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A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety

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“Hall lived long enough to leave behind two final books, memento mori titled ‘Essays After Eighty’ (2014) and now ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety.’ They’re up there with the best things he did.” —Dwight Garner,  New York Times

From the former poet laureate of the United States, essays from the vantage point of very old age

Donald Hall lived a remarkable life of letters, one capped most recently by the New York Times bestseller Essays After Eighty, a “treasure” of a book in which he “balance[s] frankness about losses with humor and gratitude” (Washington Post). Before his passing in 2018, nearing ninety, Hall delivered this new collection of self-knowing, fierce, and funny essays on aging, the pleasures of solitude, and the sometimes astonishing freedoms arising from both. He intersperses memories of exuberant days—as in Paris, 1951, with a French girl memorably inclined to say, “I couldn’t care less”—with writing, visceral and hilarious, on what he has called the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of extreme old age.  

“Why should a nonagenarian hold anything back?” Hall answers his own question by revealing several vivid instances of “the worst thing I ever did," and through equally uncensored tales of  literary friendships spanning decades, with James Wright, Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney, and other luminaries. 

Cementing his place alongside Roger Angell and Joan Didion as a generous and profound chronicler of loss, Hall returns to the death of his beloved wife, Jane Kenyon, in an essay as original and searing as anything he's written in his extraordinary literary lifetime.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published July 10, 2018

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About the author

Donald Hall

253 books173 followers
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 of children's books. Hall edited more than two dozen textbooks and anthologies. His honors include two Guggenheim fellowships, the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Silver medal, a Lifetime Achievement award from the New Hampshire Writers and Publisher Project, and the Ruth Lilly Prize for poetry. Hall also served as Poet Laureate of New Hampshire from 1984 to 1989. In December 1993 he and his wife poet Jane Kenyon were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning Bill Moyers documentary, "A Life Together." In the June 2006, Hall was appointed the Library of Congress's fourteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 132 reviews
Profile Image for Pamela Small.
430 reviews36 followers
August 6, 2018
My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. I expected more reflection on the process and peculiarities of aging. I expected less (or no) opinions of other poets, nor the ad nauseam rendition of the past 150 years of family history and circa 1865 farmhouse. I expected humor aka David Sedaris. I am at a loss to review A Carnival of Losses except to say I am most definitely in the minority with my strong dislike and disappointment of it and, therefore, will refrain from delineating my numerous criticisms of this compilation of notes and essays from the highly respected and praised Poet Laureate, Donald Hall.
Profile Image for Sue.
252 reviews34 followers
August 15, 2018
It dismays me that I had to learn of this book only through the obituary for Donald Hall, poet, editor, anthologizer, Poet Laureate. This final collection of essays and reminiscences was ready for release when Hall died in late June 2018, a few months shy of his ninetieth birthday.

Hence the book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, is truly a valedictory. He tells us how difficult it was to summon the strength to write. His mind was willing, but the body would not always cooperate. But that agile mind – that was an inspiration! He seems not to have lost the sharp intellect that made him a prominent man of letters, a force to reckon with.

The process of growing old is the steady loss of pleasures and abilities, one by one, but the losses are not the same for everyone. Growing old, as they say, is not for sissies. Apparently Hall’s ability to turn a phrase, to make an observation did not go away.

The failing body and the lapses in short term memory often came in for humorous treatment, a fact that endeared Hall to me. He might write and edit and polish prose, but he could not remember to use a garage door opener. The new garage, with covered access from the house, was meant to make life easier, but it introduced a new skill too late. Hall kept backing his car right into the door, rendering it inoperable. I loved his self-deprecating confession.

The book has four distinct sections. The first and last are reflections on his life, long past as well as recent. The inner sections include one about poets Hall has known and another about the poetry of death and dying. It is the bookends that matter most. He wrote about Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, about his wife, Jane Kenyon, who died too young, about events in their past, and about aging.

Not every word was thrilling. The section reflecting on various poets he had known or with whom he interacted interested me little, despite the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. Within that section the essays I liked best were those which alluded to poetic movements of the past half century. In particular, I liked the chapter on Richard Wilbur, who declined to write confessional poetry. Hall reports that Wilbur had told him that “he was not about to spill his guts out for anybody.” Hall recalls that this “reticence became grounds for the contempt of the New York Times Book Review.” Thus the rumblings of professional disagreements and rivalries borne out of poetic philosophies and sometimes big egos. That’s always a little fun to glimpse.

