5 of 15
Rebecca Stead is a children's book author whose 2009 novel, When You Reach Me, won a Newbery Medal.

My youngest son headed for middle school just after I'd finished writing my third children's novel and before I started my fourth. Ahead of me stretched a time when work could at last come first, and I felt relieved, but also at sea. A sadness seeped in. Aside from the short sprint of writing I managed each day, I began to feel useless. It no longer seemed to matter if I climbed into bed every day at noon. Some days I did.

Donald Hall's Life Work saved me. Part essay, part journal, part family history, it considers the nature and necessity of meaningful employment, paid or otherwise. Hall traces the mineral veins of his writer's life back to his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. His people, New England farmers, were driven by sun and season—milking, harvesting, canning—and he has invented his own patterns of nourishment and preservation. His goal: "absorbedness," to be sure, but for him utility is also key to happiness. Hall reserves a special tenderness for his mother, who rarely felt essential in her role as a housewife. She was often ill, and at age 53, soon after losing her husband, she was diagnosed with an ulcer. "Work," her doctor advised. She listened, and regained her health.