The author of Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old spent a year interviewing people over 85 in New York City and features six of them in this book, interspersed with relevant statistics. He also tries hard to get each interviewee to share their wisdom, which seems to be less successful than just telling their stories, and I rather applauded the individuals who refused to play.
What I liked best in the book how diverse and unique his elders are. (And why should we be surprised? Old folks are just like us, except, well, old!) He also does a great job of showing how they navigate the obvious physical, mental, and financial obstacles they face in creative and satisfying ways. It’s an inspiring book even if several of the elders are no longer with us.
The Temptation to Be Happy is the funny story of a grumpy old man who avoids his cat-lady neighbor but takes an interest in a new neighbor who seems to be in trouble. His life changes as he opens up. It’s delightful, and perhaps a little repetitive if you have read A Man Called Ove and other stories of this ilk.
Perhaps you read Britt-Marie Was Here, lauded here a couple of months ago. And if you did, and liked it, you will undoubtedly love A Man Called Ove. For everyone else, A Man Called Ove stars a grumpy, fussy, lonely old man who misses his dead wife so much that he spends the first many chapters trying to commit suicide, in a completely controlled, preplanned, unobtrusive manner, as befits his style. But life intervenes as his new neighbors need help backing up their moving trailer without destroying his house, an old friend needs help escaping from the clutches of the social services, a young man needs help when his dad throws him out, and many people need rides to the hospital. The story flashes back movingly to his hard life while he grudgingly, but dutifully helps everyone and eventually finds a warm circle of friends.
A touching and comforting story if you need reassurance that our fellow human beings are mostly good.
Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship is a lovely story of how a young woman who just separated from her husband (and, apparently and rather drastically, her daughter) gets solace from scrumptious dinners with the elderly father of a friend who needs cheering up as he ages, without his beloved wife. The recitation of the menus seems overdone in a sea of similar book structures, but I loved the soft, yet lucid focus on how hard it is to age and slowly lose the ability to do simple tasks, not to mention equally aged friends.
In Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, the author, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his forties, reflects on what it’s like to age. His descriptions of the subtle and often unsubtle rebuffs he has received as a result of his disease are both amusing and terrifying, as are the stories of his (mostly positive) interactions with the medical world. His point is that we will all die one day, and that it can be rough to wrap our head around that idea.
The last chapter is focused on societal trends rather than the personal side and I found it meandering and often ill-advised. But I loved everything else about the book.
Hide is a jewel of a love story. It stars an aging gay couple, one being the narrator and the other declining fast from the stroke-induced fall in his tomato plants that kicks off the story. The two met decades ago, but in their small North Carolina town and back in the day, they chose to hide their relationship from everyone, family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. As Frank gets sicker and sicker, his partner frets, reminisces, and mourns the life they used to have, however restricted they had to make it. There have been many books about declining partners, about the hardship of being a caretaker, and about love that needs to be hidden, but this story brings all these themes together in a lovely, humorous, and tender whole. Bravo!
Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying) is emphatically not a self-help book, which I feared a little when I chose it at the library. Rather, it explores research about aging and contrasts it with the claims of quacks and crazies who make a good living selling hope to aging baby boomers.
The book is very entertaining, with characters that include a 92-year old pole vaulter who built a pit in his backyard, an engineer in his fifties who takes ice-cold showers and fasts before long runs, and the author’s father, whose end-of life plan reads “Just shoot me” — and that does not include the true freaks aka quacks!
And adding to our list of words-that-don’t-exist-in-English-but-surely-should: ikigai, a Japanese word that means “reason to get up in the morning”. At this point, it seems to be the only proven anti-aging factor.