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It is always "earthquake weather" in Amy Hempel's California, a landscape where everything can change without warning. Traditional resources—home, parents, lovers, friends, even willpower—are not dependable. And so the characters in these short, compelling stories have learned to depend on small triumphs of wit, irony, and spirit. A widow, surrounded by a small menagerie, c It is always "earthquake weather" in Amy Hempel's California, a landscape where everything can change without warning. Traditional resources—home, parents, lovers, friends, even willpower—are not dependable. And so the characters in these short, compelling stories have learned to depend on small triumphs of wit, irony, and spirit. A widow, surrounded by a small menagerie, comes to terms with her veterinarian husband's death; a young woman entertains her dying friend with trivia and reaffirms her own life; in the aftermath of an abortion, a woman compulsively knits a complete wardrobe for a friend's baby. Buffeted by rude shocks, thwarted by misconnections, the characters recognize that anything can finally become a reason to live.


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It is always "earthquake weather" in Amy Hempel's California, a landscape where everything can change without warning. Traditional resources—home, parents, lovers, friends, even willpower—are not dependable. And so the characters in these short, compelling stories have learned to depend on small triumphs of wit, irony, and spirit. A widow, surrounded by a small menagerie, c It is always "earthquake weather" in Amy Hempel's California, a landscape where everything can change without warning. Traditional resources—home, parents, lovers, friends, even willpower—are not dependable. And so the characters in these short, compelling stories have learned to depend on small triumphs of wit, irony, and spirit. A widow, surrounded by a small menagerie, comes to terms with her veterinarian husband's death; a young woman entertains her dying friend with trivia and reaffirms her own life; in the aftermath of an abortion, a woman compulsively knits a complete wardrobe for a friend's baby. Buffeted by rude shocks, thwarted by misconnections, the characters recognize that anything can finally become a reason to live.

30 review for Reasons to Live

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    A fine book of short stories. The shorter pieces are spare and elliptical--sort of like Raymond Carver, but without the self-destructive power. But the better longer pieces--"Nashville Gone to Ashes," "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," "Today Will Be a Quiet Day" are excellent. In their classical, restrained, deeply human way they remind me of Tillie Olsen at her best--and that is high praise indeed. A fine book of short stories. The shorter pieces are spare and elliptical--sort of like Raymond Carver, but without the self-destructive power. But the better longer pieces--"Nashville Gone to Ashes," "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," "Today Will Be a Quiet Day" are excellent. In their classical, restrained, deeply human way they remind me of Tillie Olsen at her best--and that is high praise indeed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A spare collection of fifteen short stories, Reasons to Live considers what it means to live an unconventional life. With wit and ingenuity Hempel explores a wide array of disquieting themes, from the listlessness of an aimless adulthood to the dread provoked by a close friend’s death. Across all the swift tales the author fully renders the complex interior lives of her narrators in succinct language full of mesmerizing imagery. Hempel’s cool aesthetic is defined by understatement, irony, and co A spare collection of fifteen short stories, Reasons to Live considers what it means to live an unconventional life. With wit and ingenuity Hempel explores a wide array of disquieting themes, from the listlessness of an aimless adulthood to the dread provoked by a close friend’s death. Across all the swift tales the author fully renders the complex interior lives of her narrators in succinct language full of mesmerizing imagery. Hempel’s cool aesthetic is defined by understatement, irony, and collage; her lucid prose makes for a jarring contrast with her elliptical plots, just as her penchant for emotional reticence clashes with her painful subject matter. Favorite stories include “Tonight Is a Favor for Holly,” “In the Cemetery Where Al Jonson Lives,” and “Why I’m Here.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    I read somewhere that if you want to become a good writer, read Amy Hempel. The reason is that she is not only a minimalist but also because she is an intelligent short story writer. This is true. I don't have a plan to write because I am still busy with my corporate career. Maybe someday, who knows. Right now though, I am reading because I enjoy knowing the lives of other people, the situations they are into and I appreciate good writing styles. Seeing different techniques in writing, you know, I read somewhere that if you want to become a good writer, read Amy Hempel. The reason is that she is not only a minimalist but also because she is an intelligent short story writer. This is true. I don't have a plan to write because I am still busy with my corporate career. Maybe someday, who knows. Right now though, I am reading because I enjoy knowing the lives of other people, the situations they are into and I appreciate good writing styles. Seeing different techniques in writing, you know, the possibilities, never fails to amuse me. Hempel's short stories are like Raymond Carver's sliced into small bits and pieces and those bits and pieces still tell stories that can even be better than Carver's. You have to read slowly though. Reading Hempel is like pausing after each sentence because each sentence is like a piece of jigsaw puzzle. You have to take note all the edges and its possible connection, how each edge can possibly fit into the others laid on the table. How a sentence can mean to others you've already read and those that you will still read. They say that the most anthologized story in this book, Hempel's first, is this In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried. I even had to look up who was Al Jolson before writing this review but I guess I missed the whole point so I did not really enjoy it. The ones that I enjoyed are "In a Tub" (the first story), "San Francisco" (this is puzzling) and "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep" (if you wonder what are these, you don't know about knitting). This book does not make me relate to any of the stories nor characters. However, it made me really think as you have to think while doing the jigsaw puzzle. Each piece, each sentence, each word, counts and you won't appreciate the story if you miss any of those. Brilliantly written. Hempel is a league of her own.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

