Will we see changes in art, music and culture as the world experiences an unprecedented aging of its population? Perhaps. In Japan, the country that currently has the world’s highest proportion of over-65’s (28%), there is a boom in books written by, and for, the elderly.
Gruelling work hours, a breakdown in traditional family structures, and fewer grandchildren are contributing to an elderly care and loneliness crisis in Japan. Some Japanese elderly are even turning to crime because prison seems a more attractive option than the loneliness they experience at home.
Thus, books which empathise with the plight of the elderly are increasingly popular. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” The Economist writes of the some of the most popular titles:
“Age 90: what’s so great about it?” is a humorous essay on the difficulties of the elderly, by Aiko Sato, who is 95 and wrote it with a pen. It sold 1m copies in 2017, making it Japan’s bestselling book that year.
In 2018 the Akutagawa literary prize went to Chisako Wakatake, 63 at the time, for her debut novel “Live by Myself” with its 74-year-old protagonist, Momoko.”
Good Reads lists some popular English language titles with protagonists over 60, including The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, all of which illustrate something of what it means to grow old in an uplifting and often humorous way.
While they assist the elderly come to terms with their own place in life, these books aren't just for the old. Books have always helped humanity to better understand the way life is for others and gain new perspectives, and we all increasingly live in an older society.