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What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness

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The British literary sensation—“the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs ” (The Telegraph)—the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness, and of the redemptive journey into the past that her loss of sight sets in motion. Candia McWilliam, whose novels A Case of Knives, A Little Stranger, and Deb The British literary sensation—“the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs ” (The Telegraph)—the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness, and of the redemptive journey into the past that her loss of sight sets in motion. Candia McWilliam, whose novels A Case of Knives, A Little Stranger, and Debatable Land made her a reader favorite throughout the United Kingdom and around the world, here breaks her decade-long silence with a searing, intimate memoir that fans of Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood, Mary Karr’s Lit, and Diana Athill’s Somewhere Toward the End will agree “cements her status as one of our most important literary writers beyond question” (Financial Times).


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The British literary sensation—“the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs ” (The Telegraph)—the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness, and of the redemptive journey into the past that her loss of sight sets in motion. Candia McWilliam, whose novels A Case of Knives, A Little Stranger, and Deb The British literary sensation—“the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs ” (The Telegraph)—the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness, and of the redemptive journey into the past that her loss of sight sets in motion. Candia McWilliam, whose novels A Case of Knives, A Little Stranger, and Debatable Land made her a reader favorite throughout the United Kingdom and around the world, here breaks her decade-long silence with a searing, intimate memoir that fans of Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood, Mary Karr’s Lit, and Diana Athill’s Somewhere Toward the End will agree “cements her status as one of our most important literary writers beyond question” (Financial Times).

