Never trust a book by its cover. Not only is “Old Age A Beginner’s Guide” not a guide, but it is not as “surprisingly cheerful” (I call it calloused and flippant) or “laugh out loud funny” (more like a bitter choking laugh at the way American cultural norms of glossing over aging are perpetuated) or a “fresh assessment of a generation” (nothing fresh here, we all already knew that accomplished boomers were this self absorbed) as the reviewers proclaim.
OABG was written by the acclaimed and accomplished writer/editor Michael Kinsley. He founded Slate magazine and has served as a columnist and editor at the most notable magazines of late like The New Republic, The Economist, and Vanity Fair.
Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1993 at the age of 43 and until this book was published in 2016, was largely under the radar as a public figure with Parkinson. He notes at the outset of the book that it would be more about baby boomers than about Parkinson’s and at that sentence, I should have put the book down!
Instead, I read on to my increasing annoyance. I felt out of sync with Kinsley’s “humor” and alienated by his privilege. I found the few moments where he wrote about denial and the fear of losing work because of Parkinson’s to be the realest parts of his book. I know my father was in a deep state of denial as he faced escalating and worsening symptoms. The deeper my father climbed into denial the more it hurt him. He was fired and quit another job due to his declining health. Maybe reading this book would have normalized some of my father’s experiences and encouraged him to acknowledge the symptoms, pursue timely treatment, and envision the possibilities for his future as a person with Parkinson’s.
OABG ends with a crackpot scheme to fix the national debt that I found confusing and irrelevant. Kinsley is like an out of touch, self important uncle who talks too much but you’ll listen to his morally calloused ideas because he sends you money for your birthday. Except my metaphorical feelings for Kinsley are exactly like the solution he provides in the final chapter. We can no longer passively observe a decaying system and think that throwing money at it will fix it. The current environmental, economic, cultural, and spiritual climate is imploring us to take direct co-creative action for the advancement of all people.
I will recommend this book to people who are wrestling with denial. Hopefully it will shine a little light on, as Kinsley puts, in his only redeeming paragraph, the “aspiration” of acceptance. Otherwise just read my highlighted quotes and read my selected must read chapter next time you are browsing in a bookstore (nudge, nudge, wink, wink…. support your local bookstore).
The Highlight Reel
Chapter 4 An Encounter in the Sky
“I might not have chosen to join this old people’s club at forty-three, although you must admit it’s a pretty good joke on someone who used to like being thought of as precocious. If life is a race to the finish line, I’m years ahead now. In the course of our lives, most of us will get news like this one day. And every day you don’t get this kind of bad news increases the chance that you’ll get it tomorrow. So get ready.
There are three ways to deal with news like this: acceptance, confrontation, or denial. Acceptance is an aspiration, not a strategy. Confrontation means putting the disease at the center of your life…. Denial, on the other hand, means letting the disease affect your day-to-day life as little as possible. In fact, it means pretending as best you can that you don’t even have it.”