Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Young Adult Literature--YA, as we say in the lit biz--is a hot commodity nowadays. It's aimed at kids from about 12 to 20. Although most teenagers who read at all read regular adult books as well, it's nice to read books aimed at your age group, books that confront the interests and problems, joys and sorrows of your particular time of life.

Most so-called adult literature features 20-50-somethings mating and splitting up, striving for power and success, rearing children, having mid-life crises, enduring their misguided older relatives. Been there, done that. As an adult over 55, I enjoy literature that depicts the world I know, that dance with death that constitutes the final third of life.

Some appropriate candidates for the Old Adult, or OA, category jump to mind.

Old Adult Novel
Memento Mori. Muriel Spark was only 41 when she published this satiric jab at the elderly, which raises the question, does the author of an OA have to be old herself? I think it depends on the writer. If the depiction of old people rings true and lacks sentimental gush, I'm willing to accept a youngish author.

Old Adult Play

King Lear. "How sharpter than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." A foolish old man and his three daughters. No one under fifty should read or see Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. Too grim. Too true. Too disheartening.

Old Adult Poem
"Sailing to Byzantium." William Butler Yeats was in his early 60s when he wrote the poem that begins:

     That is no country for old men. The young
     In one another's arms, birds in the trees
     --Those dying generations--at their song,
     The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
     Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
     Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
     Caught in that sensual music all neglect
     Monuments of unageing intellect.

You said it, brother.

Old Adult Short Story
I found John Barth's "Toga Party," with its wonderfully exuberant downbeat ending, in The Best American Short Stories, 2007, edited by Stephen King. King did an excellent job ferreting out good stories in all sorts of places. This, my favorite volume in the series, also contains Beverly Jensen's "Wake." It's hard not to like a story that begins, "Good God Almighty. We've lost the damned body."

Old Adult Nonfiction

 Reflection, journal, memoir. A trio of wonderful books by three wonderful women writers, all over 55 at the time of writing.

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn G. Heilbrun
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
Coming Into the End Zone by Doris Grumbach

Listing these works has made me hungry to reread them and see if they're as good as I remember.

I plan to add more OAs to this list as I come across them. Please feel free to suggest some of your own favorites.


  1. One of my favorite fantasy fictions, which I came across simply because I needed a paperback for a trip, is Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls. The main character is loosely described as "middle aged." I found the book and the story refreshing, because even finding a woman of middle age as the protagonist in a fantasy is unusual, and Ista is a fully realized character, basically on a quest to start a new life. At the time I read the book, I was just beginning to accept my own "middle age" status. So, I understand the appreciation of books with older characters. I still identify with characters of every age, but a character with maturity and perspective can definitely be a plus. I seem to recall some of Louise Erdrichs' main characters are middle aged or older- now that I'm there, they stand out less for me, because an older character's experiences and perspectives are easily incorporated into my reading experience. I like your OA category!

  2. Thanks, Annie. I'm going to check out Paladin of Souls. I like a good fantasy now and again.

  3. This year I read Emily Alone by Steward O'Nan. Emily is in her 80s, living on her own and the novel is an extremely detailed portrait of her life in Pittsburgh, PA. There's an earlier novel about her, newly widowed, that I have marked to read.