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For many, the holidays are a season for reflection. For gifts that deliver an uplifting message or daily direction for practicing your faith, consider these inspirational new releases.

Perfect as a gift for yourself or a friend, Becca Stevens’ Love Heals outlines a path to healing, peace and forgiveness through love. Stevens, an Episcopal priest and founder of the Nashville nonprofit community Thistle Farms, has been widely recognized for her work with women who’ve faced horrific circumstances. She has focused on the healing power of love as the guiding principle for both her personal faith and her 20 years of working with survivors of addiction, trafficking and prostitution. Using her own experiences and those of Thistle Farm residents, Stevens shows how love can help us regain strength, power and purpose in our lives. “Healing may mean finding peace after trauma, feeling hope in the midst of grief, forgiving after being hurt, or just relief from the daily wear and tear of living in a broken world,” she writes. She intertwines personal stories with scripture, poetry, prayers and step-by-step advice to help readers step out of their comfort zones and take action to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

DIVINE GUIDANCE
In God: A Human History, bestselling author and former CNN host Reza Aslan asks readers to reconsider what they believe they know about God and where their ideas originate. With extensive knowledge of biblical Greek, theology, history and philosophy, Aslan takes readers on a journey through time, from the theory of creation to the present. He contends, “The entire history of human spirituality can be viewed as one long, ever-evolving, and remarkably cohesive effort to make sense of the divine.” He questions why we have diminished the greatness of the divine by assigning human characteristics to a nonhuman entity when we so desperately want to have faith in the unknown. Aslan’s accessible prose and well-researched arguments invite readers—whether atheists or believers—to dive in and consider his theories on the humanization of the divine.

AGING GRACEFULLY
For some of us, the process of aging is traumatic, while others appear to handle their advancing years with grace. In Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy, Thomas Moore, author of the bestseller Care of the Soul, inspires readers to approach their later years with purpose and dignity. Moore argues that aging is not a matter of years, but of experiences—the events and decisions that form our very core—and we have the ability to age while “becoming a full, rich and interesting person.” With empathy toward those who fear growing old, Moore addresses not only the aging soul but also the aging body and mind. How can we deal with anger and loneliness as we age? How can we make the most of our retirement years? Moore answers these questions and more, and offers a guide to growing old and accepting who we are while seeking joy, contentment and fulfillment in our final season of life.

GOING UP
Tyler Perry offers readers a glimpse into his spiritual life with his second book, Higher Is Waiting. Known for his success in film, television and theater, as well as his strong faith, Perry presents personal journal entries that illustrate how his difficulties have led him higher and closer to God. Writing in a conversational tone, he shares stories, scripture and questions to inspire deeper reflection. A Tree of Life metaphor infuses this collection, which is divided into four parts: Planting the Seeds, Nourishing the Roots, Branching Out and Harvesting the Fruit. Perry walks readers through the difficulties of his childhood, including his father’s alcohol abuse, and shows how faith was revealed through his spiritual role models—his mother, Maxine, and his Aunt Mae. His introspection pushes us to contemplate how our own “soul-filled experiences” can teach us that lessons can be found in disappointment. Perry explains how to depend on the strength of our branches of faith and the people who raise us up. Finally, he advocates moving toward a life of gratitude, not only for what we have but also for what we can give to others.

DAILY REFLECTIONS
God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, written by Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller with his wife, Kathy Keller, offers a yearlong daily devotional for following God’s path, with entries drawn from the book of Proverbs. In the book’s introduction, the Kellers explain how this new volume differs from their 2015 bestseller, The Songs of Jesus, a devotional based on the book of Psalms. While the Psalms tend to push us gently toward faith in God, they write, the book of Proverbs is a wake-up call to do God’s work in the world and to live as God calls us to live. Each section of the book highlights a different area of our lives—from friendship and parenting to justice, wisdom and foolishness—and shows how the Proverbs can help us develop a stronger relationship with God. Each daily entry includes scripture, reflection, opportunity for journaling and prayer. Through the Kellers’ beautifully written devotionals, readers will be inspired and motivated to practice what they read “in thought, word, attitude or deed.”

 

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

For many, the holidays are a season for reflection. For gifts that deliver an uplifting message or daily direction for practicing your faith, consider these inspirational new releases.

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Aging powerfully, stoking creativity and keeping the peace in "peace on earth"—this month's best lifestyles books cover all these topics and more.


