It just happened. Somehow, and through no perceived fault of your own, you’ve accumulated 65 years. Or maybe you’re pushing 70, 75. Let’s say you’re retired or semiretired, or perhaps just not working as hard as you once did. Still, you have a lot of stuff that needs to get done, and catching up on your reading is part of the plan. The books you need will probably fall into a few main categories: health, travel, passions, and pure pleasure.
Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge
You probably want to travel, and given the kind of travel you’d like to do, it’s important to stay healthy. Lodge, a physician, and Crowley, an avid skier in his seventies, offer advice that’s sound but not surprising. Exercise six days a week. Quit eating crap. Stay engaged. You’ll probably say, “Yeah, I know that. Why aren’t I doing it?”
Last Places by Lawrence Millman
Millman’s luminescent, understatedly funny account of traveling across the Arctic in the path of the Vikings is armchair adventure: Few of us will want to retrace his freezing steps. But here is a man who planned and executed his own perfect trip. It’s an inspiration.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Now is the time to go back to books you enjoyed years ago. Do they hold up? Ernest Hemingway called Huck Finn the beginning of modern American literature. He was right—it’s written in an American vernacular, addressing American themes like racism, religious hypocrisy, and the healing power of wilderness.
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
You could add more classics, but hey, school was a long time ago, and it’s time to unapologetically read what you like. Thrillers, sentimental bestsellers, and trashy detective novels are no longer guilty pleasures. They are, oh, an appreciation of popular culture. Burke’s 2007 novel, set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, features looters, sociopathic villains, a troubled detective, and evocative, almost sensual descriptions of the Louisiana countryside, in prose that transcends the crime genre.
Annapurna by Maurice Herzog
Obsessions are a good thing. Passion enriches life. Herzog’s harrowing account of the first ascent of an 8,000-meter peak, in 1950, is electrifying reading, and it propelled me on a trek to Everest Base Camp last year. No higher. I’m old enough to know my limits.