What is the most baffling period in our lives? Not childhood, not old age, but the decades of our forties and fifties, the period now generously known as middle age. It's both an occasion for regret and an opportunity for coming to terms, the moment when we come up against our limits and discover -- for better and worse -- who we are.
MY LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES is a portrait of what that unnerving experience is like. A collection of unified essays about the pleasures and pathos that attend the threshold of old age, it charts an original course between reportage and confession. Drawn from the author's own life, from the testimony of parents, children, teachers, and friends, from the books he's read and the life that he chose -- and that chose him -- MY LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES is a comic, poignant memoir that's both personal and generational.
Whether he is struggling with God (or trying to find out if he believes in one), celebrating the books he's loved and regretting those he'll never read, or leafing through the snapshots in his family album and marveling at the passage of time, James Atlas is always alert to the surprises of everyday life. He parses the fine points of success and failure among New York's "lower upper-middle class" (several of the chapters began as essays in The New Yorker) and expresses the largest themes: "I tried to remind myself that death was a part of life. I was here, then I wouldn't be here."
Atlas writes movingly about watching his parents age and his father die. In a wry and soul-searching piece, he recounts his perplexing quest for spiritual meaning after a secular lifetime, a quest that takes him to a private synagogue and a Buddhist meditation center. On the tennis court, he ruefully capitulates to his teenage son's blossoming athletic prowess, recalling a similar passing of the torch with his own father forty years earlier.
At once pensive and funny, lighthearted and profound, MY LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES is a tale of survival, but also a meditation on how it feels to flourish -- how to live.
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James Atlas has been an editor for the "New York Times Book Review" and the "New York Times Magazine" and a staff writer for The New Yorker and The Atlantic. He is the founder of Atlas Books and the general editor of the Eminent Lives series. His other books include Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet, Bellow: A Biography, and a novel, The Great Pretender. He lives with his wife and two children in New York City.From AudioFile:
The stories Atlas tells us about life as a middle-aged man (in his case, one neurotically self-absorbed and tender of himself) are mostly commonplace or uninteresting; nothing in the writing or narration lifts them out of the ordinary. In an unprepossessing voice, he intones the material as if reading poetry, a manner that, even for poetry, is tiresome and inauthentic. As a further annoyance, the tracks are too long, their lengths dictated by their content, which should never be the case. The persistent listener will find humor and interesting observations eventually, but most of the time, if Atlas were telling you these stories in a bar, you'd invent another appointment. W.M. © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
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