane's illness. If I don't, I am going out to get it this week, aling with Jane's posthumous book of poetry.
Shonna Froebel
Donald Hall's tale of his wife's illness of leukemia and death.
Moving.
Julie
"Some letters made me angry because they assured me that everything was going to turn out fine. The writers knew no such thing; they just wanted to change the subject, and there was no other subject." - p 42

A powerful, personal, realistic look at a marriage of two artists confronting illness, death, and separation. Unsparing in detail but never overwritten.
Kathleen Messmer
I discovered Jane Kenyon's work in college and was amazed at how easy it is to understand. No in depth analyses required. Love it! Now, after reading her husband's account of their life together, it breaks my heart that we lost someone as wonderful as she. Though I knew what was coming at the end, I wept for the loss...for our loss...for her husband's loss.
Misty
A lovely account of marriage, and a rare opportunity to read how art and true commitment endure terrible suffering. I happened to have the Bill Moyers book mentioned in this book, and have been spending some time reading the sections on Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall. I see art, or poetry, differently having read such an intimate memoir of a poet.
A must read.
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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
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More about Donald Hall...
Ox-Cart Man Without: Poems White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006 The Painted Bed: Poems Life Work

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