30 review for What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Truly one of the greatest autobiographies that I have read. When I worked at Blackwell's in Oxford, one of my favourite customers was Candia Dinshaw, (otherwise known as Candia McWilliam), a woman who bought good books, never asked how her books were doing, and often entered the shop with a stunning bouquet of flowers that could not help but light up any young bookseller's life. To say that this book reduced me to tears is an understatement, but it is certainly one of the most heart-wrenching sto Truly one of the greatest autobiographies that I have read. When I worked at Blackwell's in Oxford, one of my favourite customers was Candia Dinshaw, (otherwise known as Candia McWilliam), a woman who bought good books, never asked how her books were doing, and often entered the shop with a stunning bouquet of flowers that could not help but light up any young bookseller's life. To say that this book reduced me to tears is an understatement, but it is certainly one of the most heart-wrenching stories of an author that I have read. The very idea of someone who relies on the written word for their livelihood to find themselves with an inexplicable loss of sight is indeed tragic, but Candia McWilliam has turned her tale into a book that is filled with as much humour as sadness, and a strength of will that is only to be admired. If you have read her wonderful fiction then read this book, and if you have read this first then seek out her novels and stories.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    One of the great books. A 53-year-old Scottish novelist begins to lose her sight through blepharospasm - being unable to open one's eyelids. With three children, all with different last names, of two fathers, and a handful of novels - her presiding genius is Sybille Bedford - she has lived through writing, and reading. Now she can only read books on tape, and she dictates this memoir. "I am six foot tall and afraid of small people. I am a Scot. I am an alcoholic. There is nothing wrong with my eyes. One of the great books. A 53-year-old Scottish novelist begins to lose her sight through blepharospasm - being unable to open one's eyelids. With three children, all with different last names, of two fathers, and a handful of novels - her presiding genius is Sybille Bedford - she has lived through writing, and reading. Now she can only read books on tape, and she dictates this memoir. "I am six foot tall and afraid of small people. I am a Scot. I am an alcoholic. There is nothing wrong with my eyes. I am blind. I cannot lose my temper though I am being helped to. . . . I exude marriedness and I am alone." Those are her compass bearings; and here are some sentence: [describing the contents of her mother's workbasket: "The pinking shears were so heavy and specific that they lived in a hlster in the sewing chest with the button box, the cotton reels and the Kwik-unpik, a natty hook fo rthe slashing open of stitches mainly to 'let things down', or to 'let things out', terms perhaps now unknown outwith the psychotherapeutic context." Another: "I am a poor example of any kind of liberation. 'Are you a feminist?' I was asked in my middle thirties with I knew not what kind of weight. The questioner was a colonial tycoon. I was nibbling at the sort of lunch thought suitable for reasonably attractive married women at that time in history, when the man was paying. "I replied, inforgiveably, I think now, with a sort of, 'Let's assume that it;s been more widely achieved than that' gesture. This man later went on to murder his wife. There's no conclusion.'" And even her friends and enemies are vivid: [When she starts to lose her sight}: "My youngest child asked me, 'It is a vulgar question, but, may I ask, do any of your other senses compensate yet?'" Just get thee to amazon.co.uk and get it - unless your spouse, lover or typical one-night-stands dislike being read passages aloud.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    2.5 stars Poor Candia questions her own right to take up space of any kind so severely I feel cruel not liking her book much. Perhaps the most extraordinary and powerful thing about the text is its expression of vulnerability. In part it reads as therapeutic confessional, and it finds very little safety, very little comfort. Its crises are unresolved. McWilliam offers that she does not know her own mind, and in this I related. Hearing her knowing, but being unable to control, her own destructive 2.5 stars Poor Candia questions her own right to take up space of any kind so severely I feel cruel not liking her book much. Perhaps the most extraordinary and powerful thing about the text is its expression of vulnerability. In part it reads as therapeutic confessional, and it finds very little safety, very little comfort. Its crises are unresolved. McWilliam offers that she does not know her own mind, and in this I related. Hearing her knowing, but being unable to control, her own destructive behaviour found a painful echo in me also. The heartbreaking loss of her mother and struggles with her stepmother really clawed into me; I'm very close to my mother and was also an awkward, willful child. As a memoir of disability, of addiction, of writing and block, of mental instability, this book is... what books are: an attempt to communicate the utterly personal, mind-bound world of experience that becomes in the workshop of language a middle-world, a habitable space where I can start to imagine how McWilliam has felt. This is precious. It does as Proust is said to do: it extends the depths and reaches of empathy and fellow-feeling. But much of the time I felt I was in the wrong theatre. McWilliam would relate an anecdote and I felt the air hang triumphant at the end for my applause or outrage while I thought 'so what?'. She doesn't approve of 'views' and I struggle to respect this, as probably a very wise orientation (everything, especially the political, is personal), but I know well, too well, that "the absence of ideology IS an ideology. It's just a conservative ideology, and everything you see has it." So often, I wanted Candia to address her self-abasing mental habit from a feminist perspective, but she never does, she never looks for a cause outside herself, she takes all the blame, as women are taught to do. Folks dwell on the sheer loveliness of McWilliams' writing, but apart from learning the gloriously expressive flexible word 'epilimnion' for the near-surface part of a body of water, I can't say I found the language especially edifying. I most often enjoy clarity. Memoir is usually cloudy, and this is no exception. (((I bought this book a good while ago in the days when I relied on a combination of the unmentionable online retailer and bastions of the British mainstream press such as the TLS and the Guardian review to decide what to read next. I was always chafing at this imperfect system, but ensconced in the sticks and with only a few bookish friends, I had to rub along. As I recall, my channels of recommendation were all raving about this book when I picked it up. I have no idea why. Wait, no, sorry, I do have an idea. It's because McWilliam is in the British It's-Culture-Darling bubble. With her class, literary and journalism connections (for example, she's friends with the editor of British Vogue), she couldn't possibly publish something without it being Known. This sort of thing gets a big push in these parts. So I was reading with a kind of meta interest in the machinations of the world this book emerged from, which it also deals with, shyly and sometimes luminously (McWilliam succeeds in making me wish I knew some of her friends, especially the lesbian couple) as the substance of personal relationships.)))

  4. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Twenty odd years ago, Candia McWilliam was a novelist I always looked out for. Then no more novels came. This memoir provides explanations for the silence. In her old, glittering, style - clever, dense with allusion, really demanding to be read out loud to be appreciated - Candia McWilliam reflects with exhausting subtlety on her states of mind, on the childhood losses/rejections , the self-distaste, the feeling of not belonging or not deserving - things which led her to sabotage what, on the su Twenty odd years ago, Candia McWilliam was a novelist I always looked out for. Then no more novels came. This memoir provides explanations for the silence. In her old, glittering, style - clever, dense with allusion, really demanding to be read out loud to be appreciated - Candia McWilliam reflects with exhausting subtlety on her states of mind, on the childhood losses/rejections , the self-distaste, the feeling of not belonging or not deserving - things which led her to sabotage what, on the surface, was the gilded life of a great beauty (I know because I checked Google Images) and a literary dazzler. Sometimes during the 480 pages I became annoyed with the author for wasting her opportunities and not appreciating how much she was cared for, how relatively fortunatue in spite of everything - but her pain was so intense and so brilliantly made real to me that, mostly I just wished her recovery - from her addiction, her loss of vision and her feelings of unworthiness. This is not an easy read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vestal McIntyre

    Scottish novelist McWilliam wrote fantastic, very dense, inventive novels in the 80s and 90s, then went through a long dry spell. A few years ago, she started to go blind, not because her eyes stopped working, but because her eyelids refused to stay open as a result of a rare neurological condition. Her response was to hire an assistant and start dictating her memoir. Her story is painful -- alcoholism, self-hatred, a family history of suicide -- but the book never descends into the class of "mi Scottish novelist McWilliam wrote fantastic, very dense, inventive novels in the 80s and 90s, then went through a long dry spell. A few years ago, she started to go blind, not because her eyes stopped working, but because her eyelids refused to stay open as a result of a rare neurological condition. Her response was to hire an assistant and start dictating her memoir. Her story is painful -- alcoholism, self-hatred, a family history of suicide -- but the book never descends into the class of "misery memoir" because the quality of the writing is so high (nearly every page has some beautiful, exhilarating insight) and because her voice never jaded, always forgiving, which, for me, heightens the heartbreak.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nette

    OK, clearly she's a brilliant writer and knows how to use words in magical ways. But trying to read this stream-of-consciousness memoir was like swimming through a very large lake of very thick oatmeal. I've already donated the book so I can't quote directly, but allow me to give you the flavor: "My Aunt Zelda was very tall with thin legs. She wore thick stockings the color of weak tea. Her mother, it was rumored, was a trapeze artist. I was briefly friends with Zelda's oldest child, Peter. Peter OK, clearly she's a brilliant writer and knows how to use words in magical ways. But trying to read this stream-of-consciousness memoir was like swimming through a very large lake of very thick oatmeal. I've already donated the book so I can't quote directly, but allow me to give you the flavor: "My Aunt Zelda was very tall with thin legs. She wore thick stockings the color of weak tea. Her mother, it was rumored, was a trapeze artist. I was briefly friends with Zelda's oldest child, Peter. Peter enjoyed ham radio, oysters, and comic books. He gave me my first comic book, which I shared 25 years later with my second child by my first husband. That was two years before I started going blind and one year after I stopped drinking. Zelda was also an alcoholic." Enjoy!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Can't work out what irks me about this woman's writing, but regrettably I find her unreadable. Had to stop after just a few pages. Can't work out what irks me about this woman's writing, but regrettably I find her unreadable. Had to stop after just a few pages.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    I suspect that more than usual there will be a mixed reaction to this book, and that's the case if you look at the Amazon reader reviews. But I think this book is extraordinary. When I finished it I rang the publisher and asked to write to the author -- something I've only done once before. Candia McWilliam seemingly had it all -- a published author, well-reviewed, beautiful, highly intelligent, academically successful, married to an Oxford academic, three beautiful children, an internship at Vo I suspect that more than usual there will be a mixed reaction to this book, and that's the case if you look at the Amazon reader reviews. But I think this book is extraordinary. When I finished it I rang the publisher and asked to write to the author -- something I've only done once before. Candia McWilliam seemingly had it all -- a published author, well-reviewed, beautiful, highly intelligent, academically successful, married to an Oxford academic, three beautiful children, an internship at Vogue magazine (and modelling work as well)... But she badly messed up -- She became a serious alcoholic, left her husband, was incapable for a time of looking after her family, and became functionally blind between 2006 and 2009 -- In other words, her eyesight was fine, but the eyelids refused to cooperate and remained firmly shut. The eye condition is blepharospasm, and eventually she was lucky enough to find a surgeon who treated her (he cut the muscles around the eye, and grafted tendons from the back of her legs on to the eyelids). Aside from the interest of a narrative concerned with a descent into hell and back, McWilliams is a very gifted writer, acutely observant, sensitive, generous about other people and very hard on herself (excessively so, given how gifted she is). Two of her favourite writers are Proust and Henry James, so hers is a literary style. At one point she mentions having listened to the abridged Remembrance of Things Past 27 or 29 times. (The abridged version -- Naxos have only this last year completed the unabridged version -- read by Neville Jason, is 49 hours of listening on 39 CDs). She does come out of the other side of this nightmare. Clearly she is held in high esteem as well as dearly loved by those close to her (which is not to say that she doesn't ignore the obvious for a great deal of the book) ... McWilliam isn't that interested in the usual apparatus of the autobiography (perhaps part of her lack of self-esteem). The manuscript for the first half of the book is dictated, and her antennae are so acute that she distracts herself with all manner of observations ... Very highly recommended. I've never read anything quite like it...

