Bookworm: Forget rocking chairs, a better approach to ‘olders’

And, it’s a small world after all with ‘In Miniature’

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism”

  • By Ashton Applewhite
  • c. 2019, Celadon Books
  • $26.99, $34.99 Canada; 289 pages

There’s another candle on your birthday cake. Whatever.

Your back hurts, your knees hurt, and it was hard getting up this morning, then you lost your glasses and 10 minutes looking for them. One stupid candle won’t make you feel enlightened but in “This Chair Rocks” by Ashton Applewhite, you’ll see how to grow older without aging.

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Ashton Applewhite hates the way we talk about people over 50. Specifically, she hates “the elderly” and “seniors,” as well as “elders” because those terms have generally bad connotations. Instead, she suggests we change our language to “olders,” because the word “emphasizes that age is a continuum.”

“This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” author Ashton Applewhite.

Aging, you see, is what she knows – not just because she’s 60-something, but because she writes about the subject. She knows there are lots of myths about aging, and that the truth is better than we think.

A mere three percent of Americans over age 65 live in nursing homes, for one, and most of them “can think just fine,” which means they don’t have any problems with dementia. Most olders, in fact, remain active, independent, and enjoy fashion, dating, sex, and travel. To think differently is indulging in ageism.

Once you know how to spot ageism, Applewhite says, you can combat it.

Forgetting that olders are still consumers is ageism. Howling that near-retirement-age employees take jobs from younger workers is ridiculous – and ageism. Getting shamed for needing a wheelchair is ageism. Being scolded for wearing something you love but that someone has decided is “too young for you” … ageism. Absolutely.

Furthermore, says Applewhite, your brain is probably fine; cognition declines to a certain extent in older years, but aging enhances thought processes and besides, younger people forget things, too. You can keep your brain sharp by working your body.

“This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” by Ashton Applewhite.

Remember that “aging is not a disease,” and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it because “Sixty isn’t the new forty, but it is a new sixty.” 

Oh, and those aches … ?  You shovel, you garden, you walk, you dance. Maybe the aches came from living.

Your next birthday is arriving soon, and you’re not sure whether to dread it, admit to it, or lie about it. You’re not sure what to think, but after reading “This Chair Rocks,” you’ll know exactly.

Author Ashton Applewhite is, as you can imagine, a proponent of embracing your years, an action that she shows is beneficial in many ways for both quality of life and longevity. Those are happy words for the person who seizes their existence and wrings every ounce from it. They’re a shout-out to anyone who uses a hearing aid or wheelchair without embarrassment, and a comfort to those who struggle to ignore the “shouldas” that other people fling. They’re advising words of the MYOB sort: enjoy your years because whose business is it what you do?

That’s counsel that could turn your thinking around, or it could make a great 50th Birthday gift to someone with dread on their mind. “This Chair Rocks” proves that getting older is icing on the cake.

“In Miniature”

  • By Simon Garfield
  • c. 2018, Atria Books
  • $25, $34.00 Canada; 336 pages

Baby’s socks and kitten’s ears. Delicate china teacups and hand-made fashions. Tin soldiers and thumb-sized horses, bonsai trees, newborn chicks, and spring violets. These are tiny things to admire and cherish, and in the new book “In Miniature” by Simon Garfield, you’ll see that those little things mean more than just a lot.

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When you were a kid, you played with small toys. Mini-trucks, baby dolls, and scaled-down houses were appropriate because who’d ever consider giving a small child a full-size vehicle or a live infant of their own? Even today, little things are great for little kids but, says Garfield, some adults never outgrow their love of miniatures.

“In Miniature” by Simon Garfield.

Take, for instance, travelers: we go somewhere exotic or unique, and we rarely come home empty-handed. Chances are that mementos clutter your shelves, for which you can thank entrepreneurial Frenchmen who made miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower, thus launching the souvenir craze.

Anyone who’s ever had a dollhouse knows that miniatures are fun, but they can be serious, too. In the years prior to the Great Depression, a miniature village created by Missouri schoolchildren drew great crowds, in part because the kids ran the town as though it was full-sized, electing officials and enacting laws. Local builders, however, were overjoyed at the tiny town; they saw it as a way for grown-ups to imagine owning their own new homes.

Miniatures have been used to change the way men think about slavery. They’ve been created by designers who wished to curry favor with royalty, making a toy that never got played with. For sure, they were used as one-upmanship and as proof of tiny talents. They’ve been employed to scare, to illustrate the ways people die, to show off, and to relax, as a hobby. Garfield also mentions businesses that sell tiny treasures; high-priced microscopic artwork; and the work of pulicologists, otherwise known as circus flea trainers, proving that little things can mean big money.

Look around the room where you sit. Betcha it’s littered with small representations of bigger things – but why? 

“In Miniature” by Simon Garfield.

You’ll understand more after reading “In Miniature,” which is like taking a journey into obsession: Author Simon Garfield writes about people who are consumed by making and collecting things that are sometimes too small to see with the naked eye. The compulsion to do so, as you might expect, isn’t anything new.

Garfield says that there are several reasons for the love of miniatures: we enjoy the “dominion” over objects we can’t otherwise move, which makes sense: you can’t steal the Washington Monument, but you might have a mini-version around. We learn from models, as he shows here – and judging by one of his tales, we learn enormously. And, he says, small things offer food for the imagination, which is abundantly clear in this tiny little volume on mavens and their minis.

If you’re a railroader, doll collector, or if you just like wee, precious things, this is a book you’ll enjoy. For you, “In Miniature” is brimming with big fun. 

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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.