Donald Hall counted his blessings along with his losses, and now we have lost Donald Hall. I am grateful that he left us this book, a carnival of memories.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books928 followers
February 18, 2019
I had read and enjoyed Hall's previous set of essays, so what was to lose in reading these? Nothing, though much gained.

Although some of the material covered subjects read about in the last issue (wife Jane Kenyon's death, his New Hampshire grandparents and Connecticut mom, etc.), Hall also shared a lot of remembrances of things past by touching on the many poets he'd met over the years.

Short, some one-page and some two- or three-pages. It's an inside look at poets and turf and quests for fame and marketing (it was better then than now because Hall's was the Age of Magazines and ours is decidedly not).

There's also the hilarious news that some poets' readings were followed by female fans looking to land the man (yes, as if he were a rock star). My have times changed for the better in many ways (and I don't care who--or better yet, WHAT--is in the White House). Quick, endearing, concise, and humorous.

If you're interested in his reminisces about Kenneth Rexroth and Allen Tate, you can read them here.
Profile Image for Gerri.
570 reviews2 followers
July 26, 2018
Until I saw a write up about this book in my local newspaper, I had no idea who Donald Hall was. The synopsis of the book was so intriguing that I had to read it and I’m so glad I did!!!! One of the best reads this summer. Mr. Hall is so open and honest in this writing about everything from aging, his loves, loss and life in general at turning 90. I don’t think he held anything back. Loved the way he wrote in short chapters which made this book so easy to get through while stilling reading a more in-depth novel.
Profile Image for Bookish.
613 reviews140 followers
June 22, 2018
This is beloved poet Donald Hall’s moving memoir A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. Hall’s late wife, Jane Kenyon, is one of my favorite contemporary poets, so I have a soft spot for Hall anyway, but when I read his essay “Between Solitude and Loneliness” in The New Yorker a couple of years ago I was brought to my knees. This essay is now a chapter in A Carnival of Losses, and it’s a pretty great example of what you will find in this book, which is basically one part grieving love story, one part reflection on things past, one part shaking his fist at God, and one part Andy Rooney curmudgeonliness. It’s also a book about aging and continuing to write as one does. Simply put: It’s a heartbreaking beauty of a book. —Myf (excerpted from Bookish's Staff Reads)
Profile Image for Lorena.
Author 9 books502 followers
February 25, 2019
A delight! Painful and funny, a heads up for writers looking ahead to old age, or for humans. Writers are humans too, after all! The many ways you can lose your dentures. Demolishing your automatic garage door not once but twice because you forgot it was there. Deciding that the ability to write poetry goes before your ability to write prose. What it means to live in the house of your ancestors and view the world from that stable vantage point. I think I'll back up and read the book he wrote about his eighties...
Profile Image for Ellyn Lem.
Author 2 books19 followers
July 27, 2018
I bet if someone is an ardent fan of Donald Hall's poetry, that person would revel in this latest collection of essays written in his late 80s. The novelist Ann Patchett is one such fan and has heartily endorsed the collection, which is how I had heard of it. While somewhat familiar with Hall's poems (less so his children's books and criticism), I had a hard time mustering up much excitement for most of these short snippets on a wide variety of topics, many of which involve lots of his relatives that most people will never have heard of. As a result, those essays were hard to get into and did not keep my attention fully. There was a middle section on poets that was a little bit more interesting, but uneven. Some well-known poets were mentioned like T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams, but others were lesser known and the anecdotes varied in their level of engagement. A few pieces stood out for me--one on necropoetry that talks about the poetry he wrote after losing his second wife to cancer and how poetry and grief are companions. One that shocked me a little toward end was called "Fucking," but that one was not boring at all!! Wish someone had edited these essays more and found a more effective organization for them since everything came off as a little bit random...but with sprinkled gems throughout.
Profile Image for Joan Colby.
Author 48 books64 followers
February 3, 2019
Donald Hall who died last year produced a final book of prose subtitled Notes Nearing Ninety. A work of remarkable candor and charm his prose has not suffered from the advent of great age, though it is a subject he treats with wryness, humor and sometimes despair. A number of his essays profile various writers he met throughout his illustrious career and will be of interest to those of a literary bent. The more generalized essays will be enjoyed by anyone fortunate enough to read them.
Profile Image for TL .
1,825 reviews35 followers
August 21, 2018
I received this via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. Ally my opinions are my own.

