100 Years: Wisdom From Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life is a book that has short quotations about every year of life from birth through age 100. I had flipped through it a few times, checking out the selections for my current age and the ages of some of the people I know and some ages that seemed to be important milestones in my life. But this morning I sat down and read it from cover to cover and discovered that there is something in the reading of it this way that offers more than the sum of its parts.
Joshua Prager carefully curated the selections in this book to meet the criteria that each passage directly state the age it is describing and have information about being that age. Each author in the book is represented only once. In the introduction, he describes how some ages were, of course, easy to find many sayings about and others much more difficult. He also describes how the overall collection reveals the passages of life we all go through, despite individual differences in experience.
Having sat and read through all of the quotations, I saw that clearly. Two passages that sit side-by-side in age may be very different from one another (affected by gender, the era of the author’s life, and individual experience), but taken as a whole, there are clear trends and similarities to what most of us experience in any given age range. We see the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence and twenties and thirties and into eighties and nineties … and we struggle with the same human issues. We struggle with those issues in new ways at seventy compared to forty or twenty, and we have a different understanding of them, and there is a commonality among the shifts between perspectives of different ages.
One thing I thought was interesting was that the selections are all very individual reflections on the experience of being a specific age, without a lot of significant reference to loved ones. Interesting because I think certain ages tend to be equated with family; youth with the impact of parents and middle age with the concern over children, for example. Being 36 and without children myself, seeing so many of the people my age attending to their kids as their primary focus, it struck me that the book reflected individual inner experience rather than an outer concern that may or may not be universal. Either approach would have been suitable; this one struck me as an intentional choice and one that offers broad appeal because the parent could still relate to the thoughts and experiences of the individual inner world.
The book is a beautiful book. It’s got a coffee table book feeling to the design even though it is the size and shape of a hardback novel. There are different colored pages throughout the book. It’s not that each section is a certain color (blue for example can be seen throughout, and each decade has different colors within it) but there is a trend across all of the pages towards certain colors for certain phases of life. Lighter in some areas, brighter in others, black reserved for the very eldest years that are closest to death. There is a lot of white space on each page, a different font/ design for the beginning of each decade (as compared to the years that do not mark decades), and a slight shifting of word placement towards the end of the book. This all leaves an emotional impression about aging that, as I said before, offers more than the sum of the parts.
We all have feelings about aging, feelings that change and shift as we do age, and this book reflects that very human experience in a ways both direct and subtle.