In the past couple of weeks my email inbox has been filling up with a rash of self-help books for old people.
Before I go a word farther, you should know that I despise self-help books. My animus goes back to the 1970s when I worked on local morning TV shows in New York City where staple guests were the authors of this sort of twaddle.
Over those few years I read dozens of self help books but it doesn't take reading more than two or three to see that they are all the same, sometimes dressed up in either exotic-sounding metaphors or standard-issue aphorisms.
If a book is not the seven keys to life found in an African jungle, it is the stairway to heavenly personal success or the magic of thinking big (or little). They all guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong again in your life if you will follow their prescriptions for happiness AND you'll get rich too if you will just buy the book.
While I'm on that point, a whole lot of self-help books are not about enriching your life but about getting rich, as in dollars – about half of them, I'd judge. Before I would read even one more, I'd want to see proof of the author's net worth.
A fairly recent trend in self-help tomes is advice for old people. Someone in the publishing industry apparently got wise to the fact that the U.S. is graying, our numbers are increasing and now writers can't wait to explain to us how to live.
Usually, when these book promotions arrive in my inbox, I hit “delete” but occasionally I scan the message and a few days ago I came upon a book written by a woman whose mother suffered a stroke at age 92 and who then
”...helped her mother achieve and log 93 new activities between her 93rd and 94th birthdays, just to show you’re never too old to have fun.”
Really? Ninety-three brand new activities to match her age? Unless the author is counting rearranging the silverware drawer as a new activity, I doubt it. (Millie Garfield, feel free to chime in here).
This sub-genre of self-help books – self-help for old people – is not any more about SELF help than the self-help books for younger adults. They are all about the authors' way of life – each one of them convinced that theirs is the answer to all man- and womankind's troubles.
Invariably, the main piece of “wisdom” to be gained from these books is for old people to behave like younger people. Oh, they don't say it as baldly as I have. They tell you to be active, take up running, learn to play an instrument, run for political office in your town. Or, as above, find 93 new activities to do in one year because younger, mid-life people think they know all about how old people should behave.
These writers are people who are not yet afflicted with arthritis, rheumatism, emphysema, heart disease or other ailments of age that catch up with most of us eventually. Or, if not disease, we just get tired out, maybe from all the activities of those over-active mid-years.
It's has been awhile, but as I have often said in these pages over many years, individuals age at different rates of change. Unlike babies who can be expected to speak their first word and take their first step at a specific week of life, old age hits some people earlier than others or later than some others.
Either way, there comes a time when, like it or not, we must curtail some of the activities we have enjoyed for years or give in to nap each afternoon or realize we have already climbed a ladder for the last time or, on some days, just want to sit and let our minds wander around.
There is nothing wrong with any of that although many of the self-help gurus spend 300-odd pages in their books telling us otherwise.
What I think is that if self-help books for old people are necessary (a questionable premise), it is old people who should be writing them. Unless a younger writer is a geriatrician, gerontologist or hospice worker, for example, what does a 30- or 40- and 50-year old know about getting old?
The correct answer is: nothing.