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Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter

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What will you remember if you live to be 100? Diana Athill charmed readers with her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End, which transformed her into an unexpected literary star. Now, on the eve of her ninety-eighth birthday, Athill has written a sequel every bit as unsentimental, candid, and beguiling as her most beloved work. Writing from her cozy room in Highgate What will you remember if you live to be 100? Diana Athill charmed readers with her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End, which transformed her into an unexpected literary star. Now, on the eve of her ninety-eighth birthday, Athill has written a sequel every bit as unsentimental, candid, and beguiling as her most beloved work. Writing from her cozy room in Highgate, London, Diana begins to reflect on the things that matter after a lifetime of remarkable experiences, and the memories that have risen to the surface and sustain her in her very old age. “My two valuable lessons are: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness,” she writes. In warm, engaging prose she describes the bucolic pleasures of her grandmother’s garden and the wonders of traveling as a young woman in Europe after the end of the Second World War. As her vivid, textured memories range across the decades, she relates with unflinching candor her harrowing experience as an expectant mother in her forties and crafts unforgettable portraits of friends, writers, and lovers. A pure joy to read, Alive, Alive Oh! sparkles with wise and often very funny reflections on the condition of being old. Athill reminds us of the joy and richness of every stage of life—and what it means to live life fully, without regrets.


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What will you remember if you live to be 100? Diana Athill charmed readers with her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End, which transformed her into an unexpected literary star. Now, on the eve of her ninety-eighth birthday, Athill has written a sequel every bit as unsentimental, candid, and beguiling as her most beloved work. Writing from her cozy room in Highgate What will you remember if you live to be 100? Diana Athill charmed readers with her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End, which transformed her into an unexpected literary star. Now, on the eve of her ninety-eighth birthday, Athill has written a sequel every bit as unsentimental, candid, and beguiling as her most beloved work. Writing from her cozy room in Highgate, London, Diana begins to reflect on the things that matter after a lifetime of remarkable experiences, and the memories that have risen to the surface and sustain her in her very old age. “My two valuable lessons are: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness,” she writes. In warm, engaging prose she describes the bucolic pleasures of her grandmother’s garden and the wonders of traveling as a young woman in Europe after the end of the Second World War. As her vivid, textured memories range across the decades, she relates with unflinching candor her harrowing experience as an expectant mother in her forties and crafts unforgettable portraits of friends, writers, and lovers. A pure joy to read, Alive, Alive Oh! sparkles with wise and often very funny reflections on the condition of being old. Athill reminds us of the joy and richness of every stage of life—and what it means to live life fully, without regrets.

30 review for Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X has been locked down for one full year

