Bookworm: ‘And Finally’ will speak to your mind in a way that’s rarely done.
“And Finally: Matters of Life and Death”
- By Henry Marsh
- c. 2023, St. Martin’s Press
- $27.99; 240 pages
You’ve always done it this way. It’s quick, to-the-point, and concise. If A, then B, and there’s no emotion needed, no waffling, no waste of time. Explanations, news-delivery, decisions made, it’s all the same: state the truth and then move on. It’s efficient, until – as in the new book “And Finally” by Henry Marsh, you’re standing on the receiving end of the words.
Many decades ago, when Henry Marsh was learning to be a neurosurgeon, there were processes he was taught and mannerisms he picked up from the physicians who schooled him. Through example, he learned efficiency, endurance, and how to talk to patients.
Now well past 70 and retired, Marsh has learned truths about these things the hard way.
Don’t, for instance, look at your own brain scans. You don’t want to know what’s in them, he says, especially if you’re over 60 because you probably are not the outlier you think you are. You’ve aged, your brain has shrunk, and that’s “just too frightening.”
Another thing: don’t put off the care you need.
At the end of the COVID lockdown in Great Britain, Marsh finally sought care for a problem he’d known about but had made excuses for: his prostate was giving him problems. That he halfway expected the diagnosis of cancer didn’t make it easier but knowing that prostate cancer is a common “disease of old men” eased his worries some.
Once doctor became patient, though, his eyes were opened. Now on the other side of things, Marsh was shocked to see, first-hand, the overly-efficient, businesslike way that patients are often treated. He could “see just ... how little doctors understand about what their patients are going through.”
When he was still doing neurosurgery, Marsh says that only one patient was brave enough to tell him, face-to-face, what she thought of him. Most people, he realized, were just to stunned at their diagnoses to have the presence of mind to even ask questions.
And when he suddenly became a patient himself, he understood why ...
That sound you just heard is that of patients everywhere yelling, “Heck, yes!” And yet, this book is not a manifesto, nor is it sad and depressing; in fact, there’s plenty of wry humor inside here, and hope, and a happy ending.
But long before you get to that point, there’s much to learn first.
“And Finally” is a stream-of-consciousness meditative sigh of a book about getting older and the pure futility of fighting it, as well as an AHA! moment mixed with a very stern scolding for former colleagues who “can do better.” Author Henry Marsh muses with appealing randomness that runs from his former career to his obsession with beautiful wood and the half-finished projects he hopes to finish before he dies. He marvels and ponders and wonders if we realize how living a long life is “not necessarily a good thing.”
But this book is, and readers who think about such things will agree. “And Finally” will speak to your mind in a way that’s rarely done.
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“Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60”
- Edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Daniel E. Hood
- c. 2023, Rutgers University Press
- $24.95, 303 pages
It was supposed to be a nice night out. But you drove around and around looking for the restaurant and once you found it, you learned that you needed reservations. Practically before the evening started, you sensed that your food could be as cold as your date. As in “Gray Love,” edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Daniel E. Hood, looking for love wasn’t like this when you were younger.
You thought you’d be happy alone.
After the divorce, the funeral, the last break-up, you didn’t think a little you-time was a bad idea. And it wasn’t – but love, someone to go to the movies with or dine with or snuggle with, seems more and more appealing now. Today, though, as the forty-two essays in this book confirm and as you’ve learned, that’s easier said than done.
You want a partner, someone your age, but you fear becoming a caretaker. You like doing your own thing but having someone around to do it with would be nice. You have company but you are “without intimacy.” Or you don’t want a full-time someone but it’s scary to think about “falling off a ladder alone.”
So, you go online because, well, people don’t meet like they used to. That’s when you learn that dating sites are generally ripe with people who lie about their ages, who seem clingy or who want things you can’t give, “the Uncertain, the Angry... the Unattractive,” and – let’s be honest – jerks. Unlike real life circa 1973 or 1993, there’s nobody to vouch for singles online.
You wonder, “What would I wear?” You learn about scams the hard way, while tales of love at way-up-there-ages are inspirational. Dating someone of the same sex isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but nobody’s asked – or you did, and it was wonderful and why didn’t you do that before? Love is love. You date the wrong people, you date the right people, you’re exhausted and disappointed. And sometimes, even for awhile you’re someone’s “‘sweetie.’ ”
According to a study quoted in “Gray Love,” about twenty-five percent of American adults live alone. If you’re one of them and open to a relationship, you need this book.
Just know that this is not a how-to manual. Editors Nan Bauer-Maglin and Daniel E. Hood don’t offer advice in their introduction, and most of their storytellers didn’t Ann-Landers their way into this book. Instead, you’ll read tales of dating and mating gone happily right and very, very wrong, told in ways that will make you laugh, sigh, and know that you’re not alone in your late-life search for love. The mixture here is diverse and wide: if one tale makes you want to swear off dating forever, the next one offers Happily Ever After.
Be aware that a few of the tales inside “Gray Love” flirt with the explicit and others might ruffle a feather or two. Still, it could be great to share it with a millennial or older GenZ’er, If you see this book on a bookshelf, take it out.
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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. Read past columns at marconews.com.