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.
- The End of Your Life Book Club Posted in: Life’s Endings, Memoirs
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.
- Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older Posted in: Guides to Aging Well, Insights from Bold Thinkers, Views from the Oldest among Us
Are you afraid to grow old, dreading senior moments and lost independence? Is it folly to expect any pleasure in aging? In this positive book, social worker and geriatrics expert Wendy Lustbader reveals what she’s learned by working with older people: there is indeed plenty to look forward to in our later years.Whether you are looking ahead for yourself or searching for insight on older loved ones, Life Gets Better offers illuminating stories from those in midlife and beyond. The keys to happiness, shares Lustbader, are choosing battles wisely, forgiveness and gratitude. She tells us there is self-satisfaction from surviving life’s trials; the pleasure comes in knowing what really matters. Lustbader doesn’t imply that the best is yet to come. She proposes that the worst may be behind us.
- Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World Posted in: Inspiring Journeys, Memoirs
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.
- Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility Posted in: Guides to Aging Well, Insights from Bold Thinkers
Harvard psychology professor Ellen J. Langer firmly believes that “It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us but rather our mindset…” In Counterclockwise, a book more about theory than practice, she summarizes a multitude of studies, including her own, that demonstrate how our thoughts affect our bodies and that many of our ideas are damaging. Langer is especially interested in mindsets that assume aging is a long descent into illness. We’re victims of self-fulfilling prophecies, she suggests. We expect our eyesight and hearing to falter in later years, and so they do. She also explores the potential in placebos and the fact that sometimes when we’re ill, we get better mostly because we expect to. Overall, Counterclockwise is about the psychology of possibility and the power of thinking positively. Want to explore a new way to look at aging? Check out this book.
- Dancing Fish and Ammonites Posted in: Memoirs, Views from the Oldest among Us
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.
- The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
In this clear-eyed look at an idea that’s both revolutionary and obvious, Atul Gawande—New Yorker writer, surgeon, Harvard professor—examines a technique that was started in the Army Air Corps in 1935 and embraced in recent years by the medical profession: the checklist. Now in use in a variety of hospital settings, from the emergency room to the operating room, “checklists help with memory recall and clearly set out the minimum necessary steps in a process,” Gawande writes. They also, as he ably documents, save lives. Within three months of their introduction into ICUs in Michigan hospitals, for example, infection rates plunged by a staggering 66 percent. Using case histories to illustrate his point, Gawande makes an airtight case for the importance of this inspired, yet simple tool.
- Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World Posted in: Inspiring Journeys, Memoirs
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.
- Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
Americans fear growing older but what we really should worry about is ageism—how entrenched, negative misconceptions about aging affect us from youth through our oldest years. In Agewise, culture critic and aging studies expert Margaret Morganroth Gullette examines the “ideology of decline” that has seeped into the workplace, our society and our psyches. Through personal stories, politics, literature and medicine, Gullette illustrates an overt contempt for older people and a casual dismissal of their life experiences, which have resulted in discrimination, destructive self-images and an overall sense of doom for those in middle age and beyond.
But all is not lost, Gullette consoles us. She explains how, once we recognize it, we can fight ageism by redirecting how we think about later life from a young age and within our society and our relationships. Agewise is an enlightening read that ultimately promises us that, if we start work now, there’s hope for our future.
- Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death Posted in: Guides to Aging Well, Life’s Endings, Memoirs
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? Posted in: Memoirs
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!
- What Are Old People For? Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
By William H. Thomas, MD – VanderWyk & Burnham, 2007
“Our culture declares that adulthood is forever, that old age means decline, and that perfection is lodged in remaining young,” writes geriatrician Bill Thomas, a self-proclaimed abolitionist of the old way of being old. Adults (not to be confused with older adults or elders), he writes, are fixated on the perception of youthful vitality. They are not just defying age with wrinkle creams and medical miracles, they are denying it—living in fear of “old” from a very young age. This seminal book shows how this negativism is destroying quality of life not just for elders but also for families and society. Thomas challenges how we think about community structure, advertising and, especially, institutionalized nursing care, which is “plagued by loneliness, helplessness and boredom.” In Thomas’s world, elderhood reclaims its due respect and all generations are richer for it. This game-changer is a must for anyone who plans to age with dignity and purpose.
