Why do so many creative minds become more productive and flourish with age? Delbanco (The Beaux Arts Trio), one of America's most influential literary writers and critics, tackles this question, brushing aside the national obsession with youth to measuremature artists hitting their stride while meeting the demands of old age. Whetherin the concert hall, on canvas, or onthe page, the qualityof lastingness—the ability to endure and hone one's talents despite advanced age or illness—is not guaranteed to all artists. Quoting Cyril Connolly, Delbanco writes, "the best thing that can happen for a writer is to be taken up very late or very early. " He approaches the theme of constancy and durability with wit and colorful detail, listing the talents who have thrived in old age: Herman Melville, Doris Lessing, Harriet Doerr, