One-Minute Book Reviews

September 20, 2021

Too Many TV Ads Stereotype People Over 50

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Something is missing from all those commercials for the new fall smartphones–gray hair.

You’d never know from the TV ads that most Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 own a smartphone. Older Americans appear in only 15 percent of media images shown by popular brands or groups. And just 5 percent of the images show over-50s using technology, an AARP study found.

That’s far from the only injustice the TV advertisers do to Americans of a certain age.

Too many marketers see people over 50 as stuck in the era of Steely Dan and bell-bottoms, if not in that of the Dave Clark Five and go-go books. In her recent book In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead, the media scholar Susan J. Douglas faults the many ways in which marketers stereotype boomers, older Gen-Xers, and, basically, anyone they see as “old.”

Douglas notes that advertisers roll out ageist stereotypes, in drug and other ads, in ways that especially hurt women. In commercials gray-haired men drive tractors, go kayaking, or play guitar in a rock band. Women shop, garden, or play with grandchildren.

Interested in learning more? I take on some of the most common stereotypes in my “Five Ways TV Commercials Insult People Over 50″ on Medium. Visitors to the site have been adding other stereotypes or injustices in a lively discussion in the comments section. I respond to all, so please drop by and add your own if this topic interests you. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

March 3, 2011

Women, Age and Hollywood – Quote of the Day From Tracey Jackson’s ‘Between and Rock and a Hot Place: Why 50 Is Not the New 30’

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Screenwriter Tracey Jackson talks about women in film and television in her new Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is Not the New Thirty (Harper, 287 pp., $25.99):

“In Hollywood 30 is considered 80, especially where women are concerned. This attitude tends to affect actresses first, but the second group on its hit list is usually writers, particularly those who write comedy, a genre not very friendly to women to begin with. …

“As in every profession, there are exceptions to the rule, and one of the biggest exceptions, if not the biggest, is that if you are a superstar in your field by the time you are 50, you can skid forward to at least 60. … You can run down a list of women in their 50s and 60s in top jobs, but I promise you every one of them was a superstar in her world by no later than 45. The general consensus seems to be that if you haven’t made it by then, the chances are you aren’t going to, so why keep you around?”

July 29, 2009

What It’s Like to Be Over 60 (or Over 70) – Quote of the Day / Diana Athill

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Diana Athill’s memoir Somewhere Towards the End has many apt observations on youth and age, all written from the perspective of a former editor in her 90s.  A few I didn’t quote in the review posted earlier today:

On love: “… a broken heart mends much faster from a conclusive blow than it does from slow strangulation.”

On being over 60: “All through my sixties I felt I was still within hailing distance of middle age, not safe on its shores, perhaps, but navigating its coastal waters. My seventieth birthday failed to change this because I managed scarcely to notice it, but my seventy-first did change it. Being ‘over seventy’ is being old: suddenly I was aground on that fact and saw that the time had come to size it up.”

On her waning interest in sex in old age: “An important aspect of the ebbing of sex was that other things became more interesting. Sex obliterates the individuality of young women more often than it does that of young men, because so much more of a woman than of a man is used by sex. I have tried to believe that most of this difference comes from conditioning, but can’t do so. Conditioning reinforces it, but essentially it is a matter of biological function. There is no reason why a man shouldn’t turn and walk away from any act of sex he performs, whereas every act of sex performed by a woman has the potential of changing her mode of being for the rest of her life. He simply triggers the existence of another human being; she has to build it out of her own physical substance, carry it inside her, bond with it whether she likes it or not – and to say that she has been freed from this by the pill is nonsense. She can prevent it, but only by drastic chemical intervention which throws her body’s natural behavior out of gear.”

June 15, 2009

An 86-Year-Old Former Lawyer Looks Back – Frank Turner Hollon’s ‘The Pains of April’

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Not long ago I visited a part of Alabama where a lot of people were reading Frank Turner Hollon’s novella, The Pains of April (MacAdam/Cage, 114 pp., $7.50, paperback), a book popular with local reading groups. The narrator is an 86-year-old widower, former lawyer, and Gulf Coast rest-home resident, who reminisces about his life amid activities such as playing cards, watching television, and sneaking out with friends to get a tattoo. And he makes an interesting observation about small-town life: “When a very good carpenter comes into a community, he makes the entire profession better. He raises the bar for good carpenters and puts the bad carpenters out of business. When a very good lawyer comes into a community, there can be a different result. He has the power to destroy the system itself. He has the ability to turn justice around. He can prove the innocent man guilty and set the guilty man free. He can make sense out of nonsense and have a jury laughing at the truth.”