    Athill is nearly a 100 years old, she's sharp, funny and as she says of making friends in old age, you make friends not on what you are doing, or on what you might do together, but on stories. And here she shares stories of her life. And life now for her in an old-age home, which she loves. No more housework or grocery shopping and lots of friends! The saddest story in the book if of the miscarriage when she was 43 of her only child. It is quite harrowing to read as she nearly died, but the endin Athill is nearly a 100 years old, she's sharp, funny and as she says of making friends in old age, you make friends not on what you are doing, or on what you might do together, but on stories. And here she shares stories of her life. And life now for her in an old-age home, which she loves. No more housework or grocery shopping and lots of friends! The saddest story in the book if of the miscarriage when she was 43 of her only child. It is quite harrowing to read as she nearly died, but the ending is unexpected. She didn't grieve for the lost child but gave thanks for being alive. The funniest story is the stalker on a tiny, isolated beach where she was alone. Footsteps getting closer, crunch, crunch. Ever closer, crunch crunch. In fear and trembling she looks around and there he is (view spoiler)[a large tortoise making for the sea (hide spoiler)] ! But the end-of-life story that utterly charmed me was how she gets to sleep at night, and not just her alone, rather than counting sheep she says, “What I do is run through all the men I ever went to bed with." Sweet dreams, Diana!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Please, please let me be like this wonderful woman when I am 98. Let me remember things with the descriptive qualities and clarity as she does. Her grandmother's garden described beautifully, post war conditions and trips she took. Expecting her first child, feelings about being pregnant and so much more all described in incredible details. Amazing, so please, please. Please, please let me be like this wonderful woman when I am 98. Let me remember things with the descriptive qualities and clarity as she does. Her grandmother's garden described beautifully, post war conditions and trips she took. Expecting her first child, feelings about being pregnant and so much more all described in incredible details. Amazing, so please, please.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This my third Diana Athill book - all of them written when she was over eighty - in fact she was ninety-six when she wrote this one. And what a joyous, invigorating, sharp and enchanting read it is..... It consists of a series of essays on different aspects and periods of her life. She is such an original and sassy human being, and she shines a brilliant light on all sorts of different things, in a way that must surely resonate with everyone. I wish I was drinking champagne rather than coffee - This my third Diana Athill book - all of them written when she was over eighty - in fact she was ninety-six when she wrote this one. And what a joyous, invigorating, sharp and enchanting read it is..... It consists of a series of essays on different aspects and periods of her life. She is such an original and sassy human being, and she shines a brilliant light on all sorts of different things, in a way that must surely resonate with everyone. I wish I was drinking champagne rather than coffee - she so definitely deserves a toast.... Bravo Athill! I think you're fab. I will end with a few of my favourite quotes.(view spoiler)[ "When I was a child I used to pore over an atlas, deriving much satisfaction from how much of the world was coloured pink, which meant, they told me, that it was ours. I pitied other countries with their little patches of inferior colours.... It went deep, that feeling that we, the British, were Great: deeper, it turned out, in a lot of other people than it did in me, because it would not be long before I grew out of it, and by the time I went to university I had become sure that we ought to be giving all our pinkness back to its real owners." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I saw my subconscious plodding along, pig-headed, single-minded, an old tortoise lumbering through undergrowth, heaving itself over fallen branches, subsiding into holes full of dead leaves. Sometimes, no doubt, the obstacles had been almost too much for him and he had lain, panting slightly, staring up at the sky and blinking in apparent bewilderment, but then a blunt foreleg would begin to grope again, his toes would scratch for purchase and on he would go." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Byron's letters "are so good because he (like Boswell) wrote as he spoke, at a time when people usually adopted a formal and supposedly more elegant style when they put pen to paper. You can clearly hear his voice, so the many years between him and you shrivel away. Witty, often flippant, kind and generous, sometimes rather comically showing-off, sometimes shrewd, honest, always acutely alive, there he is, the man who wrote that marvellous poem Don Juan. how extraordinary - how wonderful! - it is that a lot of little black marks on paper can bring a person who died nearly two hundred years ago into your room; bring him so close that you know him much better than you would have known him if you met him in the flesh. It is extraordinary and it is enlarging." (hide spoiler)]

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Update: Last night I was lucky enough to see 98-year-old literary legend Diana Athill live in London. Here’s my blog write-up of the event. (Psssssst! I have the dirt on a forthcoming publication – and here I thought this would be her last book for sure.) Apart from “Dead Right,” this collection is not primarily concerned with imminent death. Athill is still grateful to be alive, marvelling at a lifetime of good luck and health and taking joy in gardening, clothing, books, memories and friendship Update: Last night I was lucky enough to see 98-year-old literary legend Diana Athill live in London. Here’s my blog write-up of the event. (Psssssst! I have the dirt on a forthcoming publication – and here I thought this would be her last book for sure.) Apart from “Dead Right,” this collection is not primarily concerned with imminent death. Athill is still grateful to be alive, marvelling at a lifetime of good luck and health and taking joy in gardening, clothing, books, memories and friendships. Six of the 10 essays originally appeared elsewhere. The collection highlight is the title piece, about a miscarriage Athill suffered in her forties. Another stand-out is “The Decision,” about moving into a Highgate retirement home in her nineties. (3.5) See my full review at Nudge. [I’ve read all of Athill’s work, even her obscure novel and story collection. This doesn’t live up to her best memoirs, but it’s an essential read for a devoted fan. For readers new to her work, I’d recommend starting with Somewhere Towards the End, followed by Stet, about her work as a literary editor.]

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Excellent! IF I make it to the age of 98, this lady is my role model. She lived life by her own rules, made the decision to go into a retirement home at 93 so as not to be a burden to friends and relatives, and still lives the way she chooses, limited only by her body. Still writing, still sharp, no regrets.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06r4byz Description: Stephanie Cole reads from the new collection of essays by acclaimed writer Diana Athill, which is being published to mark the author's 98th birthday later on this month. Written from the vantage point of her late nineties, Athill's essays are wise, cheering and thought-provoking. They range from gentle (her love of beautiful clothes), heartbreaking (the miscarriage of a much-wanted child) to salutary (her difficult decision to relinquish he BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06r4byz Description: Stephanie Cole reads from the new collection of essays by acclaimed writer Diana Athill, which is being published to mark the author's 98th birthday later on this month. Written from the vantage point of her late nineties, Athill's essays are wise, cheering and thought-provoking. They range from gentle (her love of beautiful clothes), heartbreaking (the miscarriage of a much-wanted child) to salutary (her difficult decision to relinquish her independence and move into a care home). In this first essay, "Post-War", Athill delights in debunking the myth that Britain in the 1940s and 1950s was a mire of dreariness. A young woman when the war broke out, peace and its aftermath was a time of joy, freedom and optimism. 2: she describes with total candour her miscarriage in 1960, aged 43, when she nearly lost her life 3: In "The Decision", she explains the process by which she relinquished her independence and moved into a residential care home in north London. 4: Dead Right 5: A Life of Luxuries

  7. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I have no idea in the world how I came to read this book: it must have jumped into my book bag at the library for I have no recollection of wanting it, let alone getting it. Hmmm. It seems that Athill is sharper at 100 than I am at my age! It was an enjoyable, quick read. Humorous, sad, charming. A life well lived and someone to spin a good tale out of it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable book of memoir essays written by literary giant Diana Athill. Athill is now 98 years old and lives in a retirement home in Highgate, London. The essays covered a surprising variety of topics, everything from her childhood memories, post-war Britain, colonialism, miscarriage and abortion, and of course, aging and death. I wasn't sure what to expect of it when I picked it up. It came recommended to me, but I'd never read any of Athill's books before. I am, however, a This was a thoroughly enjoyable book of memoir essays written by literary giant Diana Athill. Athill is now 98 years old and lives in a retirement home in Highgate, London. The essays covered a surprising variety of topics, everything from her childhood memories, post-war Britain, colonialism, miscarriage and abortion, and of course, aging and death. I wasn't sure what to expect of it when I picked it up. It came recommended to me, but I'd never read any of Athill's books before. I am, however, a big fan of many of the writers she has worked closely with in her publishing and editing career. (Seriously, it is hard to top a list like Margaret Atwood, Simone de Beauvoir, Philip Roth, Jack Kerouac, and John Updike.) Athill has had ample opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life, and she is 100% aware of her privilege. One of the most memorable essays in this collection is her trip to Trinidad and Tobago, in which she discusses colonialism, racism, and privilege in a way that I wouldn't expect of a woman born in 1917. No offense, white women, but we don't have the best record with being aware of our privilege. Her language was powerful and struck me as someone who is truly empathetic and interested in the world around her. I also enjoyed her personal essays where she discusses her decision to not have children, including her discussion of abortion and miscarriage. She has an open perspective on many women's issues and isn't afraid to discuss them in frank terms. I was definitely expecting more mushy material on aging in this collection, but was pleasantly surprised to find her writing to still be fresh and emotional. Her discussion of death and choosing to live in a retirement home of her own volition struck me as extremely rational, and her writing lends an important voice to our discussion of aging, death, and fear of dying. I definitely recommend this collection. It's a short read, only about 170 pages, and the essays are light, yet thought-provoking and full of substance and emotion. Diana Athill has lived a full and fulfilling life without many regrets, and her openness and frankness to discussing her life decisions and emotions is a perspective we can all benefit from.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Stephanie Cole reads from the new collection of essays by acclaimed writer Diana Athill, which is being published to mark the author's 98th birthday later on this month. Written from the vantage point of her late nineties, Athill's essays are wise, cheering and thought-provoking. They range from gentle (her love of beautiful clothes), heartbreaking (the miscarriage of a much-wanted child) to salutary (her difficult decision to relinquish her independence and mo From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Stephanie Cole reads from the new collection of essays by acclaimed writer Diana Athill, which is being published to mark the author's 98th birthday later on this month. Written from the vantage point of her late nineties, Athill's essays are wise, cheering and thought-provoking. They range from gentle (her love of beautiful clothes), heartbreaking (the miscarriage of a much-wanted child) to salutary (her difficult decision to relinquish her independence and move into a care home). In this first essay, "Post-War", Athill delights in debunking the myth that Britain in the 1940s and 1950s was a mire of dreariness. A young woman when the war broke out, peace and its aftermath was a time of joy, freedom and optimism. Photo credit: Mark Crick Written by Diana Athill Read by Stephanie Cole Abridged and Produced by Kirsteen Cameron. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06r4byz