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

    I can see why folks might hate this one, and bail on it. McWilliam is an odd person, who's led a strange life, delivering her story in a somewhat convoluted, pedantic (the dictionary on my e-reader got quite the workout!) style. Still, I didn't want it to end. The story goes back and forth between the present, dealing with her condition, and the past concerning her childhood and two (failed) marriages; I hadn't realized until late in the book that she and her second husband were still legally mar I can see why folks might hate this one, and bail on it. McWilliam is an odd person, who's led a strange life, delivering her story in a somewhat convoluted, pedantic (the dictionary on my e-reader got quite the workout!) style. Still, I didn't want it to end. The story goes back and forth between the present, dealing with her condition, and the past concerning her childhood and two (failed) marriages; I hadn't realized until late in the book that she and her second husband were still legally married, even though he was living with another woman with whom he'd had children (that aspect, frustratingly, is never explained); everyone from all blended families gets along well. There's a fair amount of name-dropping, which normally I loathe, but here it wasn't particularly irritating. One caveat is that it took me a while to get through the book - I'd read a couple of chapters, and when the next one appeared, I'd instinctively shut down my e-reader as "that's enough for today!"

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Geller

    I spent a long time with this book as McWilliams meanders through her memories of her life while she is confronting increasing blindness caused by a rare disease. The depth of her knowledge of literature and language and of both the desire to see and be seen is remarkable. Much of her life is spent in Scotland and England and she weaves the tales of her alcoholism, writing, fears of dependence, utter dependence in ways that kept me going through this very long memoir. Read it when you have time I spent a long time with this book as McWilliams meanders through her memories of her life while she is confronting increasing blindness caused by a rare disease. The depth of her knowledge of literature and language and of both the desire to see and be seen is remarkable. Much of her life is spent in Scotland and England and she weaves the tales of her alcoholism, writing, fears of dependence, utter dependence in ways that kept me going through this very long memoir. Read it when you have time to soak it up.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    This beautifully written and distinctive memoir begins with a poem by Elizabeth Bishop in which the lines "the art of losing isn't hard to master" repeat in each stanza. It was an apt choice, because McWilliam's story is all about losses: first of her mother (who kills herself), then of her father (first because of his profession, secondly through his remarriage, but most of all through emotional reticence) and on and on . . . homes, marriages, her health, her beauty, and finally, her eyesight. This beautifully written and distinctive memoir begins with a poem by Elizabeth Bishop in which the lines "the art of losing isn't hard to master" repeat in each stanza. It was an apt choice, because McWilliam's story is all about losses: first of her mother (who kills herself), then of her father (first because of his profession, secondly through his remarriage, but most of all through emotional reticence) and on and on . . . homes, marriages, her health, her beauty, and finally, her eyesight. The subject of seeing -- both in its physical sense, and then in an emotional truth-telling sense -- is the metaphor that ties the book together. McWilliam looks directly (and she is always aware of the visual in language) at her life-long tendency to avoid gazing at herself, even as she has gorged on the physical details of the world around her. McWilliam's particular form of "blindness" (blepharospasm is the technical word for it) begins overtaking her in 2006 as she is judging the Booker Prize; in other words, when her ability to see, to read, is crucial. She is fully alive to all the ironies of her position, and truly has a mordant sense of humour. The first half of the book is roughly given over to a chronological accounting of her life; she refers to the series of vignettes as "lenses." The second half of the book is much more bogged down (and I use that verb deliberately) in a variety of physical disasters and her attempts to recover from them. It can make for grisly reading at times, and there was, too, a repetitiousness of the painful themes that have stricken her life (self-loathing and regret being chief amongst them). I watched an interview of McWilliam (I'm guessing she was early or mid 30s; I think it was after her second book was published) and she is so beautiful, charming, sophisticated, eloquent and BRAINY. Not only did it lend great poignancy to her story, in terms of understanding just how great her losses were and are, but it also reveals -- once again -- what a GULF there can be between how we may think of ourselves and how others may perceive us. I did weary of the many times and ways she described herself as grotesque and unlovable, but never did I doubt that she believed herself to be so. I don't want to dwell too much on this aspect, though, as this is such a brave book; and for all of her blindness, she has astonishing insight, too.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    Not only is Mc Williams' prose magic, read What to look for in Winter and choke on one's petty complaints. And if the going is horribly tough, maybe be comforted. McWilliams has most of the gifts the good fairy brings yet there is poison in the apple. I read that no one reads the same book. As far as I'm concerned nothing could be more illustrative of that than the reviews I have read of this book. No review of those I have read much chiming with my read. ‘Sowing hems with smoke...’ .......... Not only is Mc Williams' prose magic, read What to look for in Winter and choke on one's petty complaints. And if the going is horribly tough, maybe be comforted. McWilliams has most of the gifts the good fairy brings yet there is poison in the apple. I read that no one reads the same book. As far as I'm concerned nothing could be more illustrative of that than the reviews I have read of this book. No review of those I have read much chiming with my read. ‘Sowing hems with smoke...’ .......... ‘Red tulips with reflexed petals and thin stems like veins...’ 'I don’t have these sleeps these days because I get stuck in my writing but because I get stuck at that point, around two o’clock, in my day...'........‘Three chimneys measured themselves along those wide trees and the long line of the roof offered its shadows along the lawn and the lower reaches of the trees whose individual leaves were still holding sparkling doses of light.' A writer with a golden pen. Strings of pearls in Candia McWilliams, 'What to look for in Winter.' The story of the passport and Potts; the curtsey to the Dame when Mc Williams was laid ill with influenza in the infirmary; the health visitor who suggests McWilliams take some A levels to give her an interest in Life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Johanna

