Category Archives: BOLLI Monthly Features

Each month, special features appear on the BOLLI Matters blog. These include “Tech Talk” with John Rudy (computer and technology related issues); “Senior Moments” with Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David (issues related to transitions, healthy aging, etc.); and “The Book Nook” with Abby Pinard (recommended items you may have missed). Yet to come, “The Screening Room” (recommended movies and videos you may have missed).

A SENIOR MOMENT WITH ELEANOR: WARNING…

     WARNING:  THOUGHTS OF A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT

Women’s March, Boston

In my opposition to President Trump, I am not “old,” or “elderly,” or even “senior.”  In my opposition, I have joined millions of Americans of all ages–and others around the world–who see Trump’s ideals and policies as anathema to our long held beliefs about democracy, fairness, honesty, and liberalism.

I see this opposition in the print newspapers that I read  (The Boston Globe and The New York Times), on the television news that I watch (CNN, CNBC),  in the marches in which I have participated (the Women’s March, the Science March, and the Climate Change March), and in the conversations I have had with grandchildren and men and women across the age spectrum.  What unites us are sincerely held, foundational democratic beliefs that are now being so aggressively challenged, mocked, and threatened by the actions and speeches of our president.

I recommend marches!   Truth to tell, most do not involve marching, or even walking.  They involve driving or taking the “T” to a site like the Boston Commons and then standing.  Standing and listening and watching and, of course, talking to like-minded other demonstrators who carry vivid signs representing their own unique points of view.  Signing petitions is also part of the demonstration.  At the climate march, a variety of well-attended indoor workshops (with chairs for sitting) encouraged more direct actions.  These workshops took place immediately following speeches. 

People of all ages (babies, college students, families, healthy young men and women, old folks – some with canes) attend.  Music, balloons, petitions, hand=made signs abound!  And like-minded citizens rally for causes in which their strongly held beliefs are shared with a multitude of others.  I thought and felt, “I am not alone;”  “Many others are here who will carry this fight forward.”  “Are there other actions I can take?”  (Like writing letters to the editor — I just had one published in the Globe–so can you!)

I keep thinking about one statement of Ms. Sarsour, one of the four co-chairs of the Women’s March in Washington.  She said, “Being disgruntled on your couch in front of your t.v. is not helping anybody.  This is a moment when we need viable activism, and now is the time to be bold.”  So–Think! Read!  Share ideas with friends, and then, Be Invigorated and TAKE ACTION! to insure that your dearly held principles remain a part of the legacies you leave to all our grandchildren.

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERY “OLDIES” — ONE CORPSE TOO MANY

Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews, yielded this gem.  Ellis Peters’ memorable medieval sleuth, Brother Cadfael.

 Review by Marilyn Brooks – From March 31, 2012

A truly fascinating look into medieval life in England comes through in the series featuring Brother Cadfael of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury.

The series begins in the twelfth century at the border between England and Wales.  Brother Cadfael, born in Wales, had traveled the world as a soldier in the first crusade and a sailor in the years following but now has found his calling as a member of the abbey. He is in charge of the abbey’s garden and herbarium, an important position at a time when home-grown medicines were almost the only ones available.

As the novel opens, a civil war between two cousins, Stephen and Maud, has been going on for three years; it eventually lasted nineteen. Henry I, Maud’s father, had named her his heir after the death of his only son, but many nobles rebelled at the thought of a woman leading the kingdom and thus supported the claims of Henry’s nephew, Stephen.  As Stephen comes to Shrewsbury with his forces, aristocrats and soldiers loyal to Maud flee the town to join her in France.

A fellow monk introduces Cadfael to Godric, a “young man” who is willing to help in the garden, but it doesn’t take Cadfael long to realize that Godric is actually a young woman, Godith Adeney by name.  Her father fled to France to support Maud, and if Godith is discovered she will be imprisoned and held for ransom in order to bring her father back to face Stephen.  Cadfael, although not taking sides in the fight for the kingdom, vows to keep Godith’s secret and protect her.

After a battle in which ninety-four of Stephen’s enemies are killed, the abbey’s abbot requests that the men be prepared for a proper Christian burial.  The abbot sends Cadfael to the castle to handle this task, but when the monk counts the dead, he discovers that there is one more body than he had been told. And this man was not killed in battle but strangled by a thin wire from behind.

