At my previous job, I was fortunate enough to travel to international book fairs and visit bookstores. When I travel now for fun, the impulse sticks: find the best local bookstores, and buy at least one book. The list below is based partly on countries I’ve found myself in over the last few years and partly on my destination wish list. Join me in 2019 as I try to discover more foreign authors and beloved books, and hopefully get the opportunity to pack a few bags for some on-site explorations.
I’ve worked with a lot of older adults whose retirement has given them the free time to do the writing they’ve always wanted to do, whether they’re interested in life writing (memoir), fiction, or poetry. Here Peter Krass, himself an older writer who has taught online workshops for over–50 writers, explains what he has learned from his students:
my students have shown me that while older writers do face unique challenges, they also possess special strengths. What’s more, these strengths are more than equal to the challenges.
Read here his lists of both common challenges and common strengths his students have taught him. And if you’re interested in writing, let this article encourage you to look for a writing program that fits your requirements.
A growing portion of the elderly look and act anything but.
Linda Marsa reports that, although it’s true the number of over–65 people is increasing, many of those people are still healthy enough to want to continue working.
Americans over age 60 are working longer and participating in the labor force at greater rates, according to a 2016 Brookings Institute report. And not just to beef up the bottom line. A study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found that nearly 50 percent of retirees want to continue working in retirement. About a third say it’s because they need the money. Two-thirds, however, say they just want to stay mentally active.
What Books Were Bestsellers the Year You Were Born?
Are you interested in finding out what books were birthed the same year you were? Literary Hub has you covered with these two lists:
- HERE ARE THE BIGGEST FICTION BESTSELLERS OF THE LAST 100 YEARS
- HERE ARE THE BIGGEST NONFICTION BESTSELLERS OF THE LAST 100 YEARS
I’ve read exactly one of the fiction selections and one of the nonfiction books for my birth year.
Novelist Heidi Sopinka writes, “older women in literature … arguably represent one of the most underwritten aspects of female experience. Even when they do manage to get into a book, they almost exclusively face sexism for being ‘unlikeable.’”
When “the image of a 92-year-old woman, vital, working, came into [her] head,” Sopinka wrote her début novel, The Dictionary of Animal Languages, around that character. While working on the novel, she “began seeking out an old-lady canon”:
It wasn’t female aging that fascinated me as much as I wanted to swing into the viewpoint of a woman who had lived a long complicated life, deeply occupied by her work. I began to think of my book as a coming-of-death novel… .
Weirdly, the closer I delved into the closed-in days of looming death, the more I learned about living. Still, there is such a fear of female power in our culture that older women are ignored or infantilized, as though they are somehow less complex than us even though they are us, plus time.
Here she offers a list of eight books that are “unafraid to take on the full measure of a woman’s life”:
- The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
- The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
- The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien
- Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
- Stet by Diana Athill
- Destruction of the Father by Louise Bourgeois
- Writings by Agnes Martin
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
I was drawn to this article because I’ve developed a sensitivity to gluten. Here Nicole Tsong writes:
Taking out things like sugar, gluten, dairy and soy, in particular, can create new hurdles when eating out. That said, I refuse to be a food hermit. I like to see friends, and enjoy delicious food prepared by someone else.
Here’s her advice on how to accommodate restaurant meals to your needs.
One word of caution here: she’s talking about people who sometimes choose to undergo a dietary cleanse, not people who are actually allergic to certain foods. Her conclusion “if you happen to eat an ingredient you aren’t supposed to, you’ll be fine” pertains to them, not to anyone with a true sensitivity to particular ingredients.
This short article reports on a study recently published in the journal Neurology that found “higher intakes of total vegetables, total fruits, and fruit juice were each significantly associated with lower odds of moderate or poor SCF [subjective cognitive function]” in men. Just another reminder that we should be sure to eat our fruits and veggies.
Do you remember how, back in the days when photos were actual printed things, we used to skimp on taking pictures because of the cost of buying and, even more, processing film? The advent of digital photography means that we now take all photos we want, with the intention of deleting the multitude of bad ones and keeping only the best few. Except that most of us probably never go through and do all that deleting.
And even if we do, there’s still the problem of what to do with all the photos. Over the years many internet companies have come and gone for the purpose of serving as our digital shoe box. This article summarizes the history of sites like Flickr and Yahoo! Photos and offers some current advice on what to do with all the photos we now have on our phones, on thumb drives, and probably in various cloud storage services.
I was in 8th grade math class when the school announced over the PA system that the President had been shot. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is the first significant historical event that I remember. Like most of my generation, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.
Lou Berney, author of the recently published novel November Road, details the findings of his research for writing a novel that includes characters of the periphery of the Kennedy assassination. (I have this book on my TBR shelf but haven’t read it yet.) Because there have been thousands of books written about the main characters involved in the assassination—John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby—Berney explains, he decided “to steer clear of the main players and focus instead on the edges of the assassination, on characters whose lives are changed, and threatened, by the death of the president.”
