Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Age—and Other Unexpected Adventures

By Reeve Lindbergh – Simon & Schuster, 2008

In this gentle memoir, Reeve Lindbergh offers a thoughtful and positive perspective on aging. Describing her life in rural Vermont, she reflects on turning 60. Her book is moving and often amusing, whether she’s describing birds that took over the trees in her yard or the benign brain tumor—she named it Alice—that she lived with for six months. The last chapter recounts what happened after the news broke in 2003 that her father, aviator Charles Lindbergh, had three secret families in Europe, and that she had half brothers and sisters she hadn’t known existed.

Lindbergh notes that when she was 12, she hoped she would never grow older. Now, as she enters the period that her mother, author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, called “the youth of old age,” she is gradually coming to terms with aging and has lost most of her fear of dying. This collection of reflective essays has appeal for all.

Mother Daughter Me: A Memoir

By Katie Hafner – Random House, 2013

Katie Hafner and her teenage daughter, Zoë, have made great strides in picking up the pieces after the sudden death of Hafner’s husband. So when Katie’s 77-year-old mother, Helen, suggests they all move in together, unwarranted optimism fuels their decision to do so. Maybe issues from Katie’s complicated and unhappy childhood could be resolved. But a rift between Helen and Zoë quickly jeopardizes the mother-daughter bond. Even therapy can’t help. Hafner is honest and matter-of-fact, but with the fallout from Helen’s alcoholism, there’s too much unfinished emotional business, and the trio’s best intentions fall short. A moving, must-read memoir for anyone in the sandwich generation once again living with parents—or considering such an arrangement.

My Twice-Lived Life: A Memoir

Columnist Don Murray, newly retired and recovering from a near-fatal heart attack at age 62, decides to write about his own aging and, in the process, feels compelled to revisit his past. Attempting to understand what made him the man he is, he describes his lonely childhood, life in combat in World War II, and his careers, first as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and then as a college professor. Murray, who died in 2006, writes movingly about his daughter’s death and about caring for his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease. As time passes, he grows and changes as he acknowledges the pain of past events and his own insecurities, which he had tried to hide from others. His beautifully crafted memoir opens a window on aging as seen from a distinctively male perspective.

The End of Your Life Book Club

Don’t let the title of this inspirational tale fool you into thinking this is a book about death. There is nothing morbid about this memoir. This is a story of devotion—of a terminally ill woman to her many philanthropic pursuits, a son to his mother, and both mother and son to a shared love of books. Schwalbe is a publisher, a wordsmith and lover of literature. His mother is a fascinating humanitarian; one of her accomplishments was helping to build a library in Afghanistan. They were already close, and the mother-son bond only gets stronger as Mary Anne faces a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer. In doctors’ offices and at bedsides, together they enjoy the comfort that the printed word gives them, the joy of sharing books that have affected them over the years. This book club offers a double love story, a shared journey and a treasure trove of books to add to your own reading list.

Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World

By Lynne Martin – Sourcebooks, 2014

If the idea of aging in place is too tame for you, you may want to take your retirement on the road—permanently. Lynne and Tim Martin, both in their 60s with grown children from previous marriages, find they have unrealized wanderlust. They empty their home of all they can bear to part with, sell the house and leave the country for one extended stay after another. Lynne is a writer/foodie/wine lover; Tim’s the travel planner. These nomadic retirees are outgoing, flexible and practical—qualities they’ll need along the way, living as locals in rented and borrowed apartments or as house sitters. This memoir is full of travel tips if you’re bold enough to follow the Martins’ lead, and it’s colorful enough to enjoy if you never want to leave your reading chair.

Dancing Fish and Ammonites

By Penelope Lively – Viking Adult, 2014

“This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age.” Novelist Penelope Lively gives fans a glimpse into what has shaped her, letting us know that at 80, she feels as fresh and alive as she has ever been. She experienced a lonely childhood in Egypt and was sent to boarding school in England when her parents divorced. She ruminates on the decades’ passing and shares what she takes from each, briefly touching on a long marriage and motherhood (more, please), suggesting we are as a rolling stone, picking up depth as we go along. She writes about her work, her memory, her reading. Her books remain her one true vice; she admits they are the only possessions she’ll never give up. The charming and intimate musings from this closely observed life leave readers with the understanding that old age is ever evolving and not to be feared.

