To appeal to all those who are growing older—at every age—we suggest some of the best new books on aging, as well as many classics. You’ll find everything from caregiving advice to memoirs, from humor to reflection, plus narratives by authors who set out, in midlife, in search of wisdom and new ways to think about growing older.
- No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History Posted in: Arts, Insights from Bold Thinkers, Inspiring Journeys, Nonfiction
By Gail Collins – Little, Brown and Company, 2019
With her latest book, Gail Collins—best known for her op-ed columns in the New York Times—has become the history teacher we all wish we had in school. Engaging us with stories of women from the colonists to the present, she illustrates how attitudes toward older women have changed with the times and have very much been based on supply and demand (thinking of you, Rosie the Riveter). Collins brings to life the triumphs and travails of Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nancy Pelosi and many others less well known, all women considered “past their prime” who made their voices heard. The book is informative, lively and fun, shining a light on old beliefs that sound nothing short of ridiculous to us now—such as that an opinionated woman in the 18th century could be assumed to be a witch, or that hair dye and cosmetics could be merely lures to land a husband under false pretenses. The women are all remarkable, even more so because they didn’t let age stop them from blazing a trail. Here’s hoping this book can inspire our daughters and inform our sons.
- Your Caregiver Relationship Contract: How to navigate the minefield of new roles and expectations Posted in: Arts, Nonfiction
By Debra Hallisey – Advocate for Mom and Dad, LLC, 2019
This book is an invaluable resource for anyone who becomes (or anticipates becoming) a caregiver. Debra Hallisey writes from her own experience both as an adult daughter and as a professional caregiver. The “contract” she suggests is not written up with attorneys; rather, it’s a discussion (or discussions) between caregiver and cared-for to identify ways the recipient can benefit from support. The contract they create together at the start needs to be a living document, fluid enough to accommodate changing needs. For family caregivers, initiating this talk can be awkward; both parties are grieving life’s changes and this new reality and are feeling vulnerable. But creating the contract, Hallisey suggests, cements an understanding that will manage expectations for all concerned. Hallisey gives examples of ways to assess the person’s ability to undertake activities of daily living and how to assimilate the feelings that will come up along the way. She includes suggestions for role play and checklists.
We want loved ones in our care to feel dignity and autonomy but often unwittingly strip that away by using the wrong language. To that end, this book illustrates for caregivers how to pose questions that are nonthreatening and gives us techniques to state our own needs without feeling (as much) guilt. Hallisey’s superpower is understanding the pitfalls of caregiving—like the temptations to try to parent our parents and to neglect self care and asking for help—and she tells us why these can cause resentment for both sides. Hallisey is with us every step of the way.
- Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life Posted in: Guides to Aging Well, Insights from Bold Thinkers, Nonfiction
By Louise Aronson – Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019
Many of us are going to spend upward of 40 years in what this society considers “old age.” In Elderhood, Louise Aronson suggests a new way of looking at that time. A Harvard-trained physician, acclaimed author and, importantly, daughter of an exceptional ager, Aronson uses personal anecdotes with experiences from 25 years working in the field of aging. Elderhood is not a “how-to” book; rather, it illuminates why aging must be understood and redefined, and why the medical establishment’s usual goals of saving and extending lives is ill advised for many older patients. Aronson applauds the innovators who put elders’ care and needs into their designs—like emergency rooms outfitted for older adults—but calls out the marginalization and mistreatment of older people by medical professionals who simply aren’t trained to see them as individuals.
While never glossing over the decline that comes with elderhood, Aronson makes a strong case that happiness in later life comes from feeling a sense of purpose and from being connected to something outside ourselves. She also examines the ways an ageist society’s depersonalized treatment of older adults puts forth stereotypes. The book reads like a call to action for us to heed if we want to grow older in a society that sees and values the old, older and oldest among us. All stakeholders will need to buy into Aronson’s prescription for a better later life, which can only happen by educating professionals to the unique needs of elders and by accepting that aging itself is not a disease to be treated.
- Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying ‘Yes’ to Living Posted in: Arts, Inspiring Journeys, Life’s Endings, Nonfiction
By Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle – Harper One, 2017
Tim and his wife, Ramie, lived frugally and invested wisely in order to retire early. Then they left the rat race to live as nomads. They kept in touch with family infrequently; Tim visited his parents once a year and called them from the road. On their visit in 2015, Ramie and Tim arrived at his parents’ Michigan home in their RV to find his father, Leo, in pain, with his organs failing. He died shortly after he went into the hospital.
At the same time Leo was admitted to hospice, Norma, 90, learned she had uterine cancer. Even if she survived surgery, the prospects for recovery were unlikely. Sensing his mother was a poor candidate for a nursing home, and that living alone would be out of the question, Tim and Ramie asked Norma to consider joining them on the road—mobile assisted living, if you will. Norma said yes.
Like so many of us with aging parents, Tim and Ramie had often planned to have “the talk” about end-of-life wishes and what ifs, but it wasn’t something they were ever able to bring up. Now that his mother was going to join them, the couple purchased a more comfortable RV (second sleeping area, wide enough berth for easy mobility, two-and-a-half baths, washer and dryer).
Tim soon realized how little he knew Norma as an individual, away from his father’s shadow; to experience their relationship growing and deepening was heartwarming. What was her role in World War ll? Had his parents actually hoped to go hot-air ballooning one day? Had Norma really never been to the neighboring state? More than that, Norma became an unwitting celebrity when Ramie started a Facebook page of their experiences. Norma’s journey was featured on prime-time news stations around the United States.
Their story takes us 7,000 miles to national parks, campgrounds and quirky roadside tourist spots, sharing them from Norma’s vantage point of delight and awe. Norma is a trailblazer and an inspiration, who said no to possibly life-saving surgery and yes to life. At the end of Norma’s time with us, we’re left with a grateful appreciation for being allowed along for the ride.
- Sons of Suicide: A Memoir of Friendship Posted in: Arts, Memoirs, Nonfiction
By Richard J. Knapp and J. David Pincus—Bowker, 2019
There is one life journey that is entirely singular, unique to each who has experienced it, and that is the processing and subsuming of grief. Some bear this burden for a short time, while others hold on to unanswered questions for many years. The authors of Sons of Suicide share the weight of a heavy secret: their mothers both took their own lives. The men met in high school in 1966 and discovered they had much in common, like baseball and birthplace. As the friendship grew, the terrible truth and impossibility of their mothers’ passing came out. Each boy was shocked—and somewhat relieved—to find that someone else had lived through the same experience. In another similarity, each of the boys had looked to his father for help and was left wanting. Not surprisingly, they formed a deep friendship. In later years, they learned that their friends Dennis and Tom also endured the suicide of a parent. Over time, the four men found a degree of solace and understanding. Now in later life, they are sharing with readers a soul-baring dive into the uncertainty, despair and frustrations they experienced, told through a collection of revealing, deeply intimate emails. More poignant than sad, the takeaway is that the life-affirming force of friendship is powerful and therapeutic.
- Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, and Regret Posted in: Arts, Guides to Aging Well, Nonfiction
By Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore – Oxford University Press, 2017
Imagine you’re eavesdropping on a man and a woman who are discussing the good, bad, ugly, and hopeful facets of growing older. Both are University of Chicago Law School professors. Levmore, age 64, is a pragmatic lawyer-economist and Nussbaum, 70, is a philosopher. This provocative book offers their often-opposing dialogues on later-life issues, including sex appeal, altruism, grown children, and discrimination. Compulsory retirement? Discriminatory! says Nussbaum emphatically. No more so than assigning an age at which one can vote or drive, suggests Levmore. While Levmore ponders on the older man taking a younger wife to feel relevant, Nussbaum believes that an older woman rejects the younger man for making her appear older by contrast. And so on.