- 65 Things to Do When You Retire Posted in: Guides to Aging Well
By Mark Evan Chimsky – Sellers Publishing, Inc., 2012
If there is a milestone birthday on your calendar or if you’re shopping for a gift for a retirement party, this book could be the perfect find. Noted by the Wall Street Journal as one of its picks for best guides to later life, 65 Things is inspirational, funny and wise. Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem are arguably the most well known essayists featured here, but many of the others are professionals in the arena of post-career life. What should you do with free time and vitality to spare? Among the topics covered are risk taking, volunteering, bucket lists and expectations for retirement. Even if you are far from your last day on the job, you’ll find food for thought here. There’s a bonus too—all royalties benefit cancer research.
- Life Is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett Posted in: Memoirs
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.
- 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
By Sonia Arrison – Basic Books, 2011
Longevity experts suggest that the first person who will live to 150 has already been born. If you knew that person was you, would you do anything differently? What would you study in school? When would you start your family? How would you invest? In 100 Plus, we meet the scientists and thought leaders who are the catalysts for the increased health spans of tomorrow. There are no snake-oil salesmen here. Arrison has written a provocative and easy-to-understand work that covers the science and technologies of superlongevity, addressing the likely impacts on religion, childbearing, education and employment. We learn not only what might happen to our bodies but what stands to occur in our societies as we attain longer life. Prepare to be enlightened or maybe terrified—the possibilities could challenge us to rethink what we thought we knew about generations to come.
- Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship Posted in: Memoirs
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.
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
By Siddhartha Mukherjee – Scribner, 2010
In this fascinating, exhaustively researched volume, the author takes on the disease that has destroyed—and intrigued—humans since the start of recorded time. Mukherjee is an oncologist, medical educator and clinical researcher. His book is “an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness.” And so he does, tracing the history of cancer through extraordinary personalities and their work, including Sidney Farber, father of chemotherapy, philanthropist Mary Lasker and William Halsted, who developed the modern mastectomy. Case histories movingly illustrate his points. One of the most poignant is of a woman named Germaine, whose suffering taught Mukherjee that “to keep pace with this malady, you needed to keep inventing and reinventing, learning and unlearning strategies.” In 2015, PBS released a documentary based on the book, created by filmmaker Ken Burns.
- The Late Starters Orchestra Posted in: Guides to Aging Well
By Ari L. Goldman – Algonquin Books, 2014
As a boy, best-selling author Ari Goldman made memories by singing at synagogue with his father. But in high school and university, Goldman put his energy into writing, not music. He got a low-level newspaper job and worked his way up. At 26, missing the joy music had brought to his life, he found a teacher who promised that learning to play the cello would “bring back his voice.” Goldman did not stick with it then, but in his late 50s set a goal that he would play the cello at his 60th birthday party. He accomplished this feat in part due to the Late Starters Orchestra (LSO), where adults of every description gather weekly in an old New York City coat factory with musical instruments, all committed to learning to play later in life. From the LSO and Goldman, we learn that taking up a challenge even when you’re older can be incredibly rewarding. This is a story of perseverance and hope for all readers, no matter your age.
- Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake Posted in: Guides to Aging Well, Memoirs
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.
- The End Game Posted in: Insights from Bold Thinkers
We are all growing older, but we are not all aging on equal terms, says University of Arizona sociologist Corey M. Abramson in The End Game. With deeply detailed interviews of a diverse cast of adults aging in California’s Bay Area, Abramson gives readers a very personal view of how disparate education and economics have created what he calls an alarming “geriatric inequality” in America. The interviewees’ real-world experiences illustrate that people aging in middle-class neighborhoods have better housing, transportation, access to health care, social support—even groceries—than those in poorer communities, and that this imbalance has a direct impact on whether a person thrives or simply survives in the later years. Abramson challenges society to consider older adults as individuals rather than as a one-size-fits-all block, because, he says, what affects our elders today eventually affects us all.
- Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother and the Lessons of a Lifetime Posted in: Life’s Endings, Memoirs
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.