"Old Adult" Lit: In pursuit of a canon of novels addressing life over age 50

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"Old Adult" Lit: In pursuit of a canon of novels addressing life over age 50

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1nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jul. 11, 2018, 9:16pm

There are lots of books with old people in them. Older characters are often difficult, sick, fey, wise, feisty ... you get it: All the makings of a central conflict, foil, or comic relief for a young and cute protagonist. There are fewer books with older protagonists, which is kind of weird given the way Western society is aging.

So I'm looking to develop a canon for "old adult" literature (OA lit). This is inspired by my just having retired from teaching, and my last class having been YA lit.

My canon criteria (to be refined as I read):

1. The protagonist may be no younger than 50.

2. The protagonist should have limitations imposed by age. That is, he or she is not just a lightly lined and slightly frosted 35 year old in disguise. This protagonist is not going to bound effortlessly to the top of Mt. Everest or sail around the world in a wooden boat built in his garage with expensive hand tools. 60 is not the new 40, I don't care what AARP says.

3. The protagonist must be a fully rounded character who may or may not be very nice. Likability is not important.

4. The frustrations that older adults feel about society's expectations and attitudes about them should be one of the novel's themes.

5. The protagonist may have an illness--acute, chronic, or terminal--but illness and death may not be the only plot drivers of the novel.

5. Death and illness may not unrealistically ennoble the protagonist. Somebody who lives as a son of a bitch usually dies one. I'll grant him or her an epiphany or two. Within reason.

6. The book must offer insights on how aging can affect a human being. This doesn't mean the book has to have a happy ending, just a realistic one.

7. The book may not be more than half flashback. A story in which an old person merely recounts the story of his or her younger self is not really OA lit.

8. There is a growing number of books about older adults with dementia. Apparently Alzheimer's sells. I suspect it is because it renders elders harmless objects of pity to young people. I will treat any book like this with a good deal of caution.

9. Heart-warmers in which an elderly curmudgeon exists solely to be transformed by the plucky hard-luck kids next door are verboten.

Finished works (favorites are starred):

*Memento Mori Message 14
Quartet in Autumn Message 32
*An Unnecessary Woman Message 34
The Fixed Period Message 51
*Go, Went, Gone Message 55
Remnant Population Message 59
*All Passion Spent Message 61
The Dark Flood Rises Message 102
*Deaf Sentence Message 120
The Buried Giant Message 125
*The Woman Next Door Message 152

Still to be read:
King Lear
Macbeth (I'm assuming the Macbeths are over 50, as they are childless and don't talk about having any more)
The Unit
The Old Man and the Sea
Olive Kitteridge
Woman at 1,000 Degrees
Insomnia
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window (this may violate the flashback limit)
Angle of Repose
Gilead
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
A Christmas Carol
A Man Called Ove (unless it turns into a heart-warmer about kids saving an old curmudgeon)
Mr. Skeffington
Our Souls at Midnight
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
The Woman Next Door
Still Here
The Stone Angel
The Book of Eve
Old People and the Things that Pass
Ending Up
The Old Devils
Firefly
Old Friends
To Mervas
Elizabeth is Missing
The Leisure Seeker
The Bag Lady War
The Waiting Game
Exit Lines
House Mother Normal
The New Moon's Arms
Passion Perfect or Simple Passion
A Woman's Story
Cry, Mother Spain

I'm not looking at Miss Marple, Cadfael, or similar. The protagonists are the right age, but age really doesn't play much of a role. I may revise this opinion later.

Please feel free to suggest titles, and thanks for looking in.

2markon
Bearbeitet: Dez. 22, 2017, 2:34pm

Awesome idea!

I recommend Our souls at night by Kent Haruf. And possibly Major Pettigrew's last stand by Helen Simonson (been awhile since I read that one.)

I haven't read The woman next door by Yewande Omotoso but have read reviews that make it look interesting.

And here's a link to a blog with a series about older women in fiction.

3nohrt4me2
Dez. 22, 2017, 11:22pm

Thanks for those suggestions, Markon. I think Avaland also had some suggestions over on the 2017 group.

4wandering_star
Dez. 23, 2017, 5:39am

5chlorine
Dez. 23, 2017, 7:58am

Interesting theme! I think Kazuo Ishiguro's The buried giant meets most, if not all, of your criteria. There are some flashbacks but if I remember correctly they are much less than half the book, and the book really focuses (among other things) on aging.
Plus I thought it was a great book!

6BLBera
Dez. 25, 2017, 1:04am

I read and loved The Dark Flood Rises last year. It fits wonderfully in this theme.

7thorold
Dez. 26, 2017, 9:27am

Another thumbs up for The dark flood rises !
One of the best I’ve read is Old people and the things that pass by Louis Couperus. A bit of flashback, but not enough to exclude it.
Kingsley Amis’s Ending up and The Old devils definitely qualify, although I wouldn’t put them on my list of favourites.

8Trifolia
Dez. 26, 2017, 9:49am

I found these in my library:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott

9Cait86
Dez. 26, 2017, 9:51am

This sounds like an interesting focus for the year. King Lear is certainly applicable, and if you're looking for other Shakespeare plays, The Tempest would fit too. I don't think Macbeth fits your criteria though - not number 2, as Macbeth is a powerful fighter who shows no sign of physically aging.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence would definitely fit, though now I am wondering if it is more than half flashback.... Regardless, it is about aging, and frustrations with society's expectations of the elderly.

10nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 26, 2017, 12:05pm

>8 Trifolia: Harold Fry sounds like it's mostly flashback, but I may delve deeper.

>9 Cait86: more interested in Lady M as a portrait of a woman past menopause. I always thought she and M were dual tragic heroes. She had the brains and he had the brawn. The tragedy was how neither alone would have been up to the regicide. Not unusual for a man slightly over 50 to still be a soldier, I think. Thanks for the Stone Angel suggestion.

11nohrt4me2
Dez. 26, 2017, 12:02pm

>7 thorold: Thanks!

12LolaWalser
Dez. 26, 2017, 1:44pm

I think The book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe would deserve a mention here. A 70 (ish) years old woman abandons her husband one morning and moves across the city, starting on a single life. There's reminiscing that makes sense of her past life and this decision, but it doesn't overshadow the present. The combination of the relatively high age, being a woman and of little means, is very much a theme and a problem but Eve is a great character and her personality the conduit to identification as much as these traits.

13SassyLassy
Dez. 26, 2017, 6:57pm

Firefly by Janette Jenkins is about the decidedly aging Noel Coward at his Jamaica estate of the same name.

14nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 31, 2017, 10:35am

FINISHED: Memento Mori, 1959.

Plot: A loosely connected group of elderly individuals receives recurring phone calls in which the caller says, "Remember you must die." Spark wrote the book when she was 41. It did not hamper her ability to write credible old people.

Are the protagonists over 50? YES. Most are over 70.

Do the protagonists defy stereotypes about aging? YES. The protagonists are not devoid of sexual interest and social intrigue, even in a nursing home. Even the ones with dementia and infirmities often muster enough determination (or bile) to direct their own lives.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. This is Muriel Spark, for heaven's sake, and is in line with other Spark novels--dark satire about manipulative and/self-absorbed people. She has some quite sharp observations about those who have been unhappily married for a long time. The way lifelong self-preoccupation might manifest in an older personality, with age used as a cover/excuse for that preoccupation, is pretty believable.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. The reminder that they will die affects each protagonist differently. Some are obsessed with it. Some take it in stride. Many protagonists are driven not by ideas about death, but by an inheritance dispute, an odd sexual proclivity, or a continued interest in their work.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. All the protagonists are fighting what others think they ought to do and think because of their age.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. My favorite snip: "Guy Leet considered, as he was driven home, whether he was in fact enjoying that sense of calm and freedom that is supposed to accompany old age or whether he was not. Yesterday he had been an old, serene man. Today he felt younger and less peaceful. How could one know at any particular moment what one's old age finally amounted to?"

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO.

Heart-warmer? NO, decidedly not.

In the canon? YES!

15ELiz_M
Bearbeitet: Dez. 27, 2017, 11:35am

>1 nohrt4me2: Two Old Women which should fit the criteria and The Twilight Years which does not quite -- the narrator is middle-aged (mother of a teenaged son), but the focus of the book is on the difficulties of being the sole care-giver for her father-in-law.

17baswood
Dez. 28, 2017, 8:23am

Love, Again by Doris Lessing
Especially for those 65+ who still feel a sex drive. Read it a couple of weeks ago, heres my review:

http://www.librarything.com/work/14595

18nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 28, 2017, 12:50pm

>15 ELiz_M: Thanks. Have not heard of either of these.

>16 dianeham: Love Paul Auster, and have not read this one.

>17 baswood: Have never been able to get through anything by Lessing except Particularly Cats. Maybe time to give her another try in my old age.

19jjmcgaffey
Dez. 28, 2017, 4:43pm

(I posted this on the 2018 thread in the Club Read 2017 group - reposting here for more utility)

If you read SF - try Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population - old woman alone (deliberately) on an alien planet. Very much about aging and its possibilities and limitations. Possibly also John Scalzi's Old Man's War and the rest of that series - but it starts with a rejuvenation and I haven't actually read it yet to see if the protagonist is an old man in a young man's body or just gets young again (very different viewpoints). I'm not sure you're into genre stuff (which is most of my reading), but take a look at the first one at least.

20nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 28, 2017, 7:44pm

>19 jjmcgaffey: Thanks, I'll ready pretty much anything. I'm just not into power-reading. Age being what it is, all the plots start to run together in my head after awhile if I read too fast. My husband bugs me to write my own book, but I fear I would simply regurgitate a mash-up of plots and characters from stuff I've read and forgotten.

21m.belljackson
Dez. 28, 2017, 9:24pm

Our Souls at Night has a bummer of an ending which let down us lone folks at home.

Not sure how old MacBeth and his lovely lady were, but good to see it on an LT list.
If you have not seen Roman Polanski's MacBeth, it is worth it just for the opening.

22nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2017, 8:05am

>21 m.belljackson: No one knows how old the Macbeths are, but in my head, he's at the end of his career--could be about 50--and gets one unexpected chance to advance, and Mrs. M. is not going to let him throw it away.

My favorite movie version is the one with Orson Welles. Macbeth starts to do a lot of drinking and gets reckless and paranoid. I think Jeanette Nolan is the missus.

There is a dreadful version with Ian McKellan and Judy Dench done for the BBC on TV. Right ages, but the producer had this idea that there would be no costumes or sets, just let the language carry the production ... and it didn't. It was like a very wooden table read. Maybe I just don't have enough imagination to appreciate that type of thing.

I saw the Polanski version when it first came out. Good witches, but didn't really grab me.

Kurosawa did an adaptation, "Throne of Blood," which might be interesting.

Looks like there are a couple of other adaptations I missed. Hmm. Maybe I'll have to set the reading aside for a week or two and watch some of these.

23kac522
Dez. 29, 2017, 1:38am

I just finished Falling Slowly by Anita Brookner. We aren't told the specific ages of 2 sisters, but they seem 50-ish, and deal with issues of loneliness and dependence/independence.

24nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2017, 8:05am

>23 kac522: Sounds a little like one of Barbara Pym's books, Some Tame Gazelle (?). Thanks!

25japaul22
Dez. 29, 2017, 8:21am

>24 nohrt4me2: Yes, I just read that Pym, Some Tame Gazelle, and I can confirm that's the one with the two 50-something sisters and their various love interests.

