Sunday, December 4, 2016

Book of the Day: If we're lucky, we will get old. Then we will wonder how we were lucky. That will make us philosophers.

The magazine Aeon has some of the best essays in print today, and today is no exception. In "Ask the aged: Who better to answer questions about the purpose of life than someone who has been living theirs for a long time?", the gerontologist Karl Pillemer reported a revelation:
Ten years ago, I reached a point in my career that felt either like a dead-end or a turning point – I wasn’t sure which. By then, I had spent 25 years as a gerontologist, professionally occupied with everything to do with ageing. I conducted research using longitudinal data sets and sophisticated statistical analyses. I developed and evaluated programmes to improve older people’s lives. I taught courses and gave lectures on ageing. I opined on policy issues affecting our ageing society. So what was the revelation? 
I never talked to old people. 
My research kept me at more than an arm’s length from the living, breathing individuals who were its subject. At best, hired interviewers spoke with my respondents. Elsewhere, I used even more distant secondary data sets. My ‘engagement’ with real people involved checking codes and running statistics. The living, breathing humans who reported buoyant life satisfaction or high levels of caregiver stress were equally distant from me. And so I suddenly felt an urge to go out into the world of people in the eighth decade of life and beyond, and listen to what they had to say. What I heard changed my whole approach to life. Perhaps it will do the same for you...
At the risk of immodesty, I knew this a long, long time ago. I grew up among old people. Both my parents came at the end of long lines of older siblings, so my grandparents were old (one of my great-grandfathers was born in 1843): one died before I was born: the others, when I was three, six and sixteen. I grew up in neighborhoods whose residents were one or two generations older than my parents. Kids were thin on the ground; stories of the 19th century were plentiful.

I even live in such a neighborhood now. Those living around me range from their 70s to the 90s. As a young whippersnapper of 60, I wait my turn for promotion.

But I find I just have more questions as I age. Maybe that's the best we can do: think more before proclaiming; ask better questions; ponder the answers harder.

One who has done this better, and more entertainingly, than almost anyone I know, is the writer Henry Alford, and that's why I want to tell you about his book:

Alford, Henry, How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still On This Earth), (Twelve/Hachette Books, 1st ed, 1st printing, 2009). ISBN 978-0-446-19603-1. At 45, New Yorker writer Henry Alford got to wondering about what old age will be like, and set out to ask a variety of old people. This book is the result: “I in no way mean to suggest...that I myself am proposing a way for others to live.. Rather, I am the listener here; it is my interviewees who I hope will be making all the recommendations. Mark Twain once said, ‘Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would rather have talked.’ And, oh, how some oldsters can talk.” Witty, engaging, sometimes wistful, this book gets the skinny from the famous (Edward Albee, Phyllis Diller), and the not (his step-father and mother, whose interview answers inadvertently start the unraveling of their 36-year relationship). How to Live was published in a small hardcover run before going to paperback. This is a classic-in-the-making. Octavo, 262 pp. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket fine condition. HBB price: Make me a offer: this book needs a good home!

Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at  Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like. #RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #OldAge #HowToLive #HenryAlford #Charlotte

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