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Reasons to Live

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  2,721 ratings  ·  245 reviews
It is always "earthquake weather" in Amy Hempel's California, a landscape where everything can change without warning. Traditional resources—home, parents, lovers, friends, even willpower—are not dependable. And so the characters in these short, compelling stories have learned to depend on small triumphs of wit, irony, and spirit.

A widow, surrounded by a small menagerie, c
...more
Paperback, 129 pages
Published 1995 by HarperPerennial (first published 1985)
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4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,721 ratings  ·  245 reviews


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Bill  Kerwin
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories

A fine book of short stories. The shorter pieces are spare and elliptical--sort of like Raymond Carver, but without the self-destructive power. But the better longer pieces--"Nashville Gone to Ashes," "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," "Today Will Be a Quiet Day" are excellent. In their classical, restrained, deeply human way they remind me of Tillie Olsen at her best--and that is high praise indeed.
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2008-2012)
I read somewhere that if you want to become a good writer, read Amy Hempel.

The reason is that she is not only a minimalist but also because she is an intelligent short story writer.

This is true. I don't have a plan to write because I am still busy with my corporate career. Maybe someday, who knows. Right now though, I am reading because I enjoy knowing the lives of other people, the situations they are into and I appreciate good writing styles. Seeing different techniques in writing, you know,
...more
Douglas
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Wall Street Journal said of this, "One of the delights of these stories is that they approach the usual cliches of real life and fiction at an unexpected oblique angel." I couldn't say it better if I tried.

There's so many reasons to live, but Hempel reminds you of one major one, which is to read work like this.
Colin McKay Miller
If you’ve been keeping track of my reviews thus far, you know I don’t rate very highly, but Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live is the standard to which all other fiction books must rise. Long before Chuck Palahniuk’s frenzied fan base or the New York Times 2006 Book of the Year Award drove her collected stories to mass acclaim, I was graced to read Hempel’s widely anthologized “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” in late 1998. It’s a story about a woman visiting her terminally ill friend in hos ...more
Ryan Faulkner
Jul 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
okay, jesus. how do you even start to tackle the subject of amy hempel? i'll make a list of things that make this book better than anything that will ever make it into the top ten of the bestseller lists:

[1] minimalist (or "miniaturist," if you ask hempel) writing style that is unique and moves at a rapid clip
[2] emotional displacement
[3] subtlety.

that last one is particularly important, since i think one of the more difficult challenges any writer faces when wanting to express a complex emotio
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Amy (Other Amy)
The Doctor couldn't make it to the picnics or to the skating--so he didn't show up in the pictures, either. The effect was of him saying after the flood: What I lose will always be lost.

"His problem is the past," Grey said about his father. "He says only do things you have done before and liked. Whereas me, what's coming is the thing I'm looking out for."

I thought the present was a safer bet. We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive.

This collection could as easil
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Chantal
Sep 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Death and tragedy haunt the short, short stories in Amy Hempel’s first story collection Reasons to Live (1985) like empty chairs at the table. And there is no steak, no potatoes, nor substantial courses atop Hempel’s literary table. Instead the reader is treated to tapas -- bite-size delicacies of exquisite flavors -- a literary lunch that only a truly talented minimalist (or miniaturist) writer could cook up successfully. And underneath the table: a dog or two lay near the diners’ feet, ready ...more
Sabra Embury
Dec 17, 2010 rated it liked it
I feel like an idiot for not appreciating Amy Hempel's Reasons to Live as much as expected to. But I really thought a few of the stories in this collection were great. Especially Nashville Gone to Ashes and Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep. Hempel's writing is feminine in a way that's it's not flowery, or (extremely) passive, but of feminine things like knitting, laundry and being a wife.

I have to admit that stories with a few unpredictable twists of structure, which are of no consequence otherwise,
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Brian
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Fellow Amy Hempel crushing fanboy Chuck Palahniuk writes in his essay "Not Chasing Amy", "I once gave At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom: Stories to a friend and said, 'If you don't love this, we have nothing in common.'" Hempel has that effect on her readers: you don't come away from her stories having read them - you walk away a snarling, gauntlet throwing, lit-beast.

