Cover image for My year off
My year off
McCrum, Robert.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : G.K. Hall, [1998]

Physical Description:
285 pages (large print) ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library RC388.5 .M28 1998B Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

On Order



On the morning of July 29, 1995, Robert McCrum -- 42 years old, just two weeks newly married, at the top of his profession as one of British publishing's most admired editors, in what he thought was the full bloom of health -- awoke to find himself totally paralyzed on the left side, the victim of a stroke brought on by a massive cerebral hemorrhage. After a nightmarish day struggling to reach a phone, he finally summoned help. In the weeks to come, he would have to face the reality that his life had irrevocably changed and that medical science, maddeningly, could neither pinpoint the cause of the stroke nor offer any guarantee of recovery. What ensued was a battle beset by frustration and depression but equally marked by small victories, the help of dedicated physicians and therapists, and, first and last, the support of his new wife, whose love proved equal to their dismaying circumstances.

My Year Off is an eloquent story of hope, written with the sort of candor and detail that the author believes has been missing in the literature of strokes up to this time. It is as well a grown-up love story of the most realistic -- and hence, inspiring -- kind.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

A message on a poster in a midwestern hospital warns, "A stroke is a brain attack," and in smaller type is a list of symptoms of a condition that affects nearly 500,000 Americans each year. Across the Atlantic, one of 1995's more notable stroke victims was 42-year-old McCrum, then Faber & Faber's editor in chief, now literary editor of the Observer of London. McCrum--who collaborated with Robert MacNeil on The Story of English (1993, paper) and has written several novels--was also a newlywed, recently married to Sarah Lyall, a reporter in the New York Times' London bureau. McCrum's book is the tale of his stroke: the psychological, philosophical, and physical challenges of convalescence and (in excerpts from diaries McCrum and Lyall maintained) the terrors and hopes, weaknesses and strengths of two people who chose to make a life together. The book should appeal to stroke victims and those interested in how people cope with serious illness, as well as avid book people (McCrum's bedside visitors include notables such as Salman Rushdie). --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

McCrum (The Story of English), editor-in-chief of the British publisher Faber & Faber, was 42 years old and newly married when, one night in the summer of 1995, he suffered a massive stroke that almost killed him. This account of how that night changed his life, told with a skillful blend of candor, humor and comprehensible medical reportage, is not only an enthralling read but also calls attention to the little-known fact that strokes, normally thought of as an affliction of the elderly, attack younger people with remarkable frequency. As it turned out, McCrum was lucky; he almost entirely regained the use of his limbs, although he has a sluggish arm and tires easily. His personality also changed, from hard-driving and aggressive to reflective and relaxed. His marriage to Sarah Lyall, who, when he met her (at the Frankfurt Book Fair) was the New York Times publishing correspondent, obviously helped enormously in his recovery. Some of the most touching segments in the book are excerpts from Lyall's journals of dealing with her husband's slow recovery and his own thoughts on his sometimes harsh and bitter behavior as he strove to regain his life. The book offers solace to those similarly afflicted and is also a moving human document that, because of its protagonist, will be of particular interest to those in the book business. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Stroke is often considered an old person's illness, yet on the morning of July 29, 1995, 42-year-old McCrum, one of Britain's most successful editors and recently married to New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall, woke up paralyzed on his left side. For the rest of that horrible day McCrum struggled to reach a phone to get help. This nightmarish episode was recently excerpted in the New Yorker, and now we have McCrum's full account of the year he spent recuperating from the stroke's physical and emotional devastation. Unfortunately, it's a disappointment; a compelling article doesn't always make a good book. Too often it feels padded; large chunks of his and his wife's diaries are reprinted here; and, surprisingly, the writing leaves the reader emotionally uninvolved, unlike other accounts like Jean-Dominque Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (LJ 5/15/97) and Jimmy Breslin's I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me (LJ 7/96). Still, despite its very British tone (only U.K. stroke organizations are listed), McCrumb's memoir has value for younger stroke victims and their families. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/98.]‘Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