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March 19, 2009

John Bayley on Living With His Wife’s Alzheimer’s Disease, ‘Elegy for Iris’

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Few people have written of Alzheimer’s disease as eloquently as John Bayley does in Elegy for Iris (Picador, 1999), his memoir of 45 years with the novelist Iris Murdoch, which inspired the film Iris. Among his observations:

“Our mode of communication seems like underwater sonar, each bouncing pulsations off the other, then listening for an echo.”

“Alzheimer’s is, in fact, like an insidious fog, barely noticeable until everything around has disappeared. After that, it is no longer possible to believe that a world outside fog exists.”

“The terror of being alone, of being cut off for even a few seconds from the familiar object, is a feature of Alzheimer’s. If Iris could climb inside my skin now, or enter me as if I had a pouch like a kangaroo, she would do so.”

Bayley also foreshadows Murdoch’s development of Alzheimer’s in describing the early years of their relationship:

“I was far too preoccupied at the time to think of such parallels, but it was like living in a fairy story – the kind with sinister overtones and not always a happy ending – in which a young man loves a beautiful maiden who returns his love but is always disappearing into some unknown and mysterious world, about which she will reveal nothing.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 18, 2009

Diana Athill Looks Back on a Life of Editing Books

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:52 am
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Good memoirs by editors are rare. This sounds improbable but makes sense. Editors might come across as perjurers if late in life if they told the truth about authors they had spent their career promoting.

An editor who can write is Diana Athill, who looks back on her career in English book publishing in Stet: An Editor’s Life (Grove, 256 pp., $13, paperback). Athill edited the British editions of books by Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, John Updike and others. And she offers perceptive comments about her work in her elegant but unpretentious memoir. (“Writers don’t encounter really attentive readers as often as you might expect, and find them balm to their twitchy nerves when they do; which gives their editors a good start with them.”) At 91 she won an overseas award for her new memoir of old age, Somewhere Towards the End (Norton, 192 pp., $24.95), that she talks about in a Telegraph interview.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 17, 2009

Andrew Blechman’s ‘Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias’ — Are Adults-Only Communities the Equivalent of Geriatric Club Meds?

A report from the land of souped-up golf carts

Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias. By Andrew D. Blechman. Atlantic Monthly Press, 244 pp., $25.

By Janice Harayda

A church at a Florida retirement community is thinking about allowing only people over 55 to become members — an age limit that would exclude Jesus. Andrew Blechman zeros in on absurdities like these in Leisureville, a well-researched but derisive account of his visits to some of America’s largest housing developments for older people, including The Villages in Florida and Sun City in Arizona.

Blechman argues fairly enough that autocratic real-estate barons have carved out vast subdivisions that amount to monocultures, or the social equivalent of a single crop such as rice or bananas, that can cause the entire local economy to crash if the demand drops. He also accuses the developers a host of lesser sins, including requiring residents to sign restrictive covenants that deprive them of many of the usual rights of home owners.

But the tone of Leisureville turns smug when Blechman suggests that some aspects of retirement communities are “a tragic parody” of the better life he and his family have in their diverse Massachusetts town. His targets include what he seems to regard as bad the taste of residents who drive souped-up golf carts around villages that resemble geriatric Club Meds. This overreaching makes Leisureville read at times like an extended Woody Allen joke: Not only are retirement communities morally, socially, and economically indefensible, but their residents hang Thomas Kinkade paintings on their walls. Alas, if the problems with retirement communities are anywhere near as serious as he suggests, adding a few tasteful Mark Rothko reproductions won’t make a difference.

Best line: No. 1: “Boomers typically list 85 as the age when they will finally consider themselves ‘old.’ Not surprisingly, that’s two years longer than actuaries predict many of them will live.” No. 2: “Some deed restrictions [in retirement communities] — and their rigorous enforcement by powerful homeowners’ associations — can be severe to the point of being comical. For instance, one woman in California was repeatedly forced to weigh in her overweight poodle because it hovered around the community’s 30-pound weight limit for dogs.”

Worst line: No. 1: “Women who once burned their bras now pay handsomely for expensive brassieres and plastic surgery.” The early feminists who planned to burn their bras at a Miss America pageant never did so, because Atlantic City officials wouldn’t give them a fire permit. The women threw their bras in a garbage can instead. Even if Blechman’s comment were accurate — which, repeat, it is not — bra-burning is a bedraggled cliché. Nos. 2 and 3: At The Villages, a married couple displayed on their living-room wall “a print by Thomas Kinkade, an evangelical oil painter with an unusually devoted following, whose trademark is Painter of Light.” And a female tour guide is quoted as saying that the same community is “so beautiful – it’s like living in a Thomas Kinkade painting, but in real life.” So was the guide supposed to say, that “it’s like living in that brothel in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”?

