For any of you who are kind enough to read my weekly newsletters, you may have noticed I was a tad obsessed with death and dying a little while ago and that it became somewhat of a theme for a bit. While still fascinated with the subject, I have recently switched my gaze towards the topic of old age. Yup, I’m one of those people who are fascinated by the ageing process and by elderly people’s life stories and experiences. As we live in such a youth-obsessed culture which abhors getting old, and ultimately, dying, I like to go against the tide and investigate those aspects of living which our culture fears with a flashlight. Luckily, I’m not the only one…watch this hilarious video of Fritz Coleman (KNBC- Los Angeles weathercaster and stand-up comedian) describing old age from a conference on ageing.
To my great surprise, there appears to be a new and quickly growing genre of fiction- I lovingly refer to it as “elder humour”. I recently devoured three entire books in this genre and not only laughed my head off, but took great solace in the fact that getting old doesn’t have to be the prison sentence, or downward spiral into poor health, meaningless existence, or apathy it’s often described as. Quite the opposite! From these exciting tales of seniors breaking all the rules of what it means to get old, I have a new take on the whole concept of what to look forward to in later life.
The first ‘elder humour’ book I read is called, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and comes from Sweden. I also highly recommend the movie by the same title available on Netflix (although the book is much more detailed). This book was so funny I laughed every time I picked it up. My 92-year-old grandmother Ruth gave it to me as a present the last time I was in England visiting and because she doesn’t read crap, I instantly devoured it. The highlights of this book are the tale of a man about to turn 100 who escapes from a nursing home and goes on a great adventure. Instead of being a victim of circumstance and leading a boring and mundane existence, he travels to unknown places, makes friends with some amazing characters, is involved in a few murders, and winds up with more money than he knows what to do with. As we learn of his wild present-day adventure, we are simultaneously taken back in time to his earlier life where he went all over the world during an extraordinary career as an ‘explosives expert’ and hung out with some of the most influential political leaders of the time. In my opinion, the funniest character in the book is Herbert Einstein, Albert Einstein’s dumb brother. Just the concept of Albert Einstein having an idiotic brother in itself is funny, but the things he does as a result of his dimwittedness are hilarious.
The second ‘elder humour’ novel I read is called, The Extra Ordinary Life Of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J B Morrison. Another hilarious book about an elderly man but this one lives in his own home with a cat in England and creates a dreamy romantic fantasy life with his young health care worker who stops by to look after him on a weekly basis. This book also takes you back in time and explores his younger life, his long marriage to the love of his life (who sadly died before him), fatherhood, and the meaning of life. I could relate to his character because he is a pessimist and very comfortable seeing the darker side of life, and has a penchant for shopping at thrift stores. What I got as a theme from this book is that just because we grow old and our bodies don’t work as well as they once did, that doesn’t mean we can’t feel young and excited about life inside; especially if we find things that still give us a thrill.
Lastly, to round out my reading in this genre, I chose a book about wild older women called, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. This book also hails from Sweden. Between the great fiction (absolutely gobbled up the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series a while back), IKEA, and an exemplary social service model which the rest of the world should copy and implement, I’m kind of thinking Sweden is an awesome place. This book has some similarities to the 100 Year Old Man book in that seniors escape a nursing home, there’s lots of booze involved, and the characters are sick of being treated like children. Where it differs is the author switches murders to bank robberies and art theft. Another hilarious book showing a whole new face of the ageing population. The premise is basically that a group of disgruntled seniors in a nursing home realize that the care and food they would receive in prison would be much better than in the home. They come up with a plan to land themselves in jail so that they can live out there lives in more ‘luxury’. The road to getting landed in prison is hilarious and there are many unforeseen twists and turns for all involved. Another refreshing example of busting stereotypes of what life has to look like when we grow old and a lesson for the rest of us: never underestimate the capabilities of people who’ve lived long lives.