Best books about what it’s like to be old

In addition to the end-of-civilization meme, I seem to be very much attracted about books that talk about what it’s like to be old. I am not seriously preparing for Apocalypse, but the thought of preparing for old age does occur to me. Not that I read for that purpose explicitly; but perhaps there is a hint of foresight in preferring to learn about what’s ahead, rather than to reminisce in what’s been left behind.

Here, in no particular order, a few books on the topic.

  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood. Delightful.
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka. Somewhat whimsical, but with more than a ring of truth behind the farcical surface.
  • Exit Ghost, Philip Roth. For the lowdown on what it’s like to be impotent and incontinent and unwilling to accept it.
  • Saturday, Ian McEwan. An Alzheimer’s patient, from her son’s point of view.
  • Elegy for Iris, John Bayley. A real – not a fictional – Alzheimer’s patient, author and philosopher Iris Murdoch. In her husband’s words.
  • Slow Man, J. M. Coetzee.
  • Man in the Dark, Paul Auster.

What would you add? Yourcenar’s Mémoires d’Hadrien, perhaps?

One thought on “Best books about what it’s like to be old

  1. Exactly.

    «En un sens, toute vie racontée est exemplaire; on écrit pour attaquer ou pour défendre un système du monde, pour définir une méthode qui nous est propre.

    Il n’en est pas moins vrai que c’est par l’idéalisation ou par l’éreintement à tout prix, par le détail lourdement exagéré ou prudemment omis, que se disqualifie presque tout biographe: l’homme construit remplace l’homme compris.

    Ne jamais perdre de vue le graphi­que d’une vie humaine, qui ne se compose pas, quoi qu’on dise, d’une horizontale et de deux perpendiculaires, mais bien plutôt de trois lignes sinueuses, étirées à l’infini, sans cesse rapprochées et divergeant sans cesse: ce qu’un homme a cru être, ce qu’il a voulu être, et ce qu’il fut».

    Marguerite Yourcenar, Carnet de notes de «Mémoires d’Hadrien»

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