26avaland
Dez. 29, 2017, 10:47am

Yes, The Woman Next Door Yewande Omotoso was excellent.

Also, the forthcoming Woman at 1000 Degrees by Hailgrimur Helgason (I think I sent you this, Jean). She old in the present, but the book covers her whole life. Quite a wild ride of a book.

Others have mentioned the Drabble, I think.

Seems there was a year—pre LT—where I kept running into old-men-reflect-upon-their-lives books, the only one that I seem to remember is The Sea by John Banville.

27dukedom_enough
Dez. 29, 2017, 5:12pm

I scanned my science-fiction shelves, and didn't come up with anything; SF protagonists tend to be young, or young-seeming 400-year-olds whose aging has been stopped at 30. There are many characters in the 50-60 range, in positions of authority, but their age is often dismissed with a few references to aches and pains.

28nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Dez. 29, 2017, 11:37pm

>26 avaland: Yes, I keep my physical books in bed with me and Woman at 1,000 Degrees is right here!

29nohrt4me2
Dez. 29, 2017, 11:44pm

>27 dukedom_enough: Ah, yes, the Fountain of Youth sci fi theme. Why be old and ugly when you can look 25 forever? Most vampire stories tell us that eternal youth and beauty is unnatural and comes at a terrible price.

30Diane-bpcb
Bearbeitet: Dez. 30, 2017, 2:36am

It's a bit late in the evening, so I don't remember if it was in a comment or a link above, but An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine was a great book. Provides dignity to an older woman's life, which day-to-day was nothing less than nightmarish, but which she makes deeply rewarding with her devotion to translating great books and to the joys of reading. One of the best books I've read.

Others: All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West,
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton,
Memoirs by Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (another of my top books.)
Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall
and The Book of Ebenezer LePage by G.B. Edwards

A lot of good ideas above. I love this topic!

31nohrt4me2
Dez. 30, 2017, 8:37am

>30 Diane-bpcb: Thanks! I have always wanted to read the Sackville-West.

32nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 2, 2018, 11:27pm

FINISHED: Quartet in Autumn, 1977

Plot: Four co-workers, two men and two women, all single, prepare to lead retirement in quiet isolation.

Are the protagonists over 50? YES, 60s, verge of retirement. (Pym was 63 when she wrote the book, three years before she died of breast cancer.)

Do the protagonists defy stereotypes about aging? NO. The characters are eccentric and dotty, timid, and unable or unwilling to do much for themselves. Like most of Pym's characters, they hide from life's appalling aspects by worrying about whether they are suitably dressed for the occasion. It's all very British and constrained. But where Pym has played these kinds of scenes humorously in other books, this novel is a pretty serious exploration of loneliness and despair as age closes in.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. These characters seem so damaged by loneliness that they have begun to lose much of their ability to connect with people. Marcia, especially, seems hardly human, peering out with lemur-like eyes at other people like they are unfathomable zoo animals. She hoards cans of food that she never eats, and lives in a dirty house where coughed up furballs from her long dead cat lie dessicated in the bed in her mother's old room.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. The protagonists seem to be waiting for some meaning in life to show up. Their jobs--the nature of their work is never revealed--help them pass the time, but there is very little that is meaningful in it.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. The social worker, cheerful and brisk, is a foil to Marcia's despair. Marcia has gone mad with the meaninglessness of her life, and a few senior coach trips are not going to pull her out of herself. It could be argued, however that Marcia is the most self-directed of the four protagonists despite being the nuttiest. She resolves things grimly, but, frankly, I think this is how she wanted things to go. She also pushes the others three a few inches toward seeing that they have choices, limited though they are.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. A favorite snip: "She told herself, dutifully assuming the suggested attitude towards retirement, that life was still full of possibilities."

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? MOSTLY NO. Marcia is crazy, but it is hard to pity her, and she is not harmless to herself.

Heart-warmer? NO SIREE.

In the canon? YES, though the book is pretty much a downer.

33arubabookwoman
Jan. 2, 2018, 4:35pm

What a wonderful idea for a theme for reading! As I've gotten older, I've sporadically and in no particularly organized manner started reading books (fiction) about aging or older characters, so I've read a number of the many excellent suggestions here. I loved Momento Mori and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Quartet in Autumn was the first book by Barbara Pym I read. I first read it in my 30's, and have reread it twice. When I reread it in my late 50's it was an entirely different book than when I read it in my 30's.

Here are a few more books, of varying quality, which might fit your theme if they sound interesting to you:

Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
Old Friends by Stephen Dixon
To Mervas by Elisabeth Rynell
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian
The Bag Lady War by Carol Leonard SeCoy
The Waiting Game by Bernice Rubens
Exit Lines by Joan Barfoot
House Mother Normal by B.S. Johnson

And, for nonfiction, although it's not entirely within your theme, I recommend Nomadland by Jessica Bruder about the plight of (mostly older) Americans who are forced to take temporary and transient jobs in order to survive.

34nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 11, 2018, 3:24pm

FINISHED: An Unnecessary Woman, 2014, as recommended by >30 Diane-bpcb:

Plot: A Beiruti translator riffs on her past life and deals with current political and familial instability. I was stunned to learn that Rabih Alameddine is a man and wrote this at age 55.

Plot: A soliditary Beiruti translator riffs on her past life and deals with current political and familial instability. (Such an inadequate summary for such a gift of a book!)

Is the protagonist over 50? YES. Aaliya is 72. ("During my biannual checkup earlier this week, my doctor insisted that I was in sturdy health, like iron. He's right, of course, and I'm grateful, but what he should have compared me to was rusty iron. I feel oxidized.")

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? YES. Aaliya and the other three women who live in her apartment building ("the three witches," she calls them, one of many echoes of "Macbeth" in the book), are self-directed. All of them are self-directed and interested in life. Aaliya, through long solitariness, has lost the knack of being a neighbor, but she is living the life she chooses.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. One of the delights of this book are Aaliya's matter-of-fact and pithy comments on aging: "Why is it that at the age when we need the curative powers of slumber most we least have access to it? Hypnos fades as Thanatos approaches."

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. Aaliya is not ill, nor does death seem imminent. She observes at one point that the women in her family live a long time. In the long first part of the book, we come to know Aaliya as a reader, a translator, and as a lifelong resident of Beirut who has survived its upheavals. Throughout this long section Aaliya mostly observes what her life is like and what it has been. About midway through the book Aaliya's half-brother tries to get her to take in their mother. Aaliya refuses. Her mother screams. The neighbors make the brother take the mother away. But Aaliya decides to visits her mother, and this turns out to be a minor adventure. In the final section, the apartment house floods, and threatens Aaliya's translated manuscripts.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. This is not a major feature of the novel, but Aaliya's visit to her elderly mother with dementia dissects the fraught relationship between an elderly daughter and more elderly mother with a fine scalpel. All the shadings that Aaliya feels--from common humanity toward a helpless old lady to sharp, lingering resentments toward a mother who was remote and unloving--are nicely drawn without veering into the sentimental. In trying to explain this visit to herself, Aaliya says, "I'm not planning anything. There will be no resolution, no epiphany; and most probably I won't understand more than I do now. I guess I don't want her skirl of terror to be my last memory of her."

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. A favorite snip: "I'm turning into the kind of old woman I've desperately tried to avoid becoming, the one always directing the conversation back to herself."

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO.

Heart-warmer? YES, but in a good way.

In the canon? YES!

35Dilara86
Bearbeitet: Jan. 4, 2018, 10:17am

From previously mentioned books, I loved Gilead and Deaf Sentence.

Here are my suggestions:
The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson (Fantasy novel with a main character in her fifties and going through menopause, who will not let aging stop her from doing what she wants to do.)
The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope (Humourous proto-SF novella, on an island where by law, everyone over the age of 67 (I think) has to be euthanized. Obviously, when it's time for the politician responsible for this law to die, he gets cold feet...)
Passion Perfect or Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux (A middle-aged woman has a passionate affair with an unavailable younger man.)

Specifically about the relationship between a daughter (who may be over 50 herself) and an elderly mother:
A Woman's Story by Annie Ernaux
Cry, Mother Spain by Lydie Salvayre

A while back, I created two lists tangential to old age: Books featuring grandmothers and Books featuring grandfathers. You're welcome to add to them if you feel like it.

36auntmarge64
Jan. 4, 2018, 10:26am

>19 jjmcgaffey: Remnant Population sounds right up my alley!

37nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 4, 2018, 1:05pm

>35 Dilara86: Thanks! I am not a fan of Gilead, though I may like it better through the Old Adult Lit lens.

Wow! Had no idea Trollope wrote spec fx. I am ordering that right today!

38thorold
Jan. 4, 2018, 12:44pm

>35 Dilara86: >37 nohrt4me2: Yes, The fixed period is fun. It should be on the list.

39nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 4, 2018, 1:04pm

>38 thorold: It's on my Kindle right now! Next after An Unnecessary Woman, which I am really enjoying.

40avidmom
Jan. 4, 2018, 5:38pm

I read No! I Don't Want to Join A Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year a few years ago and really enjoyed it (just a fun book). Also Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg. My son loves a book called Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi

41nohrt4me2
Jan. 4, 2018, 6:51pm

Thanks, >40 avidmom:!

42janeajones
Jan. 5, 2018, 3:00pm

Margaret Drabble's later books deal with aging and are wonderful:
The Witch of Exmoor
The Sea Lady
The Seven Sisters

I haven't yet read The Dark Flood Rises, I am looking forward to it.

I'd also recommend Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

43nohrt4me2
Jan. 6, 2018, 9:04am

>42 janeajones: Thanks. I think I have Peterson on a TBR list somewhere. I have not read Drabble for a long time. Good reminder.

44Diane-bpcb
Jan. 7, 2018, 11:45pm

> 31 nohrt4me2

Your singling out All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West from my suggestions got me to go back and read it again. (I had read it decades ago and had a special memory of it, although I had forgotten most of it.)

What a joy to reread.

I don't agree with most of the commentaries and interpretations appearing here in Library Thing about All Passion Spent; but maybe since I haven't finished them all yet, I missed the best ones.

I think that the life view and the 'unconventional' sensibilities of the main character, Lady Shane, are the main point, which deserve commentary. Not so much the family's and society's reactions, which are well documented but secondary.

Would be happy to discuss further with someone who has finished the book.

45jjmcgaffey
Jan. 7, 2018, 11:57pm

Another - The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. It may fail some of your tests - one of the primary drivers is the death of Arthur's wife, and his life and relationships are transformed (though not from curmudgeon to heartwarming nice guy - more from person in a rut and (before the death) happy with it to someone with a wider view of the world). His age, and the limitations thereof, do play a major part; it's not flashbacks though there are stories of the past, because it's not his life he's investigating but his wife's. I found it fascinating and enjoyable.

46nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 8, 2018, 11:39am

>44 Diane-bpcb: I will message you when I have finished it, and we can compare notes!

>45 jjmcgaffey: Death can be a driver, even the main antagonist. There just have to be other plot drivers at work. And transformations are OK as long as they seem reasonably within character. "Arthur" sounds interesting!

47janeajones
Bearbeitet: Jan. 9, 2018, 12:04pm

44> I enjoyed All Passion Spent, but I thought the protagonist's indifference to her companion/maid's existence was rather callous.

48Diane-bpcb
Jan. 9, 2018, 2:04am

47> I understand what you are saying, and I have two reactions myself.

