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The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon [Paperback]

Donald Hall
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 8, 2006 0618773622 978-0618773626 Reprint
A candid memoir of love, art, and grief from a celebrated man of letters, United States poet laureate Donald Hall

In an intimate record of his twenty-three-year marriage to poet Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall recounts the rich pleasures and the unforeseen trials of their shared life. The couple made a home at their New England farmhouse, where they rejoiced in rituals of writing, gardening, caring for pets, and connecting with their rural community through friends and church. The Best Day the Worst Day presents a portrait of the inner moods of "the best marriage I know about," as Hall has written, against the stark medical emergency of Jane's leukemia, which ended her life in fifteen months. Between recollections of better times, Hall shares with readers the daily ordeal of Jane's dying through heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring storytelling.

Frequently Bought Together

The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon + Collected Poems + Without: Poems
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Jane Kenyon died of leukemia at 7:57 in the morning, April 22, 1995" is the first sentence of this unsparing and beautifully structured memoir. She was only 47, and the struggle was harrowing, but it followed 23 years of an extraordinarily happy marriage between poets, blissful despite the difference in their ages (19 years; she had been his student), and her illness and chronic clinical depression. Alternating with the meticulous account of the progress of Kenyon's disease are warm, joyful chapters as Hall recalls their time together. They lived quietly in a New Hampshire farmhouse that had been in Hall's family for generations, "the house of poetry, which was also the house of love and grief; the house of solitude and art; the house of Jane's depression and my cancers and Jane's leukemia." As increasingly famous poets, Hall and Kenyon traveled, on reading tours around America and abroad. Hall's impressions of China, Japan and especially India, which they both loved, make vivid reading. Also glowing are the portraits of friends, relatives and the caregivers who crowded into their lives. Hall wrote about Kenyon's illness and death in his 1998 book of poems, Without, but this heartfelt memoir should reach people who seldom read poetry and could be a natural for reading groups. Agent, Gerald McCauley. (May 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An account of her illness, their life together, and the calming landscape of New England...a gem." USA Today

"A bright, wonderful book." --New York Observer

"A fearful and beautiful history." Boston Globe

"Elegantly and lovingly tells the story of their life together." --Christian Century

"Marriage, art, and illness are all treated with wisdom in Hall's account." New York Sun

"Haunting...The language is spare, clean, very readable." --Poetry

"[The Best Day the Worst Day] aims to show us the sacredness of the everyday, the magical qualities of the circle of life...Hall is such an evocative writer." --Book World The Washington Post

"[A] moving portrait of marriage." The Miami Herald

"Hall has turned his pain into art that can inspire and help others deal with loss." The Oregonian

"Hall portrays the creative, peaceful life [he and Jane Kenyon] carved out for themselves...A moving tribute, unsparingly honest." Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (November 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618773622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618773626
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Memoir August 26, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read an excerpt from this book in a magazine not too long ago. I was so moved by it that I decided to read the entire book. I'm glad I did because it is a wonderful piece of writing.

In this memoir, the poet Donald Hall tells of his relationship with the poet Jane Kenyon. In it, he tells of meeting her, marrying her, living with her (first in Michigan and then in New Hampshire) and, finally, losing her to leukemia. "The Best Day The Worst Day" comes from a chapter in the book where, after a day when Ms. Kenyon seems to be recovering and doing well, they receive the news that her cancer will be terminal. However, it is also an appropriate title for the book because Mr. Hall alternates beautiful chapters of the "healthy" parts of their relationship with more harrowing chapters describing Ms. Kenyon's progressing illness.

This is not a memoir for the faint of heart. Though there are beautiful passages of love and joy and living together in a rustic farmhouse in New Hampshire, death runs through the entire book, not only because we already know Ms. Kenyon's ultimate fate but also because her death is not the only one. Both Ms. Kenyon's mother and Mr. Hall's mother are elderly and, trying to take care of them and their ultimate passing just before Ms. Kenyon's is a strong thread in the book. There is also Mr. Hall's own cancer which is diagnosed a few years before Ms. Kenyon's that overshadows events. Ironically, Mr. Hall's cancer was expected to be fatal and yet he has managed to survive.

