When I turn 50 I want to grow up to be....
November 28, 2020 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Looking for great reads about people I can look up to as I grow older. Maybe someone cool or creative or courageous or kind. Maybe someone bigger than life. Maybe a wise sage, or a hopeless romantic. Looking for character studies of people, real or imaginary, who have a few qualities that are both inspirational and aspirational.
posted by jasondigitized to Human Relations (18 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Marcus Aurelius, philosopher king.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please go get yourself a copy of My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir (written with her nephew Alex Prud'homme). Totally delightful and inspirational. She was 49 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published and 51 when she got her first TV gig.
posted by brookeb at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: OP seems to be asking for book recommendations rather than names of people.

Two autobiographies:
The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
posted by FencingGal at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

The answer inscribed on my heart is Anna Madrigal from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:47 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen. Not just about fashion, it contains musings on life and aging from the subjects of the photographer's fantastic portaits.

Still Stripping After 25 Years by Eleanor Burns. My husband gave me a copy (because the genius title) and I am not a quilter but I read the whole book.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 9:50 AM on November 28, 2020

I absolutely can't let this thread go by without recommending Tom Junod's profile of Mr. Rogers. (Yes, it's so great that they made it into a movie but read this instead of seeing that.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:00 AM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

The physicist Freeman Dyson, his autobiography Disturbing the Universe and also the
book by Kenneth Brower about him and his son, The Starship and the Canoe.

The biologist Edward O. Wilson, his autobiography Naturalist.
posted by JonJacky at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2020

I'm listening to Michael J. Fox's latest book at the moment and he has a lot to say about facing hardship with optimism and/or pragmatism, and making the most of the good things in life, even if they take a little looking for.

Out of all his books, I think this one is particularly appropriate for what you're asking because, after Parkinson's, spinal surgery, and shattering his left arm in a fall just after he thought he'd successfully re-learned how to walk, he does finally run out of optimism for a while and have to work out how he's going to carry on when life is so unrelenting. Which is not to say it's a miserable book. Just a thoughtful one.

He's 59, FWIW. He's also been married for 30 years (and is very free with praise for his wife and family) so I guess you could call him a hopeless romantic. From what I've seen of people commenting on his recent publicity round, people that know him all describe him as being a kind man and a good friend. No doubt his path has been greatly eased by being super-rich, but he's also used that position to help raise huge amounts of money for Parkinson's research, so he does, all-in-all, seem like a very decent guy.
posted by penguin pie at 10:15 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Jane Goodall this book is a really nice read.
posted by supermedusa at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2020

Waterlog by Roger Deakin is sort of an autobiography, sort of a travelogue, nominally/literally about swimming where most don't, sort of about landscape, and totally about the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.
posted by niicholas at 11:08 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Georgia okeefe?
posted by pairofshades at 11:36 AM on November 28, 2020

Best answer: Almost forgot about Mary Delaney. In 1772, at the age of 72, she began her life’s work of making extremely realistic and detailed collages of flowers. If you don’t think this sounds impressive, use google image to look at her work, now held in the British Museum. She basically invented collage. The only book I’ve read on her is The Paper Garden, which was pretty good, but also detailed the author’s story as a parallel, which I could have lived without (like I would have preferred a movie about just Julia Child to Julie and Julia). Anyway, Mary Delaney was amazing and very much worth looking into. She continued making her flowers until she became too blind to do so.
posted by FencingGal at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

And Diana Nyad’s autobiography Find a Way. At 64, Nysa became the first person confirmed to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. The great thing about her book is that it details the many times she tried this swim and failed (5 I think). After every failure, she and her team figured out what had gone wrong and how to improve her chances of completing the swim. Very inspiring.
posted by FencingGal at 12:17 PM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert M. Sapolsky is a good read, he's a terrific and funny guy, and I learned a lot.
posted by theora55 at 2:07 PM on November 28, 2020

Two biographies of two older women during the 20th century who deserve to be known more:

Ella Baker mentored tons of people in the Civil Rights movement including Stokely Carmichael and John Lewis.

Frances Perkins was the only woman in FDR's Cabinet and helped create programs like Social Security. She witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire when she was young which deeply influenced her policy work.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:24 PM on November 28, 2020

Motivation and personality is Abraham Maslow trying to answer that same question, with musings on specific people and qualities he thinks meet the criteria.
posted by hotcoroner at 4:43 AM on November 29, 2020

A short biosketch of an amazing elder: Ernestine Shepherd, who began exercising at 55 and went on to break records as the oldest living competitive weightlifter.
posted by Sublimity at 9:28 AM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dr Paul Farmer ticks all your boxes! Read the book Mountains Beyond Mountains. Medical anthropologist and physician with a PhD from Harvard, he was awarded the 2018 Public Welfare Medal, among many other awards.

I had to question my selfishness while reading this book.
posted by qsysopr at 4:54 PM on November 29, 2020

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