The Power Age

Illustrations of luminaries such as Michelle Obama, Patti Smith and Zadie Smith are a delightful feature of The Power Age: A Blueprint for Maturing With Style, but it’s the interviews with a wide range of inspiring, accomplished women—all over 40 and most of them 50-plus—that make me want to buy a copy of this book for every one of my girlfriends. “Entering your second act is not so scary as it once seemed,” writes Kelly Doust in the introduction. “It takes years and years of trial and error, and life lessons, and loss, to come home to ourselves and figure out who we are.” Doust is an Australian writer, and many of the women she talks to are based in Australia or New Zealand, but their collective wisdom certainly knows no national boundaries and shines brightly enough to power a universe of its own.

Make Time for Creativity

In the world of creativity guides, Brandon Stosuy’s Make Time for Creativity feels fresh. Stosuy’s got impeccable creds as the co-founder of the excellent web publication The Creative Independent and a collaborator with countless artists of all stripes. From this fertile ground he delivers a four-part look at the creative process, from work-life balance to necessary downtime, girded by insights from the writers, musicians, visual artists and others he has interviewed over the years. I especially like the “Daily Rituals” section, designed to show “how rituals make you feel present for your creative practice and able to treat it like sacred time.”

Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year

I wasn’t ready to think about the holidays when I first picked up Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year, but now that I’ve read it, bring on the mulled wine and evergreen boughs. In soothing prose, Beth Kempton helps readers locate the elements they love most about the before, during and after of the season, with an emphasis on a hygge-type appreciation of the winter months. Kempton, the author of an excellent book on wabi sabi, helps us dial down the noise of what doesn’t appeal. She doesn’t urge us to celebrate Christmas any one way but encourages us to “savor the hush” of the very end of the year—“the fleeting pause when time bends and magic hovers between the bookends of the season.”

Aging powerfully, stoking creativity and keeping the peace in "peace on earth"—this month's best lifestyles books cover all these topics and more.
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As a person growing old more rapidly than he cares to contemplate, I can tell you that no one in his youth or even early middle age thinks he will ever get old. It is a beneficial trick life plays on us, because if we comprehended then what awaits us, we would abandon everything out of shock. Once we get there, or close to there, however, it doesn’t matter; it is all right; the intervening years have cushioned the shock.

Even the sight of friends and relatives in their old age does not convince us. To help us understand this realm that we think we will never inhabit, Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist and author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, has written Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders (Simon ∧ Schuster Audio, $18, 0671044753).

Another Country is an exceptionally helpful and instructive book, written in a matching workmanlike style. Stories of people confronting old age, either their own or others’, form its heart, though one that at times tends to bleed. The stories come from interviews and therapy sessions that Pipher, who is 50 and lives in Nebraska, held with mostly rural Midwesterners, both black and white, in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, and in all stages and conditions of life poor, healthy, sick, wealthy.

I wanted to learn about our community-based country that has almost vanished, and also to understand the country of old age, Pipher writes. Because, she says a few pages later, as a nation, we are not organized in a way that makes aging easy. Indeed we are not. The twin topics of Pipher’s book are the segregation of the young from the old and the consequent difficulties this segregation makes for the elderly and those who care for them.

The young, of course, have always done things differently from the old, but Pipher suggests, and I think rightly, that perhaps never before have the two generations been so far removed in body, mind, and spirit, as they are in America today, to the immeasurable detriment of both.

The author and the people she talks to have many examples of the generational differences, but to me the most telling remark is made early on in the book.

Our parents’ generation was pre-irony, Pipher writes. Irony implies a distance between one’s words and one’s world, a cool remove that is a late-century phenomenon . . . [Freud] gave my generation the notion that underneath one idea is another, that behind our surface behavior is a different motive . . . But many people older than a certain age grew up believing that the surface is all there is. This may make it sound as if the young are clever and the elderly gullible, but her implication seems to be rather that irony has introduced a slickness inimical to plain and forthright dealing. People born early in the century, she writes, are the last Americans to grow up in a world in which all behavior mattered. Her great concern is that we get together ( communities keep people healthy; without community there is no morality ), and in her suggestions for achieving this, the advantage falls to the practices of our elders (a word she prefers to elderly ). In nothing is this more true than in the matter of physical closeness.

The book discusses many other significant subjects: the importance of the grandparent/grandchild relationship; the profound differences between the young-old (in their sixties and seventies) and the old-old (eighties and nineties); the assertion that rest homes are the concrete embodiment of failed social and cultural policies toward the old. As for the elders themselves, I could have composed a column of their comments alone and produced a review of this book at least as good as the dithyramb above. But for a parting shot I’ll limit myself to this, from Bette Davis, because it captures both the central difficulty of the aged the waning of powers and the qualities, like resiliency and fortitude, they summon to deal with it: Old age, La Belle Davis said, isn’t for sissies. Roger Miller is a freelance writer. He can be reached at roger@bookpage.com.

