Books for a Midlife Crisis


A bookseller friend called me this morning with a special request. He had a customer in-store whose 40-something husband was having a midlife crisis, and she wanted to get a book for him. I'm afraid I wasn't much help - I have spent a great deal of time avoiding the fact that I am in midlife, and thereby I have completely sidestepped a crisis. Anyway, I always say I had my midlife crisis at the age of 29. But it got me thinking.
So here is a list of books I'd recommend for any man 40+ who is beginning to wonder what the f*** it's all about.

Self Help:

  1. Manhood by Steve Biddulph - Recently revised and re-issued, this is the book that every man should read. It covers the whole experience of being a man, from childhood to old age. Biddulph's style is quite accessible and wouldn't scare off even the most rigidly sensible man.
  2. Iron John by Robert Bly - Yeah, this one can get a bit squirmish, but I reckon that most men would respond to its message - especially if they haven't done much in the way of self-examination before. It's an incredibly liberating read, and is probably the message that most men want to hear by the time they are 40.
  3. Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen - Another men's movement classic, Keen is slightly more radical than Bly, and perhaps his language might represent more of a barrier to the rugged Aussie male. Nonetheless, it's worth reading.
  4. What Men Don't Talk About by Maggie Hamilton - For a start it has a wonderfully Australian take on things, and it also contains several qutoes from me (though I have been disguised s0 happy searching!). Maggie is immensely empathetic, and her tender regard for men and their special dilemmas is obvious throughout this book.
Fiction:

  1. The Books of Jack London - No-one really reads London anymore, and yet his books are exquisite. Readable, pacy and exciting, I also happen to think they are parables for the male condition. Any man feeling a bit down in the dumps would respond positively to one of London's sensitive but macho tales.
  2. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - The oafish and egotistical Ignatius J. Reilly is of course a caricature of the male gone wrong, but in his awfulness he speaks to the pathos and tragedy of humdrum existence, and is an embodiment of peculiarly male concerns about life wasted and masculinity stymied. And the book is enormous fun.
  3. The Stories of William Trevor - Trevor's gentleness in fact captures a special state of being that most men secretly cherish. Of course when one thinks of characteristically male literature one leans toward action, crime and intrigue. But someone going through a midlife crisis would, I think, respond to Trevor's mild and sensitive analysis, as well as his beautiful storytelling. It will bring out the inner philosopher in any man, and delight any reader.
  4. Anything by Philip Roth - Roth has been constantly describing the sad decline of the male, and almost any of his books would set out situations and anxieties instantly recognisable to any man over 30. He is the laureate of the midlife crisis.
Biography:

  1. The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie - The ultmate man of action, the taciturn Scotsman Carnegie became the world's wealthiest man and then gave it all away. Men love this kind of stuff because Carnegie embodies so many of the masculine qualities that have been forced upon us - unstinting hard work, the accumulation of riches and extreme self-sacrifice.
  2. Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey - Allow the poor suffering mid-lifer a little escapism and a little despair - it is therapeutic. De Quincey managed to fritter away his entire life under a drug-induced haze, and this book has enormous appeal to teenage bys and middle-aged men. It illumines the dark side of manhood, and so is quite thrilling. Anyone feels better about their lives after reading this.
So there it is - my eclectic little collection of books to soothe the aching, wasting heart of the fellow in his 40s. I guarantee that if he reads any - or even some - of these, he will emerge from his midlife crisis a better and more reflective person. And so on into a glorious old age!

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