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A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  577 ratings  ·  116 reviews
“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
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published July 10th 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
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 fro ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 t
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 mor ...more
Jun 22, 2018 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 abo ...more
Ellyn Lem
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Joan Colby
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
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; ...more
Natalie Tyler
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: excellent-books
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)
Mike Zickar
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, poetry
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 al
Rhonda Lomazow
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 sh ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 (fo
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.
J. Blair Hartman III
it is nice to see the settled brain in any case
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 Don
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. I ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 fo
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
Marcia Aldrich
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this in one day and enjoyed it immensely. Another old guy who knows how to write.
Matthew Redmond
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I’ve ever read.
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly enjoyable read, and a witty, honest look at aging.
D.j. Lang
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Will Chin
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm sad that this is the last I'll hear from someone I've read for my lifetime. I was shocked to hear of his death only after discovering this last collection. Despite the sadness, or perhaps due to it, there was added gravity throughout my read of this last and cogent and beautiful and erudite set of reflections.

He was the first poet that struck me in college. More specifically, how the clarity and cleverness of his verse managed to compliment and not intercept each other. His writings first of
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, by a former poet laureate , this collection of essays on nearing 90 speaks to the author's experience of being elderly and its challenges. Being that age, he doesn't feel the need to hold anything back, and this is an insightful view of his experiences. Mr. Hall is amusing but there's an angst that permeates this collection that had me rushing to finish it by the end. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since the title is A Carnival of Losses. Most people avoid the topic of ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was enticed to read this book by seeing the opening paragraphs on Twitter. Here's a man, I thought, who can write, with humour, about old age and dealing with it.
Well, yes, that was the opening section of a bunch of mostly short 'essays' on a variety of topics which became increasingly less humorous as they proceeded through the book. Many of them left quite a bitter taste in the mouth - and not just because of Hall's ranting about old age or about the early death of his second wife. There we
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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

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