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Eightysomethings, by Katharine Etsy.

June 24, 2019

Eightysomethings:  A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Seeking Happiness, and Aging Well, by Katharine Etsy.  Skyhorse Publishing, September 2019.

3 stars

A shallow description by a psychotherapist of people in their eighties whom she interviewed about their lives and thoughts.

Katharine Etsy is a psychotherapist in her eighties, now living in a retirement community.  She has published several books including one on workplace diversity.  For Eightysomethings , she interviewed 128 women and men in their eighties and 26 of their children.  Although a few African American and a few who received government assistance are among her interviewees, the overwhelming majority are white individuals affluent enough to live in retirement communities.  Yet, despite their demographic similarities, Etsy clearly shows the variety of ways in which her subjects react to aging.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Eightysomethings is the substantial quotations from Etsy’s interviewees.  These are informative and fun to read.  They reveal that there is no one way to age or one acceptable pattern of emotion or response. But the interviews are mostly descriptive with little said about how or why the interviewers feel or think as they do. The interviews are grouped in loosely organized topical chapters with little analysis.  Despite the book’s subtitle, there is little practical guidance about how to age or even a definition of aging well.

Etsy has written a generally upbeat book, with minimal exploration of problems.  A few interviewees express anger or bitterness over losses.  More bemoan their lack of energy or mobility.  Yet there is little attention given to the legitimate pains and grief of our eighties.  The idea that as individuals and a society we need to pay more attention to elders is fine, but hardly radical or helpful. The book was too relentlessly upbeat for my taste.

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