Midlife Hack: Self-help books


So I’ve been trying to find the perfect midlife book. Why? Because reading is how I midlife crisis, okay?

Right, so . . . Where was I? Yes, the perfect midlife book.

I could just end this post now and say it doesn’t exist (it doesn’t), but I have another 27 minutes to kill so Ima drag it out a bit more.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a bit book obsessed. I subscribe to book podcasts, read book blogs, add book websites to my Feedly, and, yes, I actually read books. In between all the other stuff. 68 of them last year.

Just the other day, I read a post on Book Riot about “Finding Your Place in the World.” Cool! I thought. I want to read something about finding my place. Where is my place? It better not be on the shelf with reading glasses and stool softeners (although I do need at least one of those); it better be by a large body of water somewhere . . . Or in Rome.

But no.

Or rather, who knows!

The article was about twenty-somethings figuring how to adult. It’s always about twenty-somethings trying to figure out something or the other. And by the way, how hard is it to adult? You pay bills, you work at a job you hate because it pays said bills, and you let your body go because between working and paying all those bills, there’s simply no time for exercise–maybe a donut or two–but not a whole round of exercise–piece of cake!

So lots about twenty-somethings, but nothing for me, for us.

I even set up a Google alert with “Midlife” “Midlife Woman” “Women at Midlife” (one can never be too careful) as search terms, and here are some of the hits I got:

A New Divide in American Death – White men are also dying in midlife at unexpectedly high rates . . . Oh whew! That’s a relief!

A Premature and Unnatural Death in Rural Oklahoma for a Woman at Midlife
Premature, okay, but unnatural? What could it be? “Midlife woman stumbles over unwieldy cankles and falls to her death”? I was too scared to read on.

Then this gem: Ageing with Attitude: Love of Stilletos Could Be Your Achilles Heel. Okay, we’re getting warmer–“Attitude,” “Love,” “Stilletos,” these are all words I can get behind. I clicked through. Big mistake. I (along with Claire Underwood from the House of Cards) was severely scolded for even thinking of wearing six-inch Manolos around the house as I “approached 50.”

You get the picture: Manolos = No; Death = Hell Yeah!

A Year by the Sea

The closest I have come to a book about real women at midlife is the (slim) memoir, A Year by the Sea, about a woman who left her home, her husband, her children to go to a small town in Maine and shuck clams (or was it oysters?) for a living and “find herself.” (It’s actually a very good book, so shame on me for making a cheap joke at its expense–go buy the book!).

I read this book almost a decade ago, and even then it spoke to me clearly: You deserve some time. Time by yourself. Time for yourself. Time to walk the beach. Time to read a book. Time to say nothing. For a whole year.

Then my ten-year-old threw up on the carpet, and I was on my hands and knees. For nine years.

Or so it seemed.

There is simply nothing for us–not anything inspiring at any rate. It’s all about healthcare and estate planning and “taking up a hobby.”

I know this trope of midlife, this “portal” as Mind Body Code author Mario Martinez calls it, is fallacious. It’s just a way to categorize people, to put them in a box–Ah, midlife! It’s all downhill from here on out. But I don’t feel that way, and I know you don’t either.


I did find one book last year, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, that was quite good, even if it’s not a book about midlife per se.

In Thrive, Huffington writes about her own personal wake up call when she found herself spent and empty, despite having just built one of the (arguably) biggest media empires in the world–the Huffington Post. Of course, this was great undertaking and a huge accomplishment, but at what cost? We have to redefine what it means to be successful, she writes. It can’t just be about money and power. We (especially women) need an alternate metric by which to measure success in life, and she offers up three: Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder. After all, (as Kate Sheehan reminds us), it’s not about what we want to do; it’s about how we want to live.

Still two books in as many decades doth not a library make. What am I missing? Could it be that this topic of women at midlife is so taboo (so distasteful) that no one is writing about it except in terms of loss and death? Is the book market simply reflecting back to us this terrible mythology of the biological imperative that a woman’s worth is only as good as the viability of her eggs?

I hope not.

Then again, maybe I’m new to this game, to this inquiry. Perhaps you are a bit ahead of me, a bit more clued in. If so, let me hear your thoughts. Share with me (in the comments below) any books or blogs or ideas that turn midlife on its head from being the beginning of the end to being the beginning of something new.

I would love to hear from you, learn from you!

Categories: Midlife

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9 replies

  1. I love the subtitle of that memoir: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman. Makes me think that we are all unfinished because life gives us the opportunity to experience new things until we take our last breath. As far as books on midlife, I haven’t read any, except for Ann Quindlen’s book “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” that a friend gave me for my birthday. I like what she said, “A finished person is a boring person.”

    Now I leave you with another quote:

    “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison.

    Hint, hint…:)

  2. Women’s self-help books are usually not about helping self…they’re about helping others: How to Catch a Man; How to Grow and Raise a Human; How to Be Manly in the Workplace; How to Be Healthy and Hot (So Your Man Will Want to Bone You). Actually, there is one search term you didn’t include – Menopause. There are quite a few menopause books…because truly it is all about our ovaries after all. A book about being a modern woman at midlife seems sort of like a unicorn – a magical thing that we think must exist, but we’ve never really seen the evidence. Except in spaces like this, and in words like yours. Thank you for quitting your job and having a midlife moment… It is important work you are doing.

  3. This is a great blog post. I have been struggling with personal issues for 10 years and have found reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad time. I have always had relationship issues and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a tv show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is “Your Best Age is Now” I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling. Here is a link to her book: https://www.amazon.com/Robi-Ludwig/e/B001HD07NE

  4. HI Tina,
    I completely agree with your assesment about the lack of midlife literature! I was so annoyed with the situation that I started my blog in the hopes of connecting with others like me, who are looking for some answers. I have been reviewing a few books and have some more to go, but if you have an interest in what I have looked at so far, I’m at invisible-no-more.com. Good luck in your search!

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