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.
- 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.
- 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.
- New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir Posted in: Memoirs
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.
- With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older Posted in: Guides to Aging Well, Insights from Bold Thinkers
Will your current home be the right place for you to live out your days? If you’re thinking of relocating—or helping someone else to do so—and hope to find the best living arrangements for aging well, look no further than this book. You may be surprised at the unique ways people are thinking about “community” today. Baker explores the cultural shift that offers older people many models beyond residential care: cohousing, aging in place, living among people with shared interests, to name but a few. She thoughtfully explains the positives and the shortcomings and includes anecdotes from people who’ve chosen each lifestyle. Baker even includes questions to ask before signing contracts, suggestions on how to pay and, if needed, guidance for finding supplemental care. This is a well-researched and illuminating peek into what’s just around the bend for both individual and community.
- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail Posted in: Inspiring Journeys
By Ben Montgomery – Chicago Review Press, 2014
In 1955, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in its entirety in a single season. Ben Montgomery, a distant relative, spins this inspiring tale of courage and determination from Gatewood’s diaries and her children’s recollections. “Grandma” Gatewood was 67 years old: mother to 11, grandmother to 23, divorced from her husband of 30 years and a survivor of domestic violence. Inspired by a National Geographic article that said no woman had accomplished the feat, she first tried in 1954 but was thwarted by broken eyeglasses. Not an experienced hiker by a long shot, Gatewood took no map or compass, not even a tent. She carried a handmade backpack with a blanket and a plastic shower curtain for the elements, relying on common sense and the kindness of strangers. She went on to hike the trail twice more, and her advocacy is credited for its rehabilitation for countless others to enjoy.
- On My Own Posted in: Life’s Endings, Memoirs
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 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.
- Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life Posted in: Inspiring Journeys, Nonfiction
By Daniel Klein – Penguin Books, 2012
A trip to the dentist forces the author to consider dentures or implants—neither particularly appealing to septuagenarian Daniel Klein. This is the catalyst for a trip of self-appraisal to the Greek island of Hydra. There Klein, enjoying a laid-back lifestyle, contrasts the notions of the great philosophers to contemporary views on aging. He discovers that to age authentically is to make peace with your circumstances and to savor what you have. Witty and philosophical, Klein finds a “fulfilled life” means something very different to a person in his 70s than it does to a younger man. His perspective is delightfully and thoughtfully shared within these pages.