    The Wall Street Journal said of this, "One of the delights of these stories is that they approach the usual cliches of real life and fiction at an unexpected oblique angel." I couldn't say it better if I tried. There's so many reasons to live, but Hempel reminds you of one major one, which is to read work like this. The Wall Street Journal said of this, "One of the delights of these stories is that they approach the usual cliches of real life and fiction at an unexpected oblique angel." I couldn't say it better if I tried. There's so many reasons to live, but Hempel reminds you of one major one, which is to read work like this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Colin McKay Miller

    If you’ve been keeping track of my reviews thus far, you know I don’t rate very highly, but Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live is the standard to which all other fiction books must rise. Long before Chuck Palahniuk’s frenzied fan base or the New York Times 2006 Book of the Year Award drove her collected stories to mass acclaim, I was graced to read Hempel’s widely anthologized “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” in late 1998. It’s a story about a woman visiting her terminally ill friend in hos If you’ve been keeping track of my reviews thus far, you know I don’t rate very highly, but Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live is the standard to which all other fiction books must rise. Long before Chuck Palahniuk’s frenzied fan base or the New York Times 2006 Book of the Year Award drove her collected stories to mass acclaim, I was graced to read Hempel’s widely anthologized “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” in late 1998. It’s a story about a woman visiting her terminally ill friend in hospital and the freedom she feels when she’s not there. Many of the stories in Reasons to Live center on people losing their safety nets—to fires, to fear, to lost friends and children. They are short, succinct, and often slash their way to the depths of emotion. Amy Hempel says more with one sentence than most authors say with a whole novel. If you miss a sentence, you can get lost and have to backtrack. That’s minimalism for you. Standout pieces in the collection include “Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep,” “The Man in Bogotá,” and “Tonight is a Favor to Holly.” Not every story is great though. In fact, some are downright awful. I got nervous when I initially bought the collection and found the first story, “In a Tub,” so lackluster. Still, I appreciate that Reasons to Live has enough risk in it to where it can miss the mark. Maybe that’s what makes a five-star book—that you even appreciate its flaws. I can’t say all that makes a five-star book, but I know that with Amy Hempel I was simultaneously glad and disappointed when she got popular. Glad because she really does deserve it and there are too many great stories that go unnoticed next to some blasé fiction writer’s latest rehash; yet disappointed because there are some things that you wish could stay yours, even if that’s ridiculous since they never were yours to begin with. You don’t loan a five-star book to just anyone. You can’t risk that. (I had to learn that the hard way.) Though Amy Hempel’s other collections are still very good, they note the slow downhill slide from Reasons to Live, and with the exception of the now out of print At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, I don’t feel compelled to look for them at used bookstores. Whatever equates to a five-star book, Reasons to Live is it for me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Faulkner

    okay, jesus. how do you even start to tackle the subject of amy hempel? i'll make a list of things that make this book better than anything that will ever make it into the top ten of the bestseller lists: [1] minimalist (or "miniaturist," if you ask hempel) writing style that is unique and moves at a rapid clip [2] emotional displacement [3] subtlety. that last one is particularly important, since i think one of the more difficult challenges any writer faces when wanting to express a complex emotio okay, jesus. how do you even start to tackle the subject of amy hempel? i'll make a list of things that make this book better than anything that will ever make it into the top ten of the bestseller lists: [1] minimalist (or "miniaturist," if you ask hempel) writing style that is unique and moves at a rapid clip [2] emotional displacement [3] subtlety. that last one is particularly important, since i think one of the more difficult challenges any writer faces when wanting to express a complex emotion is how to do it without coming across as manipulative or phony. she does so by not even discussing the emotion, or making said emotion obvious to be taking place. the things we're most afraid of in her writing stay where they do in life: ominously below the surface, always threatening to burst forth. long story short: it's awesome. if you want to write, please read this book. i'd rather we have 1,000 hempel clones than 1,000 jk rowling clones. at least we'll get somewhere emotionally as a culture.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chantal

