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“Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, & Regret”

By Martha C. Nussbaum & Saul Levmore

c. 2017, Oxford University Press

$24.95, higher in Canada; 264 pages   

Kicking and screaming. That’s how you’ll go into your twilight years: the calendar might say one thing but you’re not going to pay it any mind. There’s still a lot of pep in your step so shouldn’t, as in the new book “Aging Thoughtfully” by Martha C. Nussbaum & Saul Levmore, how you spend your golden years be your decision? 

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant past, the average life expectancy was around 50 years, while the median retirement age was 74. Back then, retirement didn’t involve Social Security or other government programs; instead, people worked until they couldn’t. Today, there are “more choices, and this book is about these choices.”

First of all, why retire at all? Says Levmore, there are laws in the U.S. that say you don’t have to but he’s in favor of changing them – especially if businesses institute “defined benefit plans,” which are often seen in government jobs but rarely in the private sector. These changes would benefit employers, who could better maintain productivity; younger workers needing jobs, and older workers, if Social Security was tweaked a bit. It would also help with “the people normally labeled as the elderly poor,” since defined benefit plans would give them more month-to-month income.

But retirement: one can only golf so much – what next? Says Nussbaum, retirement allows for a “second career,” either one that pays or one of volunteerism. For those kinds of choices, she looks at Finland, where retirement is mandatory at a relatively young age. It works because the Finns have excellent health care, they have ample time for better retirement preparation, and because they are treated equally.

Statistically speaking, as we age, we rely less on plastic surgery and more on the idea that wrinkles are “glamorous” - a notion that can absolutely be pushed “too far.” We tend to live our lives “backwards,” which is okay; doing so offers time to deal with negative emotions and unfulfilled regrets. Here, we learn the reasons for those pearl-clutching May-December romances we see in the tabloids. And we get advice on giving while we can still say where our assets should go.

I struggled a lot with this book, and I’m ultimately disinclined to recommend it. Here’s why: though “Aging Thoughtfully” is a series of “conversations” about getting older, its basis is really old – as in, ancient philosophy and Shakespeare.

While that doesn’t make it a bad book by any means, it does mean that its usefulness is limited. Readers looking for advice will have to look harder because that’s buried in Cicero and King Lear; those in search of solid research will find it scattered between philosopher John Rawls and Cato the Elder. Yes, there are conversations within these pages and they’re thought-provoking, maybe even comforting, but they’re not really very accessible for the average reader.

Should you decide to tackle this book, do so with awareness for what you’re in for here. “Aging Thoughtfully” isn’t bad but, for most people, it’s going to make you scream.

“Robicheaux”

By James Lee Burke

c. 2018, Simon & Schuster

$27.99, $36.99 Canada; 449 pages

You don’t want to talk about it. You’ve been through rough times, had a few problems, but that’s all in the past. Today’s a new day, a new beginning and besides, as in the new book “Robicheaux” by James Lee Burke, what happened yesterday could get someone killed.

Though few would know the demons he’d met, Dave Robicheaux of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department was a haunted man.

Dead pets came through Robicheaux’s back yard and Viet Cong faces disappeared in a mist of blood in his dreams. He was haunted by his past and his future, by the accident that killed his beloved wife, Molly, and by crimes that angered him.

And so, Robicheaux drank, even though he was an alcoholic, even though he pretended he didn’t want booze, even when drinking may have made him kill a man.

Or maybe he didn’t. It started because Tony Nine Ball, a dying one-time mobster, wanted an introduction to one of New Iberia ’s famous residents. He knew Robicheaux could make things happen and information was his currency. It was information that Robicheaux didn’t want and he drank until he blacked out and sometime while he was busy forgetting, T.J. Dartez, the man who’d killed Molly, was beaten and stomped to death.

Evidence pointed to Robicheaux and truthfully, he couldn’t say he didn’t do it. Just to be cautious, Sheriff Helen Soileau gave the case to an ambitious department low-life, Spade Labisch, a smarmy transplant from Miami who might or might not be “dirty,” and that, too, rubbed Robicheaux the wrong way.

A lot of things did those days. People hid secrets, withheld information, made promises they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep. Kids were abused. Politicians lied, and ghosts came in from the bayou while Robicheaux watched. But he knew one thing: the doughy killer with the lipstick-red mouth who called himself “Smiley” was no ghost.

And a few bloody crime scenes proved there was nothing to smile about …

Into every mystery, a little life must fall. And in “Robicheaux,” it topples like a one-legged stool - but first, author James Lee Burke really lets readers get to know his main character.

Yes, we’ve gotten snips and bits of Dave Robicheaux’s story through other books with him as hero, but this one lets the detective show messiness, as well as vulnerability; we also get a better glimpse of Clete Purcel, Robicheaux’s best friend, who’s likewise not the cleanest cop in literature. Bad guys pepper this book, in fact, and some of them are more reprehensible than normal but all are cushioned by Burke’s beautiful storytelling. Though the tale stays around a little too long (and it drags about 50 pages from the end), you’ll be happy to know that there’s a fine almost-scream-NO! moment that’ll truly have fans guessing.

You can read this book as part of the series, or you can read it as a standalone. And of course, you can always introduce it to your book group because “Robicheaux” is a book you’ll want to talk about.

More: Season’s Readings: The Bookworm’s best books of 2017

More: The Bookworm: From Kardashian ambition to racial tension

More: The Bookworm: Animal love and a radical life

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

 

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