Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, by Michael Kinsley
Sometimes if you know enough about someone you would avoid reading their books. Such is the case here. The author is someone I didn’t happen to know about when I picked up this book but it quickly became clear that as one of the co-founders of Slate a frequent contributor to other leftist newspapers and magazines that this fellow is not one that I would greatly appreciate. And for the most part that is true. This is a book that is all too full of the author’s personal perspective, where the author assumes the reader is someone who is sympathetic to his views and perspectives and to who he considers to be important political commentators from generations past who have (quite justly) been forgotten as soon as they were dead, and sometimes long before then. When one adds to this the ways that the author tries to play the victim card by talking so much about his long struggle against Parkinson’s Disease, this book becomes all the more unpleasant. That isn’t to say that this book is devoid of worthwhile information, but rather that the author’s perspective makes it hard to appreciate what insight he does provide, a symptom of so much that is wrong in our contemporary world.
This book is slightly more than 100 pages long and is divided into a variety of sections based on the subject matter the author is talking about. The author begins by looking at what it means to win at death in the yuppie mindset as well as in his own eyes before getting to a more personal introduction. After that the author breathlessly narrates encounters in pools (1), a defense of denying one’s aging and illnesses (2), and talks about the awkward subject of brain surgery (3). The author then whines about the second act of Robert McNamara (4) and talks about what it is like to lose one’s mind or fear that one has lost it (5). Finally, the author ends the book by talking about the vain hopes of controlling one’s reputation by referring to the strange afterlife of Jane Austen (6) as opposed to those lesser writers who were more popular during her lifetime, and then gives some highly politically motivated advice as to what is the least that baby boomers can do (7) to ensure that the world is a better place, proof that many boomers never stop being tiresome when it comes to what they are looking for out of the world.
When does one begin old age? Do we count a particular age as marking it, or do we count it when one makes a certain change of life that puts one in the realm of elder statesman or grandparent or something else of that nature? Or do we, as the author seems to do, view chronic illness as a sign of old age. In that case, I would be equally equipped to write about old age as the author does, even if he is focused on Baby Boomers and does not appear to realize that even a young GenXer like myself has had gout for more than a decade and is, in the eyes of the author, someone capable of writing about the decline that one faces as a result of old age and the frailty of the body. I would hope that if I wrote a book about the subject I would be less self-absorbed than the author is, but I can’t make any promises about that sort of thing, even if I wish to do my best. This author doesn’t appear to have even tried.