The official Warren Commission Report concluded that there was no conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination. Yet many conspiracy theorists believe that the KGB, the mafia, or the CIA—or perhaps all three—was involved. After his research Berney concluded that “the facts themselves are almost as incredible” as the conspiracy theories.
my perspective on my novel was profoundly altered by the discovery of all those secret government schemes and cover-ups, of organized crime woven tightly into the very fabric of American politics, of so many astoundingly colorful characters and a president who was so reckless in his personal life. I opened the door to that world, walked through, and never looked back.
I’ve just mentally moved this novel higher up in my TBR (to be read) queue.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
This article reports on the “germ theory” of Alzheimer’s disease. Germs in this case “means microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In other words,” is Alzheimer’s an infectious disease. This theory “has been fermenting in the literature for decades,” but research in this area has received almost no funding.
If the germ theory gets traction, even in some Alzheimer’s patients, it could trigger a seismic shift in how doctors understand and treat the disease.
Having come of age in the glorious 1960s, I took particular interest in this list of books published in the following decade that, in a literary way, reflect the profound ways in which the ’60s influenced later society. The books from this list that I remember most vividly are Rabbit Redux by John Updike, Kindred by Olivia E. Butler, The Stories of John Cheever, All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi.
What about you? Do you remember any of these books?
Ever since we began visiting the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. in the mid 1990s, I’ve been fascinated by the Giant Pacific octopus native to this area. Octopuses (yes, that’s the correct plural) are extremely intelligent, although their decentralized nervous system differs greatly from our own. Octopuses are also asocial, in contrast to humans’ need for social contact.
This article reports on a study by scientists interested in whether octopuses would react the same way humans do to “the drug MDMA, versions of which are known as molly or ecstasy.” The drug commonly makes people “feel very happy, extraverted, and particularly interested in physical touch.” The scientists were interested to discover that, despite our different nervous structures and social behavior tendencies, octopuses’ reactions to the drug resembled humans’ reactions.
It’s clear that psychoactive drugs like MDMA, LSD, and magic mushrooms are going through a scientific renaissance—they’re being studied as potential treatments for depression and PTSD—and as their stigma decreases, scientists are more open to studying them, and more research funding becomes available. This could be important for our understanding of animal and human brains.
This is a long article, but it’s a must-read for anyone who moves from one place to another or from one medical facility to another. Dr. Ilana Yurkiewicz explains how lack of compatible electronic medical records can disrupt medical treatment and how such disruption can lead to life-and-death situations.
caffeine is powerful stuff, and because it has a direct effect on your energy level, you should drink it with intention rather than on autopilot.
This article is aimed at office workers (hence the emphasis on productivity), but it’s good advice for anyone who is bothered by occasional insomnia.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
On December 14, 1990, The United Nations General Assembly by resolution designated October 1 each year as International Day of Older Persons. According to the U.N. page for this international celebration:
Almost 700 million people are now over the age of 60. By 2050, 2 billion people, over 20 per cent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older. The increase in the number of older people will be the greatest and the most rapid in the developing world, with Asia as the region with the largest number of older persons, and Africa facing the largest proportionate growth. With this in mind, enhanced attention to the particular needs and challenges faced by many older people is clearly required. Just as important, however, is the essential contribution the majority of older men and women can continue to make to the functioning of society if adequate guarantees are in place. Human rights lie at the core of all efforts in this regard.
The theme for this year’s event is “Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions.” This theme aims at addressing four main issues, one of which is perfect for literary treatment:
Raise the visibility of older people as participating members of society committed to improving the enjoyment of human rights in many areas of life
Literature reflects life. Here are five novels I recommend that feature older adults living their lives with dignity and purpose.
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Margaret Hughes, age 75, has just learned that she has a brain tumor. Margaret lives alone in a huge mansion in the most upscale section of Seattle, where her only companions are the rooms and rooms full of valuable figurines left to her by her father. When Margaret’s mother, dead some 60 years, begins visiting her, Margaret decides to take in a boarder. Wanda, in her 30s, answers Margaret’s ad. She recently sold all her belongings and left New York City for Seattle in pursuit of the lover who abandoned her. Warily, Margaret and Wanda begin to befriend each other. The mansion’s list of residents increases over the course of the novel as new people arrive to fulfill various needs—both their own and each others’.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
This short, poignant novel features an older widow and widower who come together for companionship and emotional support. Their lives are complicated by small-town busybodies, social proprieties, and the demands of family relationships.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Ove (pronounced UH-ve) is probably the biggest curmudgeon you’ll ever meet, either in literature or in life. His wife died several years ago, and his retirement has left him feeling lonely and purposeless. He’s set in his ways, with strict daily routines, and he demands that everyone must follow the neighborhood rules to the letter. Translated from the Swedish, this novel demonstrates how even a crotchety old geezer can change and learn to appreciate life, with a little help from some new friends. The novel also carries a gentle message: don’t judge a man until you understand his life.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Young journalist Monique Grant is stagnating as a reporter for an internet sleaze site when she receives a sudden and mysterious summons from Evelyn Hugo, the aging actress who is finally ready to tell her story and insists Grant is the one who must write it. Hugo’s story covers her journey to Los Angeles in the 1950s, her rise to fame, and her decision to leave show business after a 30-year career. That journey includes ruthless ambition, seven husbands, a deep but forbidden love—and no regrets. She’d do it all exactly the same way again, Hugo tells Grant, before finally revealing why she has chosen Grant to write this story.
