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The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon Paperback – November 8, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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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)
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Review

"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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (November 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618773622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618773626
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on 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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Format: Hardcover
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 content....you will be moved!!!!!
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I debated between 3 or 4 stars because this is a good book and there certainly is value in it. It is well written. It is not too long or too short. Why 3 stars? I was hoping to read deeper thoughts that a writer or poet might be able to convey (dig deep) on such a subject, but much of the book was about the everyday process and events one goes through in such a situation. And there is value in that for some readers.

My favorite line in the book came when he speaks of their dating, he says...Neither Jane nor I said "I love you." Maybe both of us feared that "love" was a synonym for "pain"-and we were feeling only pleasure together, light pleasure."

I was expecting more insight into his inner feelings and less on the medical nightmare process. The rain did pour in their life for a time. It just was not what I was expecting overall…and that is most likely my fault.
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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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