New books suitable for elderly aunt
September 28, 2006 5:58 AM   Subscribe

What are some good books for my elderly old maid aunt?

My aunt is 83. She's in assisted living and has access to nothing - not a library, not a book store. She loves to read. However, she's a bit of a prude. I'm looking for books that are: recent (last year or two, so there is no possibility she has read them); fiction; no more racy than old MASH episodes (clean language, mildly suggestive); not too preachy.

For example - with a little less sex, she'd probably like Time Traveler's Wife. Have any MeFites actually read a book like that?
posted by clarkstonian to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ask her if she's read Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It isn't recent, but it is a great book about, well, a maiden aunt.
posted by OmieWise at 6:10 AM on September 28, 2006

I just discovered the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (first book is The Eyre Affair). If she likes literature, she'll love all the literary references in it. The books take place in an alternate England in the 1980's--an England where books are as popular as TV shows. The books are clean enough to recommend to my Mormon mother (who started the first book in the series and promptly ordered all 4). The worse language is the name of a couple of character (Jack Schitt and his half-brother Bric Schitt-Hawse). Very fun books that don't take themselves too seriously. The main character is a Literary Special Agent in her mid 30's. Sort of detective/time-travel/fun with fictional characters type thing.
posted by witchstone at 6:35 AM on September 28, 2006

Anne Tyler has a new one. And if it turns out she likes that book and hasn't read her others, there is a heap of older Tyler books that she (and you) should read.

Also, if she hasn't read Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress) or Barbara Pym (especially for spinsters! more tea, vicar?), try them, too. They're older, but many people have missed them.
posted by pracowity at 7:06 AM on September 28, 2006

Response by poster: She used to be a great reader, and I couldn't count on her not having read anything from the past (she was a great financial contributor to her town's library). I will check out the Anne Tyler book - I've read most of her older books, and I hadn't thought of her in a while. I hadn't heard of Jasper Fforde, so I'll take a look.

Once we get through the holiday season, I can ask her about the others. Keep the names coming. This is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. Thanks!
posted by clarkstonian at 7:16 AM on September 28, 2006

Well, I don't know what kind of genres your aunt likes, and don't want to assume anything, so here are a few books that I've read recently and that i liked that fit the bill of fiction and not too racy and not preachy:

anansi boys
the devil in the white city (technically non fiction but a GREAT read and i LOVED it)
the dante club
a conspiracy of paper
in the country of the young
the true story of hansel and gretel
the kite runner

posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:00 AM on September 28, 2006

Fantasy novels are usually not read by old ladies, but Lois Bujold McMaster's latest, "The Curse of Chalion" and its sequel "Paladin of Souls" might just prove to be your aunt's liking. The romance elements were very courtly, if I recall correctly.
posted by of strange foe at 8:34 AM on September 28, 2006

I second the Jasper Fforde recommendation.

She might enjoy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susannah Clarke) if she likes fantasy and Victorian literature (it's new, but is written as though it was written in the 1800s, and is a story of two competing wizards). I don't remember if there's any sex in it, but I don't think so. Published in 2004.

I should think there'd be a million cozy mysteries in the bookstore, if she likes that sort of thing. The Mrs. Pollifax kind of book, with the elderly female detective, and maybe a cat.

Mr. Darcy's Daughters by Eliabeth Aston if she likes Jane Austen. It's a marrying-off-the-daughters social comedy. There's a few scenes where people are in a clinch but that's it, and they are disapproved of by the narrative. Published in 2003.

Robin McKinley's Spindle's End is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, quite gorgeously told. Published in 2000.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2006

You say she's a prude, is she a Christian? Because my greatest moment in old people-lit was buying a couple of Orson Scott Card's Women of Genesis books for my grandma. She also enjoyed Folk of the Fringe (also Card).
posted by dagnyscott at 8:58 AM on September 28, 2006

I loved The Kite Runner, but there is some highly disturbing stuff in there! Perhaps not the best choice for a prudish 82 year old aunt.
posted by witchstone at 9:18 AM on September 28, 2006

REcent fiction by Alexander McCall Smith.
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:19 AM on September 28, 2006

How about Wendell Berry? His latest book is Hannah Coulter. His books are gentle and calm.