In One Corpse Too Many, we are introduced to Hugh Beringar, a soldier who, in later novels, becomes a close friend of Cadfael’s, and the woman who becomes Hugh’s wife, Lady Aline.  In addition, a number of Cadfael’s fellow monks whom we meet here, continue to appear in other novels while new members of the monastery join the cast of characters in later books.

The late Ellis Peters (real name Edith Mary Pargeter) created the character of Brother Cadfael when she needed “the high equivalent of a medieval detective, an observer and agent of justice in the center of the action.” She was a writer of some renown as a translator of Czech literature, but today she is best known for her mystery novels.  Unfortunately, Ms. Peters died shortly after the BBC television series got underway and thus did not see all the books made into television programs, but she was a strong supporter of Derek Jacobi, who played Cadfael with great wit and charm.

There is not a dedicated page for Ellis Peters, but there is a brief biography about her and a summary of all Brother Cadfael’s novels at Philip Grosset’s Clerical Detectives  web page located at  http://www.mysteryfile.com/Clerical.html

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

Marilyn’s very popular mystery blog can be reached at marilynsmysteryreads.com   When there, consider becoming a subscriber, receiving each new post in your email.  And Marilyn will also be offering a mystery course for BOLLI members during the Fall 2017 term. 

MAY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: NEED A FIX?

COMPUTER REPAIR

One might think that, as an IT professional for 45 years, I would know a lot about fixing computers.  But I was a manager and not close to day-to-day machine operation.   And even if I had known about making repairs then, technology changes rapidly.  It involves constant relearning.  So that, friends, gets me to the topic for today’s discussion.

When I purchased my last computer a little over three years ago, I was faced with having to transport a huge amount of material (files, emails, etc.) from my old machine to my new one.  Further, I knew that many of the pieces of software I owned were not up-to-date and that some would not run on the Windows 8 system that I was buying.  I purchased my computer from Best Buy and decided to purchase their Geek Squad policy and their conversion assistance.  It was an excellent decision.

They took my old computer, made a list of all of my software, and shared it with me so I could tell them what no longer wanted.  Then, they ported over what they could.  My version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) would not run on the new machine, so I bought the upgrade.  It really made my life easy.

But Part 2 is really the important part.  During the first month, I kept running into subtle little issues.  The way that Word and Excel operated, for example, was not the same as it had been with my previous environment.  I called the Geek Squad, and they helped me through every problem.  When it was time to go to Windows 10, I had them do it.  I’m sure I could have done it myself, but I decided to avoid any potential hassle.  Yesterday, my Windows Live Mail (through Comcast) stopped working.  I tried everything I could think of—to no avail.  I called the Geek Squad, and they fixed it.  It turned out that Comcast had changed port numbers, and even when I called the company, they gave me the wrong information.  The Geek Squad, though, had the correct data.  The guy I was dealing with was in the Philippines, but his English was excellent.  After gaining some basic information, they (with your permission) gain access to your machine and do a full scan.  Subsequently, the agent used his access to my machine to work out and solve my issue.  I slept better last night.

TECH TALK feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

APRIL SENIOR MOMENT with Liz David: “OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES”

“OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES”

By Liz David

The World’s Greatest Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

A few months ago, my 11-year-old grandson Ben and I were in the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, patiently waiting for lunch. I was preparing to serve him the world’s greatest grilled cheese sandwich ever.

Out of the blue he looked up and said, “Nana, I hope you live a long time.”

“I hope so too,” I said, moved.  I thought all he was interested in was his X-box, play station, texting, and winning at Monopoly.

At the time, I was 80. Now, I’m 81.  I’ve already lived a long time.  I don’t know what living a long time means to an 11-year-old.  I didn’t probe or ask questions, but I’ve been thinking about this question off and on since then.

So what does living a long life mean to me?  Is it the fullness of years or just another number to strive for?  So I’m 81. Will I reach 82 and, if so, what difference will it make?  What difference will I make?  Is being here enough? Or am I just existing? Does my continued existence matter? Of course, my family and friends would say yes.  And I say yes too!

But is my yes important? Will I live to see my oldest grandchild—and also my youngest grandchild who is 7—graduate 6th grade, 8th grade, high school, college.  Will I see them have careers, get married, make me a great-grandmother? Unlikely.  Very unlikely. Impossible. Do the math!

For me, it’s important to not only live well into a “ripe old age” but also to live a meaningful old age. Yet, a very wise person once said to me that all God wants us to do is to “be.”  I ask myself, “How can I ‘be’ as I do?” A conundrum that gets me into, may I say the word, spiritual stuff.

Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.  Really?

So, how about a conversation?

SENIOR MOMENTS Feature Writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

Years ago, when we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”  I’m not sure whether or not I believed it then, and I’m wondering whether I believe it now. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APRIL TECH TALK with John Rudy: Screen Sharing?

SHOULD I LET YOU LOG ONTO MY COMPUTER?

The simple answer is NO, but, as usual, nothing is simple. There are three circumstances I can think of (and there are probably more) when this should be fine and actually even beneficial.

  1. I have a yearly contract with The Geek Squad, an organization that is part of Best Buy, for support of my computer. For a reasonable rate, they will support up to 3 computers for me and take as many calls as necessary. Sometimes a call to them is sufficient to get an answer to your question, but at other times, you might have a complex question that requires someone to log onto your machine in order to fix it. Of course, you can take the computer to a store, but it is more convenient when, given permission, they can log in to fix whatever ails the machine. I have received similar service from Comcast.
  2. Occasionally, you might call a friend and ask how to do something, like work on a Word document. They say that they’ll be over next week. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to collaborate in real time?
  3. You want to share something, maybe pictures, with someone, and the file is too large to easily send. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just see them on your machine? There are a number of software products that accomplish this. You can check with the Geek Squad and Comcast or your own service provider to see what they deem to be safe.

Here is an article on a variety of tools. http://www.online-tech-tips.com/cool-websites/5-free-remote-desktopsharing-and-screen-sharing-solutions/  that you can choose from when looking for options like this.

I use Teamviewer (the current is version 12) because it was recommended to me a couple of years ago, and I find it easy to use. It is free and available at https://www.teamviewer.com/en/download/windows /

When using Teamviewer, you provide a code to the person to whom you are allowing access and then either they or you can move the cursor on your screen. At the end of the session, they log out and cannot get in again until a future session is initiated by you.  So it is safe. They have full documentation available on their site.

Having said all this, be very selective about allowing others onto your machine. They would then have access to material that you might rather keep private.

TECH TALK Feature Writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

MARCH’S CHEF’S CORNER WITH CHEF RUDY: SPARE RIBS!

MEATY SPARE RIBS

This recipe was developed from a Chinese Cuisine site on the web, though I have made a lot of alterations.  When buying the spareribs try to find those with a meaty back side (unlike what is typically found in a Chinese Restaurant where they remove that part to be used in other dishes).

The keys are to cook slowly, with the oven moist, to keep the meat tender.  Then at the end cook them under the broiler to make them crisp.

6  Spareribs (meaty)                                                                                                         ¼ cup Soy Sauce                                                                                                                  ½ cup red Chinese sauce (Ah So)                                                                          1½ Tbs Catsup                                                                                                                 1½ tsp Mustard (I use powdered)                                                                          1½ Tbs Red Wine Vinegar (or other vinegar)                                                    1 Tbs Brown Sugar                                                                                                            5 Garlic Cloves, well chopped                                                                               1/3 cup Honey (dissolved in some water)

  1. Marinate the spareribs (turning occasionally) in everything but the honey.  Best if marinated for a full day (or even 36 hours).  A 10×14” pan works particularly well.  You will probably have to cut the rack of ribs into 6” sections to fit, but don’t cut individual ribs.
  2. Bake at 335 for about an hour, with the meat side up on a rack over a cookie tray.  Put aluminum foil in the pan to catch the fat drippings.
  3. Place a tray of water a few inches under the cooking tray.  This generates steam and keeps the ribs moist.  (Make sure that it doesn’t evaporate.)
  4. Baste the ribs with honey every 15 minutes
  5. Remove the ribs from the oven, get rid of the foil and the fat.
  6. Put the ribs back in, under the broiler, about 6” from the element.  Baste heavily with the honey and broil for 5-7 minutes to crisp the ribs.  Turn over, baste the back side, and cook the back under the broiler for 5-7 minutes. A lot more fat may come off during the broiling process.
  7. Individually cut apart the ribs.
  8. Serve with Duck Sauce and lots of napkins.
Our “Chef’s Corner” feature writer John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked exclusively vegetables in boil-able packages.)

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

MARCH SENIOR MOMENT with Liz David: Legacy Letters

LEGACY LETTERS

by Liz David

As we age, we begin to think about legacy.  We write health care proxies which may or may not include ”do not resuscitate” orders. We may designate  a family member or independent person as having our power of attorney.  We write wills as to how we want our financial assets distributed and include lists of those we wish to receive our personal items such as precious jewelry, family heirlooms and special, meaningful, possibly sentimental items.  We may agonize about who should get what and how much, who should receive this or that item, or who even wants anything!

