Literary Links: Midlife Crisis

Ida Fogle, Library Associate

Midlife crisis? Midlife renewal? However you view this phase of life, middle age is a time of challenge and change.


There are numerous books on the topic, and Sandra Tsing Loh read most of them as she tried to cope with her “year of raging hormones.” Employing caustic wit, she shares her newfound wisdom in The Madwoman in the Volvo (W.W. Norton, 2014). Loh had a whopper of a midlife crisis, containing every essential element: affair, divorce, adolescent children, eccentric elderly parents and over-sized emotions. The only thing she found easy was gaining weight. The memoir ends on an encouraging note, however, and along the way Loh provides one of my favorite tips for getting through this difficult time. Eat a snack around four p.m.

Falling apart in middle age is not inevitable. Haven Kimmel’s mother spent her forties pulling her life together. She Got Up Off the Couch (Free Press, 2006) shares the story of how Delonda Jarvis left behind “twenty-four years of poverty and terror and ennui” to attend college at Ball State University. She surmounted tremendous obstacles on her way to a degree and a teaching career. She learned to drive, somehow pulled money out of thin air and stood up to an unsupportive husband. Despite all of this, Kimmel’s narrative never adopts a tone of pathos. Readers will laugh more than they’ll cry.


Many folks find midlife a time to pursue their dreams. What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond by Kerry Hannon (Berkley Books, 2014) gives examples of people who have changed careers successfully during their middle years. One woman left police work to become a music agent. A man who had spent his life in the world of finance found his niche in wildlife rescue. Each profile includes an interview, with suggestions for handling the practical details of a major career switch.

The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain (Viking, 2010) by Barbara Strauch is an encouraging read for those of us wondering where we misplaced our short-term memories. Strauch, the medical science editor at The New York Times, has compiled a lot of research into an engaging book. I was relieved hear that memory lapses do not equal incompetence. According to neuroscientists, experience changes our cognitive function for the better in some ways. Those in midlife might not recall names very well, but we excel at solving complex problems. MRIs show that as we age, we use more of our brain, and there are steps we can take to keep our minds working well. Exercise, eat healthful foods and keep learning new things.


Speaking of health and exercise, Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove, both strength and conditioning coaches, have written a weight training guide for the over-forty crowd. New Rules of Lifting for Life (Avery, 2012) shows how weight training is possible and beneficial as your body ages. However, you need a different approach and different rules than you did when you were younger. The authors provide tips to reduce feelings of intimidation in sections such as “A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Culture” and “How to Choose the Best Exercise for You.” The book includes photos illustrating the exercises described, and also offers nutrition advice.

Of course, no subject can be considered thoroughly examined until it’s been explored through storytelling. So I will finish my list with two fiction titles.

Dave Eggers’ novel, A Hologram for the King (McSweeney’s, 2012), presents us with protagonist, Alan Clay. At 54 years old, Clay’s life is going off the rails. He owes many dollars to many people, has a daughter to put through college and is worried about a strange bump on the back of his neck. He finds himself “as intriguing to corporate America as an airplane built from mud.” His one hope is to make the biggest sale of his life, one that will earn a commission large enough to pay off everything. He is on a quest to present a hologram to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in an effort to sell IT services for a new planned city.

All the Single Ladies

All the Single Ladies (William Morrow, 2015), by Dorothea Benton Frank, is a story of three women forging a friendship and starting new chapters of their lives in middle age. Lisa St. Clair, a nurse, is 52 years and long-divorced. She bonds with Carrie and Suzanne while helping them settle the affairs of their deceased friend, who had been Lisa’s favorite patient. Complications ensue, romances develop, ex-husbands come calling, a mystery is investigated, a dishonest landlord is dealt with, the meaning of existence is pondered. In short, life is lived, and these three women make the most of it.

May we all make the most of our lives as well, at every age.

Literary Links, compiled by library staff, appears monthly in the Ovation section of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Each article contains a short list of books on a timely topic.

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