12 of the Best Novels About Aging and End of Life

“No, that is the great fallacy, the wisdom of old men,” Ernest Hemingway famously wrote in his literary masterpiece Farewell to Arms. “They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”
That paragraph isn’t just beautifully written, it’s just so true. It’s the kind of observation that makes literature, both fiction and nonfiction, so valuable. Books, in the way they help us navigate the murky waters of life, have a way of illuminating the world. What does it actually mean to age? (You know, other than the fact that your hair turns gray and your body is palpably less spry.)
If you want the answers, or at least the deep thoughts of smart people struggling with those questions, you’ve got to pick up a book. Here’s your reading list on the topic—a comprehensive rundown of books that make the slide toward old age a little less scary.

1. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Rebecca Winter is a 60-year old photographer, still famous but no longer sought-after, who moves to a rural town in an attempt to save money by renting her Manhattan apartment. She feels lost until she begins spending time with a local roofer, twenty years her junior, and finds a photography project in the mysterious crosses and mementos scattered through the woods. Rebecca’s feelings of invisibility and obsolescence will resonate with many women approaching their third act, and Quindlen is always a solid choice for excellent prose and depth of feeling. Read More.
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2.Less by Andrew Sean Greer

This recent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the story of Arthur Less, a failing novelist on the brink of turning 50–not as old as many of the characters on this list, but a pivotal age for this character. When he receives an invitation to his former lover’s wedding, he embarks on an around-the-world journey to avoid the event. On this journey, Less ruminates on his past and dreads his future as an aging, single gay man (he feels there is no precedent for this) and failed writer. Less is both frustrating and endearing, a bit bumbling, and above all, certain of his own failures. Those around him rarely disabuse him of these notions, but they also see more in him that he sees in himself. This book won’t be for everyone–it’s light on plot and heavy on wandering musings, and can be slow at times–but for a reader in the right mood it’s a sweet and sometimes funny read. Certain parts had me laughing out loud. Read More.
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3. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety follows the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples moving through life together in friendship and marriage. I haven’t yet read this one, but its journeys through life’s hardships and end-of-life reflections on relationships through ages make this an apt choice. Read More.
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