The time limit has long expired on blaming parents, culture, or spouses for what has been missed. It’s the mid-crossing, when we understand, perhaps for the first time, how hastily the next decades will unravel. We realize, as our bodies slow and change, and as friends and colleagues succumb to age, bad luck, or bad decisions, that where we step now, in our forties, will determine how we will end our lives.
There’s a temptation to white-knuckle into fearful denial. But in indigenous cultures around the world, the most revered members are elders, those who’ve made it through the chaos of their fertile years and into the fierce knowledge of learning how to live, finally. Just as our twenties were supposed to prepare us for mature adulthood, our forties must prepare us for the rigorous work of getting our soul’s house in order.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
There’s a way in which the world shrinks as we age—we realize not only that it is smaller, more crowded, and hotter than in our youth, but also that our restlessness across it is contributing to that condition. What the slow-food movement is to eating, Bailey’s unassuming memoir is to adventure: she shows us the reward of observing the nature closest to us, especially when it is tiny, not necessarily charismatic, and easily overlooked.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
At 43, Bauby, then editor of French Elle and at the height of his powers, was completely paralyzed by a massive stroke. This is his unexpectedly gorgeous account of that trial, ending with the universal question it engenders: “Does the cosmos contain keys for opening up my diving bell?”
Fall Higher by Dean Young
“We weren’t exactly children again, / too many divorces, too many blood panels.” So begins Young’s poem “Late Valentine.” An acknowledgement of passion and loss in the middle passage, his poems are both humorous and provocative, often at once.
Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison
This novel is the account of one woman’s attempt to hold it all together inside when everything outside is clamoring for her scattered attention: a career, her troubled children, fragments of relationships. “Something else that makes me angry is that I got too old to prostitute myself. I wasn’t going to anyway but it was there, it was my Z plan.”
The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
Liberian-born journalist Cooper writes of a world so undeniably connected, there is no refuting our shared humanity. Her memoir is a universal tale about the thousands of segregations that shred us. “This is a story about rogues,” she begins. In other words, it’s the story of all of us.