1 - Didn't the sensibility of the servant class not become a new vogue among the aristocracy in England in about 1931 when this book was published? (I'm no English lit major, but it strikes me this way.)
Lady Shane was almost slapped in the face when she became aware of her maid's long-suffering life, which she was able to do only after widowhood freed her from the smothering conventions of her own earlier life.
Also, in 1931, Noel Coward filmed a glorified review of "great" British history created in the previous century, Cavalcade, which I understand was the first Upstairs/Downstairs of the 20th century since both the aristocrats and servants had their stories followed. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here.
2 - Although I am hugely in agreement with the most recent analysis of our cultural heritage, I have to say that I also enjoy some of the old conventions--even if they are enjoyed as fiction.

But then, I'm probably showing my age!

49nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 9, 2018, 2:24pm

>47 janeajones:, >48 Diane-bpcb: OK, friends, I have NOT read this book, so I have started a thread where you can talk about it until I catch up. Please take the discussion there. Thanks.

50janeajones
Bearbeitet: Jan. 9, 2018, 12:04pm



Tove Jansson's late, adult novels and stories often deal with the issues of aging:
The True Deceiver
The Summer Book
Sun City -- my favorite, though it's hard to find
Fair Play
A Winter Book
Travelling Light

51nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jan. 30, 2018, 11:20pm

FINISHED: The Fixed Period, 1882

Plot: President Neverbend of Britannula, ca. 1980, is the leading proponent of a "fixed period" of 67 years of human life, after which the elderly are to be "deposited" in a "college" where they must "depart" before their 68th birthdays. As in all of Trollope's novels revolving around a legal issue (see The Eustace Diamonds), delays and disputes arise. I find it amusing that Trollope can conceive of a future in which euthanasia of the aged is entertained ... but apparently not one in which women can vote or serve in parliament, or one in which married women can hold property independent of their husbands.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES. President Neverbend is about 57.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? NO. Neverbend talks about being of an age to be set in his ways.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. Those approaching the Fixed Period, are quite lively in trying to avoid their fate, either by feigning insanity, threatening to sue the government, or by lying about their ages (the women largely take this tack).

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. It seems to be mostly a satire on what happens when society adopts a measure that it intends to be utopian or for the greater good, but runs counter to human feeling. A lot of the novel looks at the legislative wrangles and arguments revolving around the Fixed Period and the eventual intervention of the British government in stopping it.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. Neverbend makes a very compelling ethos/logos case for the fixed period: lots of stats about the drain the elderly are on society in addition to their sad and painful decline. Nowhere does Trollope ever offer any real argument against the Fixed Period, though plenty of characters find it abhorrent. The book underscores some of the same attitude we have now, that the aged are a social problem that needs to be engineered through Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and institutionalization of those who are feeble or have dementia.

I am reminded of Christopher Buckley's near-future satire, Boomsday, in which Social Security and Medicare have run amok, and the elderly are given perks if they agree to snuff it via Black Capsule at age 75. Ten percent of the UK think this is a good idea: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/assisted-dying/11213869/Elderly-should-be...

There are also a plethora of books and articles designed to "help" older people who have outlived their usefulness, their economic independence, and their health: The Peaceful Pill, Final Exit. And Dr. Ezekiel Emmanual's Atlantic article, "Why I hope to die at 75," talks about why he thinks this is a good idea https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/10/why-i-hope-to-die-at-75/379...

Does the novel offer insights about aging? NO, other than to note that people age and become useless at different rates, and that most people will opt to stay alive by any means necessary. Nowhere does Trollope ever really offer any real argument against the Fixed Period.

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO.

Heart-warmer? NO

In the canon? MAYBE as a curiosity. My main beef with this book is that it really drags. It is not Trollope at his finest, the characters have little charm and most are stereotypical, and there is an overly long and tiresome middle section in which a cricket match between the Britannulans and the British is described in detail. The same legal and philosophical arguments are repeated ad nauseam, possibly a function of its having been serialized in Blackwood's.

52pmarshall
Bearbeitet: Jan. 11, 2018, 5:09pm

Some mystery characters for the list:
Shelia Malory - Hazel Holt
Mrs. Pargeter - Simon Brett
Sister Mary Helen - Sister Carol Anne O’Marie
Kate Fansler - Amanda Cross
John Putnam Thatcher - Emma Lathen
Father Koesler - William X. Kienzle
Father Dowling - Ralph McInerny

53mdoris
Jan. 20, 2018, 3:49pm

Just found this fun thread. I have a few that I thought were gems to add.

Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson
The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

54nohrt4me2
Jan. 20, 2018, 4:30pm

55nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Feb. 14, 2018, 2:20pm

FINISHED: Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, 2017

Plot: A retired classics professor in Berlin becomes curious about the personal stories of African refugees on a hunger strike. Friendships and deep human connections result.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES. We never find out Richard's exact age, but he was a toddler at the end of WW2, so over 60.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? YES. Richard wants to stay connected with people and to learn new things. His natural curiosity draws him to the African migrants. He spends a lot of time reading about where they are from and asking questions. He has "aged moments" when he feels nostalgia or even wonders if he is becoming senile, but he is alive to his ability to empathize and think.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. Richard has no illnesses. He is a widower; he misses his wife, and he is a little apprehensive and depressed over his retirement and aging for awhile, but he has good mental resources and health.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. Richard could, really, be any age, but his retirement, free time, and lack of wife or romantic attachment frees him to pursue his interest in the Africans. At first Richard looks at the refugees as an academic study or a problem to solve: "Hitler will never truly have lost" if the refugees are deported. But he keeps revolving the story of his own life as he listens to the refugees. The questions he asks reveal his own assumptions and misunderstanding despite his attempts to be informed and dispassionate. As Richard learns about the refugees, he uncovers things about himself, about what he does not know and what he has never considered.

Richard is also a refugee--he is an East Berliner, from a city and country that no longer exist. He often seems slightly disoriented in the united Germany. This makes him a sensitive listener as the refugees answer his questions. It may also explain his interest in them, his sense of alone-ness. This sense of detachment is heightened by his age and the rootlessness he feels after retirement.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? A LITTLE. There is quite a lot of discussion in the first few chapters of the book that explores Richard's sense of being at loose ends since his retirement, which he views with academic detachment: "... his head still works just the same as before. What's he going to do with the thoughts still thinking away inside his head? ... The thinking is what he is, and at the same time it's the machine that governs him. Even if he's all alone with his head now, he can't just stop thinking, obviously. Even if no one gives a hoot what he thinks." One of most satisfying parts of this novel is that Richard is a person who is old, not an old person.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. Richard has a little circle of old friends. They play minor roles, but they are nicely limned. One has a wife who is terminally ill. Another has a 20-year-old girlfriend. There is a couple. And there is an old lover who has married someone else. All of Richard's friends respond in different ways to his increasing attachment to the African refugees; their ages give them certain responsibilities and limitations, but they are all nicely delineated.

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO.

Heart-warmer? YES, but in an unsentimental way.

In the canon? YES!

56nohrt4me2
Feb. 5, 2018, 11:25am

Maybe all this immersion in "old lit" is making me super-sensitive but Kia is now on my s-list. Check out the ageism in its Superbowl commercial:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0YVbVXOjJv4

57chlorine
Feb. 6, 2018, 2:25am

>56 nohrt4me2: Wow, indeed.

58janeajones
Feb. 6, 2018, 3:32pm

Yikes.

59nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Feb. 25, 2018, 11:48am

FINISHED: Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon, 1996

Plot: A corporation colonizes planets and moves workers in and out of colonies to maximize profits. Ofelia, 70, decides she doesn't want to move on from her current colony and plots to stay behind alone. Then she meets some aliens.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES. Author's forte is not character development. She describes fairly accurately what it feels like to be old, but Ofelia's ideas and motivations don't quite gel. As a reader, I never lost the sense that Ofelia was a character in a story that the author was manipulating. There were many pages devoted to Ofelia's desire to run around naked. She feels both freedom and shame. I'm alert to the symbolism here--Ofelia returning to some natural state, Ofelia not being restricted by clothes her son and the Company dictated, Ofelia reinventing herself with bright scraps of cloth from the remaining stores on the planet, blah blah--but it's not very skillfully done, and it takes up WAY too much time, such that I wondered if the author was a nudist. I'm all for skinny dipping and everything, but in a tropical climate like Ofelia's clothes and shoes make sense. She talks about sunburn, alien bugs that sting. And barefoot farming and manure spreading, yikes! Worms and parasites, and exposure to cuts that could easily become infected. Thinking about my gramma, who farmed in a loose "house dress," brimmed hat, and wellies. She had an old pair of overalls, leather gloves, and heavy boots for cleaning and repairing the hen house and chicken run. You can "free" a character, I think, while being aware of the realities of farming and climate.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? MOSTLY. I liked the whole Robinson Crusoe set-up, and Ofelia is pretty crafty. I didn't care much for the grandmotherly role she was given by the aliens. While this role is exalted in their culture, that she finds her ultimate fulfillment in this role strikes me as a little odd in a book that seems to sincerely want to address ageism.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. Ofelia is aging, and physical work takes a physical toll. She knows that death may come from a fall, illness, or incapacitation, but she is unsentimental about it. It is of a package with the self-directed life she has chosen.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. The central plot is Ofelia's encounter with the planet's intelligent life forms, the People, though it takes over 50 percent of the book for this to happen. Pacing is a problem in this novel. Could have made an elegant little novella, but there was a lot of preaching about ageism, classism, feminism, and species-ism along the way.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. Ofelia is viewed by returning earthlings as crazy, and she is dismissed as old and out of it. She avoids mirrors because her outer self does not mesh with her ideas about who she is. There is a nice sense that Ofelia, no longer encumbered by the duties and irritations of family life, blossoms. That she can only do this when she is totally alone is intended as a comment on the stifling nature of small towns and families. I can relate.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. I was a bit put off by the author's heavy-handed moral of the story, "Don't underestimate old people."

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO. It might have, but the author handled this nicely. Ofelia's growing frailty is a problem, but it does not trump her ability to be self-directed.

Heart-warmer? YES, but in an unsentimental way.

In the canon? YES, though not a great book. The writer is pretty repetitive in spots (how many therapeutic gardening sessions are really necessary), which messes up the pacing. The whole "folly of humans thinking they're superior" has kind of been done to death in sci fi.

60nohrt4me2
Feb. 25, 2018, 1:00pm

Have been reading lit crit specifically for info about "old lit." Not much out there. Several children's lit critics have addressed ageism, primarily with an eye to not scaring the hell out of the kids about getting old. This kind of "bright-siding" of old age strikes me as pernicious as ageism. Holding up the notion that "60 is the new 40," is to push unrealistic notions of health, strength, and beauty on the elderly. Not that the elderly can't be healthy, strong, and beautiful, but once you're over 50, these attributes are often a combination of luck, wealth, and genetics. They are not in the control of individuals to a large extent.

61nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Apr. 4, 2018, 4:42pm

FINISHED: All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West, 1931

Plot: Lady Slane is 88, newly widowed, and she is not going to do what her six children want. She gives them the family wealth and moves to a house in Hampstead rented by an eccentric landowner.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES. Lady Slane is 88. Her awful children are all over 60. So are her friends in retirement, Mr. Bucktrout, Mr. Gosheron, and Mr. FitzGeorge.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? YES. Lady Slane's children see her retirement and lack of interest in money and things as a sign of slight mental deficiency. They've always thought of her as slightly balmy. But we see clearly that Lady Slane is quite sane. Her retirement is a final acknowledgment of the aridity of her life, an act of defiance she never felt able to make while her husband was alive. She wants live out her final time on her own terms.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. But I do like the way that impending death (even though Lady Slane is not ill) focuses her thoughts.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. Despite the assumption that she is at the end of her life, Lady Slane continues to read, enjoy her walks on the heath, and carry on satisfying friendships with people of her own choosing. In some ways, Lady Slane is more "alive" at the end of her life than she ever has been since youth.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. This is a very strong part of the novel. Whether Lady Slane will be allowed to live out her life as she wishes on the death of her husband is a major conflict in Part 1 of the novel. Once she settles in to her retirement from the world, a brief Part 2 puts us in Lady Slane's head as she reviews her life, her choices, and the pressures placed on her as a young woman who wanted to be an artist, but felt obliged to make an "advantageous" marriage. She is very frank and honest about her dislike of most of her children and her mixed feelings about her husband. I sensed that the one gift she has left to give herself is self-honesty, and this was very nicely done: "If one is not to please onseself in old age, when is one to please onesself?" Part 3 follows Lady Slane to the end of her life.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. Sackville-West is tuned into the desire older people feel to get rid of "stuff." We spend the first two trimesters of life busily acquiring things, competing, screwing our brains out, and (often) producing and raising children whom we think are God's gift to the human race. And then it's over, and we just want a little rest. The art of repose is one of the riffs in this book that I liked best. While all my friends are still flogging themselves into some kind of shape so they can travel, bring on the bed jackets and breakfast trays, I say!

Another of my favorite aspects of this book is the way Sackville-West portrays the way that memories cross and overlap in older people: "Her foreign memories and her English present played at chasse-croise often now in her mind, mingling and superimposing, making her wonder sometimes whether her memory were not becoming a little confused, so immediate and simultaneous did both impressions appear." I remember watching a lunar eclipse in the back yard a few years ago with my husband and son, and, at the same time, my memory of watching a lunar eclipse with my grandmother as a child was so vivid that I seemed to be doing both at once. I think this is a gift of age that often goes undiscussed and unappreciated. It makes life much richer when you are living it in two or three "worlds" at a time!

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO. We are meant to feel pity for the young Lady Slane and her limited choices in life. But old Lady Slane is a force to be reckoned with in her quiet way.

Heart-warmer? YES, BUT. I'm not sure the novel didn't verge on being just a bit twee in Part 3, with its romantic interlude and some heavy-handed symbolism with a great-granddaughter at the end. As social commentary, I'm inclined to think even this troublesome ending is valuable. Lady Slane and her great-granddaughter make a bridge between 19th century conventions and 20th century freedoms for women. By the early 1930s, women had achieved the vote, and were turning their attention toward self-sufficiency and -direction. I also think that Lady Slane's mixed feelings about her own life's choices and strictures had special poignancy for Sackville-West, who was a lesbian, married to a man and mother of two sons (see Portrait of a Marriage). Her marriage and life seem not to have been unhappy, but it was full of compromises that she felt ambivalent about at age 39 when she wrote this novel.

In the canon? YES.

62Tess_W
Feb. 25, 2018, 1:26pm

That's a great parameter for a book--protagonist over 50. I think I can relate! I'm sure I'll pick up some bb's here!

63nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Feb. 25, 2018, 2:15pm

>62 Tess_W: I keep a running list of the books completed in the first message up top (just under the criteria list). It indicates the message number where you'll find the book's final critique. Thanks for stopping by. Hoping to parley this year's reading into a paper at the next state college English conference.

Oh, hey! You play euchre! May the Left Bower be always in your hand!

64jjmcgaffey
Feb. 25, 2018, 6:07pm

BTW - for that list with links I'd suggest you link to the final post (using the >number) rather than just putting the number - it's a lot easier to jump around that way.

All Passion Spent is a BB for me, I think - sounds really interesting.

Another suggestion - Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. I'm not certain of the protagonist's age, but he's frequently described as elderly - and he does have physical limitations. Despite which he travels half-way around the world to where his brother's yacht sank, entirely by the kindness of strangers and not-quite-strangers. I've read and enjoyed it a couple times already, and it's niggling at me for another reread now.

65nohrt4me2
Feb. 25, 2018, 8:59pm

>64 jjmcgaffey: Good suggestion. I replaced the "see" notes with links.

Didn't Nevil Shute write On the Beach? I remember doing a book report in that in 8th grade. There was also a movie. It was almost as much fun to watch as "Failsafe." People forget how terrifying the Bomb was.

66jjmcgaffey
Bearbeitet: Feb. 25, 2018, 9:48pm

Yes. And Round the Bend, about the Second Coming...he's an airplane mechanic, if I recall correctly (it's been a long time since I read that). And a bunch more. I have more Shute books than I've read - read On the Beach just recently, last year or the year before. I found it rather less depressing than I expected...but then my benchmark for that subject is When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, which is so utterly depressing that almost anything else would be better.

Anyway - he writes good stuff, with odd viewpoints.

Huh, that's weird - the links aren't links, I don't know why. I'm pretty sure it can link forward, so that's not the problem...?

67nohrt4me2
Feb. 26, 2018, 9:05am

>66 jjmcgaffey: Fixed I think. I forget that on the tablet, you have to post and then edit for the links to show.

If I want to watch movies about nuclear annihilation, I stick with "Dr. Strangelove." I wonder if that even translates for anyone under 50 anymore.

68ELiz_M
Feb. 27, 2018, 7:14am

>66 jjmcgaffey:, >67 nohrt4me2:

I think you cannot link to a post after the one in which you creating links. Only links to posts above seem to work.

69nohrt4me2
Feb. 27, 2018, 8:54am

>66 jjmcgaffey: , >68 ELiz_M: It worked last night on my tablet, but now it's back to the symbol and number, no link. So thanks for the suggestions, but I will revert to what works for me. If my set up discourages visitors, so sad.

70jjmcgaffey
Feb. 27, 2018, 2:30pm

Huh. I've seen forward links...but Tim et al may have fixed it, or something. Ah well.

71dukedom_enough
Feb. 27, 2018, 3:39pm

>66 jjmcgaffey: >67 nohrt4me2: I think the under-50's are learning to understand nuclear fear, with the irresponsible moves on nuclear policy, and the ready threats, by Trump.

72avaland
Bearbeitet: Feb. 27, 2018, 4:53pm

>60 nohrt4me2: I agree with most of that post!

>65 nohrt4me2: Nevil Shute also wrote A Town Called Alice

73nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Feb. 27, 2018, 5:03pm

>71 dukedom_enough: My students used to enjoy hearing about duck-and-cover drills and the uncomfortable questions we asked our teachers despite assurances that we would all be safe in the designated civil defense shelters. The day one of the second grade kids burst into tears when he was told his little dog would not be let in seemed to coincide with the end of the drills.

>72 avaland: Yes! I was surprised at how much Shute wrote and how varied his themes. I look forward to Trustee from the Toolroom.

74Tess_W
Feb. 27, 2018, 6:36pm

>73 nohrt4me2: when I teach the Cold War to 9th graders I use a sound clip from an actual practice drill from the 50's and have them get under their desks. Afterwards, when I tell them what it was they are incredulous---asking what putting your head under a desk had to do with a nuke.

75nohrt4me2
Feb. 27, 2018, 8:58pm

>74 Tess_W: Good on you for bringing history alive! Yes, my students have a similar response, asking, "Did people really think this would save them?" No, of course not, but it would keep them from running around screaming while they were being vaporized.

I used the duck-and-cover drills in our Mass Communications course followed up by a couple episodes from the Twilight Zone that dealt with nuclear fears. Students really benefit from that type of immersive exposure at any age!

76bragan
Mrz. 1, 2018, 6:15pm

>67 nohrt4me2: I'm forty-six, and remember the terror of living during the cold war and expecting to be nuked at any time entirely too well, so I think maybe the cut-off age there is more like 40 than 50.

I also re-read On the Beach recently myself, and boy did that bring it all back to me, too.

77avaland
Mrz. 1, 2018, 9:15pm

>74 Tess_W: Do 9th graders actually fit under desks...:-)

78Tess_W
Mrz. 3, 2018, 12:18pm

>77 avaland: LOL well, we have 2 person tables, so yes!

79nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Apr. 4, 2018, 4:39pm

Message merged with Message 102

80janeajones
Mrz. 12, 2018, 12:26pm

I enjoyed The Dark Flood Rises, but I did find the lack of direct dialogue a bit peculiar.

81nohrt4me2
Mrz. 12, 2018, 3:14pm

>80 janeajones: Hadn't noticed that as a problem. I do find myself having to re-read Drabble's sentences sometimes. Or maybe that's just because of Daylight Saving Time ...

82thorold
Mrz. 12, 2018, 5:02pm

>80 janeajones: I liked the comment you made in your review about getting older in parallel with Drabble’s characters - I felt something similar to that when I read Dark flood rises as well. There aren’t many writers I can think of that I’ve been reading since my teens who are still going strong.

I wasn’t so struck by the lack of dialogue, either, but I see what you mean on looking back at it. There are bits of direct speech, but they don’t become conversations. I wonder if that’s a way of suggesting that advancing age detaches you to some extent from what’s going on around you?

83nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mrz. 12, 2018, 9:02pm

>82 thorold: "I wonder if that’s a way of suggesting that advancing age detaches you to some extent from what’s going on around you?"

As someone closing in on advanced age (mid-60s), I was going to object to that idea. But I think I probably appear detached at times. Without wanting to generalize too much, I think that a brain with full memory circuits works a lot differently from a brain in puberty or at middle age. Examples:

I sometimes zone out on things because I've been there, done that, no longer interested. Obstetrical experiences, for example. Wardrobe accessories.

I don't freak out at every travesty that comes out of Washington, D.C. (Pick your travesty; there are plenty to right, left, and center.) I lived through a lot of political idiocy. It really no longer surprises me that people are still as stupid as they used to be.

It takes more to stay "in the moment" because your memory circuits are playing free association along your time-space continuum. Whatever is happening now reminds you of about five other similar things that happened in the past and, for whatever reason, memories seem to be a lot more vivid in old age. You have to stay alert to this because if you start articulating your memories to other people, you end up monologuing and being a bore.

Things that will prevent memory free association (for me, not sure about others): Explaining how something works, or playing with a baby or other small animal. For whatever reason, I have taken a shine to reading about bridge construction, plumbing, or knitting techniques.

None of this should be taken to mean that there is something "wrong" with old age thought processes, that your mental acuity is sub-par, or that you are confused just because you are old.

84avaland
Mrz. 13, 2018, 4:57am

>83 nohrt4me2: Ok, some of that made me laugh.

85lilisin
Mrz. 14, 2018, 2:49am

I finished the last 60 pages of the book I was reading and I'm now ready to report to you and as I first believed, this book has so many of the themes you are looking for.

Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years

To become senile is terrifying.

This is one of the most remarkable, and strangely disturbing, books I've read in a long time.

Just to have a book not only so deftly describe what it is to be female in Japanese society, but perfectly capture the problems dealing with aging in Japan, and the expectations of women in the household and in society all while instilling in you this most disturbing fear of aging was just fascinating. I was entranced and disturbed, enraged and supportive, hopeful and yet at the same time, desperate to flee Japan.