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sophy H

    This book was surprisingly fascinating. You don't expect the musings of a 97 year old woman to reference abortion or extra-marital affairs with wanton abandon! Diana Athill was an interesting creature. I looked it up and she lived to age 101!! At 97, she wrote this gem of a book after deciding for herself to enter a retirement home for "the active elderly". How refreshing a title is that?! Not a nursing home where everyone sits round dribbling into their tommy tippee cups of lukewarm ovaltine, b This book was surprisingly fascinating. You don't expect the musings of a 97 year old woman to reference abortion or extra-marital affairs with wanton abandon! Diana Athill was an interesting creature. I looked it up and she lived to age 101!! At 97, she wrote this gem of a book after deciding for herself to enter a retirement home for "the active elderly". How refreshing a title is that?! Not a nursing home where everyone sits round dribbling into their tommy tippee cups of lukewarm ovaltine, but a place where residents still drive, attend the theatre, attend classes and ultimately still LIVE LIFE. Her observations on life are by turns humorous, saddening, realistic, idealistic, saucy, reserved. She is, like most of us, a walking dichotomy of opinion and values. But that is what makes her so interesting to read. Here is a woman, born in 1917, who makes no bones about getting an abortion, and when gets pregnant in her 40's (to a married man!) then subsequently miscarries the baby, just carries on and regards the loss as a blessing in disguise. The married man in question she continues to have a relationship with for over 40 years, but she is not for marrying herself. The theme of this book I suppose is living life and being truly present. Athill remembers and reminisces over her past but also celebrates what she can enjoy right now, the sights, smells, sounds, experiences and friendships. She is lucky to have got to her age without any sign of senility setting in, or major health issues, and she acknowledges her lucky position throughout. I think one of my favourite passages in the book is this:- "Looking at things is never time wasted....... When I was marvelling at the beauty of a painting or enjoying a great view it did not occur to me that the experience, however intense, would be of value many years later. But there it has remained, tucked away in hidden bits of my mind, and now out it comes,...... to make a very old woman's idle days pleasant instead of boring"................

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I loved this book. The writer, Diana Athill, is 99 years old, and she writes like a thirty year old---that kind of clarity and beauty and spark. Her subjects aren't always young people's subjects, but oh, I'd love to visit her and discover her secrets. How does she know how to nail racism and classism as she describes a trip as a tourist to Trinidad and Tobago? Who in her class and generation understood this? Over and over I was dazzled by her brilliance as a writer and a human being. She writes I loved this book. The writer, Diana Athill, is 99 years old, and she writes like a thirty year old---that kind of clarity and beauty and spark. Her subjects aren't always young people's subjects, but oh, I'd love to visit her and discover her secrets. How does she know how to nail racism and classism as she describes a trip as a tourist to Trinidad and Tobago? Who in her class and generation understood this? Over and over I was dazzled by her brilliance as a writer and a human being. She writes: These people furnish your dream. And while they do--this is something you don't always notice, although you certainly should--you are furnishing theirs. Your money, your mobility, your education, your house, your clothes, you food, your books, they are dreaming of all of this and they want to live in that dream more passionately, and with far better reason, than you want to live in yours. (Share this whole chapter with Pamela Maisey) Athill says that life teaches you things, if you have loving parents, are spared extreme poverty and equipped with a reasonable amount of natural wit, life will probably teach you useful things. Her two valuable lessons: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    I like to wander through the library, just to see what's on the shelves. Yesterday, I had the good luck to find a book by Diana Athill, so I nabbed it. Always worth reading, she's such a good writer. I read this all in one sitting, because it's brief, but more because she's so good you don't want to stop. Don't miss the poem at the very end, and even the acknowledgements page is a pleasure worth your time. In fact, you might turn to that page first, to get a sense of how the book came to be in y I like to wander through the library, just to see what's on the shelves. Yesterday, I had the good luck to find a book by Diana Athill, so I nabbed it. Always worth reading, she's such a good writer. I read this all in one sitting, because it's brief, but more because she's so good you don't want to stop. Don't miss the poem at the very end, and even the acknowledgements page is a pleasure worth your time. In fact, you might turn to that page first, to get a sense of how the book came to be in your hands. P.S. The Friends of the Library was having a sale, four books for one dollar. So I picked up some fun finds, including a biography of San Francisco's beloved Emperor Norton, and Grace Jones' memoir, entitled, "I will never write my memoirs." Fun with serendipity!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    A 2nd memoir by the elderly former British book editor Diana Athill, about aging. This one was more focused on her choice to enter a nursing home willingly (rather than kicking-and-screaming). More thoughts and musings about the aging process, fearing/not fearing death, living life in the past, regrets, life choices, etc. Food for thought. This one I found a little less interesting than her previous memoir, just because it included a long chapter with in-depth detail about her grandfather's estat A 2nd memoir by the elderly former British book editor Diana Athill, about aging. This one was more focused on her choice to enter a nursing home willingly (rather than kicking-and-screaming). More thoughts and musings about the aging process, fearing/not fearing death, living life in the past, regrets, life choices, etc. Food for thought. This one I found a little less interesting than her previous memoir, just because it included a long chapter with in-depth detail about her grandfather's estate and gardens, which I didn't find all that engrossing (although there were some interesting historical tidbits in there). There's an amusing scene of her and 3 other old ladies in the nursing home who wanted to start a garden, and the other more spry old lady friends who were supposed to do the actual digging & planting didn't show up. So they did it themselves even though she said they were all very hobbled and couldn't get up from the ground (they had to help each other up) and it took forever. She said it was pretty comical but THEY DID IT! Teamwork.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    I really do like the way that Diana Athill Writes her life stories. She has a lovely easy style which makes it a delight to read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Damian