Also, slightly more racy, the religious Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (it admits to children born out of wedlock, also there is some dark scenes after a battle). Nevertheless, my grandmother liked it, and it really is quite deeply rooted in faith (don't know if that's something your maiden aunt is interested in or not).
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:38 AM on September 28, 2006

Absolutely second the Alexander McCall Smith. Also ask your librarian or bookstore employee to show you the latest in the cozies category of mysteries. Things like the Aunt Dimity series would be perfect for your aunt. Cozies are mysteries that are designd to appeal to little old ladies.
posted by MsMolly at 9:41 AM on September 28, 2006

Ya know what? The best books I've read recently are young adult fiction. Od Magic comes to mind. Also, I about bust a gut reading the Artemis Fowl series. Made for younger readers than that, a pleasant if predictable series is Deltora Quest. One nice thing about such books is that type tends to be a little larger without being large type books. You do not mention the status of her eyesight, but it would not be unusual for an 83 year old woman to have some trouble seeing well.
posted by ilsa at 10:05 AM on September 28, 2006

P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels are old, but you can never have too many on hand. They read quickly, and are fun to re-read.

A lot of classics are like that too, assuming she doesn't have her old books with her -- eg, getting a copy of Pride and Prejudice or Middlemarch or some Dickens, if she liked those, wouldn't be a waste of money.

Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole is a western cowboy drama; I don't recall any sex, but check out online reviews.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:05 AM on September 28, 2006

I'm in the middle of The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and so far it's good. One of the main characters is a man in (I think) his early 80s who never married.
posted by amro at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2006

I'm rethinking my suggestion... If you think your aunt has any fears about dying unnoticed, this book may hit a little too close to home.
posted by amro at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2006

I'd actually ix-nay the Devil in White City suggestion. I agree that it's an absolutely great book (I read it in one fevered sitting on a plane from London to L.A.!), but there's more than a few pretty nasty, graphic descriptions of torture and murder (including children). I've got a relatively strong stomach for that kind of stuff and it upset me a bit, so I doubt it would be up your aunt's alley.

Second the Ann Tyler and P.G. Wodehouse suggestions.
posted by scody at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2006

Anything by Maeve Binchy. A lot of her stories take place in small Irish towns that are at the crossroads of change and modernization, so she has a lot to say about how "things just aren't the way they used to be, blah blah" but without being depressing.

Some of the storylines involve mistresses and secret affairs, but she never goes into detail with the specifics.
posted by invisible ink at 4:01 PM on September 28, 2006

Another vote for Alexander McCall Smith. The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency is simply delightful, and there are several in the series.

My mom likes the Miss Julia books, and they are quite mild, yet entertaining.
posted by kimdog at 6:38 PM on September 28, 2006

Jan Karon writes engaging, very popular books about a town called Mitford; they revolve around a kindly Episcopal priest, Father Tim, a witty divorcee who moves next door and a large cast of colorful, generally wholesome characters. The series is routinely praised for being smart and interesting without violence and vulgarity. The first one is At Home in Mitford. Publishers Weekly describes the fifth one as "set in the quaint North Carolina town of Mitford, where people chuckle and say 'dadgummit.'" I haven't read them, but older female customers in our store love them.

Ann B. Ross' "Miss Julia" series is also very popular with that audience; I read the first one, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, and thought it was a hoot. It's also a wonderful story about an older woman coming into her own power after discovering that her recently deceased husband had not only been unfaithful but had also fathered a child out of wedlock. Did I mention it's a hoot? Might be a bit light for your aunt if she was a serious reader, but I enjoyed the hell out of it and I'm a sort of serious reader.

Each book has the advantage of being part of an extended (and growing) series, too.

If she wants something with a bit more heft to it, there's always Dorothy Dunnett's widely praised historical fiction. And Dawn Powell wrote some amazing comic novels about New York literary society during the 30s to the 60s, as well as a series of more serious novels set mostly in Ohio. I've read a couple of the New York books, The Happy Island and The Wicked Pavilion, and while the characters do bedhop offstage, I found little that would offend older sensibilities. And the books really are brilliant little satires. If I think of any others at work tomorrow, I'll add them here.
posted by mediareport at 6:56 PM on September 28, 2006

[Ah, meant to link to Ann Ross' site, but see Kimdog beat me to it.]
posted by mediareport at 6:57 PM on September 28, 2006

Definitely find out if she's read Jan Karon. There are a bunch of books in the series and will keep her busy for awhile. People who read them tend to want to go live in Mitford.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:27 AM on September 29, 2006

Response by poster: Couldn't get online to follow up yesterday. Yes, she's a Christian, no, she's not into Science Fiction (unless it's on the order of Time Traveler's Wife - realistic, semi-believable ) - but there are some excellent suggestions here, and I think I can get a number of books for her. She doesn't have to read or like them all, but I'd like to get her something that will stimulate her mind, since she's in possession of all of her faculties, not very keen on Bingo, and a bit of a loner. There's nothing worse than to be lonely and bored in a crowd of gossipers and babblers. Thanks for all of your help!!
posted by clarkstonian at 7:53 AM on September 29, 2006

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