The collegial back-and-forth is enlightening, and you will likely find yourself agreeing one minute and disagreeing the next. While they may be far apart at times philosophically, the authors share a belief that we can’t sweep issues under the rug if we want to live confidently as we age. These eight essays represent keen observations of this stage of life, influenced by thought leaders of our time.
- Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers, Memoirs, Nonfiction
By Anna Quindlen-Random House, 2019
Award-winning journalist Anna Quindlen is well known to those of us in midlife and older. Her latest book, Nanaville, is written in her typical feels-like-we’re-sharing-coffee style. Quindlen expounds on the joy of becoming a grandmother. Nanaville is more than a saccharine ode to her son’s baby, however. Quindlen reveals the lessons she’s learned: that she is not the decision-maker, and that the techniques she used to raise her own children may not be acceptable today. She discusses blending and honoring customs of different cultures (her son’s wife is Asian). She candidly admits she knows how to parent but had to learn how to help her son parent—often by saying nothing at all. As much as we delight in the love affair between grandmother and grandson, the book serves equal purpose as grandparenting (or mother-in-lawing) for dummies. It’s a terrific read for any future nana, so full of Quindlen quotes, you’ll want to read it with a highlighter. And if you like this one, we also recommend Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (2013) and One True Thing, a film based on Quindlen’s semi-autobiographical novel.
- Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault: Essays from the Grown-up Years Posted in: Memoirs, Nonfiction
By Cathy Guisewite—G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
Hooray. She’s back and she’s every bit as funny and relevant as you remember. Cathy Guisewite, 69, of the iconic comic strip that ran every day from 1976 to 2010, has written a book of essays that will have you nostalgic for her namesake character’s foibles and good intentions. Comic strip Cathy was a would-be feminist, a woman with a career who lived with her dog. She had an on-again, off-again dating life, girlfriends, failed diets and devoted parents. Many of us identified with her struggles completely, and this book speaks to us as well. Guisewite retired to devote time to a daughter in her last year of high school and her parents who turned 90, living on opposite coasts. Now she comes back to us in topics such as being a member of the sandwich generation (”it feels more like the panini generation, where we’re squished between them”) and diet lamentations—the unfairness that gluten-free carob cookies produce the same unhealthy calories as peanut butter cups. Notably, Guisewite ponders her “stuff” in a way we can relate to: she wants her home to resemble one from a magazine while hoping it always looks like the one her daughter grew up in. And her parents’ home needs decluttering—she hilariously decides to take this on without their permission—but when her mother buys a shredder, Guisewite can’t stand it. Acknowledging the challenges so many of us face, Guisewite does for us what Cathy did: she allows us to be human.
- My Parent’s Keeper: The Guilt, Grief, Guesswork, and Unexpected Gifts of Caregiving Posted in: Life’s Endings, Memoirs, Nonfiction
By Jody Gastfriend—Yale University Press (2018)
As we humans are living longer, the sandwich generation has moved to the club sandwich, as we care for not only parents and kids but grandparents and grandchildren, all at once. Is it any wonder we’re stressed out? Jody Gastfriend, social worker and vice president of senior care services at Care.com, designed a highly respected program for employers wanting to support staff who are caregivers. She also looked after her own father, who had Alzheimer’s. In this book, she delves into the challenges of caring for parents in declining health. Gastfriend leaves no possible situation unaddressed. She covers parents who refuse help and siblings who are unsupportive, along with the more practical basics of dementia care and of working with institutions and navigating social services and insurance claims. She considers the future of caregiving, which may involve technology and robotics. Pitfalls and rewards are covered in equal measure. Aging expert Ellen Goodman calls this book “the ultimate GPS for family caregivers.” You’ll want to have it in your library.
- Over the Hill, You Pick Up Speed: Reflections on Aging (For Anyone Who Happens To) Posted in: Nonfiction, Views from the Oldest among Us
By Nardi Reeder Campion – University Press of New England, 2006
Reading this very funny, unusually candid book is like having a conversation with a dear friend, no longer young, who is willing to talk about what old age is really like. Over the Hill is a collection of Campion’s columns from the Valley News in West Lebanon (NH), which published her work for 25 years. She also wrote nine books, plus articles for publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Times.
