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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too Many Regrets For Me
As a person with a disability, I read this memoir *wanting* to relate, *wanting* to understand; but the attitudes presented in *What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir In Blindness* are alien to mine. Regrets fill page after page. I, too, became disabled; I, too, had to come to terms with the Befores and Afters -- but I never gave in to that interior darkness that fills the...
Published on February 2, 2012 by Kayla Rigney

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Get Much Out of This Book
I was really excited to get this book; I too am losing my vision. Not from blepharospasm (like the suthor), but from an irreversible genetic disease. So, I had hoped to find some sort of wisdom, advice, or at least entertainment within the pages of the book, but I found none. It is dark, slow and to be very upfront, depressing.

Much is made of the author's life...
Published on January 6, 2012 by Rabid Reader


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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Get Much Out of This Book, January 6, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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I was really excited to get this book; I too am losing my vision. Not from blepharospasm (like the suthor), but from an irreversible genetic disease. So, I had hoped to find some sort of wisdom, advice, or at least entertainment within the pages of the book, but I found none. It is dark, slow and to be very upfront, depressing.

Much is made of the author's life prior to her blindness; a life that was full of mental illness, death of loved ones and addiction. Frankly, after the first several chapters, I had to force myself to read on - and as much difficulty as I have seeing the printed word these days - that alone was an exercise in self-discipline. My discipline was not rewarded. The book didn't get brighter, no wisdom was hidden within, and at the end of each chapter, I felt like taking an anti depressant.

There are those who enjoy book that plumb the dark depth of the soul and pick at emotional scabs; those sorts will enjoy this book. However, if you (like me) are looking for something to encourage you as you pass through your own dark places, you may want to keep looking.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too Many Regrets For Me, February 2, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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As a person with a disability, I read this memoir *wanting* to relate, *wanting* to understand; but the attitudes presented in *What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir In Blindness* are alien to mine. Regrets fill page after page. I, too, became disabled; I, too, had to come to terms with the Befores and Afters -- but I never gave in to that interior darkness that fills the pages of *What to Look for In Winter.*

I'm giving this book 4 stars because it's well-crafted and a strangely haunting look at the darkest nights of one soul. This doesn't mean I *liked* it. I didn't. However, as a memoir of acquired blindness/ disability, it's of great value, because it's *honest.* There is no "Good/Brave/Courageous"(or any other stereotypical word) Blind woman here -- just a very human one trying to process her loss.

The language of disability is different for each person. Ms. McWilliam's is just too far-removed from my own for me to embrace.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unsual memoir - not for everyone, February 15, 2012
By 
Patricia (San Diego, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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First a couple of warnings: #1 This book is written by a Scot writer who lives in Britain and for Americans some of the meanings can be elusive; #2 This woman has a vocabulary - I looked up more words than I have in a long time (I enjoyed that part even though I won't remember most of them); #3 She cannot stay on subject - meanders all over the place. Now to the review: Candia McWilliam is a well-known and award-winning author of fiction in Britain and this memoir deals with the effects of blepharospasm on her life - she is going blind even though her eyes can see but her lids won't stay open. An unusual disease that stumps most of the medical community until she finds the right surgeon. But she also has a long history of emotional issues from alcoholism, early death of her mother, aloof father, broken marriages, other health issues and a very poor self-image. Enough to weigh anyone down. But as she herself makes obvious, she causes many of her own problems. You have to admire her willingness to show us some of that but it is very frustrating to watch - particularly when she won't stay on point and dangles a few titillating details and then hides the rest. At points I wanted to reach into the book and shake her, but at the same time there was no way I was not going to finish the book (the second half is better than the first) as I became quite intrigued by her. It is certainly not a book for everyone (and as for the blind you don't want to follow her example!) but if you have the stomach for this kind of memoir, dive in.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of a glimpse than a memoir, January 23, 2012
By 
B. J. Lewis (Highlands Ranch, CO) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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Candia McWilliam recalls her father's instructions to her as a child on how to construct a fishing net: gather a lot of holes and tie them together with string. Her memoir, while mesmerizing in parts, could use more "string" to fill in several gaping holes.