Hempel's minimalist style feels anything but; her sentences are so packed with meaning and nuance. It isn't uncommon for additio
...more
Ray
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Especially enjoyed "Celia Is Back", "Nashville Gone To Ashes", "Going", "The Man In Bogota", & "Today Will Be a Quiet Day".
Memorable passage (which concludes the story,"Going"):

I like a woman in my room at night.
The night nurse smells like a Christmas candle.
After she leaves the room, for a short time the room is like when she was here. She is not here, but the idea of her is.
It's not the same--but it makes me think of the night my mother died. Three states away, the smell in my room was
...more
Steven
Jun 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
As with Carver, Hempel is only a minimalist when read shallowly and with certain misperceptions in mind about what detail consists of, and, most probably, already bent on affixing reductive labels on writers rather that appreciating their essence. It doesn't surprise me that she is more popular now than when this collection first came out: The quirky juxtapositions, the stand-up comic lines, and the staggering emotions under the surface that are suppressed in words but not affect, all seem so no ...more
Kate
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
uuuggggghhhhhhhhh

My heart hurts. This is actually the first section of her collected stories, so I'm still reading. But this really took me by surprise and like Lindsay said, made me feel like I got hit by a truck. It's harder for me to read and hear stories about parents and children, or would-be children, now that I have kids. It just puts my heart through the wringer in a way that I'm not really equipped for anymore. I'm too busy to feel this much. My heart is too full to be flooded like this
...more
Jordan
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
in @magicpages post yesterday, Anna talked about anticipating narratives & predictable books, which i experience pretty often when i am reading fiction. ⠀

in Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel, each one of these short stories was simple, but so full of emotion that nothing felt predictable. it was so refreshing. Hempel’s writing is very poetic & i am totally in awe. i enjoyed how gracefully the point of view’s changed from women to men in each story. filled with subject matter i always love r
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Renee
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Well. I don't think I got it.

This book had been recommended to me by numerous classmates and professors. I kept hearing how great Amy Hempel is, and she is great to some people of course. The stories in this collection are short (which I do like), usually first-person, rarely name characters, and bounce around from action to memories. I guess you could call them slices of life. They don't have "plots," so the stories just meander around vague situations and characters.

I liked a few (maybe 3) of
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warmdesertwinds
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Amy Hempel is why I want to write. She makes an art out of this botched and awkward language known as English. And even the most juvenile speaker of our language can appreciate the poetry of her style. The woman must spend hours scrutinizing every single word that she puts in a sentence. And for good reason. Her writing is simply flawless. She is a master in creating atmosphere. She paints moments in time better than a dream can.

I'll forever aspire to create images like Amy Hempel can. So much
...more
Kirsten
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who appreciate brevity
The pieces in this collection are often so short that they veer towards gestural sketches. Rarely do we know things about Hempel's characters such as name, age, and sometimes even gender beyond a reasonable guess. However, the writing is so taut that these stories hum with energy and often build to a blow-like ending, painful and revelatory. While a few lines of dialogue come across as preciously precocious, these stories dazzle with their humor as well. Particular favorites were "In the Cemeter ...more
Steve mitchell
Funny and some detailed impressions on seemingly rudimentary daily items, but something was missing for me. I never got any moral from any story, except the one about the gal visiting the other gal in hospital, that one I really liked, and the monkey stories were grand! All together though I cant believe this is on the 1001 books to read before you die, but I am an insensitive guy so there is always that reason for missing the main point.
Natalie
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
How strange that a book titled Reasons to Live should make me so sad.
But maybe I just am?

You'd be tempted to breeze through because these short stories are often very short stories. You could do a quick front to cover read in an hour or two and put it back on the shelf with no second glance. I wouldn't suggest it though because you're going to miss everything nestled underneath that deceptive simplicity.

I'm not in worshiping freaking out over Hempel mode yet, but I've got my feet in the water.
Becca Younk
May 16, 2018 rated it liked it
"In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" is the only story I had previously read from this collection. Not surprising, since it's the most anthologized one. It is definitely the standout story, although I did also really love "Nashville Gone to Ashes" and "The Man in Bogota". These stories are very quiet, very subtle. Some were too subtle for me to really understand, but it also could be I just didn't spend enough time on them. Amy Hempel writes the way every college kid taking a creative wri ...more
Joy
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Hempel’s short story collection is hilarious (albeit understated), tender, and...maybe not dark but...gray? I laughed out loud and cried. It may be short, but it’s an experience.
Jamie
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jamie by: Conley Wouters
The Great: "Tonight is a Favor to Holly"; "Nashville Gone to Ashes"; "In the Cemetery"; "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep"; "Pool Night"; "Three Popes"

The Pretty Darn Good: "When It's Human"; "Today Will Be a Quiet Day"

The Forgettable: the rest

I'm not entirely sure what this tells you about a short fiction collection comprised of fifteen stories ranging from one-page to no more than twelve or thirteen in length. I can say that the six stories I listed above as 'great' are almost certainly worth the p
...more
Eraserhead
Mar 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Some brilliant stories, and some that suffered from Hempel's clipped style. Hempel's one fault is that her stories come across formulaic and overly constructed. The thoughts and sentences are beautiful, but it never feels like a real world in the way of, say, Carver. Instead it feels like I'm reading the fiction of a very clever 30-year old. I guess my point is that the stories FEEL like stories, all written by the same woman. In fact, a few of the most acclaimed stories in the collection---San ...more
Chiyeung Lau
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
They say if you want to learn how to write, you should read Amy Hempel. Whoever said this wasn’t wrong; I was blown away by this collection and I will be reading this again and again.

There are so many gems:

“She laughs, and I cling to the sound the way someone dangling above a ravine holds fast to the thrown rope.”

“Here’s a trick I found for how to finally get some sleep. I sleep in my husband’s bed. That way the empty bed I look at is my own.”

While some compare her to Carver, I enjoyed reading h
...more
Robert Blumenthal
Nov 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is Amy Hempel's first book of short stories, and it is a strange but powerful group of stories. They range from a single page to 12 pages or so, and they are unique and quite creative. The language is stark and somewhat non sequitur at times. The stories can be a bit hard to decipher, but there are emotional wallops that are amazing. I particularly loved the story about the narrator's best friend dying from cancer. It had one of the most profoundly beautiful endings I have read. A few of th ...more
Nicki Hill
i love short stories and i love how one can read them with such ease. these stories were darker then i had anticipated and it took me longer to read. i was sad reading them with the exception of the last story about a father. the reason to live in these stories always seemed to be about death. the juxtaposition between life and death and the choices people make in order to live or to die whether that be in the form of an abortion, succumbing to a house fire or illness. a great book, probably mor ...more
Stacy
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was not prepared for Hempel the first time I picked up this collection from the library several years ago. Now I am and I was pretty much floored with every story, how she's able to encapsulate so much so economically, but not feel prosaic or forced. These stories just are, with all the multiple interpretations and manifestations the reader can project onto them. They are thematically strung together as well and fit so well together in the collection. "The Man in Bogota" is perhaps the most pe ...more
Anna
Sep 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read Reasons to Live on an airplane in what seemed like no time at all. This collection includes some of Hempel's most celebrated stories including "In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried." While I think some of her later stories are stronger, all of the stories in this collection do showcase her careful sentence construction. Even the shortest story leaves a real emotional imprint on your mind.
Steve Kettmann
The stories toward the end started to resonate more with me, but in general I found myself recoiling a little from what felt to me like mannered and gimmicky story-telling. I know Hempel is widely admired and I'm not eager to check in with a dissenting opinion, but as a matter of personal taste, I don't react well to what feels like look-at-me writing. If that makes me cool to "experimental" writing, that's probably a factor in Hempel not being one of my favorites.
Nancy
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The stories are brief and the language clear, so you would think this would be a quick read. But you'll want to make it last a week, so you can learn to breathe like this. There is some well of generousity here; all the characters feel forgiven. Not Gratuitously! Some stories were like poems -- playing off one key metaphor. Others reminded me of improv, and how you might start a scene with one "what if" and build it by believing it, and then keep it going by believing it elaborately.
James Noonan
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Anything short of five stars seemed inadequate. Beautiful, reductive, minimalist, economical, haunting, compelling--these works of, essentially, micro fiction (some stories are a page or two in length) brim with feeling and pathos and probably should not be read from start to finish in a single sitting, as I couldn't help but do, but instead savored, bit by bit, while remembering to come up for air. Floored me.
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A man's writer? 6 43 Sep 18, 2012 08:54AM  

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Amy Hempel is an American short story writer, journalist, and university professor at Brooklyn College. Hempel was a former student of Gordon Lish, who eventually helped her publish her first collection of short stories. Hempel has been published in Harper's, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Bomb. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the Ambassador Book Award in 2007, the Rea Award for ...more
“He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn't good.” 21 likes
“It was like that class at school where the teacher talks about Realization, about how you could realize something big in a commonplace thing. The example he gave--and the liar said it really happened--was that once while drinking orange juice, he'd realized he would be dead someday. He wondered if we, his students, had had similar 'realizations.'
Is he kidding? I thought.
Once I cashed a paycheck and I realized it wasn't enough.
Once I had food poisoning, and realized I was trapped inside my body.”
19 likes
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