Campion, who died in 2007, always was willing to laugh at herself. In one column, she describes the embarrassing incident that convinced her it was time to give up driving. In the next, she turns to the subject of “Twelve Ways to Get Around Without a Car.” Number 11 is hitchhiking, which she tried three times (at the age of 86) before deciding it wasn’t for her. This is great reading for anyone who appreciates understated humor and wants to peek at what future years may bring.
- Calypso Posted in: Nonfiction, Views from the Oldest among Us
By David Sedaris—Little, Brown and Company, 2018
After a five-year hiatus, humorist and essayist David Sedaris returns to the bestseller list in his signature style, ruminating about family and aging (he’s 62). Those new to Sedaris’ writing will be quickly brought up to speed about his siblings, his sister who took her own life and his dad, now in his 90s. It’s his late mother, though, who figures prominently here and whose influence continues long after her passing. Clearly, the funnyman still misses her and longs to make a true connection with his father and remaining siblings while he still can. So he purchases a beach house (names it the Sea Section) in North Carolina, where the family can gather to both get away and reminisce. Returning fans will find this essay collection as insightful, biting and funny as ever, if a bit darker at times—Sedaris facing his mortality, perhaps? His observational humor targets the state of politics (no Trump fan, he) and his family members (he’s tender and scathing in equal measure). If you love an I-can’t-believe-he-said-that moment, this is the book for you.
- The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss Posted in: Memoirs, Nonfiction
By Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt — Harper, 2016
Do you ever wonder how your story will be remembered? 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 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, the 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. Her story is deeply personal, at times heartbreaking, full of wisdom and insights on the freedom and clarity aging has brought to her, and with some maternal advice. The mutual affection is clear. Tell someone your story before it’s too late.
- Bettyville: A Memoir Posted in: Memoirs, Nonfiction
By George Hodgman – Penguin Books, 2016
George Hodgman is an urbane and sophisticated gay man, blissfully separated from his upbringing in Paris, MO. When his irascible, outspoken, strong-willed mother, Betty, falling into dementia, loses her driver’s license, George returns to Paris, intending to settle her into a care facility and head back to Manhattan. Once in his childhood home, George comes to terms with his closeted upbringing and the desire to please his parents. Mother and son reunite with a combination of drama and comedy that seems to leap off the page. In a way, it may do just that: Paramount announced in May 2016 that it’s making the memoir into a television series, starring a dream cast of Matthew Broderick as George and the incomparable Shirley MacLaine as Betty.
- Ending Ageism or How Not to Shoot Old People Posted in: Nonfiction
By Margaret Morganroth Gullette – Rutgers University Press, 2017
If you’re not sure what ageism is, or you doubt that it does much harm, read this book. Author Margaret Morganroth Gullette examines this “most acceptable and unnoticed of the cruel prejudices.” She explores ageism in its many manifestations, including the widely held (erroneous) assumptions that old age is inevitably a time of decline and decrepitude and that older people are a burden on society. Challenging our culture’s relentless focus on youth—which motivates many to try to hide their age—she also describes other incarnations of ageism, including actual violence against older people. Ending Ageism is densely packed with facts and insights and isn’t always an easy read, but it’s a passionate argument that has something important to say to people of all ages.
- Walking with Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life Posted in: Inspiring Journeys, Nonfiction
By Eric O’Grey with Mark Dagostino – Grand Central Publishing, 2017
Do you know a yo-yo dieter looking for inspiration, maybe a couch potato who needs a nudge in the right direction? Eric O’Grey was in his early 50s, depressed and in a rut. His diets never panned out and he was easily 150 pounds overweight, spending a fortune on prescriptions to control his blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. And then a new doctor prescribed a trip to the dog shelter. There he chose obese, middle-aged Peety, and everything changed. Slowly, due to daily walks, the duo began to take off weight and put on energy. Their bond inspired Eric to finally commit to a radical diet to be deserving of Peety’s love. This is a charming success story that sweetly poses the question: who really rescued whom?
