Sunday, 8 June 2014

#372: Growing Older, Reading Bolder

If you are of a certain age and on Facebook, you will recognize the logo and the content that identify Growing Bolder, a media enterprise out of Florida that pitches to us old folks.  Old by GB's definition begins at 45, by the way.  Just in case you are wondering at what point you need to make a real effort to start aging positively.

I've never seen or heard Growing Bolder on TV or radio in Canada, but those relentlessly heartwarming and positive Facebook SHAREs from GB are everywhere.  So I get the idea.  Age is something you can defy: You just need to have the right attitude.

Like Growing Bolder on Facebook!
Everyday, an uplifting affirmation!
And it is not that I don't buy into the concept of Bolder, not Older.  It sure beats the heck out of Dying, not Trying.

But let's get real. As we age, there comes a point where running a half marathon after two life-threatening cancers is just not possible.  The best attitude in the world will not get us up Kilimanjaro if our knees are shot.  No wonder the GB people are giving 45 year-olds a shove.  The kids need to work on that bucket list while they have the energy.

Becoming "bolder", however, isn't just about overcoming physical challenges or even aspiring to emulate elderly athletes, phenoms like 91 year-old Canadian Olga Kotelko.  Olga is undoubtedly inspirational, but she is also atypical; my 91-year old friends at the retirement home where I am a "library volunteer" are not like Olga!  They use canes and walkers and wheel-chairs. They are tethered to oxygen tanks.  But Boldness is still within their reach.  Their bodies may look old but their brains are just as sharp as Olga's.  Their minds are young and fit, and their attitudes are positive.

Within limitation, they all attempt some sort of exercise.  Even Kay, who is on oxygen and wheelchair-bound, does seated exercises with weights.  But mostly, they read.  They turn pages and they listen to books on CD.    

And they do not necessarily read what you imagine! 

As a librarian, I am not a book snob. Reading anything is acceptable, at any age.  Nurse and Doctor Romances? Fine.  A diet of Westerns, one after the other after the other?  Better than looking out the window, I say.  But some older readers are willing to push the envelope a little bit.  They take reading risks. They Read Bold. Sometimes they have no choice -- they are dependent on me for their books, and I am willing to take chances on their behalf.  I have been known to hand over a book with the warning that this is "a bit of an experiment, but give it a try.  If you don't like it, don't finish it."  After all, a book will not break a bone, cause a fall, or make anyone ill.  It will only shake up a bunch of neurons, and that is a very good thing.

Fortunately, my edgy book-choices are rarely rejected.  Even doubtful readers usually tell me, "I wasn't sure about the story, but after I got into it, I enjoyed it.  It was really interesting and it made me think". Sometimes the enthusiasm it is effusive. "That was the best book I have read this year!  I am going to get my daughter to read it!"  

So what Bold Books have my library clients been enjoying, and what brain-boosting challenges have these stories presented?  Here is a tiny recent sample:

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. This story is violent.  In 17 century Canada, Iroquois + Huron + Jesuits = Massacre.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter.   A hermaphrodite as protagonist?  Wayne, who identifies as female, comes of age in a (macho) rural Labrador village .

Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese.  Drunks and drug addicts all -- four homeless people get together, watch movies and make friends. They also swear. A lot.

Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The language is archaic, the plot is complex, and this book is looong. 880 pages long.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.   Mantel gives a sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell's early years. Now if only all the men in her story were not called Thomas.....

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  Three intertwined, somewhat chick-litty plots hinge on sex, infidelity and murder.  And not to forget... there are two Australian settings, Melbourne and Sydney.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have not read all of these books myself.  But on the strength of feedback from my Bold Readers, I will confidently make recommendations to my own book group. And if my long-time friends, who are in their 60s and 70s, question the violence in The Orenda, for example, I will repeat what Jessie told me.  I'll explain that in the context of the time and culture, such bloodthirsty behaviour is completely understandable.

And I will add, of course, that Jessie is 92.        



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