The terrifying - and puzzling, at least, to the medical world (and, obviously, my spell checker) -- condition know as "blepharospasm" and its treatment, is described in minutely horrifying detail. Becoming blind is appalling in itself, but becoming blind with eyes that CAN see is a nightmarish condition to impose on anyone, let alone such a gifted writer and/or prolific reader as McWilliam. "Prolific reader" does not do her justice if, indeed, she was used to reading 700 pages a day. (She obviously wasn't reading her own writing at that pace.)

Her writing style made me put the book aside after the first 60 pages and I took a break of about two weeks trying to decide whether I wanted to finish it. Two books later, one delicious novel by Barbara Kingsolver and one 600 page chick-lit, read only because it was a book club selection -- unbearably awful -- I returned to this book. While her convoluted sentence construction was still annoying at times, at least, once straightened out, I found that she was saying something that was worth the time I spent on it. My conclusion after the two week respite was that this is not a book to speed read, but one to slowly savor.

As for the "holes," the largest one I found was in her lack of detail while addressing her alcoholism. She shares the fact that it destroyed her marriages and that she was saved by joining AA, but the details are woefully leaky - uh, lacking. I would expect such a major influence in the course of one's life would play a much larger part in one's memoir, as well as the fact that it is a subject that might prove helpful to some of her readers.

A big plus is her detailed description of Colonsay and the family and friends with whom she shared its beauty. Her love of it and them reveals her great intelligence and even greater heart.

And, of course, the minuses: Besides the off-putting sentence construction, and we can probably blame that on her favorite author, Henry James, here's my personal annoyance: the awful namedropping. What reader cares about those "famous" persons who once lived in the next block or were related to Lord XYZ if they did not actively participate in the author's own life. Okay - I did find it interesting, even enviable, that her studio was occupied at one time by John Singer Sargent. Perhaps the who's-who aspect is merely a British thing, your class being more important than your individual self. And yet she did include an amusing snub by Gore Vidal.

This is not a book for everyone. It requires the time to read it carefully in order for it to be appreciated. I'm glad I took the time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and not very well-focused. Low 3, February 22, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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I found Candia McWilliam's memoir, What to Look for in Winter, to be a disappointment. First, readers get the impression that this work is specifically about McWilliam's battle with blepharospasm and the resulting loss of her vision. This battle began for her in about 2006, and surgery restored some of her sight in 2009. There doesn't seem to be very much about these years, but much about earlier years and other demons (such as alcoholism) that she overcame. Pardon the pun on vision, but I would've preferred more focus on 2006 and later: her reaction to the diagnosis of blepharospasm, how she managed when she was legally blind, and what it was like when her sight was partially restored.

Also, even though McWilliam attempts to use figures such as the parts of eyeglasses (earpiece, lens, bridge, lens, earpiece) to help with the organization of this memoir, it just doesn't work for me. She seems to go here, there, and everywhere in time and place, especially toward the end, and I had a lot of trouble figuring out when and where she was supposed to be. I get the impression of entries of a journal hastily put together with no dates and little else for guidance as to time and place.