Your main protagonist, the wife Akiko, and her husband are about 45 years of age (an estimate based on the husband mentioning it's been 20 years since he fought in the war which means he was probably 20 or so then), and are suddenly having to take care of Akiko's increasingly senile father-in-law who is becoming increasingly childlike in his mannerisms, no longer able to sleep at night, no longer able to retain his bodily functions, only aware of his desire to eat, Akiko struggles playing the role of wife, mother, and dutiful daughter-in-law. Akiko's husband becomes petrified that he will become senile like his father and Akiko herself starts to question whether it is worth getting old. Is it not best to just die while you still have your senses. What is the point of getting old if this is what you are to become?

It's a book about a woman having to deal with all of society's expectations and attitudes towards her as she fulfills her role of wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and now, caretaker. The difficulties of learning how to deal with a senile elderly family member while coming face to face with the realities of growing old, this book was extraordinary.

I highly think you'll like this one.

86nohrt4me2
Mrz. 14, 2018, 10:48am

>85 lilisin: Akiko is too young at 45 to qualify, and I think I probably could not get through it, though it sounds like a story that needs to be told.

I have read that the young-old women of Japan (in their 60s and 70s) are dealing with their even older parents who are frail in mind and body.

Many of us in the West, mostly women and a few single men, are struggling with the same thing. I am 64. My mother is 85. I have health problems, and after living with her for six weeks after her open heart surgery four years ago, I realized that I cannot take care of her. She has had mental health problems all her life, and is now tearful, stubborn.

It is an utter nightmare.

87lilisin
Mrz. 14, 2018, 9:26pm

>86 nohrt4me2:

Oh no! I was so excited to post that one for you. Well, I'll keep my eyes open for any other books that might fit the bill.

But yes, the story about dealing with elderly parents is very difficult, frightening yet sympathetic. I think the hardest is seeing our beloved parents become so frail when in our mind they are the strongest people ever. When my parents came to visit me in Japan I tired them out from too much walking, forgetting that now doing as many kilometers as I put them through, is difficult. Even to a normal person it would be difficult but to them, even more so. I never had even considered it as a problem to them. Fortunately in my family we have very lively family members and no history of senility. Just standard wear and tear issues.

88nohrt4me2
Mrz. 14, 2018, 10:46pm

>87 lilisin: It sounds like a good book, and I thank you for thinking of me. I hope to get it on my list for next year.

Maybe that theme will be "taking care of aged parents"!

89dukedom_enough
Mrz. 15, 2018, 11:26am

>86 nohrt4me2: Sorry to hear that about your mother; so terribly difficult.

90nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mrz. 16, 2018, 6:39pm

>89 dukedom_enough: Our stories are legion. No good answers. Everyone agrees medical intervention reaches a point at which it's keeping people alive simply to suffer longer, but how do you suggest to a patient that it's "time to go"? Doctors don't think that way.

As Fran from "The Dark Flood Rises" notes:

"Longevity has fucked up our pensions, our work-life balance, our health services, our housing, our happiness. It has fucked up old age itself."

91baswood
Mrz. 15, 2018, 5:57pm

>83 nohrt4me2: Interesting thoughts on the ageing process. As someone who is of similar age to you I share your views. What I would add is that I feel that I don't think as quickly as I used to, that is not to say however that I don't get there in the end. I put it down to the fact that my brain is probably carrying too much information these days.

92nohrt4me2
Mrz. 15, 2018, 8:30pm

>91 baswood: Yes! Our experience, knowledge, and wisdom are so vast that it takes a few more seconds to pull it all out. :-)

Google is a godsend. I was trying to remember the name of a painting/artist on another thread and typed in a description, and up it popped!

I do think that what improves in old age is our ability to make connections, comparisons, and spot patterns.

I have a half-baked idea that as young people we want to find our uniqueness, differentiate ourselves, and get attention. In old age, we are more interested in our commonalities with others. Maybe it's a desire to stay connected and feel part of a whole, being in the flow.

93chlorine
Mrz. 16, 2018, 2:02pm

>83 nohrt4me2: That was a very interesting insight into your thought process. Thank you for sharing this.

I'm sorry to hear about yours and your mother's issues.

94thorold
Mrz. 16, 2018, 6:39pm

Slightly off-topic, but I've just been reading Aimez-vous Brahms..., written when Françoise Sagan was 23. The central character is supposed to be 39, but Sagan keeps telling us about how she is dreadfully old and facing loneliness, debility, and the end of her sex-life, every bit as though she were only a few weeks away from picking up her Zimmer frame and checking into the care-home. I suppose 39 must seem as far away from 23 as 90 does from 50.

95nohrt4me2
Mrz. 16, 2018, 6:51pm

>93 chlorine: Thanks. It's just part of life in the 21st Century. I don't think I have a friend my age who is not now or has not in the past had to deal with an even more elderly parent. It's always difficult. I guess there are support groups, but who's got time for that?

96chlorine
Mrz. 17, 2018, 5:37pm

>95 nohrt4me2: My parents are still in good shape, luckily, but are showing some signs of growing old. They still are able to take care of themselves but the time when they can't does not seem so distant.

97nohrt4me2
Mrz. 17, 2018, 8:51pm

>96 chlorine: Hang in there, be alert, and cut yourself as much slack as time goes by as you can. My brother has been my support system because he knows how my mother is. He lives a thousand miles away, so he can provide perspective and/or comic relief as needed. He is always reminding me to "quit packing your bags for the guilt trip."

98chlorine
Mrz. 18, 2018, 7:42am

>97 nohrt4me2: Thanks for the advice, and your brother sounds like good support!

99quondame
Mrz. 20, 2018, 1:56am

Well, the book I just finished does qualify though the way it does for 2) & 4) might not fly with every one.

It is Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and the protagonist is 83 and somewhat of a cyborg who has given herself some health issues by over regulating her hormone levels. Another character who is sort of background is her contemporary, while the third could be called a twenty-something. There are inter-generational issues, but ones deriving from the post-apocalyptic 23rd century starting point.

100nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mrz. 20, 2018, 9:26am

>99 quondame: Interesting. There is a Kurt Vonnegut play or short story about an elderly woman who has been cyborg'd and is nothing more than a head on a tripod. This is all seen as a big advancement in medical science. I'm going to put both on my list. Thanks!

101quondame
Mrz. 20, 2018, 1:10pm

Well, the book I just finished does qualify though the way it does for 2) & 4) might not fly with every one.

It is Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and the protagonist is 83 and somewhat of a cyborg who has given herself some health issues by over regulating her hormone levels. Another character who is sort of background is her contemporary, while the third could be called a twenty-something. There are inter-generational issues, but ones deriving from the post-apocalyptic 23rd century starting point.

102nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Apr. 4, 2018, 5:01pm

FINISHED: The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble, 2017

Plot: Fran, friends, and family, interact through their brushes with illness and death.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES, though this book really has no single protagonist. Basically two generations here: The 50-somethings and their relatives in their 70's/80's.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? YES. Drabble is very good at character sketching and drawing a whole raft of characters who are close to or far from death, but have been touched by it. In a device that harks back to Trollope, this novel has an omnipotent narrator who tells us what will or will not be revealed about each character based on his or her desire for privacy or some other factor. Who is this narrator? I think it's Death.

The fact that certain facts are withheld from characters and from the reader (by the mysterious narrator) add to the sense that our perceptions are limited. The insularity of our corporeal forms prevents us from really knowing what is going on in someone else's head (and sometimes we don't know what's going on in our own). We can guess. We can think we know. We sometimes make others into what we want them to be.

The part of me that is not a religious believer (that would be about 50 percent) thinks that that's how religions are made up.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. The two terminally ill patients make an interesting comparison. Fran's ex-husband remains selfish and faithless. Her long-lost childhood friend, who has cancer, is generous and cheerful. The pain and discomfort aren't glossed over, but there is very little delineation of the psychological state these characters might be in.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? NO. This is a book that explores death, so I guess that's understandable. But there is no plot per se, and this is a great weakness of the book. The reader simply hops from one person to another, eavesdropping on their thoughts. There is a looming tidal wave and intimations of climate change in the background, but this goes nowhere. I guess the point is that our individual "dark floods" are rising along with the planet's.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? NOT TO ANY SIGNIFICANT EXTENT.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. Each of the characters responds to age, illness, and death in their own ways. Also like Fran's appreciation of small things--a perfect soft boiled egg, a trip to get a newspaper--and the way the present triggers memory, so you can live in several times at once.

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO, but Claude's faithlessness is seen as rather harmless because he really can't act on his sexual impulses. Many of the characters seem to have grown too old for sex. Certainly this can happen with age. Certainly people can lose interest in sex as they age. But the general sexlessness of the book gives it a kind of arid quality.

Heart-warmer? NO.

In the canon? NO; in the final analysis, this is a dozen characters in search of of a plot. It's like reading a rough draft. Although I enjoyed the ride to about the halfway point, I skimmed the end. Disappointing in the final analysis.

103avaland
Mrz. 27, 2018, 5:20pm

The forthcoming Jim Crace novel features a older man, an Italian musician and singer. As best I can tell, it's not the usually looking-back-over-your-life thing. If I decide not to read it, or I do and finish it, I'll send it to you. It comes out mid-June.

104nohrt4me2
Mrz. 27, 2018, 8:47pm

105nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 3, 2018, 3:38pm

My mother died at the beginning of April. Two good books for that journey that were off this year's theme: West and Golden Hill. "West" is a novella, an allegory, almost a fairy tale, about the inchoate seeking we sometimes feel in the face of loss--at least that's how I read it. "Golden Hill" is a kind of mystery set in mid-17th Century New York City, and is deeply engaging.

106nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 3, 2018, 3:53pm

Getting back to theme with Deaf Sentence, which sounds funny, and The Buried Giant, which promises some sort of quasi Arthurian legend. Have been trying to read The Book of Joan, but it is too awful for right now.

107lisapeet
Bearbeitet: Mai 4, 2018, 5:50am

Oh yay, this is a thread for me. I just read through the whole thing—what good suggestions.

I'll add something I'm reading, although I'm fairly early in and that's always a bit dangerous in terms of recommending books. But it's really neat so far: Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Painter. The author is a tenured history professor at Princeton who gets a jones to study art and goes back to school at 65 to study painting seriously—not in a dilettantish way, either, or at least that's what she says at the book's beginning. She means business.

What I like about it so far, other than her very unpretentious voice, is that she's interesting, at least 40 pages in. She's a black woman, and you get the idea that she's spent a fair amount of time already exploring the politics and intersectionality of that. But for this book she overlays age on top of that, and it's a good setup for some musings. Also she lives in Newark, NJ, a great old noble mess of a city constantly in transition, and she's already given it some ink (I'm originally a Jersey girl, so it strikes a note). I also relate because I went back to grad school at 48 and ran into some ageism myself. Never mind looking for work afterward at age 50, a whole other trip (that ended happily, though now I'm also grappling with being almost 55 and dealing with an amazing but high-energy job when a glance at my latest high school alumni magazine shows a lot of my peers thinking about retirement).

I had to interrupt my reading of this for five chunky nonfiction books that I have to at least skim by the end of May for a panel I'm moderating, but I'm hoping I can dip in and out so I don't lose the thread. Anyway it's not out until mid-June, so I should have finished it by then and can give it my stamp of approval or not.

>105 nohrt4me2: My sympathies on your mother's death. I've got both of those books and am looking forward to them.

108nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 7, 2018, 8:44am

>107 lisapeet: Deaf Sentence is good so far, though making the protagonist a linguist is a teensy bit tiresome. I also have some mild high-frequency deafness, and I just cannot wait for it to get worse so I can be a figure of fun like the poor sod in the story.

