The Little “Oof” Noise
Social Security - Part 21: Risky Business

Unwarranted Surprise

category_bug_ageism.gif It’s not the cultural pressure on elders to behave and look like younger people or even the overt age discrimination in the workplace that marginalizes old people. I am coming to believe that these indignities would not exist if it weren’t for the indiscriminate ageism that permeates media in all its forms. It is so common and so subtle, it can even appear to be complimentary.

In the 11 June issue of Newsweek, David Gates reviews a new novel titled It’s All Right Now. He leads by noting that the author,

“…[Charles] Chadwick, a 72-year old British civil servant and first novelist, is an amateur with no career to sustain and seemingly no preconception of what a novel is...[the book] has the exhilarating freshness of not knowing any better.”

Even while coming close to dismissing the author as a non-professional, Gates’s review is favorable, so much so he concludes Chadwick is among the “masters.” But in between, he expresses surprise that the old man, a retired British civil servant, has had any association with literature at all:

“Chadwick is no unlettered primitive. Judging by [the protagonists’s] voice, his creator must have read Beckett, and perhaps Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. He alludes repeatedly to the poetry of Philip Larkin…”

Of course, this is a common conceit among many who write about books in the popular press – that we mere readers of any age (on whom, ironically, they depend for their livelihood) are too dim to have read or, if we have, to have understood anything more complex than genre fiction, let alone write it.

The undertone of the entire review is dismay at Chadwick’s accomplishment at such an advanced age. The piece is titled The Kid is All Right. The cutline is “A 72-year old civil servant pens a brilliant first novel” - both insinuating that Chadwick is an anomaly: how amazing that an "ordinary man" in his eighth decade is capable of writing a book worth reading.

Why shouldn’t someone with 70 years of life experience, some talent for words and the distinct possibility of possessing a bit of wisdom be published for the first time without surprise? I’ll read an old person’s first novel long before any of the hundreds of unripened 20-something first-timers who are published each year.

This review is an example of the kind of subtle, off-handed ageism which, if you read as much about old people as I do for this blog, becomes apparent every day and in its ubiquity, supports the belief that all but a few old people are defective in some manner.

Comments

I remember reading somewhere that you can't write a really great children's book until you are old enough to be a grandparent. Now that I am old enough and ready to rewrite my first full length children's book, it makes perfect sense to me. My earlier writings all seem like practice to finally know what is good and what isn't and that awareness comes from reading and reading and reading and being old enough to know what is good and what makes it good. Maybe I won't publish anything until I am 70 and get the same kind of review, amazement that someone so old could write so well. But I hope that, as we baby boomers age, we will change this view of old age. What angers me is whenever the media talks about the coming change in demographics and they always run a clip of a nursing home and people shuffling along in walkers looking half dead. They never show a peaceful, creative, happy old couple like we plan on being.

I've ordered this book, which looks intriguing. Haven't seen any UK reviews yet - I shall be keeping a look out to see if they are equally ageist.

The reviewer seems as dismissive of "civil servant" as he is of the author's age. It's funny because the civil servants I know are among the most creative group I've ever seen on their weekends and downtime. Their work, by its very nature, is so much a boilerplate product of large groups, that these people are intensely drawn to individual endeavors - like reading, writing, painting, etc. - in their free time.
The person whom I consider the best-read of all the bloggers I've read, is also a British civil-servant. I won't mention his name here because I don't know if he wants people to know his vocation, but he regularly reviews books for Amazon, and his output is extraordinary.
And Anthony Trollope, one of the most prolific literary authors of all time, was a British civil servant if I remember correctly. So where has this Newsweek guy been?

I'm in my late 30s but I would have thought that experience would be an absolute bonus when writing a book. That's what I'm hoping anyway if I ever write my first book.

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