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The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  603 ratings  ·  85 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
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 8th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 2005)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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Dec 03, 2007 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
May 05, 2012 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.
Aug 15, 2011 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 be
Pmalcpoet Pat Malcolm
Jul 12, 2009 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 03, 2015 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
Sep 05, 2013 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.
Marcia Miller
Nov 16, 2015 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.
Emily Green
Aug 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Best Day the Worst Day is Donald Hall’s remembering of his marriage, wife's illness, and her death. Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia at the age of forty seven, was a well-known poet.

Hall’s writing is detached and factual, reflecting on both triumphant moments of the marriage, as well as the horrible pain Kenyon experienced in her search for a cure. The writing is not devoid of emotion, but rather shows the epitome of show don’t tell in the face of great emotional drama.

Hall makes the effo
Christy S
Oct 21, 2009 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
Judith Hannan
Feb 22, 2013 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
Sep 26, 2007 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
Celia Kaltenbach-crotteau
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In a book of terrible beauty, writer Donald Hall describes in alternating chapters his life with and then the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon.

I admire Jane Kenyon's sparse packed style. (Last year I used her famous "Let Evening Come" in my middle school writing class when I taught how to analyze poetry.)

This is the testimony of a great love and two lives well lived as well as an honest portrait of one woman's final illness and death.
Apr 24, 2008 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.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
To be clear, I didn't completely finish this book. Not because it was boring or poorly written, but because it was heartbreaking and having dealt with cancer in my family, brought up too many painful memories.

Donald Hall writes beautiful, sparse prose and with those words, brings you into a time in his life where things were falling apart. From detailing his trips to the hospital, staying at a shitty hotel, traveling back to when Jane and him met, talking about the old New Hampshire house and t
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it

Poetry gives the griever not release from grief but companionship in grief. Poetry embodies the complexity of feelings at their most intense and entangled, and therefore offers (over centuries, or over no time at all) the company of tears. . . It was a year with out seasons, a year without punctuation. I began to write "Without" to embody the sensations of lives under dreary, monotonous assault.
Keith Taylor
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
After Kenyon died, Hall became a kind of professional mourner for her. In some ways he did that up until his own death this year. Some of that work was brilliant, sometimes not quite so. This was very interesting for those of us who cared about them, but it didn't move me as deeply as the poems.

I wrote about all that here.
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A good friend of mine who was also a poet died of the same type of leukemia. It was hard to hear of all Jane suffered, only to die of the disease anyway. She gained a year, but it was a torturous one. My friend, who was too old to be treated, died in a week.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nanoscopic detail may disinterest some. If you can get by that, the author's story is a tribute to devotion. And endurance.
Erin Riley
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thank you Donald Hall. That's all I can say for now.
Jan Lynch
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
Beautifully written. Devastating.
Jul 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s okay. A little tedious in parts.
Edmund Davis-Quinn
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really excellent but incredibly slow read.

Such excruciating detail about Jane Kenyon's illness and eventual death.

Beautiful and brutal. I had to finish it, it took me months, luckily the library let me extend my check out date.

This was very good but to deal with the pain of grief I would recommend Donald Hall's "Without". That is a phenomenal book.
Ye Lin Aung
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first got to know about Donald Hall through his excellent piece on New Yorker call Double Solitude. It's really sad but a great read. I also remarked that this man truly loved his wife. So, I suggest to read this one first.

Then I read this book. From the very first chapter towards the end, it's failed with sadness, happiness, almost alternatively.

It's truly one of the great books I have read so far.
Dec 19, 2011 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
Jan 29, 2016 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
Carol Bakker
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
Nov 27, 2009 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
Mary Raihofer
Jun 09, 2009 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
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
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 ...more
Nancy (essayist)
May 04, 2013 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
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Donald Hall was an American poet, writer, editor and literary critic. 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. Donald Hall published numerous books of poetry. Besides poetry, Donald Hall wrote books on baseball, the sculptor Henry Moore, and the poet Marianne Moore. He was also the author ...more