Claire Baldry

When is Old Not So Old?

November 2017


Last month I created a website called, ‘Books for Older Readers’. The feedback was good, though a number of people said “Great idea, but do you have to use the word ‘old?’”

“So what should I call it?” I asked.

Suggestions followed:

‘later life’, ‘mature’, ‘of a certain age’, ‘not so young’....I could go on.

Even though we happily write the word ‘young’, we are less comfortable with the term ‘old’.  We seem to have very few issues with genres such as ‘young adult’ or ‘chicklit’, but would anyone want to read 'old adult' or ‘henlit’? The reality is that, in the UK at least, referring to someone as old, especially a woman, is sadly often regarded as negative. “Who are you calling old?” I often exclaim.

There is also a lot of confusion about the age at which the description 'old' kicks in. My 8 year old grandson probably thinks 40 is old, whereas I think 40 is rather young. I am 62, by the way, and don’t really perceive myself as old, though I readily admit that I am not as young or energetic as I once was. Maybe 'old' should be defined as ‘at least ten years older than your own age’. I wonder whether people in their 80s perceive themselves as old? Or do they save that description for those in their 90s?


The reason for these musings is not only brought about by the creation of my website. My thoughts are also connected to the publication of my debut novel, ‘Different Genes’. The storyline has a bit of mystery, but is mostly a love story, and, because I wrote about what I knew, the romance is between a couple in their 60s. Although reviews have been largely positive so far, they are tinged with occasional age-related observations. One younger reviewer (who incidentally liked my book) confessed that he found the Idea of older people having sex ‘gross’. I have no idea of the reviewer’s age, but I did feel quite sympathetic towards his point of view. Very few of the young want to imagine people of their parents’ age ‘doing it’.  Actually, I purposely included references to sex in my novel, because I didn’t want to leave the reader wondering if they did ('do it', I mean).

To return to the website, we could debate all day about whether some books appeal to older readers more than others. We can all name books which appeal to a wide variety of age groups, but I do think that there are age related trends in reading tastes. Someone of 60 has lived longer than a 30 year old (sorry to state the obvious), and life experiences do impact on our perceptions. Each generation even uses words differently, and has to make an effort to embrace the language of the young.


So I am not proposing to change the name of my website any time soon, mainly because I can’t think of anything better. I also believe that, especially as women, we should be proud of our age as we grow older, and not hide it behind euphemisms.


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