    Re-reading this was like a visit with Diana. It's her funeral this week and her words, on and off the page, will be ringing in my head. Re-reading this was like a visit with Diana. It's her funeral this week and her words, on and off the page, will be ringing in my head.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Brookfield

    Diana Athill was born in 1917. This means, she is at least (I don't know her actual birthday) 98 years old. And she is still writing books!!! Not just okay-ish books, but excellent ones, filled with warmth and wisdom and a directness of tone that makes me sit up and listen, no matter what she is talking about. 'Alive, Alive Oh!' is the latest product from this remarkable woman, an addition to the archive of wonderful memoirs that began with 'Stet', written after an acclaimed career as an editor Diana Athill was born in 1917. This means, she is at least (I don't know her actual birthday) 98 years old. And she is still writing books!!! Not just okay-ish books, but excellent ones, filled with warmth and wisdom and a directness of tone that makes me sit up and listen, no matter what she is talking about. 'Alive, Alive Oh!' is the latest product from this remarkable woman, an addition to the archive of wonderful memoirs that began with 'Stet', written after an acclaimed career as an editor with Andre Deutsch. 'Alive, Alive Oh!' is a bit gentler than its predecessors, in that there is less focus on her always interesting personal exploits and more reflection on things like the huge and beautiful gardens of her grandparents' home, Ditchingham Hall. But all her writing sparkles, whether it is descriptive or dramatic, and I think this is not just because of the acuteness of her perceptions, but the humility and gratitude with which she expresses them. Not even the miscarriage (in her early forties) of the unplanned baby she had decided to keep, gets her down. She was sad, of course, she explains, but also greatly - selfishly - relieved. Such honesty is rare and deeply engaging. One is left with the abiding impression of a woman with no edges, no hidden agendas. Diana Athill simply adores the business of being alive and this lights up every aspect of her prose. Yet Death holds no fear for her either. In fact, anyone worrying about the life hereafter - or lack of it - should be advised to read this book. Athill writes that the world spun well enough, and without her being aware of it, before she came into being, and so assumes that the same state of affairs will prevail after she has gone. Such commonsense! How can one not be persuaded as well as delighted? In fact, the only problem I have with Diana Athill is that she has scuppered my own - albeit distant - writing 'retirement' plans. I had always imagined I would give up one day, you see, to drift instead in a fug of allowable indolence, free from the novelist's challenge of trying to make sense of the world and graft it into stories. But now the achievements of Diana Athill make such thoughts seem shaming. For, as well as writing books, she continues to have a rich social and cultural life, surrounded by people of similar energies and a like-mind. In one chapter she describes how they all spent an afternoon planting rose-bushes. Life may tire her more - after the gardening she confessed to being exhausted - but she is still going at it full pelt. So thanks, Diana Athill, for showing me that a possible forty-five years more work and hectic living beckons! You make me very happy.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    Diana Athill is best known now for her memoirs and short stories, though she began her career in publishing. Working as an editor with Andre Deutsch – one of the founders of the company, through a fifty-year career she worked with some of the biggest names in literature. Her book Stet – which I received recently, is the memoir about that work, and the people she met and worked with. I am looking forward to reading that. “My two valuable lessons are: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness.” Ali Diana Athill is best known now for her memoirs and short stories, though she began her career in publishing. Working as an editor with Andre Deutsch – one of the founders of the company, through a fifty-year career she worked with some of the biggest names in literature. Her book Stet – which I received recently, is the memoir about that work, and the people she met and worked with. I am looking forward to reading that. “My two valuable lessons are: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness.” Alive, Alive Oh! was published in Diana Athill’s ninety eighth year, and in this work while dipping into the past as she does in all her books, she also considers what it is like to grow old. She reflects on what it is that stays with one in memory, having already lived a very long life. Surprisingly it isn’t the things you might imagine. She has found herself recalling places visited, things once experienced are remembered with great fondness. She remembers the grounds of the family home. In beautifully descriptive prose she recalls a grandmother’s garden, a memory of place which increasingly sustains her. (Incidentally, it is worth pointing out to anyone who has yet to read anything by Dina Athill, that her memoirs are neither written or published chronologically, so it is perfectly possible to start anywhere). “The terrace felt more like house than garden because one stepped out onto it so easily, and after breakfast Gran used to sit on its stone steps while she brushed Lola, her poodle. It was a place for civilised behaviour, where we interacted with our grown-ups more than in most places. The urns that stood at intervals on its wall has been brought back from Italy by Gramps, and small pink roses, with a lot of heavily scented honeysuckle, clambered over the walls – on summer evenings, through the bedroom windows overlooking the terrace there used to come delicious waves of honeysuckle.” Recalling her visits to Europe and Tobago, the friends she made – and experiences as a traveller. In the title chapter, Diana talks honestly and quite harrowingly about the miscarriage she suffered when she was in her forties. Having decided years before that she didn’t want children – she considered a termination, she had done it before – but something changed. Full review: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2017/...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    The book I read right before this one was aimed at teenagers. This books was written by a woman in her 90s. That made for a bit of a change! I enjoyed these essays very much, and I am astounded Athill's lucidity at her advanced age. These essays says are crisp, well-organized, and richly descriptive, written as if by a woman in her prime. Athill is unsparing in her description of the reasons for her decision to finally go into a group home, and of her own increasing disabilities and those of her The book I read right before this one was aimed at teenagers. This books was written by a woman in her 90s. That made for a bit of a change! I enjoyed these essays very much, and I am astounded Athill's lucidity at her advanced age. These essays says are crisp, well-organized, and richly descriptive, written as if by a woman in her prime. Athill is unsparing in her description of the reasons for her decision to finally go into a group home, and of her own increasing disabilities and those of her friends. And yet the tone is not dark or despairing Athill still finds joy in living. I don't mean that she is one of those in-denial positive thinkers. She is well aware of the limitations of her current state. But she finds genuine pleasure in her writing, in the little bit of gardening that she can do, in loyal old friends and in new friends that she was made in the wonderful group home that (I hasten to add) she is blessed to be able to afford. She also writes vividly about her early years as a young member of the British aristocracy who rejected Christianity and Conservatism and exercised her sexual freedom in a era when few women did so. I think my favorite essay was the one where she described the miscarriage that she had in her 40s. Always single, and having already had 2 abortions, she kept thinking she'd get around to having a third....until she realized that she wanted this baby. She was blissfully happy during her pregnancy, but it ended in a miscarriage that also nearly ended her life. I won't share her reaction to that; I'll let other readers be as surprised by it as I was, and as impressed by the clear-eyed honesty of this amazing writer. Like my reviews? Check out my blog at http://www.kathrynbashaar.com/blog/

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Three and a half stars. It wasn't an easy read. Diana Athill covers some very brave, but often unpalatable subjects in this one. One describes in great detail a miscarriage she suffered in her 40s of a much wanted child. She nearly died of a massive haemorrhage. Another chapter discusses when it was the right time for her to give up independent living and move to a care home, albeit a very smart and lovely one in North London peopled by equally like minded residents. I didn't enjoy the chapter a Three and a half stars. It wasn't an easy read. Diana Athill covers some very brave, but often unpalatable subjects in this one. One describes in great detail a miscarriage she suffered in her 40s of a much wanted child. She nearly died of a massive haemorrhage. Another chapter discusses when it was the right time for her to give up independent living and move to a care home, albeit a very smart and lovely one in North London peopled by equally like minded residents. I didn't enjoy the chapter about death particularly although, as always, written in her forthright no nonsense manner. However, her often brusque no nonsense manner sweeping away her ex lover into the care of his family when he was very ill, and being relieved when he had left, came across as bordering on harsh. My overall impression of this book is that, whilst she writes so well about her subjects, I found myself longing to get to the end and move on to something less downbeat. The only chapter I really liked was the one at the beginning about her memories of her childhood home in Norfolk. Her grandparents had beautiful house and estate, which is lovingly described in incredibly fine detail. For that chapter alone I bumped up to 3.5 stars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jill Blevins

    This is like enjoying your favorite grandma, sharing the adventures of her lifetime, adventures of which nobody will ever have again because the world is a different place and nobody takes risks like they used to, and wishing she was your age so you could hang around her forever. Diana Athill wrote this when she was 97, and I can't even imagine writing at 97, let alone being so lively still. The Alive Alive in the title is about something else - won't give it away - but she is twice as alive as This is like enjoying your favorite grandma, sharing the adventures of her lifetime, adventures of which nobody will ever have again because the world is a different place and nobody takes risks like they used to, and wishing she was your age so you could hang around her forever. Diana Athill wrote this when she was 97, and I can't even imagine writing at 97, let alone being so lively still. The Alive Alive in the title is about something else - won't give it away - but she is twice as alive as me now and I'm just a baby in age comparison. Some people just live life so unencumbered by rules, peer and family pressure, inner voices screaming at you to be normal, and finance issues (which she had, but didn't fret or listen to like us regular humans do). It's so easy to get out of your head and into her writing, to become someone who lives life to the fullest, who enjoys opportunities that most of us never had, or would have said no to because, again, we're regular people and she is extraordinary. Even at 97, she is more alive than everyone in my life. Probably yours, too.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Palmer

