For some people, including poets such as Louise Glück and Gerard Manley Hopkins, fall is a symbol of lost youth. The season’s gradually shortening days can feel like a reminder of mortality, or prompt worries that one’s most vigorous and productive years may already be coming to an end.
Even so, the autumn of life is a fertile topic for writers to explore the pangs and benefits of getting older. The eponymous hero of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is left at the end of the book with little more than a memory—yet that memory, says the novelist Téa Obreht, is enough to encapsulate who he is. As Akiko Busch argues in a recent book of essays, the title character in Mrs. Dalloway demonstrates how a person can draw power from the seeming invisibility of age. New works of nonfiction by Darcey Steinke, Susan Mattern, and Gail Collins reflect on the cultural meaning of menopause, and point to the unexpected opportunities it can create for women.
Jane Austen’s first published novel, thought to have been drafted when the author was only a teenager, shows one young character’s eyes being opened to the possibilities of life after what she sees as the advanced age of 35. And a book club among four male friends who have known one another for decades gives them space for personal growth and emotional support that many older men don’t get.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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What We’re Reading
The secret power of menopause
“Even now it’s hard for a woman not to dread the consequences of moving out of youth … [But] three new books about postmenopausal womanhood show that the conversation is changing.”