- The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers, Life’s Endings, Nonfiction
By Margareta Magnusson – Scribner, 2018
Sure, you’re a jolly good fellow, but if you’d like to be remembered as such, don’t leave a lifetime’s worth of junk—aka personal collections—for others to clean up when you die. Margareta Magnusson has firsthand experience in dealing with this type of dirty work, which the Swedes call döstädning, or death cleaning. Creepy name, liberating concept. She professes to be “between 80 and 100” and reveals some of what she’s kept and why, as well as the things she has let go, and how. She leaves nothing to the imagination, tackling everything from private matters in bedside drawers to what’s left on social media platforms. If you have attempted to pare down using a different book that promised a changed life but was just too harsh, Magnusson’s humor and practicality may be what you need. You don’t need to toss everything at once: her approach to death cleaning is that it’s a process that should be undertaken again and again as needs change. When the time comes, your family will thank you.
- Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
By Jessica Bruder – W.W. Norton, 2017
The American dream of a secure, leisurely retirement is simply not reality for many people. Low-wage workers, and those with insufficient savings due to bad health, poor planning, unlucky investing or the Great Recession, will have to work as long as they live. This book introduces us to the older workforce that is taking to the road for seasonal jobs. That nice 70-something couple managing the campground? Medical bills wiped out their bank account. Older man working at the amusement park? Lost his savings in the housing bust. Many seasonal workers live in their cars, vans or RVs in Walmart parking lots, where they form an unexpected, sometimes dysfunctional community. This house-less lifestyle provides mortgage-free shelter and mobility to people forced to choose between food and keeping a “roof” over their heads. The stories in this book are fascinating. You’ll want to travel along as Bruder explores both the challenges faced and the resilience shown by this generation of workers living life on the road.
- Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old Posted in: Nonfiction, Views from the Oldest among Us
By John Leland – Sarah Crichton Books, 2018
New York Times reporter John Leland undertook a project to research old age, not from those studying it but from those living it. He followed six New Yorkers, all 85 or older—no marathoners or record-breakers but everyday folks—and shared the intimate makeup of their days. They lived with and without illness and limitations, independently or with varying degrees of help. Almost everything about them differs, except for the fact that they each have made their way to a place of contentment and slower living that allows a connection with others. Each person fears dying, but not death itself; all six find joy in reminiscing and in plans for tomorrow. As for Leland himself, despite a good relationship with his 89-year-old mother, he was not expecting to enjoy himself in the year he invested with his subjects—he didn’t buy “the older we get, the happier we become” platitudes. But after his year with the oldest old, Leland became convinced there was wisdom there, and that he was the better man for embracing it.
- How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth) Posted in: Views from the Oldest among Us
By Henry Alford – Twelve, 2009
Henry Alford takes readers along as he interviews people over 70 about the concept of wisdom. He describes contemporary studies of the aging brain, scholarly studies of wisdom, and he throws in quotes from sages, ranging from Buddha to Muhammad Ali. Alford’s interviewees discuss everything from the importance of living in the moment to the way they feel about dying. For instance, playwright Edward Albee disapproves of death as a “terrible waste of time,” while spiritual leader Ram Dass says he has a “very friendly attitude to it.” In the end, the wisdom in the book comes mostly from Alford himself as he pulls ideas together.
Interspersed is the saga of Alford’s mother’s divorce, which occurred while he was writing How to Live. This engrossing story of a woman willing to make a new life for herself at 79 definitely holds your interest, though it may not have much to do with wisdom. How to Live offers few earthshaking insights but lots of small epiphanies.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers, Life’s Endings
By Atul Gawande – Picador, 2015
With increased longevity in the news, you don’t have to look hard to find a book about living better. But after watching his father’s death, 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.