Hits and misses... he writes well, but most of it wasn't very engaging for me. I'm in the minority it seems *shrugs* Maybe I just wasn't the right audience for this.
Profile Image for Nina.
Author 11 books73 followers
July 24, 2019
A thoroughly enjoyable read, and a witty, honest look at aging.
944 reviews53 followers
September 30, 2018
Sometimes titles are particularly apt, and this is true of Donald Hall's book. He died this past summer at the age of 89. When you get to be that age, you've experienced plenty of losses, and have to be anticipating the biggest loss of all, your life. But at the same time, Hall kept writing, humorously and with balance in essays and meditations about many of these losses. Many are physical, detailing the indignities of the failing body, many are comments on famous poets and writers that he knew; always there is a sense of the past. "I can't go on; I'll go on", words from Beckett's Gogo come to mind.

There are two long pieces in this miscellaneous collection, one about Jane Kenyon, his wife who died of leukemia in l995 at the age of 47. She was much younger than Hall and the expectation was always that she would outlive him, but in fact he outlived her by 23 years, details that give life to a piece called "Necropoetics" in which he points out that poetry begins "with elegy, in extremity." He writes about many well-known poems that try to work through grief and find something lasting of value, not the least of which are the emotions the survivors feel.

Writing about death also means writing about life, the life that leads up to the death. And the life that survives after the death. He concludes: "In the months and years after her death Jane's voice and mine rose as one, spiraling together images and dipthongs of the de ad who once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the unforgivable absence of flesh."

The other long piece is titled "Way Way Down, Way Way Up" and describes a period in the year before he died when he was sure he was dying. He was so ill he couldn't write, alarming because he had written every day since he was 12 years old. He fell, had internal problems, ended up in emergency care and felt so exhausted that he was sure he was dying, especially as someone in the hospital had clipped off his beard. The end was near. But he revived and went home, albeit with a lot of care. He writes, "Only the wrenching apart permits or reveals the losses. Down and up, Up and down, way way down, way way up, A carnival of losses."

Shortly after this experience, he was feted at a Music Hall in Portsmouth, a joyful occasion that celebrated his long life, full of poetry and reminiscing about his experiences and all of the poets and writers he had met in his life. He reflects that life "expresses itself most fiercely in contradiction." It is only endings that give meaning to the whole, and within a year, Hall would be dead.

Hall was United States poet laureate in 2006, a honor to be sure, but he ruefully notes in one place that all poets are neglected after they die. This last book of his makes you realize that old age is interesting, certainly no impediment to reflection and wisdom.

Profile Image for Natalie Tyler.
Author 1 book56 followers
January 31, 2019
Hall's reflections and memories are haunted by loss. As he continues to stumble through his final years, being a widower becomes not more familiar but more hauntingly depressing. This book does not provide any peppy affirmations about aging but is rather a lament. The lament comes in several forms and digressions. He's spun a verbal web, like the most adroit spider, but the orb of the web and all of its threads are informed by loss and grief.

Hall is stoic and manages to write ironic (slightly) field-notes about his life. The meals of the widower are "Lean Cuisine" and "Stauffer's". When stuck in a hospital that does not carry MSNBC he watches Fox News and tried to decipher the Fox stories from his own ideas of what they might mean.

The book is sad, because Hall is not longer alive and also because his description of the accommodations to old age is both a warning and a bit of wisdom. Keep a piss-pot by your bed to use in the middle of the night is one concept. Bite the hand of the nurse who comes at you with a razor is another.

Hall's mind stayed lively as his body declined. It left me pondering whether I would prefer to watch my own demise (as Hall did) or to be start-raving demented and not care about anything. I prefer Hall's way.
Profile Image for Mike Zickar.
348 reviews3 followers
April 19, 2019
A beautiful and meandering book written by poet Donald Hall as he neared ninety (he died several months before hitting that milestone). Topics that the book covers are aging, reminiscences of fellow poets, his life and marriage with poet Jane Kenyon, family history, and living on a New Hampshire farm that had been in his family for years.

To me the strengths of the book were the parts that touched on aging, realizing that there is so little literature written by people past their mid 70s, let alone in the mid to late 80s. Hall lays out the landscape to a life that many of us hope for (dealing with struggles of that age means at least we're still alive then!). I loved his admitting that he would make sure to go to bed later than his women companions and then make sure to wake up before they did, so that they couldn't observe him washing out his dentures or putting them back in! There are lots of delicate moments like this in the book of essays.

