Books on how to age wisely, gracefully
For many, the challenges of aging can be daunting. These four books can provide encouragement and advice.
Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties, by Madeleine May Kunin, 200 pages, Green Writers Press paperback, 2019
Former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin writes about aging from the vantage point of her mid-80s. Kunin also reprises, from a personal perspective, her experiences in the Clinton Administration as deputy secretary of education and ambassador to Switzerland, her native country.
Coming of Age is a personal memoir by an indomitable individual, not an autobiography by a retired politician.
A keen observer, Kunin writes candidly about growing old. She remarried in her 70s, a decade after her divorce, to a widower who was almost nine years her senior. Kunin describes their move to a retirement community and selling their condo. Anyone hesitant to take that step will find encouragement in reading her account.
Kunin adjusted with love and compassion to John’s depression, insomnia and physical ailments. She was widowed in 2018. Those coping with a spouse’s decline will find inspiration in her words.
Kunin, an accomplished poet, includes 19 well-crafted poems in the book. Each chapter is accompanied by one of these creative compositions.
Nearing Ninety [and Other Comedies of Late Life], by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Laura Gibson, 96 pages, Simon & Schuster hardcover, 2019
This slim volume is a precious collection of more than 30 poems on the theme of growing old — its challenges, compensations, highlights and milestones.
The poet looks back in rhyme at her contented life with wit and humor. Evolving living arrangements, becoming dependent on others, and similar issues are addressed with sensitivity, compassion and a seasoning of spunk.
Nearing Ninety is the latest in Viorst’s poetry collection series Decades, which commenced with Thirty.
She is also the bestselling author of psychology books such as Necessary Losses and the popular children’s book AlexanderandtheTerrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, now a motion picture and musical. She has lived in Washington, D.C. since her marriage to political writer Milton Viorst in 1960.
At the back of the book are short excerpts from some of her previous books, including It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty, Forty and Other Atrocities, and her books about turning 50, 60, 70 and 80. Wishing Ms. Viorst happy returns to a centennial edition.
Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life, by Chris Farrell, 288 pages, AMACOM hardcover, 2019
Regardless of their finances, older people should work, according to Chris Farrell, a 65-year-old economist, author, columnist and radio host. He encourages his fellow older Americans to embark on what he coins “unretirement.”
A wide range of pastimes are available: paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time work. Retiring to a life devoted solely to leisure is a downward spiral to social isolation, depression and physical deterioration, Farrell says. The result is a shorter lifespan. That is the thesis of A Purpose and a Paycheck.
Today’s economy, with its low unemployment rates and a demand for workers of all ages, provides a good environment for working people over 50 who have no desire to retire.
The increase in quality part-time jobs is especially suitable for those covered by Medicare who are already drawing Social Security benefits. Flexible schedules and the widespread introduction of telecommuting are a boon for older workers.
Farrell challenges society at large to eschew ageism, its stereotypes and demeaning humor. He admonishes employers to embrace the experience, creativity, stability and reliability of older workers.
The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life, by Marc E. Agronin, M.D., 240 pages, Da Capo Press Lifelong Books hardcover, 2018
Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Marc Agronin has written an uplifting book about the challenges that confront us in late life. In it, he recommends tools to create a purposeful old age.
As he sees it, this stage of life brings with it the opportunity to reinvent oneself, to release forces of creativity, and to plumb the wisdom accumulated during the course of a long life with its vast experiences.
This positive attitude delineated in The End of Old Age emphasizes the value that older people can contribute to society in the roles of seers, sages, curators and creators.
Agronin describes with objectivity the traumatic events one may encounter during the last decades of life, such as the onset of serious illness, diagnosis of potentially life-ending diseases, or physical and mental disability.
In his mid-50s, Agronin has been practicing medicine for a quarter of a century. He urges older people to overcome depression and negative thoughts, and give meaning and purpose to their evolving situations.
Moving forward and not bemoaning lost youth makes for healthy aging. Overcoming obstacles with hope is his prescription for the coda of a life well lived.
Those who cannot summon the courage to address their limitations should seek professional help. His resounding message: Never give in to despair.