Friends all know I’m an avid reader, and it’s that time of year when they ask me to recommend books for holiday gift lists. I primarily seek out new fiction, but I enjoy deviating for an interesting memoir. Each of my picks connects to aging, from midlife on up.
I was fascinated that my daughter’s college freshman class was assigned Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (2015). When I was 18, I certainly wasn’t thinking about how people die—even though I was her age when my dad died at 48 in a nursing home. But after watching his father’s death, author and physician Atul Gawande asks if we could be dying better. The advent of improved medicine and life-extending options means those who are terminally ill may die only after years of uncomfortable and expensive interventions—and without fulfilling their goals for the time remaining. Both in his medical practice and when his father became terminally ill, Gawande recognized how ingrained it is for physicians to try to fix and cure, when what is needed is care and a listening caregiver. Now he wants us all to see what he sees: that everyone has desires, needs and goals, no matter how long they have left. Let’s listen.
Don’t we all, sadly, know someone closely tied to a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Just when you think you’ve read all of the books you’ll ever need on dementia and the long goodbye, along comes this glorious novella from Fredrik Backman. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella (2016) is easily the best thing to come to the United States from Sweden since IKEA. Backman wrote this to explore his feelings on familial love and loss. Readers familiar with his work (A Man Called Ove, Britt-Marie Was Here) will recognize his positive portrayals of older adults. Here, on a bench with his beloved grandson Noah, Grandfather realizes his memory is slipping and worries he’ll forget the loves of his life. Understanding what’s at stake, Noah tries to help his grandfather hold on to the happy times. Through a shared love of mathematics, the pair can face infinity and the concept of forever without fear. This gem is sprinkled with illustrations, but it’s the poetry of Backman’s words that creates a visually memorable experience, to be read, reread and shared.
If it seems as though the bookshelves are full of crotchety old-people stories, and you’re left aching to believe that all of us don’t end up curmudgeons, Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Novel (2017) may be just what the doctor (or librarian) ordered. Every day, 85-year-old Arthur Moses packs a lunch, leaves his garden and Gordon, his aloof cat, and takes the bus to the cemetery to talk to Nola, his late wife. His only other regular companion is Lucille, an 80-year-old neighbor who still pines over a lost love. In the cemetery, Maddie, an 18-year-old rebel with poor taste in suitors, avoids the bullies at school and a cold father at home. When she hears Arthur talking to Nola, she names him Truluv, and an unlikely friendship forms. Arthur is a found treasure in Maddie’s sad life, and ultimately she gives purpose to his. Soon Arthur and Lucille support Maddie and give her what she’s always craved, while Maddie helps them to live independently at home. Read this one to restore your faith that aging won’t leave you grumpy.
After heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, the “poor little rich girl” of the infamous 1940s child custody battle, has a life-threatening illness at 91, her son Anderson Cooper, the CNN news correspondent, commits to understanding his mother better in the time they have left. What follows, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss (2016), is a year-long email exchange between the two that allows for revelations and unburdening. She exploited the family name; he shunned it. She worked the socialite circles; he, in war zones. Ever the journalist, Cooper delves into his mother’s lonely, privileged childhood, her salacious affairs and multiple marriages, as well as who she was in her professional life far beyond her iconic designer jeans. (I had some!) Deeply personal, at times heartbreaking, the book is full of wisdom and insights on the freedom and clarity aging has brought to her, plus some maternal advice; the mutual affection is clear. A love story, beautifully told.
I’d love to hear what books you would recommend to your reader friends so I can put them on my list in 2018. In the meantime, I wish you a warm, cozy spot, with good light to read, and a wonderful year ahead.