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New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,326 Ratings  ·  235 Reviews
The New York Times bestselling author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home now gives us a stunning, exquisitely written memoir about a dramatic turning point in her life, and about the surprising way life can begin again, at any age—perfect for readers of Anne Lamott, Kelly Corrigan, and Mary Karr.
Paperback, 177 pages
Published January 27th 2015 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published April 1st 2014)
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Carol McNiff I like memoirs better, at least right now. I like to know how others are coping with life's difficulties and also what keeps a person going forward.…moreI like memoirs better, at least right now. I like to know how others are coping with life's difficulties and also what keeps a person going forward. Gives hope as well as ideas or sometimes what to avoid or change.Gail is a gifted writer so her journey is a feast of beautifully expressed passages.(less)
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Feb 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read and enjoyed Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, I was curious about and very happy to have the opportunity to read this "sequel" of sorts that picks up several years after Caldwell's friend Caroline's death and after the subsequent death of her parents and her beloved dog Clementine. It's a story of love, life, death, mourning and cheer, health and pain, struggle and recovery -- this time physical. It's also a story of giving up life-long suppositions and accepting ...more
Excellent memoir! Will write more later but for now I'll just say I highly recommend it and plan to read more of Gail's books!

Some favorite quotes - " We need to remember, I think, that dying isn't the worst thing. That getting to love someone on the way out is a great honor, easy to forget in the wake of so much sorrow."

"... run past all your sorrows, and dance and keep on going, until we all fall down."

This is a beautifully written book, very moving with lots of lessons on perseverance; neve
Joshunda Sanders
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was too absorbed in learning how to be a newspaper lady, as my mom called me, when Gail Caldwell won a Pulitzer for criticism in 2001. I wouldn't discover her beautiful writing until I read her wonderful second memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home, about her friendship with Caroline Knapp. There are so few acknowledged, lovely narratives about the beautifully deep intimacy of the bonds women forge with one another -- Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty is another -- that after reading that book, I ...more
Diane S ☔
A childhood bout with polio left Caldwell with one shorter leg than the other, a condition that caused her to walk later than usual and which caused her a great deal of pain throughout her life. A hip operation in her late fifties caused her to take stock of her life, and after the pain and frustration of physical therapy, to celebrate a new way of life. Loved her closeness and memories of her father, and of course her love for dogs which plays an important part in her life.

Good memoir, an ode
Here's the thing: Caldwell's second memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home, sets a really high bar. It's sad and simple and profound and totally wrenching in its portrayal of the loss of a friend. By contrast I found her first memoir about growing up on the plains of West Texas a bit boring. I was excited for this one, Number Three.

And it's disappointing. It's a bit of a melange of themes from the earlier two books: her parents, her childhood polio, her grief, and her dogs (a new one this time ar
Caldwell, former chief book critic for the Boston Globe and 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, lost her parents, her best friend, and a beloved dog all within six years. Moreover, she’d always limped and hunched in pain after having polio as a child in early-1950s Texas. She dealt with post-polio syndrome by jokingly telling people she had a “bum leg” (an editor once said to her “I always thought that was a swagger”), but gradually started having more falls. After a move to New England, s ...more
Ok, first I have to say that I don’t think I ever talked about Let’s Take the Long Way Home, which was Caldwell’s story of her relationship with her best friend, Caroline, and Caroline’s subsequent death. I read it in 2012 and it has stayed with me. I highly recommend that one – beautiful story, great writing. This one did not speak to me quite as much, mostly because it was about things I’m not as interested in, namely dogs and hip replacement surgery. But credit must go to Caldwell because I e ...more
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A big 'Thank You' to NetGalley for an e-copy of this latest book by Gail Caldwell.

This is the second book I've read by this author and have thoroughly enjoyed both of them. She's an expert at getting her point across using plain English, no bad language, and exceptional prose.

Ms. Caldwell can take ordinary happenings in life, or not so ordinary in her case in this book, and writes a story that leaves me wanting more. She has suffered immeasurable loss in recent years and writing about it seems t
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-reads
Another exquisitely written book from Gail Caldwell.
I also know that my living alone had a huge impact on the help I got, and not simply because people think, "Oh, she's solo; she needs a hand." It's because solitude itself makes you stretch your heart - the usual buffers of spouse and children are missing, so you reach toward the next circle of intimacy. I've appreciated this distinction for years: Single people form different depths and kinds of attachments with their principals, partly becau
Apr 25, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio
Dog lover and writer pens another personal piece, this one on her hip replacement surgery. I love her clear, simple writing that cuts to the heart.