    What am I not getting here? This book is translated into several languages and got rave reviews. I slogged through 60 pages hoping the book would grow on me. At one point she recalls an incident when she was 4 and a playmate in the sandbox said, "Candia has swallowed a dictionary" because she used the word avocado. I think she still has that dictionary up her arse. I delight in having my vocabulary stretched but to come across a word on just about every page that I know will not be found in any What am I not getting here? This book is translated into several languages and got rave reviews. I slogged through 60 pages hoping the book would grow on me. At one point she recalls an incident when she was 4 and a playmate in the sandbox said, "Candia has swallowed a dictionary" because she used the word avocado. I think she still has that dictionary up her arse. I delight in having my vocabulary stretched but to come across a word on just about every page that I know will not be found in any dictionary I own is just plain frustrating (and I had no plans on going online while comfortably esconed reading). I found myself rereading sentences several times to determine what the original intent was. Just too much work. Some people like to hear themselves talk, Candia McWilliams likes hear herself write. This book was obviously not for me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary Beth

    This is purely a delicious book. I refer, here, to the writing. It's like eating something very, very dense and creamy and a bit sweet. I sense that I am missing a lot because I keep pushing through that wonderful prose. This is a literary book, both in the subject matter and in the writing. The story is fascinating, horrifying, bewildering. I'm not finished with the book yet; I suspect I'll have more to say. Just a note for now. This is purely a delicious book. I refer, here, to the writing. It's like eating something very, very dense and creamy and a bit sweet. I sense that I am missing a lot because I keep pushing through that wonderful prose. This is a literary book, both in the subject matter and in the writing. The story is fascinating, horrifying, bewildering. I'm not finished with the book yet; I suspect I'll have more to say. Just a note for now.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Burke

    A stunning book, dense with ideas and meaning, filled with lyrical and provocative prose, nottomention events and characters that seem to belong in a novel, they are so unlikely or far from most readers' experience. The author's central concerns have to do with place memory, remorse, maternal love, addiction, and the literary vocation. A rich, deep and spell-binding read. A stunning book, dense with ideas and meaning, filled with lyrical and provocative prose, nottomention events and characters that seem to belong in a novel, they are so unlikely or far from most readers' experience. The author's central concerns have to do with place memory, remorse, maternal love, addiction, and the literary vocation. A rich, deep and spell-binding read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I wish I had a fraction of the poetry, in me, that I have found in her 'voice'. An unflinching and sometimes playful account of her life and its vicissitudes, this Is worth picking up at any page and dipping into just for the poetry of her language. I have gone on to others of h books but this was a revelation. I wish I had a fraction of the poetry, in me, that I have found in her 'voice'. An unflinching and sometimes playful account of her life and its vicissitudes, this Is worth picking up at any page and dipping into just for the poetry of her language. I have gone on to others of h books but this was a revelation.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pauline