Perhaps people who've read McWilliam's novels and short story collections might get more out of this memoir, but I did not. It simply did not live up to my expectations.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A tad pretentious and lacking in warmth, January 29, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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While this book has reviewed as a "devastatingly moving. . . a work of beauty and truth" and as "one of the most extraordinary literary autobiography of this or any other year" it comes across to this reader as very self absorbed - no doubt because of her partial blindness - with a rather introverted world view. One may righty argue that this is certainly the prerogative of an autobiography yet the author appears to be reluctantly sharing her life, albeit in a an erudite manner, under protest. It is also an interesting phenomenon that certain layers of the post WWII UK establishment have issues with both substance abuse, relationships and families that are the subject of autobiographies, some of which are interesting, some not. Ms McWilliam's book falls into the latter category - beautifully written, cerebral but ultimately soulless. I contrast this with another book of the same "rehab" genre - Ivana Lowell' s"Why Not Say What Happened?" which I picked up recently from my local library. This book covers many of the same aspects of Ms. McWilliam's but is far warmer, mature and interesting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my "cup of tea"., January 19, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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When I chose this book to review, I thought I would relate to it well, because I have had vision problems of my own since childhood. In addition, I have tended to be more and more interested in biographies and memoirs recently. However, I found that I really did not enjoy either the writing style nor the ideas and feelings expressed. Essentially, it was "not my cup of tea". Hopefully, other readers, perhaps with a deeper understanding of the literary nuances, will see in this book what I did not.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What to look for in "What to Look For in Winter", March 31, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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Once you get past the worst excesses in cumbersome sentence structure, a overwhelming level of detail, and the depressive voice of McWilliam, a poignant if depressing narrative remains.

Diagnosed with a seeing-blindness known as Belaphorospasm, McWilliam paints a vivid picture of the frustration of losing her vision while still being able to see--a medical condition which few doctors understand or know how to treat. The blindness becomes a catalyst for her engagement with her unhappy childhood, family tragedy, and ultimately her alcoholism and recovery. McWilliam walks a strange line between self-effacing commentary (her weight, perceived ugliness, moral failures, etc.) and a keen awareness of her upper class heritage, success as a writer, and obvious intelligence. One gets the sense that she is not at all sure how she feels about herself, which is sad considering she has every reason to consider herself a survivor three times over: a broken family, substance abuse, and of course the loss of her vision. Memoir should be honest, and McWilliams writes with the sharpness of a scalpel. However, what she reveals is a bleak internal world devoid of much joy. It's hard to read WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN WINTER without feeling sad for McWilliams, which certainly wasn't her objective.

Brilliant descriptions, word usage, and lovingly crafted prose fill each page. Sadly they are mired within a dense thicket of words which left this reader fatigued. Because of her literary prowess, its likely no editor dared challenge her, which is a shame. A leaner, more powerful book rests under a few layers of fat, and a good editor might, like a physical trainer, have brought that book to the surface.

As a memoir of depression and substance abuse, I felt McWilliam provided little new insight, which is strange considering the intensity of her 'vision' when looking inward. She writes about how Alcoholics Anonymous saved her life, but spends very little time on the means or nature of her recovery. I wanted to know how she stabilized, and what she learned in the process of drying out. Unfortunately, she touches on those topics only briefly.

Worth reading for the occasional stunningly beautiful description, the telling detail or moment of revelation, WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN WINTER is not a 'feel good' book in any sense. If you enjoy dense literature, you'll likely love the book. However, if you want a tightly wrapped story with a narrative drive, you'll probably be disappointed here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Through a glass darkly, March 5, 2013
By 
Sela Still "Old Bean" (Hampshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
Hidden amongst the metaphor- heavy prose, the endless subordinate clauses and the admittedly beautiful writing is the intriguing story of Candia McWilliams. At an excruciatingly young age, she witnessed her mother's suicide and, unsurprisingly, has suffered all her life from feeling responsible for the misery of others and that she, herself, is the cause of a lot of that misery.

