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New Wrinkle On Old Age

A former children's book author mines old age for laughs.

Posted June 11, 2012 by Tammy La Gorce

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How To Be Old: A Beginner's Guide
Courtesy of Jan Slepian.

Jan Slepian
Courtesy of Jan Slepian.

Jan Slepian was astonished last year when Astonishment, a slim book of essays about aging she self-published in 2009 on Lulu.com, was adapted for the stage by Summit-based Dreamcatcher Repertory Theater. Those who know the 91-year-old, who has lived at the Winchester Gardens retirement community in Maplewood since she was 80, will be less astonished to learn that Slepian has a new volume out: How To Be Old: A Beginner’s Guide, also published via Lulu.

The new volume picks up where Astonishment left off. In 19 chapters with titles like, “How I Lost My Husband and Found Google,” Slepian, a former children’s book author, again mines old age for laughs. In “Exercise Tips,” she champions forgetting where you put your glasses or the newspaper so you have to make multiple trips around the house searching—“a geriatric marathon.” And “Ah, Sleep” confronts the elderlies’ vexation with the sandman: “My old pal sleep has turned into a diva,” she writes. The whimsical illustrations—the cover shows a granny galloping behind her walker toward a “continuing education” sign—are by friend and Newton resident Laura Schreiber.

Though modest, Slepian suspects How To Be Old—whose essays, like those in Astonishment, were originally published in Winchester Gardens’s community newsletter—will touch a similar nerve. “Everybody feels the things,” she says. “But being able to express them in a way that strikes people—that’s what I’ve done. I’m sort of tickled about it, to tell the truth.”

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How To be Old: Depth as well as Humor

Yes, Jan Slepian’s books on old age, "Astonishment: Life in the Slow Lane" and "How to be Old: A Beginner’s Guide" are full of laugh-out-loud humor... but they are not ONLY funny. Many of the essays made me weep. Pieces like "Grief" and "A Community of Widows" and even, "How I Lost My Husband and Found Google" offer an insightful eye and helping hand for the profound losses of aging.

It’s the balance of humor and pathos that makes Slepian’s writing remarkable. I’m a "baby boomer" and I’ve given copies to most of my friends... who give them to their parents... who then ask how they can order more to give to THEIR friends.

Posted by: Anne Ellinger, Boston, MA | Jun 22, 2012 01:26:37 AM |

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