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Reasons to Live
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1001 book reviews > Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel

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Diane  | 2051 comments Rating: 3.75 stars


Despite the high overall ratings (4,15 stars) for this book, none of my GR friends seem to like it, giving it an average of 2.5 stars. I enjoyed it, though.

This is a collection of short stories. In each of the stories, the main character has or is experiencing of some kind of loss. The characters find solace in mundane things, or small reasons to live (hence the title), to see themselves through a difficult time or an abrupt change in their lives. Hempel's prose is very sparse and minimalist, but I think that works very well for these stories and what she is communicating here. As a result, every sentence is of importance and to the point. More authors need to write like this.

Overall, the stories were not really all that exciting topic-wise, but I did find myself enjoying them due to Hempel's style of writing.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4259 comments Mod
Read 2011
Amy Hempel's short fiction collection titled reasons to live are stories of tragedies that happen. As you might say "life happens". This collection was published in 1985, maybe she would title it "life happens" if she was picking a name today. I liked many of the stories but other readers have disliked the fact that the characters are without name and very minimal detail. I think this makes it easier to insert self. Many of the stories seem to struggle with loss or a tragedy. The one titled "Nashville Gone to Ashes" is about a widow trying to tend to her deceased veterinarian husband's pets both living and deceased (ashes). She lies in his bed so the bed she sees is her own, so she can avoid seeing that she is alone. The one titled "Going" reminded me that memories are often retained by our senses; smells, sounds, color. These are stories of coping, focusing on detail rather than the bigger problem. It deals with grief. It really is about surviving. The emotional feel of the book is sadness.


Amanda Dawn | 1243 comments Read this one recently and I was incredibly touched by it and gave it 5 stars. It's sparse, it's sad, it's trashy, it's mundane, it's touching, it's life. Things like this about seeing the beauty and profundity kind of sad seemingly insignificant lives and moments always gives me this double edged existential dread and euphoria at the same time: It's not all good but it's all moving. It's the essence of life: it's the point of the book. The stories about the vet's widow and the woman who had an abortion and now knits baby clothes for a friend got me the most.

Using hurricane country Florida was really a perfect setting for this kind of topic too because of both the culture and socioeconomic status there, and the way the communities are often washed away, leaving people to rebuild and struggle and also focus on what matters.

Books like this also tend to remind me of my hometown even though it has the opposite of a Florida climate lol: its rural not sophisticated working class people mining meaning out of whatever they can. The kind of things that don't usually make for movies and stories. But it always reminds me (weirdly enough) about the socratic ideal of there being a sliver or shadow of "Divine beauty" -the ultimate ooomf- in everything. Reading this was the same feeling I got as a teenager reading Plato's symposium talking about these things on the bus, passing the trailer park. It's somewhat indescribable, but there's a lot of it.


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