    Incredible life story, incredible writing, incredible lady. An absolute gem of a book, that will probably stay with me for a long time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Debby

    Giving up on this one for the moment. Sentences are often torturously long and convoluted. Obviously reflects on my intelligence, but life is too short...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura Gurrin

    I rarely get this far into a book and then quit, but I'm making an exception for this one. On the one hand, it is a well written, often funny, exceedingly literate memoir, and I wouldn't blame anyone for actually wanting to read it all the way through. On the other hand, the further in I got, the more this turned into a very specific kind of British book, where everyone is the precocious child of a terribly famous poet or themselves a fashion model of exceeding beauty who also curates greek scul I rarely get this far into a book and then quit, but I'm making an exception for this one. On the one hand, it is a well written, often funny, exceedingly literate memoir, and I wouldn't blame anyone for actually wanting to read it all the way through. On the other hand, the further in I got, the more this turned into a very specific kind of British book, where everyone is the precocious child of a terribly famous poet or themselves a fashion model of exceeding beauty who also curates greek sculpture at the V and A or some damn thing, and one is always running into Christopher Hitchens or sending a story to Auberon Waugh to get published, yet nobody actually seems to WORK, instead fetching up accidentally into the architecturally charming outbuildings of various stately homes which are being rented out to them in their time of need by the former nanny of some branch of the royal family...basically, the same British book that seemed more original maybe sixty years ago (since this type of book is very common among those written by people growing up between the wars in a certain strata of society, except then it was Evelyn Waugh, but otherwise the same). I decided i needed to get the hell out when she actually uses the word 'Orientals' and talks about how certain numbers are good fortune to them, which is language I expect in a book about being sent down from Oxford in the thirties, but not so much in the modern era. In short: if you have not already read this book, you may enjoy this version of it. Otherwise, there are both fiction and non fiction versions of this, and speaking of Waugh, may I recommend Brideshead Revisited?

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Cruden

    A slower read for me. Lots of references and new words to look up, which I am grateful for. A brutally honest search of a self, highly relatable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I was interested to read this for two reasons: first, because of all my senses, losing my sight would be (I think) the worst and second, because she lost her sight thanks to a blethorspasm, which my paternal grandmother suffered from for the last years of her life (she was in the clinical trials for Botox, which started out as a medical tool before becoming the means for Real Housewives and starlets to look as stupid and wooden as they act). What a surprise to learn that her blindness forms a ve I was interested to read this for two reasons: first, because of all my senses, losing my sight would be (I think) the worst and second, because she lost her sight thanks to a blethorspasm, which my paternal grandmother suffered from for the last years of her life (she was in the clinical trials for Botox, which started out as a medical tool before becoming the means for Real Housewives and starlets to look as stupid and wooden as they act). What a surprise to learn that her blindness forms a very minor part of this memoir. Ms. McWilliam has definitely "swallowed a dictionary" - reading this without one next to you is only for the very well read, the highly vocabularied or the brave. Words like churlishly, impastoed, fusty and occludes litter the text (those were chosen at random by opening the book on four pages and looking). She is also a premiere name dropper - one can see why people kept telling her to write her memoir. She's friends with writers like Julian Barnes and Christopher Hitchens, celebrities like Tamasin Day-Lewis, almost family to the Baron of Strancona and Mont Royal, once married to the Earl of Portsmouth. The first two thirds of this memoir have little in the way of self-reflection as she takes readers from her Edinburgh childhood through her blindness. The last third has more reflection and more about the blindness (the Botox doesn't work and she had a radical, new operation to try to cure the problem) but there's little about how she copes with this disability. Rambling, moving back and forth in time, these snippets are chatty and engaging. This memoir is a non-linear one, which may annoy or confuse readers. ARC provided by publisher.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary V