As a person growing old more rapidly than he cares to contemplate, I can tell you that no one in his youth or even early middle age thinks he will ever get old. It is a beneficial trick life plays on us, because if we comprehended then what awaits us, we would abandon everything out […]
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This month’s new lifestyles books are an eclectic mix that make quite a splash—from menopause advice to wild patterns of wallpaper to whimsical nudges to try new things.

 What Fresh Hell Is This?

Remember Gen X? No? That’s fine, no one does. But hey, we’re out here, and we’re heading into midlife and its many crises. Good thing we have Heather Corinna with us along for the bumpy ride, like the whip-smart, sardonic friend you used to hang with at punk shows who’s now armed with a metric ton of hard-earned wisdom about the endocrine system, advice for vasomotor freakouts and edibles. A longtime champion of feminist health, Corinna has previously written books for teens and tweens about bodies, sexuality and relationships. Their new book, What Fresh Hell Is This?, is a brilliantly irreverent and disruptive addition to the menopause survival/triumph category. Corinna writes forthrightly about their own experience, describing it as “not great in the way that, say, the 2016 US presidential election was not great.” They put their activist mojo to use in a guide that argues forcefully for new thinking about perimenopause, with a lot of laughs—and comics and Mad Libs!—along the way. Game changed.

Jungalow

Have you always been a sucker for luscious displays of color, pattern and texture in your personal space? Or, after a year of staying home, are you fed up with your minimalist, white-walled temple and ready to splash bright shades and wallpaper everywhere? Maybe you just need a gorgeous, aspirational coffee-table book to page through while you wait for the takeout to arrive. If your answer to any of these possibilities is yes, then the new Justina Blakeney will be your jam. Fans of her wildly successful The New Bohemians (I am one) will swoon over Jungalow: Decorate Wild. Never afraid to go big on a multiplicity of patterns, Blakeney asserts that “mixing is magic” and shows us how it’s done. Biophilia gets a loving nod here, too, with a chapter on how to work houseplants into your wild style. Prepare to be dazzled.

A Year of Weeks

Seven days is a short but solid amount of time to try something new—too brief, perhaps, to lead to a new habit, but sure to bring a sense of accomplishment, or at least satisfied amusement. Can you commit to doing one new thing for a single week? Sure you can, says Erica Root in A Year of Weeks. Cute as can be, this fully hand-drawn interactive workbook contains 52 prompts, from whimsical to practical, nudging us to draw, put on our thinking caps, be kind, follow our curiosity and so on. Show gratitude, notice everyday beauty, clean one thing, help someone or write someone a note. Design seven new socks or bookmarks or coffee mugs or hairstyles! In each case, you’re aiming for seven consecutive days of trying out your selected task, and Root’s drawings invite you to record evidence of your efforts right in the book. Pick up two copies: one for you and one for a pal or family member, because a little friendly accountability will only make the challenges sweeter.

This month’s new lifestyles books are an eclectic mix that make quite a splash—from menopause advice to wild patterns of wallpaper to whimsical nudges to try new things.

In The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World, London Business School economist Andrew J. Scott and his colleague, psychologist Lynda Gratton, offer a lively, thought-provoking survey of a world in which life and work will be fundamentally altered by increasing longevity and rapidly changing technology.

Building their discussion around composite characters they call “everybodies”—like Tom, a 40-year-old truck driver from Texas who ponders the impact of autonomous vehicles on his employment, or Radhika, a single college graduate in her late 20s working as a professional freelancer in Mumbai—Scott and Gratton focus on the transition from a traditional “three-stage life” (education, work, retirement) to a multistage one that will present both individuals and institutions with new opportunities and challenges.

As they explain, relying on examples drawn principally from developed societies around the world, individuals will be living longer as the future progresses and having relatively good health for more of those added years. This will require them to become “social pioneers,” “looking forward, building insight, facing truths, and unflinchingly looking at what is and what could be” in both their personal and working lives. In concrete terms, Gratton and Scott explain how the careers of the future won’t simply involve ascending a corporate ladder with experience and seniority, or perhaps shifting to a different company within an established industry. Instead, workers will likely find themselves alternating periods of employment with time out of the workforce, with some of that hiatus used to acquire skills that will enable them to cope with evolving technologies.

Pointing to the “malleability of age” in this world of expanding longevity, Scott and Gratton are ardent critics of biases that consign workers to obsolescence based solely on chronological age. They also offer thoughtful proposals for how corporations and governments might respond to these new realities. With the world confronting an economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s refreshing to encounter two original thinkers who can envision a brighter future, albeit one with its own daunting problems.

