A Book about Growing Older: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021
When you are young you may never think it will happen to you, or it's way far off, and then one day... it happens. Whatever you want to call it, you're older, old, middle aged, a senior. There's more gray hair, you suddenly need glasses for everything etc., etc. I remember the first time a salesperson at a checkout counter asked me if I wanted the senior's rate. I glared at her. She immediately apologized, and I then chuckled. That happens to all of us eventually. I have decided that from now on I will accept the offer of the senior's discount.
It's not just physically but mentally too. How do we know? Or more specifically, how did I know? I had no time for nonsense anymore. I felt I had seen and heard everything, and not much phased me anymore. Another phrase that keeps coming to mind when I think of aging is, "If I knew then..." and, what a coincidence, popular Canadian artist Jann Arden wrote just that book!
Margaret Trudeau has kept busy in her later life. Well, in most of her life, really. She gave mental health inspirational talks, wrote a book about her own personal experiences with mental health, and also wrote a book about growing older, The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future. In this book, she writes about how women hitting middle age and older can lead full rich lives. They can use their creativity, start a new business, job, or take on new volunteer opportunities. Trudeau gives examples of women who have done just that and shares their backgrounds. Going through retirement, loss of a job, widowhood or an empty nest doesn't have to mean giving up on it all.
My book club has just gone through a bunch of books about growing older, and the members said to me, "no more!" They do want me to recommend these two books, though: When All is Said by Anne Griffin, set in an Ireland pub, where an older man gives toasts to people he knew in life; and The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg, set in Stockhom, which is about an older woman reminiscing in old age, remembering her time in Paris and Manhattan. Both were very well enjoyed. We are ready to move onto other topics, though.
Recommendations from TPL staff
Here are some of our staff picks for "a book about growing older". This list includes children's picture books, too!
Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Arthur Less is a middle-aged, not terribly successful novelist. As his dreaded 50th birthday approaches, he is shattered by his publishers' rejection of his latest book and by news of his ex-lover's forthcoming marriage. He devises a clever plan to distract himself by grabbing any opportunity offered to him. He will avoid all the unpleasantness by travelling around the world getting paid to do literary things – like teach a university seminar in German, a language he mistakenly believes he speaks fluently. Although his thoughts are briefly diverted by chaos, in quiet moments Less reminisces about his youth and past loves – especially the soon-to-be-married Freddy.
– Margaret, Librarian
Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. One of the very few Science Fiction titles that features an elderly main character. Ofelia has lived her life and done what was asked of her, but at the age of 70 she walks away from it all with some truly profound consequences. A book about growing old, learning to stand alone and the wisdom that age and life experience can bring.
– Vince, Operations Supervisor
Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Wagamese share his life story before he passed away in 2017. He had a way with words that brought tears to my eyes, and this novel did the same. An Ojibwe man asks his estranged son to take him to the mountains so he can die and be buried traditionally. Along the way they both journey into the past, and connect with each other for the very first time.
– Nalini, Senior Branch Head
One of the reasons I enjoyed the novel The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway was because of the overwhelming theme of fortitude that is present through the old man in the story. The story to me wasn't just about the characters struggle in catching this enormous fish. It was also about him endlessly trying to giving his all to succeed in his task. Even if his attempts resulted in failure, he never truly gave up and that to me is an admirable quality.
– Eunice, Librarian
Robert Munsch's Love You Forever should go on the list. Both mother and son grow older but their love stays evergreen.
– Katherine, Library Assistant
A Spool of Thread by Anne Tyler. I loved how Tyler doesn't leave the gritty parts about getting older off the page. She delves into the 7-year itch, the hassle of trying to be a couple with young children and the trials of getting older. Not just from the women's point of view but from a man's perspective too. We see three generations go through the book although the main story is about Red and Abby. I was never a fan of Anne Tyler until I was told to read this book and wow! The author blew me away with her honest and well-edited writing.
– Katherine G., Library Assistant
Last year I read Older, But Better, But Older by Caroline de Maigret and Sophie Mas. It's a hilarious memoir/guidebook about all the "fun" things we can expect to happen to us as we get older. I love the casual style of writing and the way the authors poke fun at themselves. Reading it has reassured me that aging shouldn't be taken seriously, no matter how many new wrinkles I may be noticing!
– Lisa M., Library Assistant
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. A classic book about unconditional love between a boy who grows old with a tree. I also recommend...
I came across this book, When I'm bigger, Mama Bear by Rachel Bright. A book about mother and daughter bear relationship. Baby bear wants to do BIG bear things on her own, but Mama bear tells her she's too small. A really cute picture book that demonstrates baby bear's independence, and Mama bear's love.
– Faye, Librarian
I recently read the graphic novel, The Times I Knew I was Gay by Eleanor Crewes. It's a graphic memoir following Crewes from childhood to adulthood as she navigates her sexual orientation and gender expression. It's a great read for those who want to learn more about coming of age as an LGBT2S+ identifying person.
– Des'Ree, Public Service Assistant
Oona out of order by Margarita Montimore. The book starts in 1982 with Oona as an 18-year-old. At the stroke of midnight Oona is torn from her life and everyone she loves, finding herself in her 51-year-old body, thirty-three years into the future. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she's told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. Still a young woman on the inside, but ever changing on the outside, who will she be next year?
– Jo-Ann, Library Assistant
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Kya Clark, known as the Marsh Girl, is an abandoned wild child but grows up to find a successful career and everlasting love. This beautifully written story expresses the pain Kya endures from the prejudice of her small town.
– Debra, Librarian
I'd recommend Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant, an autobiographical graphic novel by Roz Chast. Told with humour and heart, the story focuses on her aging parents, their transition to assisted living and their end-of-life experiences.
– Kate C., Librarian
I highly recommend Old Filth, by Jane Gardam. The first in a rich trilogy, Old Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) is about Sir Edward Feathers, a retired judge, an "orphan of the Raj", with more than one secret. His decline is well noted by others before he realizes it.
– Marie, Librarian (recently retired!)
I recently finished City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. The protagonist recounts her life story, and is unapologetically candid about her loves, celebrations, failures, woes, and everything in between.
– Sephora, Senior Branch Head
A Man Called Ove by the Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. This book is an example of why you shouldn't not judge people and box them into categories. Ove may be seen as "the bitter neighbour from hell" but behind the rough exterior, a kind heart does exist. The English translation stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 42 weeks and rumour has it that Tom Hanks is set to star and produce the English-language film adaptation.
– Radha, Assistant Branch Head
If you like to read in French, we also have a French list for this category, "le vieillissement" on Cantook Station. There's a mix of ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!
Recommendations from the Facebook Group
These are just a few of the dozens of recommendations from the Facebook TPL Reading Challenge Group. You can view the thread of all of the suggestions – even if you aren't a member and don't have Facebook!
- Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Dancing Fish and Amonites by Penelope Lively
- Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
- In Our Prime by Susan J. Douglas
- Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt
- Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
- Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer
- Letters to my Daughter by Maya Angelou
- Black Cool by Rebecca Walker
- The Sense of Ending by Julian Barnes
- No One Tells You This, by Glynnis MacNicol
- The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
- Elegy for Iris by John Bailey
- Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond
- Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende
- Accidental Icon by Iris Apfel
- Keep It Moving by Twyla Tharp
- You Don’t Look Your Age, and Other Fairy Tales’ by Sheila Nevins
- Successful Aging by Daniel J Levitin
Edited April 19, 10:50am. Added link to French recommendations.