"Dogs have a present-tense alacrity that makes short shrift of yesterday's bad news. They are hard-wired to charge forth, to expect good outcomes, and that viewpoint can shape the future as much as it anticipates it."

"A lot of my adult life has been spent within shouting distance of others but in my own tent. Never married, no children, myriad levels
Apr 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved Let's Take the Long Way Home so so much. Gail Caldwell just seems so spiky and cool and determined! This is a bit of a cautionary tale of medical advice as doctors put Caldwell's increasing pain down to the polio she had as a baby and corresponding limp when it turns out that she was overdue for a hip replacement. Most of us laymen can't read an x-ray but apparently, her hip was so damaged it was obvious to her. I loved the description of looking at the x-ray: "I felt like I was shaking ...more
Mar 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

It's very hard for a single person, living with just her dog, to face a debilitating operation, which involves huge problems of mobility, when already troubled by the after effects of polio as a child which left Gail with one leg shorter than the other. This proved to be something of a red herring and led to medical problems being misdiagnosed until her hip needed complete replacement.
Fortunately, she was blessed with wonderful friends and family, to help her through the long period of immobilit
May 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard Gail interviewed on NPR recently and went and picked up this book, and her earlier memoir, Take the Long Way home. Enjoyed both immensely. Her fierce intelligence shines through - her appreciation of friendship, her love of literature, her endurance, her insight - these are what make Caldwell an approachable and likeable writer. Her love of dogs is appealing and the mindfulness of being out in nature, rowing, or walking in the woods, show a disposition that is rooted in the world, all wh ...more
Feb 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this memoir. It felt as if the author was speaking to me candidly - maybe over a cup of coffee in the kitchen - the whole time. The stories of her polio, hip replacement, dogs, mother, 'tribe' or friends - all were interwoven perfectly and each left a lasting impression. There were so many beautiful phrases in this book - especially the line about grief being survived by outlasting it - and I definitely recommend this book.
Heather Fineisen
When I started this, I thought it was about dogs. And I like dogs. But it morphed into so much more than that. It just took a while for it to stop being about dogs. I will look for more writing by Caldwell and will definitely revisit this when I need some perspective during times of grief. Or if I get hip surgery. Or a dog, definitely if I get a dog, or just think about getting a dog.

Provided by publisher
Nancy Kennedy
I was familiar with this author from having read her earlier memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home. In that book, the author's insights and lyrical writing just took my breath away. She articulated both the beauty and the deep pain of a close friendship.

This time, Ms. Caldwell's focus is on a dog, a debilitating medical condition and the death of her mother. Of the three topics, I was most drawn to her chapters on her mother's life. I haven't walked that particular road, although I see it coming.
Robert Miller
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read any of the author's previous work and so I don't know if this book was intended to be a sequel to any of her books referenced in the jacket. She explains how she was a victim of polio at birth and how the virus caused her to limp because one leg was slightly shorter than the other; the impact of this condition pervades throughout the book and strongly affects her resolve on most aspects of her life, from her quasi rebellious youth, through her determination to excel at her job and ...more
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, recommended
While this memoir is no match for the emotionally powerful "Let's Take the Long Way Home", this is a strong follow up and speaks to the author's physical maladies that she erroneously attributes to post polio syndrome and end up requiring major surgery.

The book begins with her finding a new dog (Tula) after the death of of a beloved pet and as she is training the puppy, she sees and feels her physical decline in comparison to the puppy's strength. The author has always prided herself on her ath
It took me a little bit to get into this book, but once I did I loved it. This beautifully written memoir recounts the mid-life crisis the author felt when her physical health deteriorated to the point that she feared for her future mobility and independence. Ms. Caldwell faced these issues while still dealing with the death of her mother, and of a beloved dog. Her strong circle of friends, family, and a new pet in her life, helped support her during this episode. But her strong determination to ...more
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a reticent reader of non-fiction, I was happy to discover Gail Caldwell earlier this year. Her books are just so comfortable and readable. While not packing the same punch as Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, this book is still a good read and Ms. Caldwell's writing style makes me feel as if she is sitting across from me telling me the tale herself. If you enjoyed Long Walk, I think you will enjoy this one too. You don't necessarily have to have read the previous book to r ...more
May 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was such a short book, that it was over before I could really feel what it was all about. Because of her polio and long overdue diagnosis of hip arthritis, hers was not a typical hip replacement surgery. One of the reasons why I picked up this book is that I'm about to have back surgery and thought I'd find some information about a difficult journey here. I certainly hope mine isn't as difficult as hers, but she certainly worked hard to reclaim her life. I don't have to go it alone, as she ...more
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a beautifully written memoir with elegant prose and a nice story to boot. Our author writes about a few topics: her surgery that helped her learn to walk properly, her relationship with animals, as well as her relationship with her mother. The book jumps back and forth with an ease that is hard to come across naturally but she does so very eloquently. This was a very short book but it was a powerful one that makes me think about my own life and how I live it.
Jan 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved Lets Take the Long Way Home. The themes of love and friendship are universal and appealing. I like Gail Caldwell's writing it's very warm and accessible with out sounding sloppy or too familiar. Unfortunately I wasn't taken with this memoir. Hip surgery and adjusting to a new puppy are experiences people tend edit out when telling their story (for good reason). So,although I think Caldwell did a good job with her material it just didn't resonate with me.
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
It's rare that I finish a book in one day, but this is a short one and it really grabbed me. I related to the first half of the book, as a pet owner whose companion animal was recently diagnosed with a chronic disease. I related to the second half, as an adult who has overcome a disability. She captures the nuances of that experience as only someone who has been there can. I hope writing this memoir was as therapeutic for the author as reading it was for me.
Lori Anderson
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
A timely book for me, about how to heal from a chronic condition. The author chronicles bits of her life and her hip replacement surgery and recuperation with help from friends and dogs. She isn't always Little Miss Sunshine (which I appreciate) but she's real, and I like that.
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp are by far my 2 favorite memoirists. I have read everything either of them has published and they are all excellent. This one is no exception. It's a sequel of sorts to Let's Take the Long Way Home.
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably my favorite book of the year.
Maria Ryan
Memoirs are a Slippery Slope

I recently wrote that one of the reasons I am wary of reading memoirs is that in the wrong hands they can convey messages that I am certain an author would have no intention of conveying. Self-absorption, entitlement, lack of dimension, and a general lack of understanding the meaning of truly serving others which comes from something other than penciling in volunteerism on a calendar when and if a cause suits you are what come to mind after reading this mid-life lamen
Maria Paiz
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Gail Caldwell, is a story about new beginnings. After years of suffering the aftereffects of polio, Caldwell received an unexpected gift: the chance to heal her painful limp through hip replacement surgery, which made her grow almost an inch and gain the agility and grace that she always longed for. New beginnings also apply to Caldwell's moving forward after the death of a close friend, and her adopting of a Samoyed puppy that was a challenge to tra ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Universe continues to take care of me in providing books I need to read when I need to read them. I needed? need Ms. Caldwell's acceptance of herself and those who love her, and her grace at having lived in pain far longer than she probably should have (and her love for dogs and water, and life itself) and alone in some small ways, but not in any way that count (what a lovely tribe she's made for herself), and most of all for reminding me of the lesson that it's okay to be angry, but there m ...more
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Gail Caldwell is the former chief book critic for The Boston Globe, where she was a staff writer and critic for more than twenty years. In 2001, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She is also the author of A Strong West Wind, a memoir of her native Texas. Caldwell lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“The other thing I know now, is that we survive grief merely and surely by outlasting it. The ongoing fact of the narrative eclipses the heartbreak within. A deal that seems to be the price we pay for getting to hold on to our beloved dead.” 3 likes
“Most of all I told this story because I wanted to say something about hope and the absence of it, and how we keep going anyway. About second chances, and how they’re sometimes buried amid the dross, even when you’re poised for the downhill grade. The narrative can always turn out to be a different story from what you expected.” 3 likes
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