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. What did I think of the book? It was ok, this the two star rating. The first chapter started out quite slow, with a detailed remembrance of her familial home, where every building was located and exactly which kind of tree grew by which building... At this point I was really glad this was a slim book and yet dreaded what remained. Luckily the interest factor ticked up in the following chapters. I can't say I agree with the authors choice of using abortion as a birth control, or with her willingn What did I think of the book? It was ok, this the two star rating. The first chapter started out quite slow, with a detailed remembrance of her familial home, where every building was located and exactly which kind of tree grew by which building... At this point I was really glad this was a slim book and yet dreaded what remained. Luckily the interest factor ticked up in the following chapters. I can't say I agree with the authors choice of using abortion as a birth control, or with her willingness and enjoyment of continued affairs with married men, but it was interesting to hear the other side of the story I suppose. I liked the closing line "why want anything more marvelous than what is?" I think the most marvelous thing about this book, unfortunately, is that it was written by a nonagenarian.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Seddon

    Alive, Alive, Oh! is a collection of memories that matter most to Athill as she draws nearer to her 100th birthday. I was drawn to this after reading a review which mentioned Athill's thoughts on moving herself into a retirement/care home. It was a point of view I'd never considered before, that such a move can be a positive one for everybody concerned. Many chapters surprised me in the same way she seemed to have always been ahead of her time. Some stories really made stop and think about my ow Alive, Alive, Oh! is a collection of memories that matter most to Athill as she draws nearer to her 100th birthday. I was drawn to this after reading a review which mentioned Athill's thoughts on moving herself into a retirement/care home. It was a point of view I'd never considered before, that such a move can be a positive one for everybody concerned. Many chapters surprised me in the same way she seemed to have always been ahead of her time. Some stories really made stop and think about my own attitudes towards certain things. I did skip over the odd paragraph, particularly the chapter about her grandparents' garden but that's just because I'm not really into a lot of description. I really feel I could learn a lot from Athill. This volume is too small.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Insights into life from post WW2 to approx 2010, UK. Reflections on ageing, relationships, parenting. You don't need me to tell you she is a wonderfully skilled writer and a woman of achievement. The pieces on her loss of a pregnancy when she had finally decided she really wanted a child this time was very moving [previous abortions had not caused her heartache.] Also revealing was her description of some of the facets of her relationship with a partner she did not live with. Then there was her de Insights into life from post WW2 to approx 2010, UK. Reflections on ageing, relationships, parenting. You don't need me to tell you she is a wonderfully skilled writer and a woman of achievement. The pieces on her loss of a pregnancy when she had finally decided she really wanted a child this time was very moving [previous abortions had not caused her heartache.] Also revealing was her description of some of the facets of her relationship with a partner she did not live with. Then there was her decision to move to a retirement facility where there was so little space for belongings. All instructive, moving and enlightening but with humour too. Athill has written a number of volumes of memoir - this is the most recent I think and the only one I have read but it was terrific and I will read more.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Brookbank