    Death and tragedy haunt the short, short stories in Amy Hempel’s first story collection Reasons to Live (1985) like empty chairs at the table. And there is no steak, no potatoes, nor substantial courses atop Hempel’s literary table. Instead the reader is treated to tapas -- bite-size delicacies of exquisite flavors -- a literary lunch that only a truly talented minimalist (or miniaturist) writer could cook up successfully. And underneath the table: a dog or two lay near the diners’ feet, ready Death and tragedy haunt the short, short stories in Amy Hempel’s first story collection Reasons to Live (1985) like empty chairs at the table. And there is no steak, no potatoes, nor substantial courses atop Hempel’s literary table. Instead the reader is treated to tapas -- bite-size delicacies of exquisite flavors -- a literary lunch that only a truly talented minimalist (or miniaturist) writer could cook up successfully. And underneath the table: a dog or two lay near the diners’ feet, ready to catch any falling morsels. (Dogs trot through these stories in the comfortable and presumptuous way any well-loved pet wanders a home.) But, it boils down to the sentence for Hempel. Each sentence is crafted with care and precision to maximize the collective effect of denotation, connotation, rhythm and prose, -- creating art, illuminating truths and soliciting chuckles amidst the interspersed sighs and smiles her stories evoke. Common daily occurrences make up much of Hempel’s plots. In “Tonight is a Favor to Holly,” the narrator prepares for a blind date. “Going” revolves around a patient eating a hospital meal. “When It’s Human Instead of When It’s Dog” is about a maid concerned with cleaning a carpet stain. “Today Will Be a Quiet Day” accompanies a father and his children on car ride. There are no grand adventures amongst these quiet stories. In fact, they might even be mundane if not for the potent human and emotional undercurrents that whisper at the reader from between the lines. While everyday commonalities take precedent on Hempel’s printed page, her stories work to coax and seduce profound revelations within the reader’s mind, and it is these revelations that form the real substance of Hempel’s work. It’s as if she’s softly tickling her reader’s subconscious, light fingers tapping to awaken a profound consciousness of death and tragedy and the human condition. The wonder of these powerful revelations is that the author unearths them with such subtlety, in so few words, and so few pages. Hempel’s much acclaimed and much anthologized “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is found amongst the stories here and for this story alone this book is worth reading. Slowly. The plot revolves around the narrator’s visit to the hospital where her friend is dying. The charm is the light banter, the comfortable relationship, the humor these friends share. The tragedy is the eminent death of the patient and the narrator’s failure as a friend, her cowardice in face of her loss, in the face of her friend’s need. The tragic sentence is “Make it useless stuff or skip it.” Another is “Baby, come hug, Baby come, fluent now in the language of grief.” Yes, in the end it is the sentences that really shine within this work. It is the sentences that the reader will take away with her as she sets aside the book. The sentences she will repeat for others, and scrawl out in her journal. The sentences that will come back to her as she’s doing the dishes or working in the garden. The sentences she will repeat over and over in her mind for the sheer pleasure of reliving them. Sentences like this: “A blind date is coming to pick me up, and unless my hair grows an inch by seven o’clock, I am not going to answer the door.” And this: “I can’t help it. I get rational when I panic.” And this: “He wondered how we know what happens to us isn’t good.” Sentences that stand strong all alone and when gathered together form a masterpiece. Reasons to Live is a book best read slowly, repetitively, and with serious attention -- the way one might enjoy gourmet tapas, lingering over each morsel, chewing and tasting to seek out flavors. And for the sheer pleasure of the experience.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Fellow Amy Hempel crushing fanboy Chuck Palahniuk writes in his essay "Not Chasing Amy", "I once gave At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom: Stories to a friend and said, 'If you don't love this, we have nothing in common.'" Hempel has that effect on her readers: you don't come away from her stories having read them - you walk away a snarling, gauntlet throwing, lit-beast. Hempel's minimalist style feels anything but; her sentences are so packed with meaning and nuance. It isn't uncommon for additio Fellow Amy Hempel crushing fanboy Chuck Palahniuk writes in his essay "Not Chasing Amy", "I once gave At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom: Stories to a friend and said, 'If you don't love this, we have nothing in common.'" Hempel has that effect on her readers: you don't come away from her stories having read them - you walk away a snarling, gauntlet throwing, lit-beast. Hempel's minimalist style feels anything but; her sentences are so packed with meaning and nuance. It isn't uncommon for additional insight to reveal itself long after the story is finished. You get the feeling that words aren't chosen, they're hewn, chiseled and polished from the essence of language. Quoting from a story doesn't do the writing justice - it would be like showing a picture of Teddy Roosevelt's stone nose and trying to explain Mount Rushmore. Hempel needs to be ingested, whole-hog. I still remember, years ago, when a fellow Hempel fan alerted me to the publishing of her complete works in one volume: The Collected Stories. This is an amazing book - and highly recommended for any lover of the written word.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    Well. I don't think I got it. This book had been recommended to me by numerous classmates and professors. I kept hearing how great Amy Hempel is, and she is great to some people of course. The stories in this collection are short (which I do like), usually first-person, rarely name characters, and bounce around from action to memories. I guess you could call them slices of life. They don't have "plots," so the stories just meander around vague situations and characters. I liked a few (maybe 3) of Well. I don't think I got it. This book had been recommended to me by numerous classmates and professors. I kept hearing how great Amy Hempel is, and she is great to some people of course. The stories in this collection are short (which I do like), usually first-person, rarely name characters, and bounce around from action to memories. I guess you could call them slices of life. They don't have "plots," so the stories just meander around vague situations and characters. I liked a few (maybe 3) of them okay, but most of the time I was confused, wondering what the point of each story was. If the book hadn't been just 100 pages, I would have abandoned it. But to be clear-- I'm not much of a short story person and Hempel is adored by many who are. Find more book reviews at A Quick Red Fox.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amy (Other Amy)

