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All Aging Coverage

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.

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.

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.

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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