    I won WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN WINTER: A MEMOIR IN BLINDNESS by Candia McWilliam in a give away on Goodreads. It was a very strange book for me to read but I made it through with long breaks in between sessions of reading. Most of my distress came from vocabulary difficulties. In the beginning of the book Ms. McWilliam says she is bothered by the inference that female writers should "stay within lexical limits". And that she has heard people say that Candia McWilliam has "swallowed the dictionary". T I won WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN WINTER: A MEMOIR IN BLINDNESS by Candia McWilliam in a give away on Goodreads. It was a very strange book for me to read but I made it through with long breaks in between sessions of reading. Most of my distress came from vocabulary difficulties. In the beginning of the book Ms. McWilliam says she is bothered by the inference that female writers should "stay within lexical limits". And that she has heard people say that Candia McWilliam has "swallowed the dictionary". This may be true, and I would never voice such sentiments as they are rude. But if she did swallow a dictionary,it isn't any dictionary that I own. She used words that I couldn't find in my two very fine household dictionaries and had to google them to figure out what she was getting at. I also feel she used some words in their lesser known usages,or as other parts of speech than is common. I felt all the way through that if one is writing for general consumtion, one had best use more common words and word forms and still one may stretch their vocabulary and the readers'. Also I got bored and somewhat confused with the switching back and forth between the memoir and what was going on outside her window at the time of writing (or dictating). This being said, I have come away with an understanding of her difficulties arising from such things as her childhood, alcoholism, blepharospasm (her visual problem), the break up of two marriages and her own poor self-esteem. Above that I have a deep appreciation of her efforts to come to terms with what has gone before and in some way to make herself and things better.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jessica at Book Sake

    This is probably the most depressing book I’ve ever read. The title, What to Look for in Winter, now seems fitting as I felt like I was trudging through four feet of snow trying to finish this book. The author has a condition called blepharospasm, which causes her eyelids to involuntarily close, so she is able to see, but literally cannot keep her eyes open. I thought this condition and her perspective would be very interesting to read about, but every page just seemed like an exploration of her This is probably the most depressing book I’ve ever read. The title, What to Look for in Winter, now seems fitting as I felt like I was trudging through four feet of snow trying to finish this book. The author has a condition called blepharospasm, which causes her eyelids to involuntarily close, so she is able to see, but literally cannot keep her eyes open. I thought this condition and her perspective would be very interesting to read about, but every page just seemed like an exploration of her self pity. I mean, it’s absolutely understandable that she’s depressed, but this is pathetic. There are parts where she will begin to address an issue that will surely stir up some more angst, but instead decides that she “can’t possibly go on”…how ironic because I felt exactly the same way. I would not recommend this book to anyone, especially someone with vision impairment, not only because it’s so discouraging and miserable, but because the author talks more about her alcoholism and divorce than anything else. This book should not have been marketed the way it was. There was no resolution and hardly any humor about the situation; this is the author’s personal diary. The only redeeming quality about McWilliam’s writing is her extensive vocabulary. I appreciate having to use a dictionary from time to time when reading a book. Unfortunately, I would have rather read the dictionary. Reviewed by Brittany for Book Sake.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    I found this a very interesting read. The author has had many ups and downs in her life, not the least of which was her descent into blindness due to blepharospasm preventing her eyelids from opening - doubly tragic for someone who makes their living from writing. The book does not present events in chronological order; memories present themselves, and often trigger other thoughts which lead off in another direction, so it does feel a bit disjointed at times; perhaps this is partly due to much of I found this a very interesting read. The author has had many ups and downs in her life, not the least of which was her descent into blindness due to blepharospasm preventing her eyelids from opening - doubly tragic for someone who makes their living from writing. The book does not present events in chronological order; memories present themselves, and often trigger other thoughts which lead off in another direction, so it does feel a bit disjointed at times; perhaps this is partly due to much of the book having been dictated. However, she writes with such honesty about her complicated family life, her alcoholism, feelings of worthlessness and the impact of her mother’s suicide in her childhood, as well as the happy times in her life, especially with her ‘adopted’ family on Colonsay, that the reader is drawn along with her on her journey into her past. The writing veers from the poetic to the grittily down-to-earth, but is never dull. "Why write?" she asks; "I want to pass it on. to pass the shiver that comes when we read and know for a time what it is to live, think, feel and be inside the mind of another." Many readers will be glad she does.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Candia McWilliam wrote this memoir after she developed an unusual form of blindness called Blepharospasm which basically involves the brain refusing to let the victim's eyelids open, thus rendering her functionally blind. For an author and reader this is tatamount to taking away her personal identity. McWilliam, a Scottish national, is apparently well-known in the U.K. This book is a bit difficult for an American reader because of her assumption that many of the places, people, and other details Candia McWilliam wrote this memoir after she developed an unusual form of blindness called Blepharospasm which basically involves the brain refusing to let the victim's eyelids open, thus rendering her functionally blind. For an author and reader this is tatamount to taking away her personal identity. McWilliam, a Scottish national, is apparently well-known in the U.K. This book is a bit difficult for an American reader because of her assumption that many of the places, people, and other details would be familiar, when they are not. I found the book interesting, but very slow going. It is written in a stream of consciousness style - almost as a personal journal; facts and events so not always follow a linear time line. Would be good topic for book groups, however.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Golly, this needed editing! As it's a writer's autobiography, it's well-written, but it jumps about so much it's confusing.It's train of thought stuff, which I can't cope with. Ms McWilliam suffers with an eye condition which has caused her many problems, and has had an unusual family life. She's known many famous people, so there's much name dropping. But I don't need to be told twice that getting cat food on your fingers means you smell fishy for ages! Golly, this needed editing! As it's a writer's autobiography, it's well-written, but it jumps about so much it's confusing.It's train of thought stuff, which I can't cope with. Ms McWilliam suffers with an eye condition which has caused her many problems, and has had an unusual family life. She's known many famous people, so there's much name dropping. But I don't need to be told twice that getting cat food on your fingers means you smell fishy for ages!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Judie Dooley