I felt like his reminiscences of fellow poets was the weakest part of the book even though those parts were still interesting, though often of minor anecdotes that probably meant much more to Hall than anybody else in the world.

Throughout these essays, Hall maintains a self of humor, along with a wonder at the aging process.
1,911 reviews31 followers
July 8, 2018
Donald Hall wrote so openly and honestly of aging.He held nothing back the fact that the older he got the more naps he needed remembering his younger years.When he talks about Jane Kenyon his love a young woman he met when she was in his college class. How they fell in love built a life both poets her poetry so beautiful. Their daily routine till his heartbreak she fell ill he nursed her daily but this much younger woman the love he never got over passed away.He now so old missing her wishing she would be sitting by his side as his turn came,Heartwrenching& I hope they are dancing in heaven together.His poetry& hers along with his essays will always keep them alive,
Profile Image for Roberta.
297 reviews2 followers
November 26, 2018
Amazing. From the book flap: "New essays from the vantage point of very old age ..." Donald Hall, the former poet laureate and husband of poet Jane Kenyon, has written this gem of book as he approaches the age of ninety. Many essays will make you laugh out loud; many are short and sweet; others encompass his knowledge and experience with poets and poetry; and many more are about his New England roots, his family, and his family farm in New Hampshire.

There are a few essays that dive too deep (for my tastes) into the politics of poetry; nonetheless, I think it may be my favorite book of the year. I would particularly recommend it to anyone with aging parents or loved ones.
Profile Image for Lesley.
423 reviews8 followers
June 25, 2019
I'm biased when talking about anything Donald Hall but I loved this book. Hall is/was a genius of understated, simple poetics that rose above its own simplicity and earthiness. His poetry should be assigned life-reading (imho) and the idea of him and Jane Kenyon writing in the same house, producing these two bodies of work, is beyond imagination.

I have found his works of memoir even more moving in some ways. The poetry is stripped away and we see the man in all of his flaws (of which he has many), in all of his base humanness, and in his lusts and losses.

Donald Hall died in 2018 and this collection of essays shows his age. Still, his wit is sharp (and sometimes cutting) and he turns its blade as often on himself as others. An intimate and funny portrait of a man nearing ninety, and the end of his life.
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,550 reviews34 followers
December 30, 2020
Reading this was a lot like sitting around with your funny, sometimes cantankerous, uncle and listening to him reminisce about his life. You come away with stories about people you know, stories about people you have heard of, and some moments of grace and insight into the life of a loved one that you only knew by their role - uncle, father, neighbor -- until you stopped to listen and saw them as young man with dreams, lover, husband, friend.
404 reviews2 followers
June 22, 2019
Maybe if you haven't been in love with Donald Hall forever, maybe if Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon are not your favorite love story ever, maybe you wouldn't think this should get five stars. I mean, he wrote it in his late eighties. It is imperfect and uneven, and very powerful and beautiful and sweet and personal.
I finished, looked up, realized I was snot-running-down-my-nose crying AND there was a person I knew sitting across the aisle from me. I hadn't even noticed her sit down!
I STILL love Donald Hall, and I still think Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon is my favorite love story ever.
Profile Image for Eric.
910 reviews10 followers
July 19, 2018
I did not know who Donald Hall was before I read this. I read a review of this somewhere. It wasn't as depressing as it sounds. A lot of it was pretty funny actually. Donald Hall was the poet laureate of America about 10 years ago. He was married to Jane Kenyon who died of leukemia at 47. He talked about her a lot and also about getting older (no surprise there), poets that he had met, friends, his family, and the old farmhouse he lived in among other things. He seemed like a smart, witty guy. It must be nice to call your profession "poet" and be able to make a living off of that. A rare breed.
Profile Image for Rick.
778 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2018
Hall passed away as this book was being published so we have lost our Virgil of longevity. What you need to let go of, what you need to cling to, how you can find meaning and value in a world that still engages you to the best of your declining abilities—and a model for looking at is with determination, humor, and unfettered frankness. His Essays After Eighty was wonderful—blunt, wise, witty, charming, and belligerent; A Carnival of Losses is exactly that too, but different.