Sample chapter titles: “Free Golf!” “Where’s Beaver?” “The Golden Years”

Published: May 2008. Paperback due out in July 2009 with the new subtitle Adventures in a World Without Children.

About the author: Blechman also wrote Pigeons: The Fascinating Story of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird.

Furthermore: A more entertaining account of young author’s stay in a retirement community appears in Rodney Rothman’s Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a book that treats the elderly more sympathetically. But you don’t know how much, if any, of that book is fictionalized. Leisureville is more informative, though skewed by its polemical tone and Blechman’s view of age-restricted communities as “age-segregated.”

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on Feb. 26, 2009. To nominate a passage in a book for a bad-writing award, leave a comment or send a message to the e-mail address on the “Contact” page.  To read about the purple thong Jan caught at a Mardi Gras parade, see yesterday’s post or follow her Twitter feed www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

July 17, 2008

Miracle on 82d Street — ‘The Red Leather Diary’ Tells the True Story of a Journal That Found Its Way Back to Its Owner Decades After She Abandoned It

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A young reporter learned what the phrase “sex and the city” used to mean when she set out to find the owner of a red leather diary that turned up in a Dumpster at 82d Street and Riverside Drive

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal. By Lily Koppel. Foreword by Florence Howitt. HarperCollins, 321 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

One of Florence Wolfson’s high school teachers sent a note to her parents saying that she had an unhealthy need for attention. Lily Koppel never says so directly, but the comment seems to have meant: Your daughter believes she deserves as much attention as a boy. It is this quality above all that gives piquancy to the teenage journal that Wolfson kept from 1929–1934, then abandoned.

Koppel was a 22-year-old reporter when the red leather diary turned up in a Dumpster at an apartment building at 82d Street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan. With the help of a private detective, she tracked down its author, who was in her 90s and living in Connecticut and Florida. Florence Wolfson Howitt told her that she had married an oral surgeon, raised two daughters and developed – to her regret – “a country-club mentality” at odds with her youthful independence and ambition.

But she agreed to cooperate on The Red Leather Diary, a book that intersperses excerpts from her diary with Koppel’s reporting on its era. Koppel evokes capably a time when Mr. Kool, a penguin in a top hat in Times Square, promised that “even if you cough like crazy, Kools still taste fresh as a daisy.” But this book belongs to the young Florence Wolfson, who kept her diary between the ages of 14 and 19. Wolfson emerges from its entries and photographs as brainy, perceptive, beautiful and, for the Depression, rich. She had a gift for attracting men and women, whether she was touring Europe or vacationing in the Catskills or holding a salon for the poet Delmore Schwartz and others in her parents’ Upper East Side apartment. More unusually for a woman of her era, she claimed right to enjoy the benefits of her appeal: She had affairs with women at Hunter College and in Italty with a man who claimed to be a count.

“Reading ‘Hedda Gabler’ for the tenth time,” Florence writes in one entry. “An interview with Bruno Walter – a vigorous, intense man whose sincerity & love for music are so creative – made me feel degenerate,” she says in another entry, made while she was working on the Hunter literary magazine. “I know now that obscurity for me is disastrous – Have not the respect for people which flatters them and believe implicitly in the superiority of my taste,” she says in a third. “Result – conflict.”

Koppel doesn’t probe too deeply into how Wolfson made peace with the obscurity that nonetheless found her when, after a period as a freelance writer, she seems to have made her husband and children her career. And Koppel writes at times in a gee-whiz tone that makes her appear less worldly her subject was at a similar age.

In a sense, that’s the point of The Red Leather Diary — few young women are as as worldly. Wolfson laments to Koppel that people don’t “think and live philosophy” anymore. “I can’t imagine my grandchild or great-grandchild or anyone writing this,” she says of her diary.

The comment rings true. Wolfson’s sense of herself didn’t go underground in adolescence, as Mary Pipher has said that it does for many girls, despite her parents’ belief that her main task was to find a rich husband. The Red Leather Diary leaves you with the sense that if Ophelia was revived in Florence’s life, she was revived not during her teenage years but during her marriage. It also suggests that work on this book helped to restore her feeling of independence. How nice to know that, for a certain kind of woman, it’s never to late to put Ophelia to rest.

Best line: From Wolfson’s teenage diary: “To Gertrude’s tonight and met boys who shocked me into respect – brilliant, thoughtful, gentle and mentally fastidious – the conversation sometimes oppressed me – it was too logical.” Gertrude is Wolfson’s friend Gertrude Buckman, who married the poet Delmore Schwartz.