Nevertheless, author makes a strong point at the outset that we don't make fun of the blind, but we do of the deaf. My sense is that making fun of the elderly disabled is always allowable because a) they have no future to be blighted with their affliction and b) we laugh because we fear our own future loss of faculties.

UPDATE: Man, can I relate to this book. Protagonist Desmond, the retired linguistics prof, riffs on everything from academia to marital stress, to elder care. He has a good sense of the ridiculous, and he manages to convey the deep frustrations of retirement and hearing loss without bathos. Unless the end of this book goes south, it belongs in the canon for sure.

109avaland
Mai 4, 2018, 5:41am

>105 nohrt4me2: So sorry to hear of the death of your mom. I had noticed your absence. I'm glad books could bring some comfort or distraction (whatever was needed).

110nohrt4me2
Mai 4, 2018, 8:12am

>109 avaland: The service was delayed for almost three weeks, but hardly time to process anything because I had to get her house ready for out of state relatives. But I spent one warm Sunday on her deck admiring the daffodils, petting her cat, and reading Golden Hill. Once the relatives started arriving, I was able to go back to that day in my head instead of looking for something to bean the drama queens with. Your sharing that book with me may have saved lives! :-0

Kitty is with me now and acclimating better than expected. The wildlife in Mom's old neighborhood is much safer. In another few days, I will start introducing her to the other cats one at a time.

Now there is the estate to settle.

Retirement has been full of excitements so far, but not the ones I want. New appreciation for "one day at a time" mode of living.

111janeajones
Mai 4, 2018, 11:51am

105> So sorry about the loss of your mother. And yes, "one day at a time," is a good mantra for retirement living.

112avaland
Mai 10, 2018, 11:03am

>111 janeajones: Or my latest: I stated recently to the hubby that we should take to heart the motto, "there is no time like the present" because at our age, we should no longer be putting things off until sometime in "the future."

113janeajones
Mai 10, 2018, 10:41pm

112> So true.

114nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 14, 2018, 10:26am

>112 avaland: >113 janeajones: I think getting one's affairs in order is another maxim to take seriously. I keep finding notes from my mother taped to the inside doors of cupboards or in desk drawers. "I have three life insurance policies. The info is in the safe deposit box at the bank." No info there but more notes on some old photos in the top of a closet that need to go to a cousin. It's like a labyrinthine treasure hunt. Without any treasure.

Every square inch of storage and counter space is full, and due to the nature of her random notes, I don't dare throw it away for fear of there being something important in it.

My husband is a pack rat, but the silver lining is that he's now talking about bringing in a dumpster to get rid of some stuff in the garage.

What makes some very elderly people cling to this stuff? It is an albatross and a worry.

115janeajones
Mai 11, 2018, 10:12pm

114> I have to give my mother kudos. Not only did she have medical directives which she shared with all her children, but she had explicit directions with the funeral home about her cremation and gravesite ceremony and burial (in a plot that had been bought decades before). It made it so much easier for the rest of us. Definitely food for thought.

116jjmcgaffey
Mai 14, 2018, 2:01am

I've got an elderly client who's going the opposite route - and I really hope it's not going to be a problem, for her or her heirs. She proudly told me she'd just finished shredding all of her late husband's financial files, because they were from "2015, or 16" - years ago! I hope there weren't any documents in there she should have kept. I tried to suggest she have an accountant, or one of her children, look at things before she dumps them - but I don't really have any influence with her (except with her computer).

117nohrt4me2
Mai 14, 2018, 10:26am

>116 jjmcgaffey: I dunno. If the important papers are hidden in stacks of detritis, you might as well have shredded it all.

I am finding that needed documents can usually be reconstructed from bank records, the tax accountant, DMV, and similar.

I finally ended up going to the bank with the latest statement, showing my executor creds, and saying tell me if I'm missing anything.

People seem used to this, and it takes less time than wading through cartons of paper.

118jjmcgaffey
Mai 15, 2018, 12:35am

>117 nohrt4me2: Oh yeah, it's better than hoarding - but these were files, in a file cabinet, from when he was paying attention to investing (he went downhill fast). And going to the bank works...if you know what bank/investment company/etc they were using. I'm likely going to be working on that myself, when my parents die (not soon, I hope!). They have a trust, but I know things have been shifted outside the trust since they set it up and even since they reorganized it a few years ago. If things settle down, I'm going to suggest they do another reorganization, but with Dad's illness right now...it would be good but it's not happening.

119nohrt4me2
Mai 15, 2018, 9:01am

Once the get sick, they don't want to be pestered about financial matters. Within two weeks of getting a cancer diagnosis, I had my "death folder" completed. Instructions, lists, obit, burial, will, POA, etc.

Like I said, it's called "getting your affairs in order." Prognosis is good for the next five or ten years, and I update it every August.

Husband, son, brother, and close friend all get copies.

120nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 18, 2018, 10:33am

FINISHED: Deaf Sentence, 2008

Plot: A linguistics professor copes with high frequency hearing loss, an elderly father, retirement, and a disturbing graduate student. The plot is a bit formless, but is bracketed by the entrance and exit of the student.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES, 60s, recently retired. Protagonist Desmond does a good job outlining the helplessness he feels at being cut adrift from the predictable schedule of the academic year. He doesn't miss the job so much as the routine and sense of being useful. Ironically, he does not feel useful in trying to help his elderly father or his grown children. He helps his wife with holiday decorations out of a sense of duty. A good deal of his life outside of work is rather joyless. Some of this is because of his deafness.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? SORT OF. I think it is a strength of the book that Desmond is presented to us as an aging man, but is also a man to whom age is happening. That is, Desmond's likes and dislikes, preferences, attitudes are ageless. Inside, he could be any age. But age is creating problems through hearing loss and small losses of stamina, changes in the way his memory operates. He is still sharp and interesting, and the aging angle makes him more interesting.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. This book has the most excruciating and sometimes funny descriptions of what it is like to live with deafness, and this makes us empathize with rather than pity Desmond. Here Desmond has been trying to hear an attractive woman at an art show that, I think, gives the flavor and tone of the book:

"It is far too late to confess, Look, sorry, I haven't heard a word you've said to me for the last ten minutes (a quarter of an hour it might be by now). I'm deaf, you see, can't hear a thing in this din. She would reasonably wonder why he hadn't said so before, why he let her go on talking, nodding, and murmuring as if he understood her. She would be annoyed, embarrassed, offended, and he doesn't wish to appear rude. She might be one of his wife's customers, for one thing, and for another she seems rather nice, a young woman maybe in her late twenties with bright blue eyes, a pale smooth complexion, shoulder-length flaxen hair centre-parted and straight-cut, and a naturally shapely figure--he can tell from the shadowy separation of her breasts just visible at the unbuttoned opening of her blouse that they are not artificially enhanced by silicone or thrust forward and upward by underwiring, but have the trembling plasticity of real unfettered flesh, with a faint surface transparency of the skin like good porcelain--and he doesn't wish to make a bad impression on a comely young woman who has taken the trouble to talk to an old fart like himself even if it is a random encounter unlikely ever to be repeated."

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. There is a lot of death in this book, but the book is about Desmond's quest to find meaning in life. He is one of the most honest narrators. You feel you're having coffee with a really self-aware friend who has a healthy dose of humor. I became quite attached to this character and commiserated with his struggles.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. Desmond sometimes feels like a drone. He feels he's just muddling along. We see him at a time when he has not yet "learned to be retired." He is quite lonely, and his deafness makes him more isolated.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. Hundreds!

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? SORT OF. Desmond's father is pitiable, but he is also a frustrating and stubborn burden. We see him through the lens of guilt, frustration, and sadness that Desmond feels toward him.

Heart-warmer? HMMMM. Heart-warming in spots.

In the canon? YES!

121bohemima
Mai 15, 2018, 11:21am

I’d like to recommend The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. It fits your parameters and although it’s not an easy read, it can be interpreted in many different ways. It’s crazy and dark, and yet I forgot nd parts of it amazingly amusing.

I’d also second looking into May Sarton’s work. She’s a wonderful writer on many levels and within many genera.

122LadyoftheLodge
Mai 15, 2018, 4:05pm

Re the discussion on getting affairs in order and doing things while you still can. My departed spouse and I were always planning to do things "later," but he died before we ever got to travel or do the stuff we planned to do. When I remarried two years ago, my husband and I decided to travel and do what we want to do now! Unfortunately, his adult kids don't like the idea that he is not available to do their bidding, and think it is some kind of sin to enjoy life after retirement.

My advice is DO IT NOW!

Good idea to plan ahead and tell your family where your important papers are filed, and make sure you have an up to date will. When I was widowed, the financial plans and home maintenance scared me the most. I worked through my questions with the help of our home handyman, financial and investment planner, the bank, and our attorney. It helped to have our accounts in both our names.

123nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 15, 2018, 5:31pm

>121 bohemima: I enjoyed Sarton's Miss Pickthorn and Mr. Hare, about friendship between two older people. Forgot about that one. Have never tried to read Iris Murdoch for fear I would find her as abstruse as Virginia Woolf, and then I would feel shallow and stupid, and at my age, I don't need that. But I'm retired now, and the Dean would never know if I'm too stupid to understand Murdoch, so maybe will try.

124nohrt4me2
Mai 15, 2018, 5:31pm

>122 LadyoftheLodge: I found some of my grandmother's letters while sorting through my mother's papers. She was always making acerbic comments ( "I guess nobody cares if you get old as long as you're enthusiastic, but who can keep that up?").

In one letter, she tells my parents they've helped my brother and his wife enough and it was time for them to have some fun on their own. They actually did it, taking a week every summer to visit a favorite spot on the lake.

Glad you are following that advice, too!

125nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 30, 2018, 12:46pm

FINISHED: The Buried Giant, 2015

Plot: Axl and Beatrice, an aged couple set out to find their son on the eve of the Saxon invasion of England, and end up on a quest to kill a magical dragon. Yes it's an allegory for this period of British history that has been forgotten in the fog. It also explores the importance of memory, to individuals and to history. Ishiguro's plot reminds me a lot of the TV series, "Deadwood." (Bear with me here.) Auteur David Milch said he read a lot of history about Deadwood and that time period, and then "forgot" it, and wrote the series synthesizing his impressions and conclusions about what happened there. That seems an apt description of Ishiguro's approach to this book. There are elements of Arthurian and Anglo-Saxon legends that are blended in new ways: There is a Dolorous Wound, a Fisher King landscape, a mysterious island reminiscent of Avalon, Grendel, a Beowulf character, and oblique references to Arthur.

Is the protagonist over 50? IT SEEMS SO. Beatrice and Axl are very elderly. They also meet Sir Gawain, now the last living member of Arthur's men, elderly and connected with the dragon.

Does the protagonist defy stereotypes about aging? SOMEWHAT. Beatrice and Axl decide to look for their son and recover their memories, which are damped down in a mysterious fog. They are, of course, type characters for the waning culture of the Britons which is disappearing in the advent of the Saxon invasions. But I like the idea of two elderly people motivated enough to go on a quest.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. The search for their son takes a terrible toll on Beatrice and Axl, physically and psychologically, as memories begin to return.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. The book slowly uncovers who Beatrice and Axl really are or have been. The strong bond of love they feel in their old age, and with their memories clouded, is threatened by who they have been in the past and what they remember about it.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? NO. At heart, this is not a book about aging so much as it is about memory. While the nature of memory seems to be a common theme in Old Literature, this book deals with the nature of memory generally (not just among the old), and how well (or not) history preserves memory.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? NO.

