Henry Alford has written for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, and is the author of Municipal Bondage. In his latest book, How to Live: A Search for Wisdom From Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth), he does just that, providing insight and viewpoints from those who will not remain for much longer on this earth to give those who still have a while to go a greater respect and appreciation for life and what one can accomplish with it.
In the first chapter, Alford lays the ground rules, explaining that while there are certainly intelligent young people, one is most likely to find experience and wisdom from those over seventy who have simply lived much longer. Beginning with his stepfather and mother, Alford moves on from interview to interview, surprised at the response he gets from perfect strangers. In addition to interviewing some famous people like Edward Albee, Harold Bloom, and Phyllis Diller, it is the people we know nothing about who tell the most moving stories; like the retired schoolteacher who survived Hurricane Katrina, but lost her home, all her possessions, and even her husband, but still lives each day to its fullest. While How to Live is not all fun and games with some sad and sobering life stories, Alford balances it out with some funny stories like his descriptive tour through Sylvia Miles’ stuffed and cluttered apartment.
Whether you start the book with expectations and preconceptions, or pick it up for curiosity’s sake, you will ultimately be surprised and delighted with what people who have spent at least seventy years on this planet have seen and what they have to say about it and life.
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Originally written on January 30th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.