London Business School economist Andrew J. Scott and his colleague, psychologist Lynda Gratton, offer a lively, thought-provoking survey of a world in which life and work will be fundamentally altered by increasing longevity and rapidly changing technology.

It’s no secret that our brain is a complex thinking machine. But in addition to our thoughts, a huge number of other processes are controlled by our brains, which evolve and change as we age. In Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, Daniel J. Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music) outlines the brain’s development throughout our lifespan and explains how a few tweaks here and there can improve our prospects, particularly in the later stages of life.

Levitin’s decades of knowledge as a neuroscientist provide the backbone of this sizable (at 500-plus pages) book. Focusing on three main topics—development, choices and longevity—he explains the synergy between our brains and everything they encounter, from our social interactions, genetics and environment to activities such as eating, sleeping and exercise. But beyond the facts and statistics (although there are plenty of interesting ones), Levitin personalizes his writing, providing dozens of case studies and examples from his research, as well as his own experiences. 

Although the aging process can ravage the brain, Levitin demonstrates that this is by no means the only possible outcome. He stresses that “aging is not simply a period of decay, but a unique developmental stage that—like infancy or adolescence—brings with it its own demands and its own advantages.” He reaches back into childhood to highlight the factors that affect our brain later in life and explains how our responses and subsequent behaviors are modified along with our aging bodies. He also covers the most recent research on everything from psychedelic drugs to the length of telomeres (nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome), drilling down to what’s science fiction and what’s reality. 

With more and more of the population living longer, Successful Aging is a timely and relevant guide that will appeal to all age groups, giving us the motivation to keep our minds active and engaged.

It’s no secret that our brain is a complex thinking machine. But in addition to our thoughts, a huge number of other processes are controlled by our brains, which evolve and change as we age. In Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, Daniel J. Levitin (This Is Your Brain […]

In his characteristic free-flowing style, Dave Barry stares down aging by taking lessons from his 10-year-old dog, Lucy, in the delightful Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

Barry reveals seven lessons that his beloved Lucy has taught him, and he measures how well he’s succeeded in embracing those lessons. For example, he learns from Lucy how to be present, especially to “Pay Attention to the People You Love (Not Later. Right Now.).” Lucy always lives in the present moment, Barry tells us. When the garbageman comes, she “objects vociferously—she cannot believe we allow this to happen—he is taking our garbage,” but as soon as he leaves, Lucy has forgotten him and gone on to the next moment in her life. Barry tries to apply this lesson to his life with friends and family, working to be present with them rather than looking at his phone. Barry admits that it’s a constant struggle to focus on the people around him rather than on Twitter, but he thinks he’s doing better than he used to.

Another lesson he learns from Lucy is “Don’t Lie Unless You Have a Really Good Reason, Which You Probably Don’t.” When Lucy does something she’s not supposed to do, such as knocking down the Christmas tree, she greets the family with whimpering and “flattening herself on the floor in the yoga position known as Pancake Dog.” Barry points out that dogs are incapable of lying but that it’s more complicated for humans. Barry admits that he’s doing OK with this lesson.

Even as we’re laughing out loud at Lucy’s and Barry’s behavior, his witty and wise stories about aging with his dog touch our hearts.

Dave Barry stares down aging by taking lessons from his 10-year-old dog, Lucy.
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Journalist Katy Butler first wrote about death in her 2013 memoir, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which charted the decline and death of her father. Six years later, she offers a tremendously helpful follow-up, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. This substantial book, written for the aging and those who love them, offers a stage-by-stage look at the path toward death.

It might not seem like fun reading, but the salience of the topic is undeniable: Seventy-five percent of Americans want to die at home, but fewer than 33 percent do so. Butler points out that basic documentation can ensure a patient’s end-of-life medical intentions, yet more than 70 percent of us haven’t filled out the paperwork. Cultural conversations overvalue dramatic medical interventions that traumatize both the dying and those who love them. Butler writes, “There is a way to a peaceful, empowered, humane death, even in an era of high-technology medicine.” She goes on to offer a road map for the journey. Organized into seven chapters that begin with “Resilience” and end with “Active Dying,” Butler’s book is a nuts-and-bolts guide to supporting ourselves and each other through the final stages of life. For her, the path toward a good death begins years in advance, and no detail is too small.

For most of us, the shift toward death is invisible, frightening and largely idiosyncratic to our own circumstances. What Butler offers here is an overview of the terrain and helpful commentary about empowering, meaningful actions for people in a wide range of circumstances. If you are aging or love someone who is, this is a book to add to your list.