Hall wrote poetry for love and money and, at first, prose for money. His books about living in New Hampshire were masterpieces of personal history and being present. His children’s book The Ox-Cart Man was based on a poem but re-worked for a young audience, without condescension. His poems won prizes but his fame as a poet was overtaken by that of his wife, Jane Kenyon, to whom he was devoted in life and after her tragic early death to cancer. As he adjusted to the limitations of aging, he stopped writing poetry because he could no longer do it with the sustained attention required. But he was a writer and he continued to write prose.

With his latest collection of essays he has mostly reduced the essay to the shortest form possible, a page and a half, a page, a paragraph. This is the difference to the previous book of essays. And he makes the economy of length work. One or two of them could be called prose poems, but that’s our secret. There are essays about losing his teeth (not quite what you think), his inability to read books or even The New Yorker—though I suspect he read the cartoons and the Talk of the Town still. There is happy news, but I won’t spoil it, about his family home. There are questions about fame with presumptions about how fleeting it will be for him (and others).

Speaking of others, there are 17 delightful essays on “The Selected Poets of Donald Hall,” often built on a single anecdote. Mostly they are very kind, though one reads in its entirety, “My recollections of some poets are brief. Allen Tate always looked grumpy.” Revealingly about the age when he was prominent in the world of poetry, 16 of the essays are about men, one is about husband and wife poets (Edwin and Willa Muir). All are white. It was a world dominated by academia and cocktail parties and even with liberals in bastions of liberalness (Ann Arbor, The Paris Review, where he was the founding poetry editor) it was a white guy world. As it was after the color line in the Major Leagues was finally broken, and critics of admitting Negro League players to the Hall of Fame used to say—after first saying “this isn’t about race,” which of course it was impossible not to be since that was what the color line was based on—the Negro League players simply didn’t play against the best competition so they couldn’t be appropriately evaluated for Hall of Fame inclusion. Of course, if true one way it was also true in reverse. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig never had to hit against Satchel Paige when it counted; and great white pitchers never had to get Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell out. Heaney deservedly gets an essay but Syzmborska and Walcott do not. E.E. Cummings but not Marianne Moore. Tom Clark but not Gwendolyn Brooks, and so on.

“The Selected Poets of Donald Hall” is very entertaining and the essays are worth reading on their own. But the title almost intentionally calls attention to an aspect of white male privilege and it, not the individual insights, is the most revealing fact in this section. Opportunities—for publication, reviews, prizes, and, therefore, audience—were controlled by a white men’s club that benefited them. It would have been interesting to hear Hall’s thoughts on race and gender in his chosen field in response to his personal white male “selected.” It begs the question, selected from whom, by what standard and with what consequences?

He did in this collection and the previous one, however, confront the question of how to live well beyond the average lifespan with as much dignity and grace as time allows in its last dropping grains of sand.

A Carnival of Losses is poignant reading about the toll that life at the end takes on us and how, nonetheless, we can still define our response. Doing what we love for as long as we can—writing, if you’re Donald Hall, enjoying the window views and the memories, however shakily they come to you, telling our story, being with family, leaving your mark. Hall will be remembered, I’m confident, for some of his poems and much of his prose, particularly but not exclusively his late essays on how to live out your days with dignity no matter how confined and put upon you are my circumstances of health and capacity.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,222 reviews
September 23, 2018
Unless his estate surfaces unpublished pieces, this is the last of Donald Hall's work, and I will miss reading something new of his. With honesty, sometimes, humility, and always, humor, Donald Hall remembers what is important about his heritage, family, and writing life as well as what he has lost as he moves slowly in his ninetieth year.

His thoughts on work reminded me of Studs Terkel's important commentary, "Working." Every once in a while, one of his poems sent me to an anthology such as his mention of "Exile." His long list of poets, "The Selected Poets of Donald Hall," will keep my poetry reading focused over the next few months. His chapter on "Prosaic Laureates" made me smile: "It was a lesson, learned in my twenties, that humility is a necessary component of genius."..."Radio baseball was better than radio football."..."I remember when I first fell for girls."..."The "Paris Review" invented the literary interview , printed like a play without stage directions."..."Politics has clogged the air of my life."

Reading Donald Hall's essays is always like having a conversation with him; he writes with such clarity, such feeling. Because I have several of his collections, I feel like I know him, remembering his days at Harvard with a former colleague of mine, Paris in 1951, his friendships with literary greats, and the death of his beloved wife, Jane Kenyon. He is one of the literary giants of my life, and I am grateful for every word I have read of his. Rest in peace, Donald Hall.