    The Doctor couldn't make it to the picnics or to the skating--so he didn't show up in the pictures, either. The effect was of him saying after the flood: What I lose will always be lost. "His problem is the past," Grey said about his father. "He says only do things you have done before and liked. Whereas me, what's coming is the thing I'm looking out for." I thought the present was a safer bet. We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive. This collection could as eas The Doctor couldn't make it to the picnics or to the skating--so he didn't show up in the pictures, either. The effect was of him saying after the flood: What I lose will always be lost. "His problem is the past," Grey said about his father. "He says only do things you have done before and liked. Whereas me, what's coming is the thing I'm looking out for." I thought the present was a safer bet. We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive. This collection could as easily have been called something like Stories for When You Want to Lie Down and Die. It's a very living with death and deterioration kind of book. And that is wonderful. I admit I was hoping for some Magical Realism, but it was not to be: this is straight up realism. Even so, there are a few gems in here that will surely stay with me for a long, long time. Half the book is a little too spare, too sparse for its own good though. Some of the pictures don't quite have enough brushstrokes to fully arrive in the mind's eye. The disappointment is that the writing is good, and the good stories are great, so you know you've been cheated when things don't quite work. Nonetheless, it's a good collection, and even though the 1001 people are off their rockers about a lot of things, I'm glad they brought this little work to my attention. (Now I just wish they'd admit more short story collections belong on their list.) Stories: In a Tub: ★★★☆☆ A contemplation of a pulse. Tonight Is a Favor to Holly: ★★★★☆ On ignoring an omen. Celia Is Back: ★☆☆☆☆ A father teaches his kids about sweepstakes and contests. Nashville Gone to Ashes: ★★★★★ A widow, a grief, and his pets. San Francisco: ★☆☆☆☆ I don't even know what this was about. Earthquakes, maybe. In the Cemetary Where Al Jolson Is Buried. ★★★★★ A friend fails a final test. Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep : ★★★★★ A woman grieves her abortion by taking care of a pregnant friend and learning to knit. Going: ★★★★☆ A young man is in the hospital after a wreck. Pool Night: ★★★★★ On fires and floods. Three Popes Walk into a Bar: ★★☆☆☆ A comedian, fear, sex, and love. The Man in Bogota: ★☆☆☆☆ A story not actually told to a woman on a ledge. When It's Human Instead of When It's Dog: ★★★☆☆ A cleaning lady and a stain. Why I'm Here: ★★★☆☆ Taking a career interests test in midlife. Breathing Jesus: ★★☆☆☆ A carnival attraction and a lost dog. Today Will Be a Quiet Day: ★★☆☆☆ A father, his kids, and a drive.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sabra Embury