Some of us offer our children and grandchildren these items as we age, before we die.  “Thank you, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa–but we don’t have any room.  It just doesn’t fit.”  Or, worse, “it isn’t our taste.”  Or, even, “You still have a lot of years ahead, and we want you to continue to enjoy the item” of the moment while you still can.

There is another legacy, though, that may be even more meaningful than the above and doesn’t depend on legalities or whether or not anyone wishes to receive the item.  It is a “Legacy Letter,” or, as described in ancient times, an Ethical Will.  A Legacy Letter is a letter we write to our loved ones, either to be opened after death, or shared whenever you decide the time is right.  It is a way to synthesize our thoughts and feelings in a meaningful  and loving way. It is a way to transmit our love, our special stories, anecdotes, and the lessons we have learned over a lifetime.

As older adults, we consciously, or not, are models. Our behavior, attitudes and values are transmitted to those around us.  We teach by our lives, our examples, our deeds, our spoken and unspoken words. It is normal for us to think about what is important for us to transmit to those in our sphere, our family, loved ones, closest friends.

Don’t get me wrong.  Keeping our relationships “current” should be a top priority, either through confronting difficult subjects or, simply, giving a peck on the cheek as we walk out the door, knowing that, given life’s unpredictability, we may never see that person again. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true!

Here are some guidelines that I’ve used  when helping Legacy Letter participants through the process.

  1. Are there specific things you wish to say to specific people?
  2. What are the important teachings, messages, etc. you would like to leave as your legacy?
  3. What qualities in the people you are writing to have given you pride or pleasure? What do you want to affirm about them?
  4. If you have a life partner, would you want to give him or her encouragement to re-couple?
  5. What acts of charity would you like survivors to do in your memory? Do you want money donated? To a specific cause
  6. Discuss funeral plans. Remember funerals are for your survivors.

Do’s and Don’t’s

  1. Do include your favorite jokes and memories of the good times you’ve shared.
  2. Don’t scold, criticize or use this as a guilt trip to punish people.
  3. Inform loved ones where you have stored your Legacy Letter.
  4. Update periodically

Regarding whether to write your Legacy Letter on the computer or handwritten–I suggest you do both. There is nothing so precious as receiving a handwritten letter,  and it will reflect your style and personality in ways that will be appreciated beyond measure.

May you go from strength to strength.

Senior Moment feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

When we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”  I then felt a “calling” and, at age 45, earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and became a bereavement counselor.  Later, a friend encouraged me to join BOLLI where I began to offer courses in which we discuss our aging–from the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives.  My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging.  So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

FEBRUARY TECH TALK with John Rudy: MAKING TRAVEL PLANS

THE NEW WORLD OF ONLINE TRAVEL PLANNING

It used to be that, whenever I wanted to take a trip, I drove into Lexington and visited Colpitt’s Travel where Marilyn would help us make reservations.  Unfortunately, she often had to deal with airlines that didn’t answer the phone and hotels in places she hadn’t visited.  The situation today is very different, and most of the readers of this blog already probably take advantage of some of the tools out there.  The purpose of this entry is to provide you with some ideas you might not be familiar with—and, of course, what I provide here is just a small piece of what is available.  Be sure to use the comment box at the end to add your ideas and/or ask questions!

Step1:

Where/when do I want to go?                                                                                 Do I want to arrange for airfare or a package with car and/or hotel?     Do I have flexibility for travel dates, times of day, locations?         What am I willing to give up for the lowest price out there?                 Do I want trip cancellation insurance?

Step 2:

Pick one of the travel tools that are available online.  Various review sites contrast the different tools, but there is some consensus that www.booking.com is the best overall site and www.Priceline.com is the best for last-minute deals.

Other popular sites include: Expedia, Cheap Air, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, and Kayak.

These sites allow you to 1) search across many different airline or select specific ones; 2) deal with specific or flexible travel dates; 3) sort information by date, price, time, and number of stops.

Be sure to look carefully at car rental information, especially at drop-off fees.  Also be sure to note whether or not the site will alert you if there are price changes and if you will be able to take advantage of that information.  Be aware, too, of the busiest airports.  Smaller airports (like Providence) may be available near your destination—prices, though, might be higher, and they might have less availability.