Highly literate and with a tight group of loyal friends and family, this talented author was struck down with functional blindness - blepharospasm - and part of this narrative deals with her struggles to deal with her condition as well as her general melancholy at the the direction her life has taken. A lot of her wounds may be self-inflicted but this does not reduce the interest of what she writes and when she touches on solid ground (as in describing her alcoholism or discussing literature), the reader can see what an entertaining personality she can be.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning and profoundly moving, January 1, 2012
This review is from: What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (Hardcover)
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Blimey, this lady can write! I had never heard of Candia McWilliam or read her other books before happening on "What to look for in Winter". The writing is beautiful, the tone self deprecatory and her incredibly rich and often heart-breaking experiences are related totally without self pity. Sharp darts of humor add spice to her memoir and you may be laughing on one page, crying the next. Often on the Internet somebody will be ROFL- rolling on the floor laughing. I was often ROFL when I read this extraordinary book.McWilliam, to put it mildly, has lead no ordinary life. And she is no ordinary writer.

I read slowly, breathing the words in. This incredible autobiographical memoir carries you along on the ebb and flow of an astonishing people and astonishing experiences. McWilliam is an ultimate stylist, like Sylvia Plath, but unlike Plath, McWilliam's sense of humor, now dry now rich and meaty, buoys her up, keeps her afloat when others, like Plath, resort to suicide.

There are many tragedies in the book but the pivotal tragedy,in which McWilliam starts to go blind in 2006, suffering from a very rare condition called blepharospasm (see the note about this form of blindness at the end of this review). When she cannot see, McWilliam looks inward and she looks back and sees with the mind's eye, putting her experiences into words, her celebration of life. "Winter"is a paean to nature, such as the marvelously described Scottish lochs and islands where darkness comes at three o'clock in the afternoon, and one can venture so close to baby seals as to feel their breath. It is a paean to friendship, to her recovery from alcoholism, to regaining her sea-legs after rocky starts in London and at Cambridge. It's a paean to her mother, too, who ended her life at age 36, and to the joy of having her own children.

In the first chapter, McWilliam wryly gives you a synopsis of her character:

"I am six foot tall and afraid of small people
I am a Scot
I am an alcoholic
There is nothing wrong with my eyes
I am blind
I cannot lose my temper though I am being helped to as you can see above
I exude marriedness and I am alone"

There is a great deal more to Candia McWilliam, of course. Although she is not exactly enigmatic, she is so complicated you may feel you cannot plumb her depths. She married an earl's son and then a Parsi (Persian) bore three children, became a famous novelist...and drank. She writes without bitterness even though her step-mother didn't love her and even her own father seemed to little care when she more or less adopted herself into a more congenial family. Her Parsi mother-in-law, mother of her second husband, was beautiful and graceful but could fill a room with hatred as sharp as knives or shards of ice, and never approved of her daughter-in-law.

One reason this book is so powerful is that McWilliam does not hate. And her humor bubbles to the surface, perhaps unbidden. The episodes and addicts she describes when she is drying out at Clouds, an expensive rehab center, are riveting but even there she can laugh gently and she can empathize with her fellow junkies who had been on heroine or meth or whatever.

McWilliam's blindness in which her eyelids clamped down like a horse's blinkers, requiring her to prop them up with her fingers and walk along as though she were seeing with her chin was, perhaps a signal that she had stressed her body and mind to the limit and her body was rebelling. After two painful operations she is able to see again but will require Botox injections for the rest of her life. She also had had a grand mal seizure and required hospitalization. If you put her through Google you will see the incredible metamorphosis from a beautiful young woman to a haggard one, her suffering is written on her face.

The book opens with McWilliam thinking about her dead mother, a marvellously kooky and sensitive person who would rescue moths from burning themselves against hot light bulbs. One of the last presents her mother gave her was a small paper umbrella. The umbrella became a metaphor: "You have to be opened out as you fall, a parachute not a ferrule." McWilliam's mother "who had little but was much" took her own life when the author was only nine. The author furled her fragile umbrella against the slings and arrows,and eventually triumphed, her mother did not.

BLEPHAROSPASM is a rare eye condition , a neurological disorder involving the contraction muscles around the eyes. The eyelids are clamped shut like a garage door slamming down.
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What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness
What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness by Candia McWilliam (Hardcover - March 20, 2012)
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