    I feel like an idiot for not appreciating Amy Hempel's Reasons to Live as much as expected to. But I really thought a few of the stories in this collection were great. Especially Nashville Gone to Ashes and Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep. Hempel's writing is feminine in a way that's it's not flowery, or (extremely) passive, but of feminine things like knitting, laundry and being a wife. I have to admit that stories with a few unpredictable twists of structure, which are of no consequence otherwise, I feel like an idiot for not appreciating Amy Hempel's Reasons to Live as much as expected to. But I really thought a few of the stories in this collection were great. Especially Nashville Gone to Ashes and Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep. Hempel's writing is feminine in a way that's it's not flowery, or (extremely) passive, but of feminine things like knitting, laundry and being a wife. I have to admit that stories with a few unpredictable twists of structure, which are of no consequence otherwise, are a little bit dull to me. I found myself skimming chunks of these already tiny vignettes to find anything: twists of language, subtle emotional break-downs, eerie happenstance, surreal spatterings; but there wasn't much of that. The stories were straight-forward; though, I wouldn't call them honest, as much I would would call them fictional glimpses into the lives of random women who are bored and have suffered some form of tragedy that they gloom upon on the inside, reflecting in infinity. I'm used to appreciating more straight-forward writing, writing that takes more risks. Stirred by forms of violence or aggression, left-field epiphanies, symphonies, anything that seems to take a risk, looking forward, more than back. Or maybe I'm too used to reading things written by men, which makes me ignorant.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    As with Carver, Hempel is only a minimalist when read shallowly and with certain misperceptions in mind about what detail consists of, and, most probably, already bent on affixing reductive labels on writers rather that appreciating their essence. It doesn't surprise me that she is more popular now than when this collection first came out: The quirky juxtapositions, the stand-up comic lines, and the staggering emotions under the surface that are suppressed in words but not affect, all seem so no As with Carver, Hempel is only a minimalist when read shallowly and with certain misperceptions in mind about what detail consists of, and, most probably, already bent on affixing reductive labels on writers rather that appreciating their essence. It doesn't surprise me that she is more popular now than when this collection first came out: The quirky juxtapositions, the stand-up comic lines, and the staggering emotions under the surface that are suppressed in words but not affect, all seem so now, which means these stories were ahead of their time when first published in the early 1980's.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    uuuggggghhhhhhhhh My heart hurts. This is actually the first section of her collected stories, so I'm still reading. But this really took me by surprise and like Lindsay said, made me feel like I got hit by a truck. It's harder for me to read and hear stories about parents and children, or would-be children, now that I have kids. It just puts my heart through the wringer in a way that I'm not really equipped for anymore. I'm too busy to feel this much. My heart is too full to be flooded like this uuuggggghhhhhhhhh My heart hurts. This is actually the first section of her collected stories, so I'm still reading. But this really took me by surprise and like Lindsay said, made me feel like I got hit by a truck. It's harder for me to read and hear stories about parents and children, or would-be children, now that I have kids. It just puts my heart through the wringer in a way that I'm not really equipped for anymore. I'm too busy to feel this much. My heart is too full to be flooded like this. But here I go, continuing to read for more pain, more beauty, more flooding and fire and death. I can't stop.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Especially enjoyed "Celia Is Back", "Nashville Gone To Ashes", "Going", "The Man In Bogota", & "Today Will Be a Quiet Day". Memorable passage (which concludes the story,"Going"): I like a woman in my room at night. The night nurse smells like a Christmas candle. After she leaves the room, for a short time the room is like when she was here. She is not here, but the idea of her is. It's not the same--but it makes me think of the night my mother died. Three states away, the smell in my room was th Especially enjoyed "Celia Is Back", "Nashville Gone To Ashes", "Going", "The Man In Bogota", & "Today Will Be a Quiet Day". Memorable passage (which concludes the story,"Going"): I like a woman in my room at night. The night nurse smells like a Christmas candle. After she leaves the room, for a short time the room is like when she was here. She is not here, but the idea of her is. It's not the same--but it makes me think of the night my mother died. Three states away, the smell in my room was the smell of the powder on her face when she kissed me good night--the night she wasn't there.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eraserhead

