Armor for the Journey: Inspirational Books for Aging Boomers

Boomers are aging.  An undeniable fact.  And because historically we have approached every major change in our lives—education, dating, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel—with eyes wide open, questioning, questing and desiring to live life at its best, we want to embrace aging with the same intent.  We want knowledge and understanding.

We won’t be slouching off to an overstuffed chair and just sitting it out.  But we will be sitting at the computer or pouring over the pages of books expanding our knowledge, embracing ideas and proposing that as a group we will age better than previous generations.  Because that’s what we do.

Dr. Bernie Siegel whose book Love, Medicine and Miracles helped Boomers see cancer in a different light, was asked to recommend a list of self-help books.   His response: “Every book ever written is a self-help book.  What’s the Bible?  What about Buddha?  Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the

wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

But that’s the whole point—our generation thirsts for inspiration, longs for those kernels of truth.  It’s like every challenge we have ever faced—knowledge is powerful armor and we want to be prepared for what’s coming.

Dr. Siegel with writer Mary Ann Brussat, co-author of Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, came up with the following list.  These books explore aspects of aging and healing.   They will give you the armor that you need to make the best of the years ahead.

1. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient Norman Cousins  Published in 1979, Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review, laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers.  He “jump-started the whole mind-body connection,” Brussat says.

2.Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl MD PhD  In this 1959 memoir Frankl tells of his years at Auschwitz and shares the coping mechanisms he developed to overcome trauma and find new meaning in life. “Acting out of love saved him,” Siegel says.

3. On Death and Dying Elizabeth Kubler-Ross MD  This work of the late 60s introduced the universally accepted five stages dealing with death and other traumas: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  “This book is about helping people through that final transition, so they can die surrounded by loved ones, so they can die laughing,” Siegel says.

4. The Power of Positive Thinking Norman Vincent Peale  This 1952 best seller outlines Peale’s belief that “faith in yourself makes good things happen to you,” a key element in overcoming or peacefully living with a chronic illness.   

5. Telling Secrets Frederick Buechner  Using his father’s suicide and his daughter’s anorexia, this Presbyterian minister addresses the dysfunctional family tendency to suppress painful experiences.  The focus of this 1991 book “is the idea of healing as embracing the whole of your history; all shadows and secrets.  Dealing with all of your issues is what the spiritual journey is about,” Brussat says.

Newer recommended works that also provide armor for the journey:

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness

Richard Cohen

Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira, Cohen battles MS with grace and wisdom.

Drinking: A Love Story

Caroline Knapp

The author’s 20-year struggle with the bottle and her ability to finally quit.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness

Kay Redfield Jamison

This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression.

A Whole New Life

Reynolds Price

This is the novelist’s recounting of his battle with spinal cancer and his final acceptance of a new life as a paraplegic.

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion

My personal favorite.  This 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and their only child’s illness that put her in a coma.

Thanks to USA Weekend where this material first appeared in a slightly different form.

2 thoughts on “Armor for the Journey: Inspirational Books for Aging Boomers

  1. The books of the ages – the ones that provide that deep information for which we thirst can be likened to gifts that are re-wrapped; you could even say re-gifted. While the packaging may change, the contents have been passed on from generation to generation – sage to sage.

    Another difference – science and technology is now proving, what those sages knew intuitively.

    Thanks for this post, Beth. It’s encouraging and enlightening.

  2. Love the intuitive part. I guess that’s what we are here for, Marianna, to discover more of the knowledge and secrets buried within us. We have progressed but still have ways to go. As always, your comments are so appreciated. Beth

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