Mike Dariano

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How to Live (book review)

How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth) by Henry Alford.

I picked this up at the library because the title sounded wise and the dog on the cover epitomized what I was expecting. How to Live would be the story about the collected wisdom of old people. In reading it, I would be fast-tracking my chance at wisdom too. I imagined sitting down to talk with my daughter in ten or twenty years and drawing on the gems of enlightenment from when I read this book as a young man. All I really learned though, was that I was wrong.

There are no secrets from old people. My hope for a nicely wrapped package topped with a bow was delivered like a cardboard box affixed with a piece of string tied in a harried and hurried manner. That's not to say this book isn't good.

There is no archetype of wisdom in this book but Alford does find a slew of characters that fill out what wisdom is. It's a bit like a basketball team, only instead of a great player like Lebron James, there's a bunch of decent players with their own unique skills. One of which is Alford's mother.

Somehow, during the writing of this book, his mother goes through a divorce and moves from the northeast to a retirement community in the Carolinas. Both of these things don't seem so much as things wise people do as much as what old people do. As I read about her experiences I hoped that she would share nuggets of wisdom about life since she's had so much time to find them. There were no nuggets of gold, but maybe a few flakes along the way. Alford's mother sits on the floor and that makes her seem young. For whatever reason I liked this. She's always moving in the story, physically and emotionally. I liked this too. Hers is the best story from the collection of interviews in the book.

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