Monday, May 20, 2013

Must Reading for Sixty-Somethings

I have often marked decade birthdays by gifting copies of one of Judith Viorst’s clever poetry collections. These started with When Did I Get to Be Twenty and Other Injustices and went on to It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty, How Did I Get to Be 40 and Other Atrocities, Forever Fifty, Suddenly Sixty, I’m Too Young to Be Seventy, and the latest, Unexpectedly Eighty.

The Sixties book features a poem called “The New Alphabet,” which begins this way:

A's for arthritis.
B's for bad back.
C is for chest pains. Corned beef? Cardiac?
D is for dental decay and decline.
E is for eyesight -- can't read that top line.
F is for fissures and fluid retention.
G is for gas (which I'd rather not mention). . .

The poem is clever and full of the truth. And, like most of the other poems in the collection, it’s mostly light-hearted. I would have little reluctance sharing it with anyone reaching 60. Because—let’s face it—all of us need to inject some humor into in our “aging” joints, along with the occasional cortisone shot.

That said, I have a new gift idea in mind for friends entering their seventh decade—an electronic download of The Deadline, the new e-book novel by my friend and former colleague Steven Jay Griffel. Steven’s book presents an even truer vision of what it’s like to face your sixties in the 2010s. A carnival barker might shout, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll shudder, you’ll sigh.” In other words, the book will make you chuckle and worry at the same time. What else would you expect to happen when you are reading about a Jewish male character whose main goal is to be happy? As my brother used to taunt when he would give me noogies as a child, “Are you laughing or crying?”
Luckily there are no pictures of my brother
giving me noogies during our childhood together.
Steven’s happiness seeker, David Grossman, is facing lots of the angst of a 60-something American male in 2013—he has lost his job and feels a strange reluctance to look for a replacement; he has an aging parent, who may not be around much longer; his wife is a mixture of angel and taskmaster, supporting his dreams but giving him a hard dose of reality at the same time; his closest friend is building a new love relationship and starting a new business, and David, as befits his personality, offers advice and even helps secure a loan from some unsavory characters, who may, alas, have evil in their hearts. And, believe it or not, this is a comic novel! (“Are you laughing or crying?”)

The central idea in the novel, and I believe the driving force of all of us 60-somethings, is that David wants to follow his passion. Of course, some of us don’t know what our passion is or how to find it. And, if we do find it, how to exploit it. David does. He wants to write a book, a good book, a successful book. A book good enough and successful enough that he can devote his time to being a writer full-time. Imagine, being passionate all of the time! David has struck a bargain with his wife: he has one year to be guiltlessly passionate, to write his novel. After that, if he is not a financial success as a novelist, he will be required to become a “responsible adult” once again.

David writes and frets and advises and shares both wisdom and worries with his mother, wife, sister, and friends as the clock ticks toward his deadline. The writing goes well in the novel itself and in the novel inside the novel. But will it be done on time and be good enough? Readers get caught up in the drive toward the deadline. But it can be a bumpy ride.

So, I suggest giving The Deadline to someone reaching sixty-something. People, who, like David Grossman, are young enough to start over but starting to feel their age. People who are filled with passion and hope and a touch of guilt. Happily, or sadly, the book speaks to me. Then, of course, so does Judith Viorst’s poem with its painful reminders of arthritis, fading eyesight, and (you’ll pardon me) gas. 


  1. Michael Goodman is self-described as someone who is "more editor than writer; more repeater of stories than originator, but with a good eye and ear." Michael is right on, as usual. Only, he sells himself a little short. Very few successful writers are really “originators.” For sure, they all have (as Michael does) a good eye and ear. Most can write deftly, with flashes of brilliance. What passes for originality, usually has more to do with a writer’s willingness to spelunk his own heart and guts than it does with creating “original” content. Any writer with a good eye and ear, and a deft style, and the egoistic courage to excavate himself in the maniacal belief that the world will be a better place for having received his or her unsolicited gift—may have what it takes to be a successful writer. Goodman has the write stuff. Whether he has the insane desire to crawl up his own ass and turn himself inside-out, looking for a good story, remains to be seen. Most sane people don’t do such things.

    1. I'd like also to thank Michael for giving a plug to my last novel THE DEADLINE. My next novel (GRAND VIEW, coming soon) is not a further exploration of the sixtysomething scene. Au contraire! Hope y'all enjoy.