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How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth)

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How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth) Cover

ISBN13: 9780446196031
ISBN10: 0446196037
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Staff Pick

Henry Alford's How to Live is a funny, candid book chock-full of wisdom from fascinating people. You'll want to savor it one remarkable chapter at a time.
Recommended by Kyle, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Armed with recent medical evidence that supports the cliche that older people are, indeed, wiser, Alford sets off to interview people over 70 — some famous (Phyllis Diller, Harold Bloom, Edward Albee), some accomplished (the world's most-quoted author, a woman who walked across the country at age 89 in support of campaign finance reform), some unusual (a pastor who thinks napping is a form of prayer, a retired aerospace engineer who eats food out of the garbage.) Early on in the process, Alford interviews his 79 year-old mother and step-father, and inadvertently changes the course of their 36 year-long union. Part family memoir, part Studs Terkel, How To Live considers some unusual sources — deathbed confessions, late-in-life journals — to deliver a highly optimistic look at our dying days. By showing that life after 70 is the fulfillment of, not the end to, life's questions and trials, How to Live delivers that most unexpected punch: it makes you actually 'want to get old.'

Review:

"Alford (Big Kiss) recognizes that the elderly have been through more in their lives than the rest of us, and figures it might be a good idea to talk to some of them and see if they have any meaningful advice to impart. This plan sets off a prolonged meditation: what is wisdom, anyway? Some of his interview subjects are famous, like playwright Edward Albee or literary critic Harold Bloom — but it's the less recognized figures who consistently provide Alford with the most evocative source material, like the retired schoolteacher who lost her husband, her home and all her possessions in Hurricane Katrina but refuses to feel sorry for herself. The search is not all rosy: shortly after Alford's interview with his stepfather, he loses his sobriety and the author becomes a sideline observer as his mother initiates divorce proceedings and moves into a retirement home. Such scenarios depart from the laugh-out-loud stories for which Alford is best known, but there are still enough moments of rich humor, like the guided tour of Sylvia Miles's cluttered apartment, for longtime fans of Alford." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Taking a lighthearted approach, Alford discovers that wisdom is a process rather than a fixed point. Bumpy but rich with surprises." Kirkus Reviews

Synopsis:

In this witty guide for seekers of all ages, Alford searches for instant enlightenment through conversations with those who have lived long and lived well.

About the Author

Henry Alford is the author of two acclaimed works of investigative humor — Big Kiss: One Actor's Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top and Municipal Bondage: One Man's Anxiety-Producing Adventures in the Big City. He has been a regular contributor to the New York Times and Vanity Fair, and a staff writer at Spy. He has also written for the New Yorker, GQ, New York, Details, Harper's Bazaar, Travel & Leisure, the Village Voice, and Paris Review.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

hogan, February 15, 2009 (view all comments by hogan)
I'll be quite frank and say that although I'm madly in love with Henry Alford and am a Henry Alford completist (that is, I make a point to read pretty much everything he writes), I wasn't expecting to like this one all that much. Generally, I don't care much for books about One Man's Search for Wisdom -- they tend toward the maudlin and self-satisfied.

But I loved this one without reservation, and although I'm refraining from a five-star rating solely because I try to save that rating for life-changing classics, I wouldn't foreclose giving it that rating in the future after I've had a chance to digest it a little more.

Alford skillfully mixes autobiography (an account of his elderly mother's divorce from his elderly stepfather) with celebrity interview (Phyllis Diller, Sylvia Miles, Edward Albee, Ram Dass) with common-man interview, without descending into the self-involvement that so often afflicts this genre. As you might imagine, the common-man interviews are by far the most affecting -- I dare you to read Alford's interview with Althea Washington without tearing up at least once. And the people reading this who know me in real life know that I'm a pretty hardened cynic, so when I say I cried enough while reading this book on the subway that I had to duck my head a bunch of times so as not to embarrass the other passengers -- well, take from that what you will.

And of course, as to be expected in any of Alford's books, it's often knowing and funny, as in this passage:

"It occurs to me that there are some kinds of wisdom that I can't get a purchase on, perhaps because I am too callow to do so -- as in the Jean Cocteau directive, 'Whatever the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.' I once actually sat and wrote down all the criticisms that have come my way over the years, in an effort to understand what Cocteau was getting at. When I contemplated emphasizing all of them, I thought, This might be a fascinating exercise. Thirty seconds later I thought, Are you out of your fucking mind?"

Of course, Alford doesn't find wisdom -- at least not in the sense that he comes to any sort of definitive answers -- and he doesn't pretend to. As with the most worthwhile endeavors, it's the journey that counts, and embarking on this journey with Alford is a genuine pleasure.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780446196031
Author:
Alford, Henry
Publisher:
Twelve
Subject:
Aging
Subject:
Psychology
Subject:
General
Subject:
Specific Groups - General
Subject:
Developmental - Adulthood & Aging
Subject:
Older people
Subject:
Aging -- Psychological aspects.
Copyright:
Publication Date:
January 2009
Binding:
Hardcover
Language:
English
Pages:
262
Dimensions:
9.00x6.00x1.00 in. 1.05 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Aging
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » General
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » Probability and Statistics » General
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » Probability and Statistics » Statistics

How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth) Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.50 In Stock
Product details 262 pages Twelve - English 9780446196031 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Henry Alford's How to Live is a funny, candid book chock-full of wisdom from fascinating people. You'll want to savor it one remarkable chapter at a time.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Alford (Big Kiss) recognizes that the elderly have been through more in their lives than the rest of us, and figures it might be a good idea to talk to some of them and see if they have any meaningful advice to impart. This plan sets off a prolonged meditation: what is wisdom, anyway? Some of his interview subjects are famous, like playwright Edward Albee or literary critic Harold Bloom — but it's the less recognized figures who consistently provide Alford with the most evocative source material, like the retired schoolteacher who lost her husband, her home and all her possessions in Hurricane Katrina but refuses to feel sorry for herself. The search is not all rosy: shortly after Alford's interview with his stepfather, he loses his sobriety and the author becomes a sideline observer as his mother initiates divorce proceedings and moves into a retirement home. Such scenarios depart from the laugh-out-loud stories for which Alford is best known, but there are still enough moments of rich humor, like the guided tour of Sylvia Miles's cluttered apartment, for longtime fans of Alford." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Taking a lighthearted approach, Alford discovers that wisdom is a process rather than a fixed point. Bumpy but rich with surprises."
"Synopsis" by , In this witty guide for seekers of all ages, Alford searches for instant enlightenment through conversations with those who have lived long and lived well.
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