Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Essays After Eighty

I don't know what prompted me to pick up the book Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall. I've read Hall before and liked him. The book was slender, could be read quickly. I like essays.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad I did. Hall is funny and wise and drops names only occasionally. But he is an honest chronicler of old age, of its limitations and indignities. The end of driving (two accidents), the end of his blue chair (he dropped a cigarette and the chair caught on fire), the end of mobility (being pushed through art galleries in a wheelchair) — all of these are related honestly, dryly, with no self-pity.

What remains for him is writing — and rewriting:
My early drafts are always wretched. At first a general verb like "move" is qualified by the adverb "quickly." After sixty tries I come up with a particular, possibly witty verb and drop the adverb. Originally I wrote "poetry suddenly left me," which after twelve drafts became "poetry abandoned me."
Someone in his ninth decade who loves revising — that's encouraging.
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