Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Beginner's Diary

by Carl H. Klaus

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8070-7218-4
Publisher: Beacon

Klaus (Weathering Winter, not reviewed, etc.) retired not long ago from the University of Iowa, where for many years he taught the art and craft of the personal essay and journal writing. No surprise, then, that he presents a diary of his musings about his retirement. At age 65, as the title says, he took retirement (rather than be given it, unasked for, as often happens). It was a difficult transition, despite the comfortable retirement fund. He had old, thin skin, comparing himself to graybeards, geezers, and others in their golden years. Leaving the warm bosom of collegial togetherness did not appeal, and the thought of abandoning the classroom filled him with anxiety. It seemed important to retain his campus office, to retain some vestige of influence, to hang on as some sort of “consultant” (as outplaced professionals are apt to call themselves). The teacher’s identity crisis prompted him to evade a formal farewell dinner—a good move—though he did accept the dedication of a large oak tree—another good move. He was, to put it bluntly, self-absorbed and mighty introspective, finding much angst in the rituals of quotidian domestic affairs. Gardening, health, friends, writing, meditation, and menus were the subjects of his journal entries, which were scrupulously written daily, starting weeks before his last class. Then, one day, the pensioner simply didn’t shave at his accustomed hour. Then he skipped a day and made no entry in his journal. Then another. As the new school year started without the professor emeritus, he and his ever-understanding wife traveled through the Canadian Rockies. And somehow retirement didn’t seem so bad, after all. A life-altering transition is faithfully chronicled in this story of a condition that is new in the history of humanity. With academic and heartland sensibility, it’s an elegy perhaps not as universal as the author envisioned, but quite suitable for more than the Modern Maturity and Elderhostel crowd.