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
This YA novel from the 1960s focuses on two high school students who form a taunting, derisive friendship with a neighbor, the widowed retiree Antonio Pignati. Although the story revolves around the teenagers, the loneliness and desperate desire for companionship of Mr. Pignati, whom the kids call The Pigman, is painfully accurate.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
Here’s a profile of Annelise Barron:
Alzheimer’s is the root cause of 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and the complexity of the disease has troubled neurology researchers for decades. But Barron, an associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, has uncovered a way for our own immune system to fight off a major cause of Alzheimer’s. If her research leads to a treatment, it would be the first new therapeutics development in more than a decade.
Being of a certain age myself, I enjoy books that feature older women characters. And if you’re into reading challenges that ask you to read a book featuring “a strong female character over 50,” here are eight books to help you fill in that category.
And if 50 is too young for you, here’s a list of six books featuring female protagonists over age 60. I heartily second the recommendation of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and would also add Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.
That disease would be loneliness:
Experts agree that we’re facing a loneliness epidemic, one that has profound consequences for our physical health, our longevity and our overall well-being. But where others emphasize the scale and seriousness of this looming crisis, Murthy offers an encouraging message: Yes, loneliness is a pervasive problem worldwide, but there is a simple and actionable solution.
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
Oh, what’s the matter with kids today?
Why does every generation express worry that its kids aren’t as good? Because of fear, this article argues:
We talk of children in terms of continuation. They carry on our traditions. They take our names. We delight in how they look like us, act like us, think like us. We want our kids to adopt our politics, our causes, our sense of meaning. In our children, we seek immortality.
But then they grow up, and we discover they’re not us. They are their own people. They’ll find their own politics, their own causes, their own sense of meaning. They’re more interested in the future than the past. They’ll know their parents’ names, of course, and probably their grandparents’ names, but perhaps not their great-grandparents’ names, and certainly not their great-great-grandparents’ names. Which means one day they’ll have children, and those children will have children, and our names will begin to be forgotten too. We will slip into nothingness, remembered by nobody, having left no recognizable impact.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
You’ve undoubtedly seen the ads for DNA tests that will allow you to connect with extended family members. While such tests can produce many exciting discoveries, they also have potential to turn up some very upsetting news. This article from The Atlantic discusses some of those bombshell results.
Most of the people presented here who’ve experienced such results are over the age of 50. Many people actively researching their family tree are those to whom retirement has provided the time necessary for genealogical research.
The generation whose 50-year-old secrets are now being unearthed could not have imagined a world of $99 mail-in DNA kits. But times are changing, and the culture with it. “This generation right now and maybe the next 15 years or so, there’s going to be a lot of shocking results coming out. I’d say in 20 years’ time it’s going to dissipate,” she predicted. By then, our expectations of privacy will have caught up with the new reality created by the rise of consumer DNA tests.
The article focuses on a support group on Facebook for people whose genetic tests deliver upsetting news.
So, what are your birthday plans?
Palliative care experts say it is not uncommon for people in hospice care to perk up briefly before they die, sometimes speaking clearly or asking for food.
This did not happen with my mother, who died almost two years ago at age 89, but, according to the article, such rallies, also known as terminal lucidity, sometimes occur. However, there is little scientific evidence about either the frequency of or the reasons for such rallies.
Far from seeming narcissistic, undertaking a self-obituary can be a form of summation and of caregiving for those who may be in need of direction after we are gone.
This is one of those topics that comes around periodically. Writing one’s own obituary is a variation of the psychological concept of life review, a process of life evaluation that many older adults go through, either consciously or unconsciously. Writing the obituary helps make the life review a conscious process that allows people to record the events, accomplishments, and values that they would most like to be remembered for.
For people in midlife, remembering that we all have to die may redirect ongoing goals; for seniors, such a workout may remind us to view current problems within the context of what really matters most to us.
This article contains links to obituaries others have written for themselves and suggestions for writing one’s own.
Emma Court examines the benefits of adult rereadings of childhood books.
In a 2012 study that looked at why people reread books, rewatch movies, and revisit the same places, the researchers interviewed 23 participants about which experiences they chose to repeat, why, and how they felt during it. They found that repeat experiences “allow consumers an active synthesis of time and serve as catalysts for existential reflection.” Childhood books offer an opportunity to sit down in the river of time, if just for a moment, and ponder the full scope of one’s life. For one woman in the study, who often rewatched the 1999 romantic drama Message in a Bottle, the movie helped her process an upsetting breakup.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown