Book Review: 100 years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

100 years by Joshua Prager100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine if you could ask the most famous authors in the world their views on your age today. What would they say? Better yet, what advice could they give you as you enter your next decade, and the next after that?

This is the delight that the book 100 YEARS by Joshua Prager provides. In collecting these quotes, he had very specific criteria that made the challenge all the more difficult: an author could be used only once, and the specific year must be included in the quote. What fun!

It was a slow slog: he went through 2700 pages of Thomas Mann and Leo Tolstoy to find only two quotes. Agatha Christie wrote over 80 books and didn’t make the cut. He had to keep in mind the progression of history as well. Two authors used the phrase “yellow leaf” to describe their then current old age: Christopher Isherwood at 53 and Lord Byron at 36!

Often he will give a summary quote at the beginning of a decade. For example, for the Fortieth Decade he includes, “Men at forty learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to,” by Donald Justice.

As I look ahead to an older age, I was curious about what might be said of seventy, or even the ninetieth decade. Prager doesn’t disappoint. J.D. James says, “Will I be here at the end of the year? At seventy-seven, that is not an irrational question.”

And May Sarton, that wonderful journalist laments, “Every person seventy-eight years old lives in a somewhat depeopled world. The trouble for me is that I often loved people older and wiser than I. So I’m left now in the lurch, being, trying to be, the old wise one and feeling like a great goose.”

Whatever age you’ve been, are now, or hope to aspire to, you’ll find it here.

An additional delight is that each page of the book is a different color, each specific number is set in a different type font by one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the world, Milton Glaser. The book becomes a feast for the eyes as well as for the mind.

Highly recommended

Keep on Trucking

keep on trucking

Every Thursday night our local Wendy’s donates their lot space to a classic car show. The guys (and it’s always the guys) arrive in the early afternoon, bring out their dust rags and start polishing ol’ Betsy for the show. Most of these vehicles get driven oh, fifty miles a month, back and forth to car shows.

My father-in-law, though, was a Master Mechanic during his lifetime. He had one vehicle, an old ’47 Chevy pickup, that he drove back and forth to work, on late night call-outs, and down to the parts store. He used to brag he’d never have a Ford in his driveway (Fix-Or-Repair-Daily he called them), but that he’d installed three engines in this Chevy and it was still running like a well-tuned watch.

He said that if you took care of things, they took care of you.

Recently, a family member took her computer in for repair, again. The tech told her that any more there is a “planned obsolescence” in computers–that if they last two years without turning into a boat anchor, you should consider yourself lucky.

I wonder what my father-in-law and his old truck would say to that.

I’d like to be a truck driver. I think you could run your life that way. It wouldn’t be such a bad way of doing it. It would offer a chance to be alone.
~Princess Anne of England


I’m turning into my mother-in-law

2012-09-08 - Apple Cobbler Insides - 0015

Some women have a worry of turning into their mother, especially during stressful times. I have found through a quirk of fate that I think I’m turning into my mother-in-law instead!

She was a simple, though intelligent woman who died many years ago, a traditional homemaker who raised a large family in the 40s and 50s and never worked outside the home.

But as I review my current, semi-retired lifestyle, I find it remarkably similar to hers. For example: She rarely went out, except to the grocery store, the hairdresser and the bank. (Hand raised. Just got back from all three.) She had one good friend. (Hand raised).

She loved to cook Southern style, what we’d call today, whole foods, slow cooked: Home-made biscuits, fried chicken, apple cobbler, all made from scratch. Because I am mostly vegetarian and gluten sensitive, my style is different, but the same.

Right now I am cooking applesauce with apples from the frig, and I make my own almond milk, because many of the store-bought brands list sugar as the first ingredient! But I experiment–cooking beans in a slow cooker is the only way to go, and I have a chayote squash waiting for tomorrow’s supper. I notice I have shared her joy of discovery of a new recipe, the pleasure in the process and the pride in the final product. A nice feeling!

She was intensely interested in both her neighborhood and nature around her. She usually had a small vegetable garden and grew roses, even in the shortened growing season in Flagstaff. For me it’s the new covey of baby quail living under the Russian sage, and the pecans I harvested and shelled from our tree out back.

The fire that blackened Mt. Elden north of town was right at the top of her street. She felt the horror at that destruction much as I am living through the aftermath of the Slide Fire.

She loved afternoon TV and could quote you chapter and verse of the Phil Donohue show. For me it is books–I’ve currently embarked on an round-the-world cruise. Right now I am “in” Canada, and loving it!