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World

When Rita Golden Gelman’s husband asks for a trial separation, she realizes that, at 48, she has no idea where her life is heading. With her children grown (and financial security from her career as a children’s book writer), Gelman decides to travel—not as the Hollywood socialite she had been but as a backpacking nomad. She sells her belongings and hits the road. Fifteen years later, she has not looked back. Her one goal is to interact on a very personal level with the people she meets, whether she spends a few weeks in a Mexican Zapotec village or years with a Balinese royal family, with stops in Nicaragua, Israel, Borneo and New Zealand in between. Along the way, Gelman deals with her mother’s aging, discovers her children need her more than she believed and, yes, gets divorced. Tales is more than a geographical adventure. It’s the story of one woman’s spiritual and emotional journey in midlife to find her place in the world.

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart

At midlife, Carol Wall feels restless, even invisible at times. Her kids have left the nest, her marriage is solid and her parents are comfortable in a care community. Wall is an established educator who has resolved a health crisis, but she feels something is missing. Inspired by a neighbor’s garden, she hires a grocery clerk moonlighting as a gardener to tackle her botanical wish list. To Kenyan Giles Owita, horticulture is second nature. As he lovingly tends Wall’s “compound,” an unlikely friendship forms. The author thoughtfully acknowledges her lack of cultural understanding and remedies it, and as the garden blooms, so does the pair’s friendship, transforming both of their lives. You’ll want to hire Mr. Owita yourself.

Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?

“It was against my parents’ principles to talk about death,” Roz Chast writes in this graphic memoir. When she suggests planning for the inevitable, they react so negatively that she immediately drops the subject—as relieved as they are to have avoided a difficult conversation. With words, drawings and occasional photographs, Chast, a renowned New Yorker cartoonist, chronicles what happens as her parents’ health slowly fails and they try to muddle through, while she’s forced into a caregiving role. Her tale is sometimes heartbreaking, often funny and always brutally honest as she describes—and depicts—her own conflicted feelings. Her mother’s anger explodes from the page, as does her father’s bewilderment while dementia closes in on him. Better than words, her cartoons capture the raw, emotional truths of a dilemma that will be familiar to many readers. Chast’s memoir is harrowing but lit throughout by flashes of humor and her acute appreciation for the absurd.

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship

By Isabel Vincent – Algonquin Books, 2016

Edward is a bereft widower in his 90s; Isabel is a middle-aged reporter whose marriage is on the rocks. As a favor to his out-of-town daughter, Isabel agrees to look in on Edward to make certain he honors his promise to his late wife: to keep on living after she’s gone. Edward’s marriage was a sweet, sad love story that he shares with Isabel over dinners—menus included at the top of each chapter—that he meticulously prepares, which leave the reader salivating at the imagery. Isabel confides in Edward as well. There’s a special connection as both have lost spouses, but Edward’s antidote is the slow and thoughtful creation of these exquisite meals, and the joy of sharing them with others. The time they spend together has Isabel rethinking her life; she now savors, where she once was indifferent. A dear gem of a little memoir that may have you looking for an Edward of your own.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

This Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist has a knack for telling her life story as though she is talking to an old friend in this memoir on turning 60. Whether looking to the future or glancing back, Quindlen writes with humor, comfort and hope about motherhood (the challenges of raising teens versus raising children), overcoming loss (her mom died when Quindlen was 19) and marriage (and the white lies that save hers). With typical candor, she writes about her gratitude for the opportunities she’s had, thanks in part to the women’s movement, the changing role religion played in her life, and her thoughts on aging and retirement. The appeal to midlife women is great, but there is a universality to her ruminations that gives her writing a mirror-like quality to women of any age. Best read as stand-alone essays to give the messages time to resonate, Anna Quindlen is better than therapy.

Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother and the Lessons of a Lifetime

National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” host Scott Simon made headlines in 2013 with his tweets from his dying mother’s ICU bedside, taking followers along for this most intimate journey. Patricia Simon Newman, a glamorous, mischievous and resourceful woman, made the most of life’s challenges and found good in every person she met. And what a cast of characters that was. She married three times and had many loyal friends as she raised her only son. Simon’s tweets ignited debate over whether or not such a personal moment should be shared on social media (most followers were both moved and supportive, while others were outraged), but the book draws us into the saga of a son’s devotion and a family’s shared memories. The memoir takes place between the tweets, unique and universal at the same time. Simon’s homage to his remarkable mother is a warm and life-affirming read.

