(We’re thrilled to welcome Joan Kirschner to the BrendaAfterSixty team! – Brenda XO)
By Arts & Culture Editor Joan Kirschner
Dear Fellow Readers,
As I put the finishing touches on this first post for BrendaAfterSixty, I came across an article by Dana Gerber in the Boston Globe, “Where did all these bookstores come from?” Wow – what could be more heartening to a book lover? I made a list of the stores in the article, and the ones others mentioned in the comments.
I’ll be writing here about fiction and non-fiction focusing on and/or written by women 60 and older. Locating fiction with an “older” woman at the center is not so easy. Female protagonists in their 20s and 30s abound, and there are scads of mid-life sagas about women in their 40s or 50s, the friends/sisters/colleagues who reconnect at all sorts of reunions. Is this ageism in publishing? Is marketing books about women 60 or older harder, or is it that those making the decisions are decades younger and don’t “see” us Baby Boomer readers? I don’t know.
It could be that non-fiction is a little more democratic, at least in my main areas of interest: history, travel essays, art, fashion, biography, and memoir – my perception is that there are more choices and more active authors.
As for me, from earliest childhood I’ve been an avid and wide-ranging reader, thanks to my father, Arthur, who always had “his nose in a book.” From reading, he amassed a vast store of historical and cultural trivia, AKA “Artie’s Arti-facts,” that made dinner conversations livelier.
Later, as a twenty-something woman living solo in Manhattan, my pile of unread books was my security blanket against worries or disappointments – my means of escape. My teeny tiny apartment had limited book space, so I’d gather up the once-and-done titles and trade them in for more (and spend a Saturday browsing and sneezing in dusty bookstores). Even so, I had more keepers than room, because I had started collecting. Forty years on, I still have many of my treasures, and have gradually replaced many of the original yellowing and brittle paperbacks with hardcovers (used, of course). I have more room now, but my unread book collection has also swelled, and I realize that I may never get to them all. Naturally that doesn’t stop me from acquiring more, though I now try to limit myself to new options from the library, in an attempt at self-control. Success remains elusive.
These novels (old and new) feature protagonists or important characters who are our contemporaries or older sisters. I pulled some from my blog, No Shortage of Words, which focuses on book reviews, and/or my Goodreads reviews:
- Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez.Antonia, a native of the Dominican Republic (as is the well-known author), is a recently retired and widowed English professor in Vermont, dealing with loss and change plus unexpected challenges.
- Goldberg Variations, by Susan Isaacs. Snarky and funny, with character perspectives on life in one’s 70s, and one’s 20s; from the well-published author who started her career with Compromising Positions back in the Dark Ages (AKA 1978).
- Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. New Year’s Eve, 1984, Manhattan. Lillian Boxfish is sharp and savvy at 85 and lives comfortably alone in her Murray Hill apartment. Feeling restless, she sets out on a ramble. Inspired by the life of Margaret Fishback, a poet and children’s book writer, also known as the highest-paid female advertising copywriter of the 1920s-1960s.
- Fly Girl: A Memoir by Providence-based novelist Ann Hood, 66, covering her earlier years as a TWA flight attendant who loved to write.
- No Saints Around Here by Susan Allen Toth. Toth, now 83, kept a diary as the caregiver for her husband as he struggled with Parkinson’s disease. An Iowa native, she came to Massachusetts to attend Smith College, and chronicled her Midwestern youth and college years in Blooming: A Small Town Girlhood and Ivy Days: Making My Way Out East.
I’m looking forward to your book suggestions and comments. Happy reading, and Happy Women’s History Month! – Joan
Joan Kirschner is a Boston area writer/blogger who reviews books, museum exhibitions, theater, film, music, and travel experiences. Her commentary previously appeared on SonsiWoman.com, UllaPopken.com, WomenofGloucesterCounty.com, Trazzler.com, and IndieReader.com. She attributes a lifelong love of reading and cultural events to parents who encouraged her interests early on. Joan began as a retail and mail order catalog copywriter when typewriters, carbon paper, X-Acto knives, and hot glue were found in advertising offices everywhere. She advanced through the ranks and changes in technology, eventually taking on corporate communications, social media, and digital advertising and promotion. She managed and mentored younger writers, acquired skills in art direction, and had responsibility for print and digital communications reaching millions of customers. Surrounded by the babble of languages in Manhattan and Brooklyn and sympathizing with the challenges of non-English speakers, she earned a certificate in the Teaching of English as Second Language (TESOL) and began teaching and tutoring adults and college students. Joan now works part-time in grants administration, freelances occasionally, and covers books and the arts at No Shortage of Words.