McCrum offers his autobiographical account of a 42-year-old newly married English literary editor who had a severe stroke. Among the many accounts written by persons who have confronted catastrophic physical challenges, this book stands alone. Assisted by meaningful quotations from masters of Western thought and literature as well as the external perspective of his wife in the form of detailed dated diary entries, the author's experiences of confronting, engaging, and overcoming disability are presented in a carefully orchestrated kaleidoscope. Described are onset, encounter with death, search for understanding of causation and pathology, reactions to health care workers and the need for help, anxiety regarding loss of relationship, concerns about visceral and sexual functions, reminiscences of previous life events, work and courtship, reaction to others with physical challenges, vocational fears, mood swings, mourning, depression, and shame. Then, as a testimony to the human spirit, we learn of the slow, tedious, and painful road to recovery and permanent adjustment in life style and values. McCrum ends with a short announcement: the birth of a first child, a symbol of new life and hope. Very highly recommended. General readers; undergraduates; professionals; two-year technical program students. R. E. Darnell; University of Michigan--Flint



Wo aber Gefahr, wacht das Rettende auch. (Where danger waits, salvation also lies.) --Friedrich Hölderlin When I was just forty-two I suffered a severe stroke.  Paralysed on my left side and unable to walk, I was confined to a hospital for three months, then spent about a year recovering, slowly getting myself back into the world. When  I was seriously ill in hospital, I longed to read a book that would tell me what I might expect in convalescence and also give me something to think about.  There are many books about strokes in old age, but I was young and had been vigorous and there was nothing that spoke to me in my distress. I have written this book ot help those who have suffered as I did, and indeed for anyone recovering from what doctors call "an insult to the brain".  I've also written it for families and loved ones who, sucked into the vortex of catastrophic illnes, find themselves searching for words of encouragement and explanation.  People express every kind of sympathy for stroke-sufferers, but the carers are often the forgotten ones.  To all concerned, this book is meant to send a ghostly signal across the dark universe of ill-health that says, "You are not alone."  It's also intended to show those of us who are well what it can be like when our bodies shut down in the midst of the lives we take for granted.  Some will say that it's a memento mori, and that's undeniable, but I hope that it will also be heartening, especially to those who have given up all hope of recovery.  I don't mean to offer false or cheap optimism, but I am saying that, if my example is to be trusted, the brain seems to be an astonishingly resilient organ, and one capable, in certain circumstances, of remarkable recovery. The other audience for this book is, of course, myself.  The consequences of my stroke were simply too colossal to be ignored or shut away in some mental pigeon-hole.  Writing the book has been a way to make sense of an extraordinary personal upheaval, whose consequences will be with me until I die.  Besides, I am a writer.  Communicating experience is what I do, and quite soon after I realized that I was going to survive the initial crisis I also relaized that I had been given a story that made most of what I'd written previously pale and uninteresting by comparison. Whatever you, the reader, take away from it, there's no escaping that it is a personal book, my version of an event that changed my life.  The philosopher Wittgenstein writes, "How small a thought it takes to make a life."  Throughout my period of recovery I was often alone with my thoughts.  When, finally, I came to record these, this book became the mirror of an enforced season of solitude in the midst of a crowded life.  I've called it My Year Off because, despite the overall grimness of the experience, there were, at every stage, moments of acute irony and, even, of the purest comedy to brighten the prevailing gloom and chase away the clouds of melancholy.  P.G. Wodehouse, one of my favourite writers, once said that "There are two ways of writing ... [One is ....] a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn."  There is, I'm afraid, not much musical comedy about having a stroke. At times, my year off was one of all-pervading slowness, of weeks lived one day, even one hour, at a time, and of life circumscribed by exasperating new restrictions and limitations.  The poet Coleridge observed that it is the convalescent who sees the world in its true colours, and, as a convalescent, I have been forced into a renewed acquaintanceship with my body and into the painful realization that I am, like it or not, imprisoned in it.  I have learned, in short, that I am not immortal (the fantasy of youth) and yet, strangely, in the process I have been renewed in my understanding of family and, finally, of the one thing that really matters: love. Excerpted from My Year Off: Recovering Life after a Stroke by Robert McCrum All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Severe Insult to the Brainp. 1
1 One Fine Dayp. 4
2 An Awfully Big Adventurep. 17
3 In the Bloodp. 24
4 Brain Attackp. 32
5 My New Lifep. 46
6 Sarahp. 60
7 'Robert McCrum Is Dead'p. 70
8 'Not a Drooling Vegetable'p. 88
9 Death and Dyingp. 115
10 Better Deadp. 129
11 Deficitsp. 140
12 Slownessp. 166
13 The Rapidsp. 176
14 Seizing the Carpp. 191
15 An Aspirin and a Glass of Winep. 211
16 Candlemasp. 225
Afterwordp. 227
Further Reading, Some Useful Addresses and Acknowledgementsp. 235

Google Preview