Stuff I'm reading

Stuff I'm reading in the mags, books and the blogosphere.

fine, don’t cheer up

The other day I went into Barnes & Noble to noodle around the Aging section.  (Yes, there is one, and its entire contents fall neatly into two categories:  How to Care for Your Aging Parents and How to Stay Young Forever.)  I didn’t escape empty-handed, though, because Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America caught my eye on the way out.

a failure of imagination

I just finished How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old, by Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist. It was Agronin who introduced me to the psychologist’s fallacy, and he reiterates the point in a clip from a Today Show appearance, cautioning against unduly negative assumptions about the lives of the old old. “We have to be very careful and not project our own fears of aging,” he explains. “Their lives can be way better than we imagine.”

Who’s going to support Granny when she can’t support herself?”

“Women: can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em.” Men too:  “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.” Same goes for old people, as Susan Jacoby writes in her jeremiad about old age in America, Never Say Die:  “If we are not going to kill Granny, we are going to have to support Granny.”

What are the odds of ending up in a nursing home?

I’m making my way through Never Say Die, Susan Jacoby’s screed against the perky marketing of “the new old age.”   More on that soon, much more, but it’s in her first chapter that I found the following statistics, from Muriel Gillick’s The Denial of Aging:  “The latest prediction is that if you are just now turning 65, you have nearly a 50 percent chance of spending some time in a nursing home before you die.  Approximately 10 percent of those nursing home stays will be short-term, intended for recuperation after a hospitalization. The remainder will be for the long haul, with discharge to a funeral parlor, not to the family home.”

ageism trumps marketing: making gray the next green

The Sunday New York Times business section recently offered a Barbie-sized photograph, front and back, of a college student strapped into an age-simulation jumpsuit called AGNES – the Age Gain Now Empathy System.  (Is there a special hell for tortured acronyms?) AGNES is packed with motion-impairing straps and pads, but the article isn’t about empathy for the arthritic.  It’s about the hard sell that marketers face in selling stuff to the over-65 set, “an unfashionable demographic group that might doom their product with young and hip spenders.”

To work or not to work. (As if baby-boomers had the choice.)

This New Year’s Day two very different stories about the baby boomers’ uneasy relationship with aging caught my eye.  One was a front-page piece of fluff from the NYTimes whose title says it all: “Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65.” Apparently the hallmark of this transition is “a pervading sense that life has been what might technically be called a ‘bummer.’” A remarkably self-absorbed way to describe the logical corollary of the “U-shaped happiness curve”:  that mid-life is a time of reckoning that necessarily sets the stage for contentment in late life.