How he has done so is somewhat of a mystery. The avalanche of tragedy that Mr. Hall experiences has destroyed others. But Mr. Hall has managed not only to continue but also to produce this wonderful work. Perhaps only those who have suffered through cancer the way Mr.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this! June 3, 2005
If you can handle reading a blow by blow description of a woman's losing battle with leukemia, don't miss this book. Donald Hall is a poet as was his wife Jane Kenyon. He has spent a lifetime mastering the economy of words to make each one count. His prose accomplishes the same thing....This memoir is breath-taking reading for its directness and beauty as it takes you through the graphic paces of a losing battle with leukemia against a background of exquisite love. I couldn't put down this book....and feel privileged to have chosen it without any prior recommendations. It is most unlikely that this will be a "best seller" because of its content....but if you appreciate fine writing and can handle this kind of will be moved!!!!!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It breaks a poet's heart February 15, 2006
I saw Donald Hall read at AWP almost a year ago and decided then that I had to have this book. I was moved to tears in the reading. I bought it and it took me a while to have the time to read it, and then a month and a half to read. It is not in anyway shape or form, easy to read. Not only is language dense and medical at points, but somehow each technical word is embedded in a love that is as strong 10 years after Jane Kenyon's death as I imagine it was at Hall and Kenyon's marriage 35 years ago. It a book that moves you to tears on almost every page. And not only is this written in tribute and memorial to a life of love, but it is a catalogue of life for popular and well respected poets. Writing habits, readings, trips, the things you write and do to have the money to write, the way that dedication is your life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "the company of tears" January 5, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I recently finished reading Jane Kenyon's collected poems which left me missing her and wanting more. And so I picked up The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon written by Kenyon's husband--the esteemed poet Donald Hall. While the subtitle of this book is "Life with Jane Kenyon," I would argue that it is not so much about Kenyon's life with Hall as it is about her death, her dying. Yes, Hall does recount memories and vignettes of their life together, particularly how it was they came to live in their beloved farmhouse in New Hampshire.

Mostly I found this touching book to be an exploration of a husband moving through the process of grief, of holding on, and of letting go. Throughout, Hall beautifully and matter-of-factly reveals what it feels like when the one you love dies, and what are those threads that carry you through to this end, and what are those threads that bind you to this life afterward: "Poetry gives the griever not release from grief but companionship in grief. Poetry embodies the complexity of feelings in their most intense and entangled, and therefore offers (over centuries, or over no time at all) the company of tears."
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hard read...very emotional September 20, 2005
I actually bought this book as a gift to a freind who was in the a similar situation but she was the one with cancer. I got a library copy to read before I gave it to her and cried so hard (I had lost my husband to cancer a year before) that I could not give the gift as I was afraid that I would make her situation worse.

I have the book in my collection and will get through it in my own time. It really is a book of love and should be taken that way. I recommend it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking, eloquent and real December 29, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although this is so overtly a chronicle of losing a loved one, about the horrors of cancer and its various treatments, it is also a very real picture of what makes a good and lasting marriage. Although Hall and Kenyon knew the odds of their union lasting were very slim, given the 19-year age difference and her bipolar illness, they took the plunge, Hall noting that "all marriages start in ignorance and need; what matters is what you do after you marry." Fifty-five pages later, Hall affirms what makes their marriage last -

"What we did: love. We did not spend our days gazing into each other's eyes. We did that gazing when we made love or when one of us was in trouble, but most of the time our gazes met and entwined as they looked at a third thing. Third things are essential to marriages ... Each member of a couple is separate. The two come together in double attention."

He speaks further of what, for them, constituted those "third things" - John Keats, the BSO, children, pets, or Eagle Pond. The twenty-three years Hall and Kenyon had together had their ups and downs to be sure, but in the end love prevailed. This book is Hall's very personal love song, written just for Jane. Read it and learn what love is really all about. - Tim Bazzett, author of Pinhead: A Love Story
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving memoir
The story of two poets - husband and wife... she gets leukemia and the couple go through an incredible ordeal to regain health - ultimately unsuccessful. Read more
Published 1 month ago by paul r. coutu
4.0 out of 5 stars A Love Well Matched!
I really enjoyed this book. They lived a very interesting life being both poets and seemed like a good love match. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Evelyn S. Proctor
5.0 out of 5 stars love and caring
donald hall began this memoir of his life with jane kenyon with her funeral. she died at the age of 47 of leukemia. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Case Quarter
5.0 out of 5 stars Life and death and love and poetry in prose
This is one of a list of books I visit with regularly, long after reading it the first time. Hall writes about his life with Jane Kenyon in the context of her death and manages to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Leigh Hough
4.0 out of 5 stars If you have gone through a tragic loss of a loved one this story will...
Having recently lost my best friend to cancer after a 27 month battle, I felt that Donald Hall captured some of the universal feelings we experience when we are mourning the great... Read more
Published 10 months ago by stuckinthemiddle
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
This is a beautifully written memoir about the dying of a beloved spouse... and all the memories of a life well lived together.
Published 13 months ago by avid reader from ATL
4.0 out of 5 stars Profound and probably unforgettable
I don't read poetry but I read an essay in The New Yorker a few months ago (View in Winter, January 2012) that was so arresting I had to look up the author, to find he was one... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Bartles
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good A Treatise on Love and Grief As You Will Read
Donald Hall's prose account of the fifteen months that he and his wife Jane Kenyon fought her illness with everything they had ("it was January 1994--the month when leukemia came... Read more
Published on July 6, 2011 by H. F. Corbin
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful mosaic
I am in the middle of this book, after having read Jane Kenyon's collection, Otherwise, and Donald Hall's collection, Without. Read more
Published on October 5, 2009 by J. Rigney
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Intimate Memoir
The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon
This compeling memoir took me into the most intimate life of these two outstanding poets. Read more
Published on July 28, 2008 by Merle Hazard
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