Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested–
~ Francis Bacon



Ruth Harriet Jacobs, octogenarian, is a gerontologist, sociologist, playwright, educator, poet. Senior scholar at Wellesley College’s Center for Women, she has authored nine books including Be an Outrageous Older Woman and ABC’s for Seniors: Successful Aging Wisdom from an Outrageous Gerontologist. Jacobs is a founding member of the Red Hat Society.

I have often used Jacobs’ poem Don’t Call Me a Young Woman in my gerontology lectures for undergraduates who can learn from her that age is a badge of honour as in this excerpt:

Now I am somebody magnificent, new,
a seer, wise woman, old proud crone,
an example and mentor to the young
who need to learn old women wisdom.

Jacobs and Ryan on Libraries

My Love Affair with Libraries, by Ruth Harriet Jacobs

I Long to Linger on Library Ladders, by Ellen Ryan

Re-Reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain – 50 years Later

I first encountered this magic book at the age of 16.  I read this mountain of a book within a marathon month during which our English teacher had challenged us to read as many books as we could.  Years later I can still feel the glow of reading 30 library books  in 30 days, and a heightened pride that this total included The Magic Mountain – more than 700 densely printed pages with long excerpts in French. My vague recollection over the years focused on the extravagance of an elegant Swiss Alps sanitorium inhabited by the wealthy from across Europe conversing in German, French, Russian, Italian and occasionally English.

Fifty years later, I lingered through much of last month listening to an audio presentation of this classic novel.  With more experience of history, life, and language, I enjoyed the philosophical conversations contrasting the dominant points of view in pre-World War I Europe and Mann’s poetic descriptions of the alpine setting. Now I am more appreciative of the initiation story as a passage through serious illness into maturity and the careful depiction of the insidious process of medical institutionalization.

Reader Commentary on Old Age Fiction – from Diane P

Some classic older protagonists come to mind: Shakespeare’s King Lear, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Hemingway’s Old Man (and the Sea).

The role of older adults in fiction seems to fall into categories:

those looking back, trying to make sense of a lifetime – Dunny in Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, the butler in Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler;

happy endings, the reward of life – Good-bye Mr. Chips by James Hilton, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill;

the confused older person – Still Alice by Lisa Genova, The House I Loved by Tatian de Rosnay, As We Are Now by May Sarton, The Scream by Rohinton Minstry;

the books which relate an entire lifetime, ending with the main character as elderly – A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsyth Hailey, Stone Diaries  by Carol Shields, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck;

disappointment and regret in old age – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCuller, Thirty Acres by Ringuet (pseudonym of Philippe Panneton);

the really fine admirable old person – Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

Civic Engagement Tip for Older Writers

Book lovers can offer rides to the library. and join the local library visiting program to take books to people who are housebound.  They can also offer to speak at the local library  or bookstore on writing, or a favourite author or book. Writing book reviews for newsletters or blogs can lead a wider audience to the enjoyment of reading.

Writing Exercises

1. Reminisce about your first library experiences, contrast these with current library experiences.

2. Favourite Book

Make these lists for a favourite book: setting (10 descriptive words), character (10 qualities of main characters), plot (10 verbs, including movement of time/place), and your response (10 feelings or metaphors).

Then write a book review using many of these words.


Every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self.
The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument
which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without his book,
he would, perhaps, never have perceived for himself.
~ Marcel Proust

The wise man reads both books and life itself.
~ Lin Yutang

Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.
~ E. P. Whipple

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our minds alive,
to be open to new ideas, to entertain challenging doubts,
nurture a lively curiosity and strive constantly to keep learning.
~ Rabbi Bernard Baskin

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With this shadow photo, I bid you adieu,