    I won this book as a free giveaway from Goodreads. When I saw this book listed it interested me because it was about a woman who lost her sight, and I almost lost mine before I had a cornea transplant. the book was hard for me read because of the small print. the first part was rather tedius, dealng with various family and friends. It got better as it went on, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading " What TO Look for in Winter" Thank you for giving me the chance to read it----Judie I won this book as a free giveaway from Goodreads. When I saw this book listed it interested me because it was about a woman who lost her sight, and I almost lost mine before I had a cornea transplant. the book was hard for me read because of the small print. the first part was rather tedius, dealng with various family and friends. It got better as it went on, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading " What TO Look for in Winter" Thank you for giving me the chance to read it----Judie

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Too dense and, ultimately, too dull. Although i liked some of the writing, I couldn't stick around for 200+ more pages. Another example of why novelists should stick to writing novels and forget about writing a memoir. I can't think of a single writer's memoir except maybe V. Woolf's diaries that I've truly enjoyed, and a posthumously published diary is not the same as conjuring up your autobiography out of thin self-absorbed air. Too dense and, ultimately, too dull. Although i liked some of the writing, I couldn't stick around for 200+ more pages. Another example of why novelists should stick to writing novels and forget about writing a memoir. I can't think of a single writer's memoir except maybe V. Woolf's diaries that I've truly enjoyed, and a posthumously published diary is not the same as conjuring up your autobiography out of thin self-absorbed air.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    Chosen by my book group based on rave reviews, I really struggled with its cumbersome language. I'm happy to say we unanimously agreed "too many books, too little time" and chose an alternative. What a relief. I really wanted to like this book - about alcoholism, recovery, suffering, redemption....what's not to like? Well, however highly praised, just didn't work for me. Chosen by my book group based on rave reviews, I really struggled with its cumbersome language. I'm happy to say we unanimously agreed "too many books, too little time" and chose an alternative. What a relief. I really wanted to like this book - about alcoholism, recovery, suffering, redemption....what's not to like? Well, however highly praised, just didn't work for me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    I received this book through the First Reads giveaway program on Goodreads. Review to follow! This is a gift for my grandmother, so when she finishes this book I'll post her review. Grandmother had mixed feeling for this book. It took her longer then usual to get through and she felt the author rambled a bit much. I received this book through the First Reads giveaway program on Goodreads. Review to follow! This is a gift for my grandmother, so when she finishes this book I'll post her review. Grandmother had mixed feeling for this book. It took her longer then usual to get through and she felt the author rambled a bit much.

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