Books to Give or Keep, 2023

Silver Century regularly recommends books—fiction, nonfiction, memoirs—that reflect our mission by portraying aging positively or by offering insights from thought leaders in the field of aging. Here are some of our favorites for holiday giving or to save for the winter months ahead.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, by Marianne Cronin (Harper, 2021)

Lenni and Margot are two terminally ill women who meet in a hospital art therapy class. Lenni is 17 with osteosarcoma, while Margot is 83 with leukemia. Both alone in the world, they realize that together they’ve lived 100 years. They make a pact to paint a series of portraits representing pivotal moments from their lives. These paintings become a way for them to reflect on their pasts, to come to terms with their mortality and to create a lasting legacy. Their story is told in alternating chapters from Lenni’s and Margot’s perspectives. Lenni is full of quirky observations and a gallows sense of humor. Margot’s chapters are more reflective as she shares her memories of a long and eventful life. The novel is packed with wisdom and compassion, reflecting the preciousness of life and the enduring human spirit. The end comes too soon.

Killers of a Certain Age, by Deanna Raybourn (Berkley, 2022)

Touted as “Golden Girls meet James Bond,” this thriller opens with four women in their 60s celebrating retirement from The Museum, where they’ve worked for 40 years. Only, The Museum is a euphemism for a covert agency of elite, hired assassins, ridding the world of despicable war criminals, former Nazis, child traffickers and the like. It’s not a job that offers a retirement package, something the ladies—code name, the Sphinxes—realize when they become aware that former coworkers are trying to kill them. 

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie are exceedingly wise women who know too much, and The Museum leadership wants company secrets to die with these assassins. Naturally, the Sphinxes are not about to put down their weapons and go quietly into the night. The story does an excellent job of showing how older women can be invisible, underestimated and often disrespected in the workplace. Having only each other and their experience to rely on, Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie are about to show The Museum that they’ve messed with the wrong retirees. 

The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man, by David Von Drehle (Simon and Schuster, 2023)

Writer David Von Drehle was new to the suburbs of Kansas City when he first spotted his neighbor in the driveway, wearing swim trunks and washing his girlfriend’s car. Charles “Charlie” White III was 102 years old at that time. 

This remarkable biography takes us through America’s history and Charlie’s—as he grows older, so does America. We meet Charlie at age eight, as a boy listening to jazz on the radio, then teaching himself to play the saxophone, which was how the Midwesterner ultimately paid his way through medical school. We go with Charlie through Prohibition and the Depression, WWll and the hospital construction, where he becomes the city’s first anesthesiologist, practicing through his 80s. His mother always encouraged him to do the right thing, so Charlie does, for a remarkable 109 years. Through grit and determination, and always with a bit of humor, Charlie White takes us through the decades of the 1900s. It’s a heck of a ride.

The Marmalade Diaries: The True Story of an Odd Couple, by Ben Aitken (Icon Books, 2022)

In a story so utterly charming, you’ll double- or triple-check to see if it’s truly nonfiction, Ben Aitken enters a Share and Care arrangement with 86-year-old Winnie Carter, 50 years his senior. In the United Kingdom, this home-sharing model offers room and board for a fraction of the cost in exchange for companionship and a few chores. Clearly, it takes a certain kind of pair to make it work. 

Ben is a bit of a nomad, a travel writer who has written, among other things, of his experiences on bus tours with people who had retired. He is more than ready for this adventure. Winnie is a recently widowed aristocrat, living in a large home outside London; she can live independently but for a few tasks requiring some muscle. 

Initially, Winnie is nonplussed; she doesn’t welcome Ben as much as she tolerates him—he’s a millennial, after all. She’s quick-witted, acerbic and set in her ways. Though well-traveled, Ben seems to have missed key life lessons, thinks Winnie, who finds she must educate him on everything from boiling an egg to properly warming plates. The pandemic lockdown begins almost immediately after they commit, forcing the unlikely duo into a closer bond than either anticipated. Ben’s daily entries into his lockdown diary become the basis for this laugh-out-loud, British-to-the-core story. It’s packed full of Winnie’s witty repartees and non sequiturs, and it is a joy to read.