Book Review by Nicole Goldman
“Sixty” by Ian Brown, Random House Canada, 2015
Is 60 the new 90? If you read through Ian Brown’s well written but self-flagellating diary of his sixty-first year on earth, you will be reminded again and again that according to Brown, he’s in his last lap. Seriously? Instead of feeling as I do, only verging on sixty in about a year, but still cognizant of its imminent arrival, that this turning point will signify the beginning of the second half of my life, Brown bemoans the waning days of his existence, rather than celebrate all that he has accomplished and that he has so much more to go. His father lived well into his 90’s, giving Brown a fair shot with longevity odds.
Taking a peak at his website and previous reviews of this and other books, articles, interviews and speeches he’s penned, you’d be impressed with an illustrious array of awards and recognitions, yet there is a consistent thread in “Sixty” of complaints and regrets, of having never achieved what he set out to, of worrying about retirement assets for himself and his wife because his prospects are so bad now that he is so old, and a lot of kicking himself for thinking small all these years, suddenly realizing that his time is coming to a close. He could have another thirty years! That’s fifty percent of his entire life thus far. Why all the sad sack stories?
Over the course of this one year diary, Brown jets around the world, from Toronto where he lives, to Australia to give a speech, to England to toss his father’s ashes, on holiday to Italy, a month in the Massachusetts coast to write and relax at his brother’s seaside home, and at least two ski trips, one in the Canadian Rockies, and another in the mountains of Colorado. And that’s all wonderful, but every trip is met with self-recrimination and chastisement for over spending and not putting enough away so that he can retire in a few years. He has difficult conversations with his wife, about eight years his junior, about money, all the while gallivanting thousands of miles and staying in hotels, cabins, and inns. How is he paying for all this? And when will the good times end? He seems to hint that they are just around the corner and yet each corner brings new adventure.
In his discussions with his wife he carries on about their limitations and criticizes her for not understanding his imminent demise. She has to continuously remind him that she’s not quite as old, nor does she share his paranoia about aging.
Is this a male thing? Do they fall apart when their virility is threatened, even in the slightest or most natural way? While Brown repeatedly hits the panic button on his diminishing days, he is missing the moments he has now, believing that they are numbered and therefore fleeting, so he’d better not get too comfortable.
Other reviews laid praise on his prose, truthfulness and wittiness. I get that, but I am overwhelmed by the insecure, feeling sorry for himself complainer that he is. Rather than see opportunity or a new phase of life, Brown can only envision the end and how life has passed him by. He waxes about his jealousies of anyone younger, and describes his quests to prove he’s still healthy and athletic, pathetic self-rapprochement that does little to endear the reader to his plight. It’s self-imposed, and imagined. He’s in control of how he approaches each new stage, or age, and I for one don’t follow the logic of giving in. Not giving in to age, and aging, but to worrying about it constantly.
He needs a good swift kick in the pants and a healthy dose of confidence to get off his rear and make his attitude match his circumstances. Though he admits that life is for the living, he avoids his own advice and wallows in what might have been. I won’t be taking my cues from Brown’s approach, although I did take his suggestion for a good read – “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Another man, another sad story of life passing them by, but Knausgaard doesn’t pretend he’s anything but philosophical about mortality. Brown somehow thinks he’s resisting it. It’s an easy read and thought provoking, if only to burnish my well-honed outlook on greeting each new age as an inspired gift.