Worst line: Koppel says that when Wolfson began graduate school at Columbia University, “St. John the Divine was on its way to becoming the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.” Gothic cathedrals were built during the Middle Ages. St. John the Divine is Gothic Revival, an architectural style also called neo-Gothic. Koppel also reports that Wolfson tried on coats “in one of the shops on Princess Street” in Edinburgh when she appears to mean Princes Street.

Editor: Claire Wachtel

Published: April 2008

Read an excerpt at: www.redleatherdiary.com

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. You can read more of her comments on books and life by searching for “Janice Harayda” on Twitter www.twitter.com or subscribing to her Twitter feed.

One-Minute Book Reviews is a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It does not accept free books from editors, publishers, authors, or agents or others whose books may be reviewed on this site.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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May 8, 2008

Books the Candidates Need #2 — John McCain — ‘Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 When You’re 80 and Beyond’

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John McCain will be 72 years on August 29, and if he served two terms as president, he would celebrate his 80th birthday in the White House. Would we want to spend eight years watching him sink into what Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge call “the typical decay associated with aging”? No? Then maybe somebody should send him Crowley and Lodge’s Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 When You’re 80 and Beyond (Workman, $12.95, paperback), a self-help book for men who want to avoid feeling like Father Time before their time. To meet its standards, McCain would to have to exercise at least six days a week. So those Secret Service agents who jog with George Bush may need to hold on to their running shoes.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 6, 2008

Sex and Shuffleboard – A 28-Year-Old Former Joke Writer for David Letterman Moves Into a Retirement Village in Florida Where He’s the Youngest Resident by Decades

Filed under: Humor,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:20 am
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At Century Village, Thanksgiving resembles Parents Weekend at a college “but instead, it’s the kids visiting the parents”

Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement. By Rodney Rothman. Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., $13, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

An old joke says that “Florida is God’s waiting room.” Rodney Rothman showed up for his appointment early when, at the age of 28, a television show he was working on in Los Angeles was cancelled.

Rothman moved into the Century Village retirement complex in Boca Raton www.centuryvillage.com/BocaRaton.htm, hoping to parlay the experience into a book. He seems to have hoped to write a geriatric version of one of David Sedaris’s fish-out-of-water stories — maybe the one about working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland. Rothman isn’t as inventive as Sedaris, who often seems to be writing under the influence of a species of mushroom that only he has discovered. But Early Bird is still a snappy and entertaining account of life in place where Thanksgiving resembled Parents Weekend at a college “but instead, it’s the kids visiting the parents.”

The question is how much of the book you can believe. Rothman bills Early Bird as a memoir but has said that he is “not a journalist” and that some of the writing is hyperbolic. He also caught flak when, in 2000, he wrote an article for The New Yorker about sneaking in to work for an Internet company that hadn’t hired him. The magazine printed an apology after learning that he had made up an incident in the story.

Some of the claims in Early Bird would be hard to believe in any case. Rothman says that as part of his research for the book, he lied to his friends, falsely telling them he had slept with a 75-year-old woman whom he calls Vivian to see how they’d react. This is hardly reassuring. If he’d lie to his friends, why wouldn’t he lie to us?

But much of Early Bird is either believable or has been confirmed by people who appear in it, and Rothman writes engagingly about subjects from shuffleboard tp the psychology of being a young in a retirement village. And there is real bite to his observations, however amusing, on how Americans condescend to old people — for example, by calling them “adorable.”

“I don’t think Tuesdays with Morrie would have been so uplifting if that guy had to spend more than Tuesdays with Morrie,” he writes. “By Thursday he would have been cursing Morrie out.”

Morrie would have been cursing him out, too, if the guy kept calling him “adorable.”

Best line: “The rhythm of the senior softball game is unlike that of any softball game I’ve ever witnessed. The defining factor is that most of the men have much stronger arms and shoulders than legs. For all of them, the knees have started to go. ‘It’s what you get for carrying this kinda weight around for so long,’ Buddy, the WWF referee, says to me, slapping his ample belly for emphasis. Because of this, senior softball is very much a hitter’s game – as long as the hitters can get the ball in play and keep it low, odds are the fielders won’t be able to reach it in time.

“The opposite side of the ‘strong arms/weak legs’ issue is this – the hitters, once they put a ball in play, run very slowly. And the fielders, once they reach the ball, have the arm strength to fire the ball wherever it needs to go. So when people do get out, it’s in ways I’ve never seen before – like someone hitting a line drive deep into the hole in left center, and then getting thrown out a first.”

Worst line: All of the material on the aging seductress he calls “Vivian,” with whom he may or may not have had sex and about whom he may or may not have lied to his friends.

Published: 2005 (hardcover) and 2006 (paperback) www.rodneyrothman.com

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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