    Some brilliant stories, and some that suffered from Hempel's clipped style. Hempel's one fault is that her stories come across formulaic and overly constructed. The thoughts and sentences are beautiful, but it never feels like a real world in the way of, say, Carver. Instead it feels like I'm reading the fiction of a very clever 30-year old. I guess my point is that the stories FEEL like stories, all written by the same woman. In fact, a few of the most acclaimed stories in the collection---San Some brilliant stories, and some that suffered from Hempel's clipped style. Hempel's one fault is that her stories come across formulaic and overly constructed. The thoughts and sentences are beautiful, but it never feels like a real world in the way of, say, Carver. Instead it feels like I'm reading the fiction of a very clever 30-year old. I guess my point is that the stories FEEL like stories, all written by the same woman. In fact, a few of the most acclaimed stories in the collection---San Francisco---came across as nothing more than a scene. I get her technical point. You're supposed to glean a greater series of events from a few little details, and it is a neat technique employed by others like Carver or Robison, but some of these stories come across as a little too obvious. It's as if Hempel's entire purpose is to plant these tiny facts, so that the reader goes, Wow, this character ha issue with her sister. For instance, in San Fran, a story about an earthquake, the details of the catastrophe are spliced with little hints that the sisters were fighting for their dying father's possessions. As a writerly technique, this approach is brilliant (if not overdone in the last 25 years); however, the stories do not bloom at all, and feel as if their entire purpose is to allow the writer a space to tease out the borderline details of a traditional narrative. The problem is that most of the time the stories came across as thinly-veiled attempts to create a mystery that wasn't there. The true beauty of minimalism is through the interplay of withheld information and a traditional plot (see Hannah, Carver, etc..), but here Hempel usually provides only the peripheral details. The stories were beautiful in places, Another detracting aspect is Hempel's literary voice. It seems as if each story is being told by the same woman (even the stories about men), in the same voice and style. The effect is one 'sameness' between all the stories that sort of exacerbates the technical minimalism I mentioned earlier. Remember that this was her first collection, and her later works seem to be fleshed out just a little more, which gives the impression of seeing only part of someone's life (a voyeuristic thrill), whereas here, it feels more like a writer trying to be coy/quirky.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    The pieces in this collection are often so short that they veer towards gestural sketches. Rarely do we know things about Hempel's characters such as name, age, and sometimes even gender beyond a reasonable guess. However, the writing is so taut that these stories hum with energy and often build to a blow-like ending, painful and revelatory. While a few lines of dialogue come across as preciously precocious, these stories dazzle with their humor as well. Particular favorites were "In the Cemeter The pieces in this collection are often so short that they veer towards gestural sketches. Rarely do we know things about Hempel's characters such as name, age, and sometimes even gender beyond a reasonable guess. However, the writing is so taut that these stories hum with energy and often build to a blow-like ending, painful and revelatory. While a few lines of dialogue come across as preciously precocious, these stories dazzle with their humor as well. Particular favorites were "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" and "Pool Night."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Steve mitchell

    Funny and some detailed impressions on seemingly rudimentary daily items, but something was missing for me. I never got any moral from any story, except the one about the gal visiting the other gal in hospital, that one I really liked, and the monkey stories were grand! All together though I cant believe this is on the 1001 books to read before you die, but I am an insensitive guy so there is always that reason for missing the main point.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    The stories are brief and the language clear, so you would think this would be a quick read. But you'll want to make it last a week, so you can learn to breathe like this. There is some well of generousity here; all the characters feel forgiven. Not Gratuitously! Some stories were like poems -- playing off one key metaphor. Others reminded me of improv, and how you might start a scene with one "what if" and build it by believing it, and then keep it going by believing it elaborately. The stories are brief and the language clear, so you would think this would be a quick read. But you'll want to make it last a week, so you can learn to breathe like this. There is some well of generousity here; all the characters feel forgiven. Not Gratuitously! Some stories were like poems -- playing off one key metaphor. Others reminded me of improv, and how you might start a scene with one "what if" and build it by believing it, and then keep it going by believing it elaborately.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jade Mark Capiñanes

