I read a lot--not unusual for either booksellers or bookbloggers, of which I am both. And like many readers, I read to broaden my own experience. In the years since I've been blogging and bookselling, I've read hundreds (quite possibly thousands) of books whose main characters span various races, religions, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual preferences, and socio-economic backgrounds that are different from my own. I've even read a collection of short stories about deeply religious, gay Indian men living abroad, which is about as "other" from me that you can get in one book. I've read tons of books about children, teens, young adults, and middle-aged adults, but in the last several years, I've think I've only read three books that feature main characters over the age of 70. Isn't that strange?
One of them is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which tries and fails on many levels to adequately address the issue of otherness, but where it succeeds is in creating a believable community of characters over the age of 70. If this book hadn't been turned into a movie featuring the fabulous Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, and the no-less-fabulous but not-yet-knighted Penelope Wilton, I doubt this book would have ever crossed my radar, and thus my grand total of books read in the last decade featuring main characters of post-retirement age would have been reduced from three to two.
Oh, sure. There have been plenty of books featuring a matriarch, a paterfamilias. There are lots of plucky grandmothers and great aunts out there who inspire the younger heroine and provide much-needed life lessons. And I've read span-of-life books that follow the characters from youth to old age. But the only other two books I can recall with certainty that featured bona fide oldster protagonists are The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian and the excellent Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan, both of which put octogenarians front and center.
But why are there not more? If the United Nations' statistics are right, the world's over-65 population is growing at an unprecedented rate, why are there not more books that reflect the world's aging population? To put it in (potentially offensive) majority/minority or dominant/marginalized terms from my own country here: Americans read about other nationalities, white people read about people of color; straight people read about non-straight people; middle class people read about both poor and rich people, Christians read about non-Christians, men read about women; so why don't younger people read about older people?
'Cause age is the final frontier. That's why. Or at least that's my theory. If we're extremely lucky, we're all going to grow old. I think authors of all ages should take that to heart and provide readers with richly-textured and substantive books featuring at least septuagenarian, if not older, characters. If, in addition to broadening our experience, we read to know we're not alone, then we're going to be needing lots of those kinds of books, posthaste.
What books of fiction have *you* read that feature older protagonists? I'm sure there have been others published that I'm simply not aware of. Please share them here and we will all be the richer for it.