New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir

What do you do when your story changes at midlife? That’s what Gail Caldwell asked herself in 2011 as she faced major surgery with a long recovery and uncertain outcome. Never married, Caldwell was approaching 60 with no children—but with a young, active dog.In this memoir, Caldwell recalls how she drew strength from a lifetime of overcoming the challenges of disease and addiction. A polio survivor, she hoped this surgery would alleviate chronic pain and possibly lengthen her right leg, which was an inch and a half shorter than her left. The “family” she created for herself over the years surrounded her during recovery. Her Samoyed, Tula—with her live-in-the-moment canine ways—inspired Caldwell to get back on her feet and out to the dog park, where she experienced life from a new vantage point, pain-free. This is a reminder of how a fighting spirit, a solid social network and a good dog can make all the difference in life.

On My Own

By Diane Rehm – Knopf, 2016

For more than 30 years, Diane Rehm, who is now 79, has been the gravelly voice (due to a condition called spasmodic dysphonia) of the “Diane Rehm Show” on National Public Radio. Syndicated across the United States, the two-hour news magazine focuses on politics and current affairs. But it’s Rehm’s private affairs that are the topic of this memoir, as she beautifully chronicles her husband’s passing, how she copes and what might lie ahead. Diane and John had been married 54 years when Parkinson’s disease left them with no place to turn when he asked for medical help to end his life. Rehm writes about the agonizing realization that John would have to starve himself. She shares her despair about his decision and her first year of widowhood—and anguishes about who will care for her when her time comes. Once she retires in 2017, Rehm promises she will spend her days advocating for the right-to-die movement.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

By Katy Butler – Scribner, 2013

In this honest mix of memoir and research, Katy Butler shares her family’s experience of illness and death in hopes that we can reclaim caregiving and dying from a broken health system. Butler’s father, Jeffrey, a World War II survivor and academic, suffers a massive stroke, followed by a pacemaker implantation—a hasty decision that will haunt the family for five years as his descent into dementia takes a devastating toll on Butler’s mother’s health. Butler lives across the country and finds herself part of the “roll-aboard generation” of adult children who spend years caregiving via plane and phone. When doctors deny her request to turn off the pacemaker, Butler struggles to navigate a health system designed around reimbursement and life-saving measures rather than quality of life and patient-centered care. An instruction manual for creating a good death, Heaven’s Door deserves serious attention not only from each of us but the entire US medical community.

Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?

By Billy Crystal – Henry Holt, 2013

Fans of actor, comedian and filmmaker Billy Crystal, rejoice. Crystal, an amazing storyteller, has written a laugh-out-loud memoir, chock full of tantalizing name-dropping of stars from film, jazz, baseball … you name it. Readers get to share in Crystal’s gamut of emotions as he admits that after his father died, he “never felt young again,” and as he waxes sweetly sentimental over his wife of 45 years. Colorful language (at times, downright bawdy) and details about his anatomy leave nothing to the imagination. He’s funniest in his curmudgeonly missives about the downsides of aging—dental work, insomnia, spilling his food, grandkids. Crystal’s talent is that he gets us to laugh not only at him but also at our own aging selves. Enjoy the ride!

Life Is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett

By Tony Bennett – Harper, 2012

Tony Bennett looks back at the route he has taken to achieve his personal Zen and encouraging us to follow in his footsteps. In this memoir, Bennett, at 86, reminisces about his musical career, his family and his love of all things beautiful, which inspired him to paint. A folksy everyman in many ways, Bennett is a great storyteller. He reveals his philosophy on achieving excellence in art and attaining fulfillment in life: stay active and engaged and strive to be a lifelong learner—both, proven methods of successful aging. While not pretending to be a full account of his life (there are several other books that do that well), Life Is a Gift includes plenty of tales about Bennett’s encounters with other musical legends over the years. Intimate at times but not overly profound, the insights shared by the mega star reveal a humble, grateful man who never stops honing his craft. An inspiration at any age.