Last Week’s Links

Want To Feel Happier Today? Try Talking To A Stranger

I always wear my noise-cancelling headphones on planes, even though I don’t always switch them on. I unabashedly admit that I do this to discourage the person—any person—crushed into the seat next to me from trying to strike up a conversation with me. Many of us also fool around with our phones to avoid actual interaction with people around us in any public place.

But this article might change our behavior, with its discussion of research suggesting that even “seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”

Why a Thriving Civilization in Malta Collapsed 4,000 Years Ago

When we visited Malta in 2018, we toured the site of an ancient temple that had been discovered and excavated in the late 20th century. Now the site is protected by a canvas awning as excavation continues, but our tour guide told us that her grandmother remembered playing as a child on what was then thought to be just a pile of rocks.

ancient temple, Malta
ancient temple, Malta

This article therefore caught my eye. The temple on Malta, among the earliest known free-standing buildings, preceded Stonehenge by about 1,000 years but apparently lasted only about 1,500 years before disappearing. Scientists believe that studying the rise and fall of the early culture on this island nation can help with “understanding change in the wider world.”

Surviving Woodstock

If you happen to have an extra $800 burning a hole in your pocket, “On the fiftieth anniversary of the festival, a thirty-six-hour boxed set reveals some truths behind baby-boomer myths.”

Woodstock almost immediately became a myth. Shortly after the festival, Abbie Hoffman speed-wrote and then published “Woodstock Nation,” giving texture to the idea that those who had been at the event constituted a new generation: “I took a trip to our future. That’s how I saw it. Functional anarchy, primitive tribalism, gathering of the tribes. Right on! What did it all mean? Sheet, what can I say, brother, it blew my mind out.”

Bonus: If you’re looking for information that’s a bit more accessible, Publishers Weekly has you covered with a long list of books celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

50 MUST-READ FICTION BOOKS FEATURING OLDER WOMEN

In my other life I blog about books. And as I have gotten older myself, I’ve become interested in how older adults, particularly older women, are portrayed in literature.In my other life I blog about books.

Heather Bottoms had a similar experience when she turned 50 last year and now as she approaches 51. Here she offers a substantial list of novels featuring older women as characters. “The women in these stories range in age from age 50 to 110 and represent a wide variety of experiences, personalities, and genres. All these novels feature older women as crucial characters.”

Although she lists many books that I haven’t read, I heartily second her recommendation of the following books:

Cover: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields  
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova  
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney  
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid  
  • Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos  
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Bonus: Her opening paragraph contains a link to the list she compiled last year around her 50th birthday.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Why Creepy Neighbors Are Perfect for Domestic Thrillers

How many times have you read a good thriller or mystery novel involving the new neighbors next door? Novelist Allison Dickson, author of The Other Mrs. Miller, explains why neighbors are such good novelistic material.

the one thing that might make your neighbors more interesting fodder for a thriller than family is that when relations turn sour on the other side of the street or fence, there’s no easy way out. You can usually hang up on problematic family member and ignore their calls for a few days, but the dwelling next door and your new mortal enemy living in it isn’t going anywhere. Whether by lease or mortgage, you’re both invested for the long term and have staked your claim. You have to find a way to resolve things, or risk of becoming a prisoner in your own home.

SLOBS, REJOICE: WHY YOU SHOULDN’T CLEAN YOUR MESSY DESK

I had heard quite a while ago that a messy desk is often a sign of creativity, but it’s always nice to have my excuse for a messy desk reinforced.

Experts say disorder stimulates creativity because physical artifacts can trigger people to draw connections between separate ideas — ones already in your head and seemingly unrelated — to generate novel solutions. It’s a process known as “psychological bricolage,” according to Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan.

Is the Internet Making Writing Better?

As a former English teacher, I was appalled when textspeak such as “where r u?” entered everyday speech. But in this article Katy Waldman reviews Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by linguist Gretchen McCulloch. 

“It’s only with the rise of the Internet that a truly casual, willfully ephemeral prose has ascended—and become central to daily life,” Waldman writes.

It’s only with the rise of the Internet that a truly casual, willfully ephemeral prose has ascended—and become central to daily life.

And do you know the difference between lol and LOL? It’s a subtle but real difference, according to McCulloch.

Electric Reads Set in the ’60s

For those of us who came of age in the 1960s:

November Road by Lou Berney

In these 16 historical fiction novels set in the ’60s, authors tackle some of the decade’s transformations and predicaments, its quandaries and triumphs. Each read is a great place to begin untangling the decade’s legacy.

I would add to this list November Road by Lou Berney.

ARE YOU CLIMATE HOMESICK? HE’S GOT A WORD FOR THAT

Solastalgia describes the feeling of distress caused by environmental change, and it was coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht. “It was important to give that feeling a name because it was missing from our language,” Albrecht says from his small farm in Australia’s Hunter Valley region in the eastern state of New South Wales.

Bonus: See also Every Day is Earth Day: 365 Books to Start Your Climate Change Library

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

A sampling of some of the most interesting items that caught my eye over the last week.

KODAK GOT THE DIGITAL PICTURE TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Here’s an interesting article on how Kodak, author of all those famous “Kodak moments,” missed the boat by refusing to accept and adapt to the advent of digital photography.

