Life Work

Donald Hall

Book cover

I enjoyed Hall’s “Eagle Pond,” but this one didn’t do it for me so much. I enjoyed, again, the descriptions of rural New Hampshire life, but I had “heard that one before.”

“Life Work” is divided into two parts, and after the first part, I thought that I really didn’t like the book. The main theme of the first part seems to be, “Check me out, I work super hard, but it ain’t no thing cuz I love what I do; also, I know some famous people!” This didn’t feel really compelling to me. I also felt uneasy all along at the implicit equation Hall makes between his “hard work” as a writer and his ancestors’ “hard work” as New England dirt farmers. Maybe it’s my own insecurity as someone who does white collar work in a field that interests me, but it just feels like it’s not accurate to compare the two. Is that which makes someone work hard at the former the same as that which makes someone work hard at the latter? Anyway, especially living in a New York City culture that makes a fetish out of being a workaholic, I don’t feel like the world needs an(other) ode to hard work.

I liked the second half of the book better, mostly because Hall complicates the picture by bringing his own illness into the picture as well as by discussing his father’s terrible work life. But after finishing the book, I had the feeling that Hall wrote it because he felt like writing something about work, rather than because he felt that he had something to say about work. I have no problem with a “slice of life,” but a slice of just one highly unusual life doesn’t feel like enough for a book. I’ll take Terkel’s “Working,” which Hall mentions a couple of times, over LW any day.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars