April 6, 2010


by Martin McGovern
184 pages, Lulu.com

Review from free advance copy by Kate Kasserman

There is an argument against, quite simply, everything. There is always a flaw, and there is always a perfectly good reason why something can’t be done (generally several). Interestingly, we seem to be living in an Age where “judgment” has been all-too-often swallowed alive by “nitpick,” and any single negative, be it ever so infinitesimal, is shown in its true colors as the Zoroastrian particle of pure evil. And DUDE, you cannot fight the Zoroastrian particle of pure evil, seriously, so Surrender Dorothy! And do, like, nothing ever. Including breathe. Because you might accidentally inhale an errant botulism spore or something. They’re out there!

Well, signs of the times aside, people do criticize themselves a lot (I know it doesn’t seem that way sometimes, to hear the humans talk, but they really do). We go from “I’m too inexperienced to do anything” to a golden six-week period at approximately age 23 straight into “oh, I’m past it now.” Hm, is this accurate? Because now I can check!

The Octogenarian Ski-Jumper lists notable human achievements – no, not all of them (that would be a rather unwieldy thing, even if one limited oneself to near-certainties) – broken down by the age of the achiever. If you are 51, for example, you can see that this is a banner year for being inaugurated as a US President (should your interests incline that way), and it is also the age when WC Fields (this is more my speed) burst into pictures. (Take THAT, 23-year-old Carson McCullers with your The Heart is a Lonely Hunter! Although that too, admittedly, is cool.)

Each age is broken down into subcategories (sports, literature, business, science – whatever is apropos), and each accomplishment is described with a light-hearted, sometimes drily funny explanation or context. It is a book that readers will probably dip into (“Oo, Aunt Clarabelle is here – let’s do 68!”) rather than read straight through – but having read it straight through myself, I may as well point out that it has an almost irresistibly cheering effect. Go people! Do all your – stuff, whatever it may be!

I am not just riding my personal hobby-horse in pointing out that “reasons for” should be given at least equal weight as “reasons against” – or maybe I am, but at any rate it is consistent with the stated intention of the book. Well, the stated intention, which is, interestingly, the exact same as the slyly implied one. Here is the stated part. In the introduction, McGovern cites his inspiration: his wife was having a dismal 44th birthday, capped off by her sighing glumly that “No-one ever achieved anything when they were forty-four.” As a technical point, he considered this unlikely; as a marital point, he found it an irresistible challenge. (And the 44 chapter, by the way, is a doozy – holy Moses, Newton’s Principia!)

And then the unstated part. At the conclusion, we have reached the very wrinkly age of 105, with a Mr. Percy Arrowsmith, who celebrated his 80th anniversary with his 100-year-old wife Florence. (This is admittedly a cumulative achievement that you can’t just spontaneously pull off at age 105.) From the book:

When asked about the secret of a good marriage, 100-year-old Florence said that it was important to make up if you’ve had a quarrel, and never go to bed on an argument. Percy, aged 105, said it was simpler than that. When pressed, he said, “In two words – ‘Yes, dear.’”

Fine advice, but taken in combination with the introduction, I believe the book’s conclusion is “Yes, dear” followed by an unspoken “but still.” Heh. And that’s even finer advice.

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