Monday, March 21, 2016

Old Age: A Beginner's Guide

Michael Kinsley’s guide to old age is primarily aimed at his fellow boomers, the millions of us born between 1946 and 1964.  As a group, boomers are the next generation in line to “lose the game of life,” as Kinsley puts it, so it is time to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  And, early on in Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, Kinsley makes the case that since we are all destined “to stay dead many years longer than we were alive,” the only thing we are going to leave behind is memories of ourselves – our reputations.  But here’s the kicker, boomers: if you want to be remembered as a good person, now is the time to get started because that old game clock is busily ticking away even as you read this.

It is common knowledge that Michael Kinsley has Parkinson’s disease.  He has, in fact, suffered from Parkinson’s for more than two decades since learning that he had the disease at age forty-three.  Having such a serious chronic disease gave Kinsley a head start on the average boomer who does not generally begin contemplating his own mortality until well into his sixties – if not even a bit later than that.  Much of the material comprising the seven chapters of Old Age appeared, in fact, in different format in Time and in The New Yorker between 2001 and 2014 (leading at times to noticeable repetition between chapters).   This probably also explains why, although Kinsley states that Old Age is not a book about Parkinson’s, quite a large percentage of the book’s 160 pages pertain to that disease and its affect on the whole mindset of aging.

Michael Kinsley
Despite the harsh realities of his message, Kinsley makes good use of humor to present what is ahead for him and his fellow boomers.  Even, for instance, when discussing dementia, every boomer’s worst nightmare, the author’s puts his sense of ironic humor to good use.  He explains his suggested rallying cry of “death before dementia” this way:

            “If you’re prepared to die at sixty, you can pretty much scratch dementia off your list of things to worry about.  By contrast, if you don’t mind being a bit dotty – or worse than a bit – you can go for longevity. But unless you’re extremely lucky, you won’t win both games.”

The inherent competiveness of baby boomers seems to amuse Kinsley greatly, but as he reminds us, “the only competition that matters, in the end, is about life itself.”  But sadly enough, that means we are competing to outlive our friends and family, and “even without a cash prize, we all would like to win. Life would be pretty empty without your friends. But not as empty as death.”


Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, might be just the book to ease boomers into the realization that the final score of their lives will be recorded soon – and that there’s still time to get in the game, friends.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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