6 EASY HOW-TO COMPUTER BOOKS FOR NEW TECH USERS

Two books on this list are aimed specifically at us older folks:

  • Computers for Seniors: Email, Internet, Photos, and More in 14 Easy Lessons by Chris Ewin, Carrie Ewin, and Cheryl Ewin
  • Computers for Seniors For Dummies by Nancy C. Muir 

Don’t let the title of that second one get your goat. The For Dummies series is well known and even somewhat loved. When you need information on a subject you know absolutely nothing about, the For Dummies guide is often a good place to start.

Study: Retirees lose by taking Social Security at wrong time

Sarah Skidmore Sell reports for The Associated Press on a new study revealing that many older Americans aren’t maximizing their retirement income from Social Security, which “accounts for about one-third of all income annually received by U.S. retirees.” The study concludes that “optimizing Social Security would improve the lives of millions of retirees,” but there is very little information here about how individuals can figure this out for themselves.

HOW SMART TECH IS HELPING DOCTORS BATTLE DEMENTIA

Mention “dementia research” and most people will probably think of scientists looking for biomedical ways to diagnose, treat and eventually cure degenerative brain diseases. But there is also a burgeoning research program that aims to improve care for the increasing numbers of people living with dementia — estimated at 850,000 in the United Kingdom and 50 million worldwide.

Half of women over 40 say older women in fiction are clichés, survey finds

A recent survey by Gransnet, the UK’s biggest social media site for older people, and publisher HQ (HarperCollins) found that 51% of women over 40 “feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles.” Here are some of the most interest findings from the survey:

  • 47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women.
  •  “when older characters do appear in fiction, half of women (50%) say they’ve seen them being portrayed as baffled by smartphones, computers or the internet – and think it’s insulting.”
  • 75% buy their books online.

As a result of the survey findings, Gransnet and HQ are launching a fiction writing competition for women writers over age 40. The article contains more information on both the survey and the writing competition. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Here are some articles that caught my eye over the past several days.

Can We Live Longer but Stay Younger?

Here’s a long though fascinating look at what goes on in the AgeLab, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. Here researchers work not only on adaptive devices to help with the problems of physical aging but also on questions about whether those problems of aging can be biologically controlled.

Thinking About Retirement? Start With A Book

Retirement expert Sara Zeff Geber offers some reading suggestions in this article for Forbes.

How to Get the Best From Your Immune System

Here’s a booster for your immune system: an explanation of how it works and how to take care of it.

Most older adults don’t ask doctors about dementia, survey says

Only 10 percent of people between ages 50 and 64 with a family history of dementia say they have talked to a doctor about preventing memory problems, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging published Wednesday at the University of Michigan.

How to Revisit the Ghosts of Your Past

We all have moments from our past that gnaw at us — a regret, an unanswered question, an old tragedy. We obsess over these moments when we can’t sleep, or when we need a good cry. But most days, we try to ignore these unwelcome memories, pushing them aside so we can buy groceries or go to work or do new things that we won’t regret. Our poor choices and hurt feelings fade to the background, until another quiet moment beckons them to come pick at us again.


In this way, a single moment can pester us for years and years — unless we return to the past and confront it head on.

Kalila Holt has some advice on how to undertake the process of confronting such moments head on.

Arthritis supplement glucosamine may lower heart disease risk

Finally, some good news:

Glucosamine has long been used as a supplement to help ease the joint pain of arthritis, but new research suggests its anti-inflammatory properties might also lower heart disease risk.

Novel Alzheimer’s drug passes first phase of human testing

And a bit more good news:

A new drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease has successfully passed the first phase of testing in humans. Preclinical studies had already shown that the drug could improve memory and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in older mice.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

A 2019 Book-Lovers International Travel List | Off the Shelf

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.

Source: A 2019 Book-Lovers International Travel List | Off the Shelf

Last Week’s Links

Writing over 50: A Teacher’s Own Lessons

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.

Retiring Retirement

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:

I’ve read exactly one of the fiction selections and one of the nonfiction books for my birth year.

8 Old-Lady Novels That Prove Life Doesn’t End at 80

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

Last Week’s Links

How to enjoy a restaurant meal when you’re on a restricted diet

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.

Fruits, Veggies, Orange Juice May Protect Men’s Memory

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.

It’s Almost 2019. Do You Know Where Your Photos Are?

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 Wrote an Historical Novel About the JFK Assassination. I Was Shocked By What I Found.

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

Last Week’s Links

Infectious Theory Of Alzheimer’s Disease Draws Fresh Interest

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.

14 of the Very Best Books Published in the 1970s, From Le Guin to Haley

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?

Scientists Gave MDMA to Octopuses—and What Happened Was Profound

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.

Paper Trails: Living and Dying With Fragmented Medical Records

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.

How to Optimize Caffeine (and Improve Your Productivity)

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

5 Novels That Feature Older Adult Characters

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

Last Week’s Links

IS THE CURE FOR ALZHEIMER’S HIDING INSIDE US? SHE THINKS SO

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.

BOOKS WITH STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS OVER 50

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.

READ HARDER: A BOOK WITH A FEMALE PROTAGONIST OVER THE AGE OF 60

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.

Cover: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

SOLVING THE HIDDEN DISEASE THAT’S AS BAD AS 15 CIGARETTES A DAY

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 Older People Have Always Trashed Young People

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