What's Tony Thinking

Book Notes, On Aging


Our book club, “The Gentlemen’s Book Club,” is wrapping up its Climate Change series.

Our next book, the final one in this series, is Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, The Ministry for the Future. The “Ministry” (not about ordained ministry in the church) is a Zurich-based UN office which has the responsibility of advocating on behalf of future generations regarding climate change. Robinson is known as a sci-fi writer, but I’d say he escapes that particular pigeon-hole — or maybe my stereotype. A fascinating book.

And a good one with which to wrap up this series. It is set somewhere in the future, maybe mid-century. So lifting the horizon. And, as a novel, taking a different approach than the other books in this series, all of them non-fiction. After we’ve had our book group session on The Ministry for the Future, I’ll say more and maybe offer a few comments on the arc of the Climate Change series.

One thing our GBC does is to do a series about a theme or topic. This is a bit more work than simply asking whoever is hosting the next gathering to pick a book they like, which is a common book club mo. It has a paid off. It’s great to stick with a topic and to go deeper, gaining different perspectives and seeing the theme refracted through different types of literature.

I’m excited about our next series and wanted to share with you some of the books coming up as you may find them of interest. And you may have some suggestions for us!

The general theme is aging and mortality. Maybe we’ll borrow the title of the first book, The Gift of Aging as our series title too, for its positive spin.

The Gift of Aging: Growing Older with Purpose, Planning and Productivity is by Marcy Cottrell Houle and Elizabeth Eckstrom. Houle, a wildlife biologist, is known to some of us for her wonderful book of 30 years ago on Wallowa County’s Zumwalt Prairie, The Prairie Keepers. It is also a kind of coming of age story, written when Houle was in grad school.

Houle’s co-author for The Gift of Aging, Elizabeth Eckstrom, is a physician who specializes in geriatric medicine. They combined on an earlier book, The Gift of Caring: Saving Our Parents — and Ourselves — from the Perils of Modern Healthcare. Maybe we’ll add that one to this series too?

Our next book is one I’ve been mentioned here before, With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in An Age of Denial, by the British palliative care physician, Kathryn Mannix. With story after story, lovingly and artfully told, Mannix helps us recover knowledge and wisdom about death and dying that had once been the common property and wisdom of most human cultures. But that was before death was isolated, medicalized, and shrouded in denial.

Others on our list are Atul Gawande’s great book, Being Mortal, in which he deals with mortality as a physician and as a son of aging parents. And for a somewhat different perspective, another possibility is epidemiologist Becca Levy’s 2011 book, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Age Beliefs Determine How Long and Well You Live. Levy looks at ageism in the culture — and — in each of us. Levy’s work was discussed in a piece on having a positive attitude towards aging in a recent NYT article.

We have two novels on the list for the series, again to provide a change of pace, and a different way to come at the topic. One is Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. The other is Alice Tyler’s novel, Clockwork. 

Another thing we do in the GBC, in addition to planning our reading in series on a topic, is to invite each member of the group to come prepared to share — reading aloud — a portion of the book that particularly spoke to them. What about this passage spoke to you? Why? That too has proven a good strategy for keeping our focus on the material, while making sure we hear from everyone.

So many great books!

I suspect a fair number of you who read this blog are more or less in my age demographic (and that of the members of the GBC), and so this topic may be pertinent for you as well. If you have a favorite to suggest on these themes, I’d love to hear from you.


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