Get Money for Change Flights

Airlines overbook assuming that they will have no-shows.  Many times, they provide offers for volunteers willing to take different flights.  Offers go up when there are no takers.  But be sure to ask questions.

Sometimes, the offer provided can only be used with a full-fare ticket.  The offer may not apply to your whole group.  What if the next flight is also fully booked?  Ask for a flight guarantee within X hours.  If the delay to a substitute flight turns out to be X hours long, will they reimburse an overnight hotel bill?

Many years ago, I met someone who located the busiest American Airlines flight to LA and booked it to visit the grandchildren.   He always got bumped.

When Should I Fly?

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least expensive days on which to fly; then Saturday.  Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.  Very early morning, late night, red-eye, and mealtime flights are cheaper than other flights.

When Should I Book?

According to FareCompare.com data, the best time for booking in the U.S. is on Tuesday at 3 p.m.  Many airlines release their weekly sales late on Mondays or early on Tuesdays.  By mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, then, the competing airlines have matched the lower prices.

U.S. domestic tickets: Shop between 3 months and 30 days before departure. International fares: Shop between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure. Peak travel: During peak seasons such as June, July and August or the December holidays, purchase tickets two months in advance.

The large companies from whom we used to buy travel books now have elaborate, comprehensive web sites.  These are particularly useful when trying to get detailed data on a location.  Browse them and see what is available.  These include, but are not limited to:  http://www.fodors.com/  and https://www.viamichelin.com  as well as https://www.lonelyplanet.com

One last item:  Google is pretty good.  If you type in, say, “American Airlines 145,” you will get the status of that flight.  If it is already airborne, you will get its ETA and the arriving Gate Number–some airlines even make it possible for you to track their in-air flights!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this month’s or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402

JANUARY “SENIOR MOMENT”: The Superagers!

“Use It or Lose It—-THE SUPERAGERS”

by Eleanor Jaffe

“How to Become a Superager,” (a recent NY Times article) gives added credence to the well-known phrase, “Use it or lose it.”  The author, Lisa Feldman Barrett, recommends that we elders work HARD at intellectual and physical challenges.  She writes, “If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain,” since, “all brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it….so work that brain.” What is more, she says, “The discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline….superagers excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort.”   (To access this article, click here)

This is great advice that we BOLLI members follow in our course work—right?  But we are, after all, “seasonal learners” with long  interruptions between semesters.   When I started to think about how to keep building brain muscle during BOLLI’s course breaks, I discovered that even vacation can keep us superagers going.

EXERCISING MY SUPERAGER BRAIN WHILE ON VACATION!

I’d like to think that the luxury of being able to purchase and outfit a new vacation condo in Florida has given me and my husband a multitude of opportunities to exercise our superager brain muscles. The challenges of setting up a new apartment are multiple, even to experienced hands like us.  Here’s what I mean:

Let’s see.  First of all, how shall I equip my now empty condo?

I start by making a floorplan and a color chart.  Next, I decide what furnishings we need and make a master list. It doesn’t take long before I have to look for the often misplaced list, but when I find it,  I tend to revise it.  Then, I take it with us when we go shopping.  Back home in Boston, I dig up unbreakable furnishings (linens, trays, small rugs, etc.) that we could use in Florida. I pack them up and ship them down.  (I should have made a list of them…)

Next, I explore the resources my new surroundings have to offer.  What stores carry the things I will need?  How do I find those stores and websites that reliably provide “stuff”?  I consider the advice of the other newcomers we meet about how they achieved the same goals.  I learn about “consignment shops” where “lightly used” used items of often good quality are sold.  Sarasota has about 35.  And this kind of shopping offers adventure!  You never know what you may find—or how quickly someone else will spot that terrific bargain.  I’ve learned to be prepared to purchase on the spot.  I’ve also learned to schedule deliveries so that I will be at home when these purchases arrive.

But furnishing a new space isn’t all that this kind of relocating involves.  Our superaging brains get lots of exercise as we memorize lots of new code numbers: beach locker number, house entrance number, security number, cell phone number, etc., etc., etc.   I have to write them down. (And then look for this list later, too.)  We also have to learn directions: east, west, north, and south–especially difficult for me since I am–and always have been–“directionally challenged.”  We have to learn the names and locations of new streets, highways, restaurants, movie houses, parks, beaches, etc.

And, of course, probably most important of all, we need to think about how to create a new social life.