    I have to agree with a friend: if we're talking about minimalist short story writers, Amy Hempel is better than Raymond Carver. Both write quiet, elliptical stories, but I found in Hempel what I didn't in Carver: humor and softness. I don't remember any joke Carver has cracked. He's too repressed. His stories feel like concrete, and maybe that's the reason why they really hit hard. (To be clear I still admire Carver for his ability to hit me that bluntly. To me he's still one of the best writers I have to agree with a friend: if we're talking about minimalist short story writers, Amy Hempel is better than Raymond Carver. Both write quiet, elliptical stories, but I found in Hempel what I didn't in Carver: humor and softness. I don't remember any joke Carver has cracked. He's too repressed. His stories feel like concrete, and maybe that's the reason why they really hit hard. (To be clear I still admire Carver for his ability to hit me that bluntly. To me he's still one of the best writers out there.) But Hempel allows her stories to breathe. Maybe I am now at an age when I relate more to fragility and the admission of it. There's still some degree of concreteness in her stories, but she shows you the cracks. Hempel's stories, unlike Carver's, hit you softly. You won't feel it at first, but just wait and you'll see your own gradual cracking.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    How strange that a book titled Reasons to Live should make me so sad. But maybe I just am? You'd be tempted to breeze through because these short stories are often very short stories. You could do a quick front to cover read in an hour or two and put it back on the shelf with no second glance. I wouldn't suggest it though because you're going to miss everything nestled underneath that deceptive simplicity. I'm not in worshiping freaking out over Hempel mode yet, but I've got my feet in the water. How strange that a book titled Reasons to Live should make me so sad. But maybe I just am? You'd be tempted to breeze through because these short stories are often very short stories. You could do a quick front to cover read in an hour or two and put it back on the shelf with no second glance. I wouldn't suggest it though because you're going to miss everything nestled underneath that deceptive simplicity. I'm not in worshiping freaking out over Hempel mode yet, but I've got my feet in the water.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Cohen

    Overall these stories were just a little bit oblique for me. I wanted things shaded in a bit more, but she writes beautifully, and can effortlessly elicit a chuckle. Highlight stories: 1. "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep" 2. "When It's Human Instead of When It's Dog" 3. "Nashville Gone to Ashes" 4. "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" Overall these stories were just a little bit oblique for me. I wanted things shaded in a bit more, but she writes beautifully, and can effortlessly elicit a chuckle. Highlight stories: 1. "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep" 2. "When It's Human Instead of When It's Dog" 3. "Nashville Gone to Ashes" 4. "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried"

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eugenea Pollock

    This is the author’s first book, and, In my opinion, its quality is a bit spotty. However, when it is good, it is very, very good—as in “Celia Is Back,” “Nashville Gone To Ashes,” and “San Francisco.” Her gift is in how much she communicates by what she leaves out. Truly unusual. So I will definitely read more books by her.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    Hempel’s short story collection is hilarious (albeit understated), tender, and...maybe not dark but...gray? I laughed out loud and cried. It may be short, but it’s an experience.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erikka Durdle

    Perfect but not for me

  25. 4 out of 5

    Iamhugoramos

    Why did no one tell me Amy Hempel is the best writer. I’m pissed

  26. 5 out of 5

    Margie

    I haven't read many short story collections but this makes me want to read a whole lot more. I haven't read many short story collections but this makes me want to read a whole lot more.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    The Great: "Tonight is a Favor to Holly"; "Nashville Gone to Ashes"; "In the Cemetery"; "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep"; "Pool Night"; "Three Popes" The Pretty Darn Good: "When It's Human"; "Today Will Be a Quiet Day" The Forgettable: the rest I'm not entirely sure what this tells you about a short fiction collection comprised of fifteen stories ranging from one-page to no more than twelve or thirteen in length. I can say that the six stories I listed above as 'great' are almost certainly worth the p The Great: "Tonight is a Favor to Holly"; "Nashville Gone to Ashes"; "In the Cemetery"; "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep"; "Pool Night"; "Three Popes" The Pretty Darn Good: "When It's Human"; "Today Will Be a Quiet Day" The Forgettable: the rest I'm not entirely sure what this tells you about a short fiction collection comprised of fifteen stories ranging from one-page to no more than twelve or thirteen in length. I can say that the six stories I listed above as 'great' are almost certainly worth the price of admission, though. For me, a number are forgettable because they're simply too brief, too shadowy to leave any sort of trace at all. Others reviewing her seem to rave over her ability to make impact in the 'flash fiction' form, but I've seen more interesting micro-fiction in workshops and on livejournal communities. Her sentences, yes, are brilliant, but stringing five brilliant sentences together does not a brilliant short story make. In the stories that shine, this haziness can be a part of the appeal; we're rarely given to know what age or gender or name a narrator has, and this can sometimes operate to make everything more intimate, closer somehow to your experience as a reader. (On the flip side, one of the major flaws for me with this collection is that every narrator may as well be the same person - you could probably read these stories as a series of vignettes in a single, really fucked up life, and experience the one-hundred pages no differently.) There are sentences that will stop you dead. Take this, for example: "A blind date is coming to pick me up, and unless my hair grows an inch by seven o'clock, I am not going to answer the door." This isn't particularly lyrical, or even particularly interesting as a concept - what it does do, however, is capture a moment in time so concisely, so perfectly that you yourself may have said it last night. Or how about this passage: "The doctor couldn't make it to the picnics or to the skating--so he didn't show up in the pictures, either. The effect was of him saying after the flood: What I lose will always be lost. 'His problem is the past,' Grey said about his father. 'He says only do things you have done before and liked. Whereas me, what's coming is the thing I'm looking out for.' I thought the present was the safer bet. We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive." What an astonishing insight - nothing particularly crazed or shimmering or flashy to it, but Hempel has a real talent for taking something entirely ordinary and looking at it sideways to reveal something else familiar and profound from that vantage point. Definitely worth a look; I may end up reading the rest of The Collected Stories before the summer's out. Read this short collection in an hour or so and enjoyed nearly all of it, even if every story wasn't gut-wrenching.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chiyeung Lau

    They say if you want to learn how to write, you should read Amy Hempel. Whoever said this wasn’t wrong; I was blown away by this collection and I will be reading this again and again. There are so many gems: “She laughs, and I cling to the sound the way someone dangling above a ravine holds fast to the thrown rope.” “Here’s a trick I found for how to finally get some sleep. I sleep in my husband’s bed. That way the empty bed I look at is my own.” While some compare her to Carver, I enjoyed reading h They say if you want to learn how to write, you should read Amy Hempel. Whoever said this wasn’t wrong; I was blown away by this collection and I will be reading this again and again. There are so many gems: “She laughs, and I cling to the sound the way someone dangling above a ravine holds fast to the thrown rope.” “Here’s a trick I found for how to finally get some sleep. I sleep in my husband’s bed. That way the empty bed I look at is my own.” While some compare her to Carver, I enjoyed reading her stories much more. She tackles loss, love and death with much more wit and humanity, yet intertwined with that is a sense of yearning and heart ache that you feel with every sentence. In that way she reminds me of Denis Johnson more so than Carver; there is a empathy I feel for all of her characters, something that I never felt for Carver’s. Hempel’s stories are short but they’re thousand piece puzzles that require attentive reading; stories like Celia is back took me a few rereads to fully understand. She never outright explains anything, and you really have to read in between the lines. My favorite stories from the collection: San Francisco In the cemetery where Al Jolson is buried Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep The man in Bogota

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert Blumenthal

    This is Amy Hempel's first book of short stories, and it is a strange but powerful group of stories. They range from a single page to 12 pages or so, and they are unique and quite creative. The language is stark and somewhat non sequitur at times. The stories can be a bit hard to decipher, but there are emotional wallops that are amazing. I particularly loved the story about the narrator's best friend dying from cancer. It had one of the most profoundly beautiful endings I have read. A few of th This is Amy Hempel's first book of short stories, and it is a strange but powerful group of stories. They range from a single page to 12 pages or so, and they are unique and quite creative. The language is stark and somewhat non sequitur at times. The stories can be a bit hard to decipher, but there are emotional wallops that are amazing. I particularly loved the story about the narrator's best friend dying from cancer. It had one of the most profoundly beautiful endings I have read. A few of the stories are a bit slight and/or abstract for my taste, and, according to Rick Moody in a wonderful preface, this becomes less the case as she moved on in her career. He claims that each of her sets of stories are better than the last. I look forward to reading the rest of her amassed collection of stories.

  30. 5 out of 5

    warmdesertwinds

    Amy Hempel is why I want to write. She makes an art out of this botched and awkward language known as English. And even the most juvenile speaker of our language can appreciate the poetry of her style. The woman must spend hours scrutinizing every single word that she puts in a sentence. And for good reason. Her writing is simply flawless. She is a master in creating atmosphere. She paints moments in time better than a dream can. I'll forever aspire to create images like Amy Hempel can. So much Amy Hempel is why I want to write. She makes an art out of this botched and awkward language known as English. And even the most juvenile speaker of our language can appreciate the poetry of her style. The woman must spend hours scrutinizing every single word that she puts in a sentence. And for good reason. Her writing is simply flawless. She is a master in creating atmosphere. She paints moments in time better than a dream can. I'll forever aspire to create images like Amy Hempel can. So much can be said in so little. What an inspiration.

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