But most of all, when I went to visit her, I loved the predictability. When I was in my thirties and forties, a full-time working woman, I’d rush to her house and let out a sigh of relief at her rhythm of life. The pineapple crocheted doily was always on the kitchen table, the same picture always hung over the couch, and the coffee (always Folgers) was brewing in the old Pyrex percolator that she’d had for decades.

I used to wonder, back then, what on earth she did with her day.

Now I know.





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The day Miss McNuttle took her clothes off

Amazing Teachers

I went to high school a long time ago, but I still remember Miss McNuttle.

She taught Latin, both Latin I and Latin II, and Senior Honors English. Miss McNuttle was the prototypical spinster, back in those days when there still were spinsters: thick rimmed glasses, gray hair back in a bun, hospital shoes. We used to joke that she was a nun reject–that she was so tough the nuns wouldn’t let her teach in their schools.

She was so tough she could drive our star quarterback to tears with just one look–that look, you know the one. She was the only one of our teachers that you didn’t talk back to, that you addressed with her complete title, Miss McNuttle. You didn’t pile out the door when the bell rang, you sat there until she dismissed you.

So it was with much trepidation that I signed up for her class my senior year. Actually I was planning on skating that last year, but my guidance counselor flagged my schedule and called me on the carpet for taking home ec, art, study hall and bonehead English. I can still see that stubby pencil with the smeared eraser as she worked furiously to produce a schedule that my parents–and she–could live with.

That meant me and Miss McNuttle finally met. I’d taken three years of Spanish–no Latin for me!–but I knew her reputation. She didn’t disappoint. That year we learned how to diagram sentences, how to do word analogies. We struggled through not one but two Shakespeare plays and wrote countless essays that were carefully graded in red and required to be resubmitted.

But the crowning glory was public speaking. She said that every young well-educated woman or gentlemen should be able to speak in front of others. We wouldn’t be passing her class until we knew how to do it. Some classmates resorted to ditching on the days we had to emote. Others chose the quickest way out, stammering red-faced through the ordeal.

One assignment was to memorize a famous public speech and give it to the class without notes. Some of my classmates’ siblings had had Miss McNuttle in previous years, and they clued us in: the best speech to give was the Gettysburg Address–272 words, less than two minutes of agony if you talked fast.

The noon before we all had to go before the implacable judge we skipped lunch and traipsed out together to the track in-field grass, sat there coaching each other, prompting when we got to word 253 and were absolutely stuck. We arrived at class that day in a unit and nailed it! Twenty-seven renditions of “Four-score and…”, one after another.

We thought we were off the hook, but Miss McNuttle had another assignment waiting for us. We now had to give a five minute speech demonstrating how to do something. What do teenagers demonstrate that would be fit to display in front of this teacher? We put our heads together and came up with a reasonable list: tying fishing flies, ironing a shirt, making a Christmas tree ornament (that was me).

We arrived at class that day in a buzz, props at the ready in paper sacks at the side of our desks. But Miss McNuttle, waiting until the last straggler breezed through the door, had a surprise waiting for us.

She announced that it was not fair to ask us to do something she would not do herself; therefore she would demonstrate how to get ready for bed. We all leaned back in our chairs, welcoming the reprieve, however short.

First she took off her glasses. Then she peered in an imaginary mirror and brushed her teeth. So far, so good. Then she pantomimed taking off her shoes, one by one, unlacing them and putting them side by imaginary side. The blouse was next, unbuttoning one imaginary button after another. The blouse must have been long-sleeved, for she tugged a bit getting the last bit of imaginary fabric over her wrist.

Unzipped and stepped out of her imaginary skirt. Stopped a heartsbreath and smiled at us. Unhooked her imaginary nylons one by one from the girdle, smoothed them and lay them on the imaginary bed next to her blouse and skirt. Tugged and tugged at the girdle and finally shimmied out of it, tossed it on the imaginary pile. Paused another minute, smiled again, and reached behind her. She unhooked that bra–that bra so real we all could see in, even though it wasn’t there.

Smile at us all one final time, took a bow, and walked out the room. We sat in stunned silence. Where had she been all our lives? When Miss McNuttle returned a few minutes later, we were still in shock.

This woman, this mild, meek spinster explained that she once trod the boards, been a Broadway star “in her youth”. She affixed her black-rimmed glasses firmly back her nose and looked at us, making eye contact with every person in the room.

“Now,” she said, “Let me see you do your demonstrations. Shouldn’t be hard. I’ve shown you how.”