This substantial book, written for the aging and those who love them, offers a stage-by-stage look at the path toward death.

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In 2015, John Leland wrote a series of articles for the New York Times that examined the conditions and outlooks of three men and three women who, at that time, were between the ages of 87 and 92. He’s now chronicled that experience in Happiness Is a Choice You Make.

The common denominator of old age, Leland found, is a more or less graceful acceptance of the inevitable, not just of escalating physical limitations but of the awareness that each day may be one’s last and, thus, should be savored for what it has to offer. Even those who complained they were tired of living were not in despair. They had their days and moments of joy: Fred reveled in memories of his times as a sharp-dressed man-about-town. Helen, after losing her husband, discovered a second love and a reason to go on in Howie, a wheelchair-bound fellow resident in her nursing home. John, nearly blind and bereft of his longtime lover, listened to opera for inspiration or squinted at a video of his favorite musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

“[O]ld age is a concept largely defined by the people who have never lived it,” Leland observes. “We do ourselves a big favor not to be scared of growing old, but to embrace the mixed bag that the years have to offer, however severe the losses.”

 

This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In 2015, John Leland wrote a series of articles for the New York Times that examined the conditions and outlooks of three men and three women who, at that time, were between the ages of 87 and 92. He’s now chronicled that experience in Happiness Is a Choice You Make.

In 1993, then-42-year-old Michael Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Now, through the lens of that experience, the former editor of The New Republic, serving as a “scout from my generation,” offers his 79 million fellow baby boomers a clear-eyed glimpse of the decline that may lie ahead, while urging them to take stock of what they’ll leave behind when life’s clock inevitably runs out. 

Despite the bad fortune of its early onset, Kinsley’s Parkinson’s has been relatively mild. It wasn’t until 2002 that he publicly disclosed his disease, seven years after he left his position as co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire.” He underwent a deep-brain stimulation procedure in 2006 that has slowed the advance of his symptoms. But as he reveals in his wry account of a recent battery of cognitive tests, his decline, however measured, is perceptible.

Citing the estimated 28 million baby boomers who are expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder, Kinsley points to the “tsunami of dementia” about to afflict this cohort. For a generation that will be remembered for its ambition and competitiveness, he argues, this slowly dawning, frightening knowledge is likely to spark a round of “competitive cognition,” where “whoever dies with more of their marbles” is considered the ultimate victor in the game of life.

Kinsley concludes Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide with a plea to his fellow boomers to make a grand gesture that would be the moral equivalent of the Greatest Generation’s triumph over Hitler: a self-imposed tax on the massive transfer of wealth they’re currently enjoying to help whittle down America’s mountain of debt. It’s a bold, if not entirely realistic, proposal from someone who understands, and has communicated here with candor and characteristic wit, the daunting challenge facing his contemporaries as they contemplate life’s final act.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In 1993, then-42-year-old Michael Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Now, through the lens of that experience, the former editor of The New Republic, serving as a “scout from my generation,” offers his 79 million fellow baby boomers a clear-eyed glimpse of the decline that may lie ahead, while urging them to take stock of what they’ll leave behind when life’s clock inevitably runs out.
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Those of us approaching midlife want good news about the years to come. Is dementia inevitable? Can I continue to thrive despite an aging body? Will I become lonely and isolated as I grow older?

Barbara Bradley Hagerty has some good news for us in Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. As she sees it, midlife can be a challenging time as we endure many transitions—empty nest, retirement, the deaths of our parents—but these later years can be a time of discovery and reinvention as well.

Hagerty was a journalist for 20 years, but Life Reimagined is not just a collection of reporting. It’s Hagerty’s personal journey as she confronts the challenges of growing older. Her writing is lively and honest, and she manages to ask serious questions without taking herself too seriously. She interviews scientists about brain structure, psychologists about friendships and 21st-century matchmakers at the headquarters of dating site eHarmony. She studies resilience, investigating ways to cope with the difficulties that midlife brings. She proves her point about reinvention when she enters the Senior Olympics after taking up a new sport—cycling.

One touching aspect of the book is Hagerty’s account of her mother, a magnificent, intelligent woman in slow decline. Her mother provides Hagerty (and readers) with a demonstration of aging gracefully and living life to the fullest for as long as we can. She also demonstrates how to let go when it’s time. 

Life Reimagined gave me hope that midlife, even with its struggles, can be a time of growth and deeper joy in relationships old and new.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Those of us approaching midlife want good news about the years to come. Is dementia inevitable? Can I continue to thrive despite an aging body? Will I become lonely and isolated as I grow older?

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