Profile Image for Marcia Aldrich.
Author 15 books22 followers
January 21, 2020
It pains me to say I did not like or admire this book which was cobbled together from this and that in a most calculated fashion to "create" a book when there wasn't one. I was also surprised my how this particular assemblage of little pieces seemed to expose too much self-interest, self-satisfaction, high regard for oneself. Sad that this is the last publication--didn't serve him well.
Profile Image for April.
461 reviews7 followers
December 24, 2018
Read this in one day and enjoyed it immensely. Another old guy who knows how to write.
Profile Image for D.J. Lang.
582 reviews14 followers
October 30, 2018
I read this final book of Donald Hall's close on the heels of his Essays After Eighty (You can find that review here.) However, I did not want to review two growing old books, one after the other, especially one with a title about losses. At the time that I read the book, I still had all of my aunts and uncles and both parents alive (and I'm not a child). I have seen that they have had to live through the losses of loved ones and the loss of health, but they have continued to live. This book is about living even as it is also about losing, and there is much to be learned from Hall's story. Not to mention, as I have come to realize, there is much to learn from Hall's writing. He remained a master writer to the very end (he died in June of this year), no wonder as he continued to revise to extraordinary lengths. In his first essay "You Are Old," he writes: "You are old when an essay of reminiscence takes eighty-four drafts." However, he is comparing that number to the numbers he mentioned when he was younger -- up to sixty! Clearly, he hones his craft more than the rest of us.

Because Hall writes from the vantage point of nearing ninety, "he feels free to reveal...several vivid examples of 'the worst thing I ever did' which is different from someone trying to keep an untarnished image of him or herself. However, be prepared for an entire essay (only two paragraphs, one half of a page) dedicated to the F- word. It is on page 181 of a 216 page book. Some will get the book for that essay alone and others will want to burn the book. I wouldn't go that far. I both bought the book and also dislike that particular essay. I don't want obscene words in my head that will come out at random sometime in the future if I fall into my father's stage of Alzheimer's or have a stroke and the only words I remember are obscene. It may sound funny on paper or in a movie, but in real life, it's not humorous at all.

Here are the great parts: amazing writing, writing of images that make this book (and his Essays After Eighty) required reading for some medical students. Hall captures so incredibly well what aging can look like that medical students are asked to read the book so that they will have some understanding of their older patients, some understanding of what the ailments of growing older feel like. His essay "Solitude Double Solitude" is nothing short of amazing (I'm running our of superlatives for Hall's writing) and his final sentence was gut-wrenching.

A surprising element of reading this book happened as Hall recounted his life with various poet-peers. These were poets who were famous in their day, and some I had never even heard of. Hall didn't expect to be remembered for too long either, and I think, perhaps, his prose will outlast his poetry! Nonetheless, I read these chapters at the same time that I was pondering legacy. Not many people will have their names remembered for years upon years, but each person matters. Each person brings something to the world of living, whether it be for ill or good.

Hall's final essay "Tree Day" is the perfect essay to end on, a perfect transition from one generation to the next. I do recommend the book.
Profile Image for Will Chin.
545 reviews22 followers
December 9, 2018
OK, it's more like 3.5.

I generally stay away from prose written by poets. Call me uncivilised, but I am generally not a fan of poetry. But when I heard about this book — A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall — I just couldn't pass it up. Death and dying are topics that fascinate me as a reader, and descriptions of this essay seem to promise exactly that — from the perspective of a ninety-year-old poet, no less.

An essay collections, like short story collections, collect both hits and misses. And while the chapters that touch on ageing, death, sickness, solitude and isolation are compelling — easily a five-star read — the book also collects a slew of other essays that are somewhat unrelated to the topics at hand. Sometimes Hall writes of a conversation he overhears at a party, or a dinner party he added a long time ago. There's even a large chunk of the book on all the poets, famous and forgotten, he had met over the years. It would make sense for their inclusions if the essays somehow tie back to the topics of death and dying, but they don't always do. While they do feel like they could perhaps make for good materials for a separate book altogether, collecting them here just seems somewhat out of place. It's like serving mash potatoes in the middle of a dessert course.

But the essays on the topics at hand are so good, so well written, that they struck my heart in the deepest, most tender spots. I cannot say I fully recommend this book as a whole, but sections of this are such wonderfully written essays that I feel everyone should read it. After all, we are all dying as we are living.
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