    Oh, how I loved this. Loved it even more than her other memoir that I raved about. There is something about her that I relate to so deeply; her writing speaks straight to my soul. On everything from childhood memories to family to relationships (or lack there of) to motherhood (or lack thereof), she is wise and comforting and inspirational and funny and non-conforming - all the good things. I could go on, but I won't. Just read her. Oh, how I loved this. Loved it even more than her other memoir that I raved about. There is something about her that I relate to so deeply; her writing speaks straight to my soul. On everything from childhood memories to family to relationships (or lack there of) to motherhood (or lack thereof), she is wise and comforting and inspirational and funny and non-conforming - all the good things. I could go on, but I won't. Just read her.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    As I get older I find myself thinking more and more about the short time we have and about whether or not I'm using my time wisely. When considering these questions I believe it is immensely useful to learn from those who are farther down the road. Seven years ago I read Athill's first memoir, Somewhere Towards the End , written when she was 91 and focused on how things like her sex drive, her reading habits, etc. had changed as she aged. Now at the age of 98, Athill has given us this book of es As I get older I find myself thinking more and more about the short time we have and about whether or not I'm using my time wisely. When considering these questions I believe it is immensely useful to learn from those who are farther down the road. Seven years ago I read Athill's first memoir, Somewhere Towards the End , written when she was 91 and focused on how things like her sex drive, her reading habits, etc. had changed as she aged. Now at the age of 98, Athill has given us this book of essays continuing the theme. It's very interesting to see what memories, at the age of 98, one ends up reflecting on. Athill states that recently she has shifted from remembering her relationships with men to focusing on the experiences she found beautiful: her grandmother's garden, Tobago, good meals, etc. I imagine this might be different if she had children (there's a very poignant chapter focused on her decision to finally have a child in her 40s when she became unexpectedly pregnant and then almost died when she miscarried). However, what I'm taking away from this book is that you should focus on generating experiences rather than accumulating things. Athill described the process of shedding her belongings as she downsized to an assisted living facility. Her books are no longer with her, but her memories still are. This is probably Athill's last book, and I'm glad to have read it. I hope when I am as far along the path of life as she, I do it with as much grace and acceptance as well as have a similar treasure trove of memories, for as Edith Wharton put it, "... no treasure-house of Atreus was ever as rich as a well-stored memory.”

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    It's not often you have the opportunity to read a book written by a 97 year-old. I am old enough, even at just 67, to understand the author's comment that although there are increasing limitations on a physical level as one gets older, there are new pleasures that balance them. One is memories -- there are so many memories, and the time and perspective to string them together into one's own story. I wish I knew Diana Athill, I think she must be a fascinating person to talk to. There is no 'plot' It's not often you have the opportunity to read a book written by a 97 year-old. I am old enough, even at just 67, to understand the author's comment that although there are increasing limitations on a physical level as one gets older, there are new pleasures that balance them. One is memories -- there are so many memories, and the time and perspective to string them together into one's own story. I wish I knew Diana Athill, I think she must be a fascinating person to talk to. There is no 'plot' to this book -- it is a series of ruminations on various ages and stages of her own life, and stories from that long life. Her 97 years encompasses all of the big events of the 20th Century, and now into the 21st: from World War I through the rise of populism in the 2010's. A cozy, thought-provoking, touching book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Isabella

    I adored this book. Short, but I stretched it out so that I could spend as much time as possible with the delicious writing, so British, but in the warmest way possible. I heard about this book because it was on NPR's list of best books of 2016 and I'm so glad I did. The author is 100 and looking back at special moments from her life... Some are sweet, some are harrowing, but all are lovely and reveal hidden depths, whether about her grandparents' garden, a miscarriage, or the revolution in Toba I adored this book. Short, but I stretched it out so that I could spend as much time as possible with the delicious writing, so British, but in the warmest way possible. I heard about this book because it was on NPR's list of best books of 2016 and I'm so glad I did. The author is 100 and looking back at special moments from her life... Some are sweet, some are harrowing, but all are lovely and reveal hidden depths, whether about her grandparents' garden, a miscarriage, or the revolution in Tobago.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Furniss

    Listened to on Radio 4 as the Book at Bedtime choice. Stephanie Cole reads the collection of essays by Diana Athill. We follow Diana's life, the ups and downs and life changing events that define her and we hear her opinion on a range of subjects including the War and liberation. So wonderfully descriptive you don't have to be a fan of her work to enjoy this thought provoking memoir. Listened to on Radio 4 as the Book at Bedtime choice. Stephanie Cole reads the collection of essays by Diana Athill. We follow Diana's life, the ups and downs and life changing events that define her and we hear her opinion on a range of subjects including the War and liberation. So wonderfully descriptive you don't have to be a fan of her work to enjoy this thought provoking memoir.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    My fastest read in ages and thats because its so good. A collection of essays, meaning you can never get fed up of any subject. Varied and full of life, from childhood, lovers, war, death, pregnancy and a like. Diana has lead a true and womderful life and has a great storytelling way of phrasing her essays. I have fallen in love with her and her look on life. Diana I salute you!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carolinemawer

    I liked this book much more than "Somewhere Towards the End", especially the Chapter on "Death is the inevitable end ...". And perhaps her discussion of her pregnancy. But she does, unsurprisingly, look inwards. And, to me anyway, not that interesting as a person. There is, however, always much that can be learnt from Athill's writing! I liked this book much more than "Somewhere Towards the End", especially the Chapter on "Death is the inevitable end ...". And perhaps her discussion of her pregnancy. But she does, unsurprisingly, look inwards. And, to me anyway, not that interesting as a person. There is, however, always much that can be learnt from Athill's writing!

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