New books on aging remind us that the ranks of over-50s move toward the millennium like a melon through a boa constrictor. Are You Old Enough to Read This Book? Reflections on Midlife, edited by Deborah H. Deford, directs its cheerful and varied wisdom to the over-50s gang in the voices of some of our age's wittiest and wisest spokespeople. Network journalist Linda Ellerbee introduces a collection of pieces reprinted from New Choices magazine. The volume's slick pages and bright visuals give Are You Old Enough? the feel of a hardcover magazine. Moving from the general topic of aging to observations on marriage, parenting, friends, work, and values, this book can sit on your night stand, in the bathroom, or on top of the TV zapper by your favorite chair.
In this pick-up-over-and-over-again kind of book, literary gems share space with pragmatic advice and sociological observation. John Updike observes in "The Truth about Life after 50" that "Fun comes in many flavors, and there is, believe it or not, an over-50 flavor." Deborah Mason reveals "Why Women over 50 Have Affairs," and observes that smaller families make "Reinventing the American Grandparent" a necessity. Interviewed by Susan Cheever, Arthur Miller offers some perhaps surprising advice born of his happy 32-year marriage to photographer Inge Morath: "It's a magical confluence of events, and it's amazing it occurs at all. We've solved some of our problems by ignoring them. This is probably the most long-term, safest solution ever devised by man: ignoring things."
Addressed to an older audience, Successful Aging places control over the aging process firmly back in our own hands. Author Dr. John W. Rowe, M. D. heads the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and chairs the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging. His co-author, Professor Emeritus Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D. taught psychology at the University of Michigan. As an octogenarian himself, Kahn speaks with personal as well as professional authority. In 1987 the MacArthur Foundation began a broadly-based longitudinal study of aging. Successful Aging reports a decade's worth of results of studies focused on factors contributing to a healthy and active old age. Some of these results will come as no surprise (lose weight, laugh a lot, stay involved with life), while others may offer new insights.
As Ernest Burgess said, "old age is a roleless role, a time of life when nothing is expected of you." A life without structure can be both a gift and a burden. Both of these books concentrate on age's gifts.