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? NO.

Heart-warmer? NO

In the canon? NO. I don't think Ishiguro set out to write a novel about age here, though there are some themes that overlap with my criteria.

There is some exploration of the nature of memory and how memory affects perceptions of past and present. It's an ambitious idea. Beatrice wonders if the people have committed some kind of sin that has made God so ashamed that he has forgotten things. With good medieval logic, she argues that man cannot remember what God has forgotten, and so perhaps this is the cause of the memory problems in the land. The implicit point is that memory is essential to existence. You cannot understand who you are or what your purpose is without some kind of personal and collective memory of your people. God's forgetting (and taking away of) memories, is a grave punishment.

It's an ambitious novel of ideas, but I'm not sure that is is successful all the time. It's the kind of work you'd like to read with a copy of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legend handy. It would be really fun to annotate it with the source material, though! I'm apparently not the only one who thinks so; a Google search of "buried giant symbolism" unearths (excuse my pun) about half a million hits.

126Yells
Mai 17, 2018, 4:03pm

I know this thread is about books but I just started watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix so I thought I would chime in with a recommendation as it seems to fit here (sorry that it's not about books but I will keep an eye open for novels that fit as well). If you haven't watched it, you might want to give it a try. The main characters are 70 and newly divorced. Their husbands of 40+ years have fallen in love with each other and want to get married. Grace and Frankie (the ex-wives) have never been friends (they couldn't be more different) but they find common ground after the separation and the show explores their reluctant friendship. It also tackles some interesting topics like sex and dating at 70.

127dukedom_enough
Mai 18, 2018, 9:26am

>120 nohrt4me2: I've had Deaf Sentence on the shelf for a while, should actually read it.

128nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 18, 2018, 10:35am

>126 Yells: Thanks. That show has never appealed to me. The premise seems far fetched, and I am not a fan of white wine drinking rich liberals with marital problems. (I'm just a working class pinko. Give me Edith Bunker any day over Jane Fonda and her fake hooters. Or Dolores Claiborne. Or Olive Kitteridge.)

Ah, sex after 60. Doesn't seem that much different from sex at any other age except you have to be more careful not to throw your back out.

When I started taking oral chemo, we had to start using condoms again. I told my husband to cheer up, the drugstore lady probably thought he was having an affair with a 35 year old. (For those without a sense of humor, condoms can be ordered online.)

Probably TMI, but there's a tidbit about cancer and elder sex people don't talk about.

129nohrt4me2
Mai 18, 2018, 10:29am

>127 dukedom_enough: Everyone should! Reading about Desmond's sense of helplessness in the face of his (more) elderly father's stubbornness and dementia was therapeutic for me in the wake of my mom's death.

130Yells
Mai 18, 2018, 11:38am

>128 nohrt4me2: I thought the same thing but I watch it for Lily Tomlin. She adds a nice balance to the white wine drinking richies. She pays the hippie role well :)

131nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 18, 2018, 1:46pm

>128 nohrt4me2: I do like Lily Tomlin. OK, I'll have to check out a few episodes. :-)

132frannymc
Mai 20, 2018, 4:40am

So glad to discover you in cyberspace! Loving your comments and recommendations, but also, I am in need of your reading expertise. I can't remember the title or author, but within the last year a novel was reviewed that might fit your criteria here. It dealt with a woman whose work was to travel to and evaluate senior or assisted-living facilities. Now that we have family living in such a facility I would love to read it and possibly even recommend it to the new book group at the facility, depending on the suitability. For what it's worth, in my own book group we've just selected the Elizabeth Berg novel, The Story of Mr. Truluv, I think it's called. From what I've learned it has parallels to Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, as well as Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes, both of which have elderly characters who are having a huge impact on other characters, in not main characters themselves. Cross-pollenization of generations, what a concept! Goodness knows we need more of that, right? Thanks for being out there in cyberspace, fellow bibliophiles!

133nohrt4me2
Mai 20, 2018, 9:41am

>132 frannymc: Thanks for stopping by. There is a character like that in Margaret Drabble's The Dark Flood Rises. The scenes in nursing homes are not extensive.

Here's a list from Amazon about elderly characters set in nursing homes. Most of them seem like "light" reading, but might be interesting. https://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/fullview/R2UCEOERAZYFIX

Dealing with the nursing home scene is difficult. These places are not conducive to visits. They are cramped, there is no privacy, and there is always a lot of commotion. We need some radically different plans for these places.

134dallenbaugh
Mai 20, 2018, 1:09pm

>132 frannymc: The book you are looking for might be Margaret Drabble's The Dark Flood Rises.

135torontoc
Mai 20, 2018, 1:29pm

I am surprised that no one mentioned Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk-thank you, alphaorder for for the recommendation!
A 85 year takes a walk on New Year's Eve and remembers incidents from her life- excellent story

136nohrt4me2
Mai 20, 2018, 6:20pm

>135 torontoc: Many good books in this vein, I'm sure, but my focus is not on books in which an older person simply reminisces about his/her younger self. Looking for older people experiencing life going forward from 50.

137jen575
Bearbeitet: Mai 28, 2018, 6:49am

Diese Nachricht wurde vom Autor gelöscht.

138nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Mai 29, 2018, 1:21pm

Off-theme: Middlemarch chapter 64. In which Lydgate argues with his wife, Rosamund, about money. Rosamund is supposed to be a vapid, shallow, self serving, and manipulative. But reading this many years after my initial reading, I think she makes some good points, and Lydgate is kind of a dick.

Review of The Buried Giant coming as soon as it's cool enough to go back in the living room. Muggy today, thank you, Tropical Storm Alberto, who is messing with our Canadian air mass in Michigan.

139nohrt4me2
Jun. 20, 2018, 1:20pm

Reading Paul Auster, so hope to have two of his reviewed up there by the end of the month.

Have downloaded The President Is Missing, The Book of Eve, The Old Devils, and The Woman Next Door, and Insomnia.

Also weeding through recommended books in the touchstones and rejecting some that, while probably good, don't fit my criteria for old lit.

140jjmcgaffey
Jun. 21, 2018, 2:14am

I finally reread Trustee from the Toolroom - it's still excellent, but doesn't fit your criteria. The protagonist is...I think 46.

141nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jun. 21, 2018, 9:04am

>140 jjmcgaffey:, Yes, I read that one, too, and really enjoyed it. I am a sucker for a good boy's adventure story, and I recommended it to all my YA Lit students who love Hatchet. But, no, it doesn't make the cut for my project.

142avaland
Jun. 26, 2018, 7:41am

Off-topic: Jean, In keeping with our mutual interest in dystopias, I must inform you that Joyce Carol Oates has written a dystopia which is due out in October and is titled "The Hazards of Time Travel." The blurb:

“Time travel” — and its hazards—are made literal in this astonishing new novel in which a recklessly idealistic girl dares to test the perimeters of her tightly controlled (future) world and is punished by being sent back in time to a region of North America — “Wainscotia, Wisconsin”—that existed eighty years before. Cast adrift in time in this idyllic Midwestern town she is set upon a course of “rehabilitation”—but cannot resist falling in love with a fellow exile and questioning the constrains of the Wainscotia world with results that are both devastating and liberating.

Arresting and visionary, Hazards of Time Travel is both a novel of harrowing discovery and an exquisitely wrought love story that may be Joyce Carol Oates’s most unexpected novel so far.


As I am both dystopia fan and JCO fan, I will not be able to resist.

143nohrt4me2
Jun. 28, 2018, 8:38pm

>142 avaland: That sounds great! Thank you for the heads up.

I am reading The Old Devils while dealing with the minutiae of my mother's estate, staying at her place that now has no wifi, phone, or TV, and pondering her wallpaper. So I am reading and living in Old Adult Lit world.

I keep thinking that the notes my mother wrote and taped to the insides of cupboard doors, tucked into drawers, or put in with various financial statements, thus sending me off to look for assets that were moved or no longer exist, would make interesting fodder for someone (not me) to work up in a novel.

144lisapeet
Jun. 28, 2018, 9:37pm

OK, having finally finished Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over (after a break of about a month and a half, so I started over), I would say it definitely hits all your criteria. It's not literature but close enough, because her voice is quirky and different. Mostly it's the tale of her journey from eager artist to disillusioned graduate student dealing with a multitude of outsider statuses—female, black, over 60, out of sync with art world hip (marked, among other things, by a love of incorporating history and text into her work), with a firmly established non-art career already under her belt (Painter was a tenured, well-published professor of history at Princeton), and the caretaker of elderly parents—to a truly adventurous artist who believes in her own voice, her own hand, and her own old self, with some fun digressions on art history, the art world. art world politics, and more. If my description of it sounds sunshiney, the book is decidedly not. But it’s affirming, maybe especially for those of us who aspire to make art in the face of the rest of life, or just to care a bit less how others want to slot us.

145nohrt4me2
Jun. 29, 2018, 8:54am

>144 lisapeet: That sounds like a fascinating read. Frida Kahlo incorporated text and history (or at least cultural iconography). I wonder if she is mentioned in the book?

146avaland
Jun. 30, 2018, 8:05am

>143 nohrt4me2: My mother did the same....

147lisapeet
Jun. 30, 2018, 8:07am

>145 nohrt4me2: She didn't mention Kahlo, but many other artists. I have a pile of notes of people whose work I want to look up now (some new to me, and I actually have an ages-old undergrad art degree).

148LadyoftheLodge
Jul. 10, 2018, 7:52pm

Are you interested in books with humor? Not mocking or insulting older folks, but with them as main characters and sometimes spunky, humorous outlooks on life.

Also The Nun Study which is nonfiction, about aging with grace.

149nohrt4me2
Jul. 10, 2018, 9:26pm

>148 LadyoftheLodge: Love me a book about nuns! Would have become one, only they didn't take Unitarians. And there was that whole Trinity thing ...

Ended up Catholic though. A bad enough one to know I would have made a terrible nun.

I might have made a real good beguine, though. Keep thinking that retired single women need to bring back the beguinage, a kind of dorm for women interested in helping each other and the community at large. Have too many friends trying to shift for themselves with various disabilities and illnesses in their own apartments.

There are tons of old convents no one is using anymore ...

150lisapeet
Jul. 10, 2018, 9:39pm

>149 nohrt4me2: Does that have anything to do with the dance, the beguine? I never really thought about there being a connection, come to think of it...

151nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Jul. 11, 2018, 12:45am

>150 lisapeet: A beguine is a romantic slow dance in "Begin the Beguine." Hard to imagine any kind of connection between the two. The beguines weren't much for slow dancing, though some mystic beguines were supposed to have danced during worship. St. Christina the Astonishing is supposed to have levitated!

152nohrt4me2
Jul. 11, 2018, 9:14pm

FINISHED: The Woman Next Door, 2017

Plot: Hortensia and Marion, South African octogenarians, are next-door neighbors who have loathed each other for decades. Hortensia is black and Marion is white. A series of crises bring them together in an interesting dance in which they can't always decide if they want to "win" their feud or bond over their commonalities.

Is the protagonist over 50? YES

Do the protagonists defy stereotypes about aging? YES. There is sometimes a tendency to make old people crabby and curmudgeonly or resistant to change. If we were personifying the characters, Hortensia would be Crabby and Marion would be Resistant to Change. What saves the book is that the crabbiness and resistance to change come from deeper experiences in the lives of these two women; these characteristics are not the products of age alone.