We make lists of activities that seem like they will be fun or worthwhile.  We locate the best lifelong learning center in the area so we can continue to do classroom learning.  And all along the way, we make new friends.  (The challenge, of course, is to remember their names.)  And, of course, we make sure that we stay in touch with old friends—they are the best.

We also need to schedule visitors.  And that takes special planning—how many and how often is too much?  Of all my tasks, this one seems to be the most challenging to me.

I am reminded of a hint from the renowned psychologist, B.F. Skinner.  He said that as we age, we forget a lot, and we ought to routinely equip ourselves with a pad that we wear around our necks that contain our “lists.”

Do you think pads around the neck could become the new fashion accessory for us “superagers”?

 

Eleanor and Liz
“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor says that, “As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends — and my 102 year old mother.  What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?  To satisfy my growing curiosity, I created and taught three different classes about aging issues over the past several years at BOLLI.  My experiences as a social worker and as a high school teacher of English–plus a lot of reading about aging and loss—and, of course, living to 80 (so far)–have prepared me to write this blog.

JANUARY “BOOK NOOK”: Two BIG Novels

As the winter cold sets in,  Abby offers ideas for some good long-term reading time.   Here are two items you may have either missed along the way or might simply want to re-read.

THE FORSYTE SAGA

John Galsworthy, 1921

“He had long forgotten the small house in the purlieus of Mayfair, where he had spent the early days of his married life, or rather, he had long forgotten the early days, not the small house, – a Forsyte never forgot a house – he had afterwards sold it at a clear profit of four hundred pounds.”

There you have it. Nine hundred pages of delicious soap opera wrapped around sly commentary on the acquisitiveness and striving of the British upper-middle classes around the turn of the twentieth century. The Forsytes aren’t landed aristocracy like Lord Grantham of “Downton Abbey.” They’re only a couple of generations removed from farmers. But they’ve been successful in trade, in publishing, at the bar, and they live in ongepotchket Victorian splendor, faithfully served by retainers and housemaids, in London and its environs.

Galsworthy was himself the product of a wealthy family and trained as a barrister before traveling abroad, meeting Joseph Conrad and envisioning a different life. He fell in love with the wife of his cousin, an army major, and married her after a ten-year affair and her eventual divorce. He was among the first writers to deal with social class in his work and to challenge the mores and ideals reinforced by the Victorian writers who preceded him. Notably, but not surprisingly given his personal life, he defied the standard view of women as property and defended their right to leave unhappy marriages.

“’I don’t know what makes you think I have any influence,’ said Jolyon; ‘but if I have I’m bound to use it in the direction of what I think is her happiness. I am what they call a “feminist,” I believe…I’m against any woman living with any man whom she definitely dislikes. It appears to me rotten.’”

It is the unhappily married woman referred to here around whom much of The Forsyte Saga revolves. Irene (I-reen-ee), disastrously married to a “man of property,” is the antithesis of a Forsyte. She represents beauty and art and passion and free will. Before reluctantly marrying Soames Forsyte, she extracted a promise that he would let her go if it didn’t work out. His failure to do so drives the story and a multi-generational family estrangement. While Galsworthy thoroughly develops the other primary characters, Irene is a beautiful cipher at the center of the novel. We never get her point of view; we see her through the eyes of others and can only infer her thoughts and feelings.

The Forsyte Saga features a huge cast of characters but the family tree that accompanies most editions is needed only at the beginning. To Galsworthy’s credit, we quickly get to know the main characters and the chorus of peripheral relatives that swirl around them. There are births, deaths, betrayals, couplings, uncouplings, recouplings, and generational upheaval, all conveyed in deft, eminently readable prose, a short 900 pages. This is a sumptuous wallow of a book with redeeming social value.

EARTHLY POWERS

Anthony Burgess, 1980

A monumental novel that stuck in my mind for thirty years as an all-time favorite but needed to be reread to remind me why. An octogenarian British writer, said to be loosely based on W. Somerset Maugham, is tasked to attest to a miracle that will support the canonization of a Pope and writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. Examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. Linguistically playful and full of historical inaccuracies courtesy of its unreliable narrator, the novel features one of the best opening lines in literature* (sure to send you to the dictionary), and is funny, painful, thought-provoking, entertaining, challenging and rewarding. Shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1980, it often appears high on lists of best British fiction of the late 20th century.

*”It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

 

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“Book Nook” feature writer and Book Group co-leader, Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.