Does age/illness/death unrealistically ennoble the protagonists? NO. When Hortensia breaks her leg, she is at her very worst and most manipulative.

Is the plot driven by events other than illness and impending death? YES. Both women are widows and both have been left with a revelation by their husbands. While there is a fair amount of backstory in the book, it is necessary to push the forward story: How are these women going to deal with the revelations of their late husbands and move on with their lives.

Does the novel touch on the theme of frustrations elders feel with society's expectations and attitudes about aging? YES. The childless Hortensia particularly wants to be independent. In fact, she wants no one around but her housekeeper, Bassey, a suave cipher with whom she has maintained, after years of service, a strictly financial relationship. She is hateful (not too strong a word) to those attempting to help her. Marion, who has four children, seems to be loved by none of them for no good reason than that they don't want an old person around with all the presumed, attendant annoyances that that would bring.

Does the novel offer insights about aging? YES. I really like how both Hortensia and Marion often act in certain ways that have become habitual, even though they know exactly what they are doing and hate themselves for it. I think this is true of intelligent people as they get older; they are aware of those long established grooves, and the more self-directed are often looking for ways out of them. Author Yewande Omotoso deftly shows how much more difficult this is for Hortensia and Marion given their long experience with South Africa's apartheid past.

Does dementia make any protagonists look harmless and pitiable? LORD, NO! These are old ladies who scare people.

Heart-warmer? JUST ENOUGH. This is a novel that moves very gradually from dark to light. I could imagine any number of really schmaltzy endings to this book. At points where I thought an apology or an invitation might be leading to some kind of neat little reconciliation, Omotoso pulls her characters back from the brink.

In the canon? YES. Omotoso isn't yet 40, so kudos to her for pulling this off. The novel has some very nice literary grace notes in that, without being obvious about it, Marion and Hortensia are almost doppelgangers. Besides having husbands who have left them with unwanted revelations, there are other points they have in common: Both immigrated to South Africa; both are territorial; both have been successful in their chosen professional fields; both are fiercely competitive.

Really enjoyed this one, and hope to get some quotes from the book up here by week's end.

153nohrt4me2
Jul. 11, 2018, 9:23pm

NOW READING: Insomnia by Stephen King

Ralph is a widower who has just hit 70. He can't sleep. Weirdness ensues.

This book is 24 years old. It does not seem to be King at the height of his powers. There are lots of somewhat dated allusions (even for 1994), and at one point a couple in their 30s are listening to records they supposedly purchased in the 1960s (when they wold have been about two years old), and which are played on a boom box (which won't play "records").

Still, King has always had that "let's get right into it because this story is gonna be GREAT!" enthusiasm that sucks you in.

154LadyoftheLodge
Jul. 13, 2018, 5:31pm

>149 nohrt4me2: The whole beguine community thing sounds intriguing. Having been a widow, I totally get that idea of being alone, needing help, no one to turn to. The book I mentioned is really cool, it is a study about Alzheimer's disease that was conducted with nuns as the subjects. I got a used library copy and it is quite interesting. Basically about the aging process.

155nohrt4me2
Jul. 25, 2018, 3:44pm

EEEK! I am reading faster than I can record stuff here. Completed The President Is Missing (ok), Insomnia (pretty bad), Brooklyn Follies (engaging until the schmaltzy end), and The Old Devils (meh). Hope to do complete write ups, soon.

156nohrt4me2
Bearbeitet: Okt. 11, 2018, 5:07pm

Wrapping up this year's "old adult" lit reading. Here's the final reading list as I prepare to present my paper on this topic tomorrow. Now it's on to free reading period until I decide on a new reading theme for 2019. Ideas in the works: Novels about "passing," novelas as an art form, autobiographies.

All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West (British, 1931)
Lady Slane vexes her middle-aged children by choosing to spend her final years in a small house on her own terms. Beautifully written. Nice exploration of the way memory works in old age.

The Book of Eve, Constance Beresford-Howe (Canadian, 1973)
Eva walks out on suburban life and a petulant, bed-ridden husband to live alone and broke in an apartment with a collection of grim, hard-luck characters. Eva's stubbornness is frustrating sometimes, and she's not wholly likable. A little dated but still worthwhile.

The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster (American, 2005)
Nathan is divorced and assumes that he will die from the lung cancer he just completed treatment for. An encounter with a long-lost nephew leads to a self-discovery road trip. Auster's florid prose and noir elements are always fun for me.

Deaf Sentence, David Lodge (British, 2008)
A retired college professor who suffers from hearing loss has one last fling at directing a dissertation—and with the possibly psychopathic student writing it. By turns hilarious and scary. One of the best in the list.

The Fixed Period, Anthony Trollope (British, 1882)
In a utopia set in 1980, it is decreed that people will live a fixed period of 67 years and then be dispatched to spare them long illness and society the burden of their care. This novel really goes off-point a lot, but has moments of satiric humor.

A Friend of the Earth, T.C. Boyle (American, 2000)
Tyrone O’Shaugnessy Tierwater runs a menagerie for a deranged rock star, who wants to “save the animals no one loves” as near-future global warming threatens the planet. A novel full of misguided dimwits. No wonder the world is burning up.

Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck (German, 2017)
Retired classics professor Richard, curiosity piqued by refugees protesting in Berlin, begins visiting them in their shelter and learning their stories and becoming involved in their lives. Really fine novel.

The Human Stain, Philip Roth (American, 2000)
At Athena College, writer Nathan Zuckerman befriends Coleman Silk, who has resigned in bitterness over an allegedly racist remark, and whose story is riddled with deception. Seems to be agnostic Roth's attempt to come to terms with original sin in this angry novel. I liked it.

Man in the Dark, Paul Auster (American, 2008)
August Brill spends sleepless nights making up a dystopian novel in which he himself is a dark force who must be killed by his imaginary protagonist. During the day, he comforts his widowed daughter and granddaughter, whose boyfriend has committed suicide. As close to heartwarming as Auster gets.

Memento Mori, Muriel Spark (British, 1959)
A group of aging friends and nemeses respond variously to the same crank telephone caller, who merely says, “Remember you must die.” The usual awful Spark people appear in this novel, but there are moments of grace and tenderness, too.

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King (American, 2014)
Detective Bill Hodges comes out of retirement when he receives a note from a sadistic killer. I didn't click with King's foray into crime noir, but I might watch the TV series, which features Brendan Gleeson.

The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis (British, 1986)
Alun Weaver, a retired TV personality, meets up with a group of mostly ghastly former friends in Wales where their past relationships create havoc in the present. It is really hard to care about any of these people, but I admire Amis as a stylist.

The President Is Missing, James Patterson and Bill Clinton (American, 2018)
The president of the United States rushes off to save the country from hackers threatening democracy. He also has a chronic disease that might sink the whole deal. Patterson writes a page-turner which Clinton spoils with long disquisitions on freedom and American values.

Quartet in Autumn, Barbara Pym (British, 1977)
Four lonely co-workers face retirement with fear and desperation. This is dark, dark, dark, and I was depressed for a week after I read it, even though I generally love Pym. Wholly lacks her wicked humor.

The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner (American, 1976)
Joe struggles with retirement, arthritis, and resentment of his cheery wife who wants him to keep busy. He finds a diary he kept about an interlude in mid-life and wonders what to make of his life now. Read this one if you want an uplifting ending.

The Unit, Ninni Holmqvist (Swedish, 2009)
In a dystopian future, childless people over 50 go to Units, where they are warehoused until boredom spurs them to participate in medical experiments or organ donations. The Unit is a metaphor for the way elders are even now nudged into warm-weather retirement complexes and age-appropriate activities like casino trips and color tours of New England. One of my very favorite books of all time.

An Unnecessary Woman, Rahmi Allemedine (Lebanese, 2014)
Beirut’s violence has pushed Aaliya into a state self-imposed exile. For years, she has secretly translated scores of books for her own enjoyment—translations that seem doomed when her apartment floods. Worth reading several times.

The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso (South African, 2016)
Next-door neighbors Muriel and Hortensia are divided by race and temperament in post-apartheid South Africa. A series of calamities helps them break long-ingrained attitudes. Funny and deeply sad by turns. Kudos to the author for not falling into a syrupy ending of racial peace and harmony.

157avaland
Nov. 14, 2018, 10:27am

Great list! Is this everything you read? How did you choose? How did the presentation go? Any good questions come from the audience?

I love novellas. First, you will have to define exactly what a novella is. Good luck. There seems to be varied definitions. They call Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov (a favorite book) his first 'great novel' but it's only 96 pages. I suppose that is just common usage readers would understand instead of muddying it up by calling it his first great novella. A few years ago I read all 9 of Joyce Carol Oates's novellas (there are likely more now, LOL). It seemed any interesting way to approach her oeuvre. Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Wedding of Zein also comes to mind. Oh, now see what you've done, you've got me thinking ....

158nohrt4me2
Nov. 14, 2018, 3:52pm

>157 avaland: Thanks!

Also read Remnant Population, The Dark Flood Rises, and The Buried Giant, which I ended up not including in the paper or on the suggested list because they didn't fit or I just didn't like them (in Drabble's case).

Paper went fine, and another person in my assigned panel did an interesting paper about categorizing children's literature and helping small children find "book friends." So we kind of covered the alpha and omega of literature. However, we were up against a panel discussing Stephen King's Dark Tower series, so more people attended that.

The conference has dwindled to such a small affair as colleges hire more adjuncts to fill liberal arts positions and decline to pay them to attend conferences.

I keep going back to my old high school definition of novella: A short novel of less than 200 pages. Flannery O'Connor opined that short stories reveal character, and novels develop character. So what do novellas do? I'm interested in trying to see if novellas have some special focus/function/differences from short stories and novels other than length. Have not taken a read through any research so far.

Wow, Lois the Witch; never heard of that one! George Eliot wrote some novellas also.

BUT ...

I may save the novella theme for another year. I got stuck on the idea of reading books about racial "passing," novels and memoirs. Seems like there is a wealth of books out there about the topic, starting pretty early with Clotel, which was one of the novels I taught in my Am Lit class, and that was apparently a big seller with Union troops during the Civil War. Students enjoyed it more than I thought they would.

159Dilara86
Nov. 15, 2018, 2:46am

>158 nohrt4me2: Students enjoyed it more than I thought they would.

Isn't that heartwarming!

I'll be following your thread on passing (I'm assuming there'll be one!) with great interest.

160lisapeet
Nov. 15, 2018, 5:55am

>157 avaland: There's a good definition of (and discourse on) novellas by Richard Ford in the Foreword of The Granta Book of the American Long Story. Plus it's a really interesting selection. Those Granta collections are (were? have they stopped publishing them?) always good and meaty.

161nohrt4me2
Nov. 15, 2018, 10:03am

162LadyoftheLodge
Nov. 15, 2018, 2:28pm

>158 nohrt4me2: I am glad your session went well. I happen to be one of those adjuncts, and it is true, we don't get to attend conferences. I really miss the connections with other faculty.

163nohrt4me2
Nov. 16, 2018, 12:35am

>162 LadyoftheLodge: I guess we have to see ourselves as keeping that flame flickering in dark times!

164LadyoftheLodge
Nov. 16, 2018, 5:45pm

Yes, I think my LibraryThing connections help me stay in touch with all kinds of people and what they are doing. Your topic was very interesting.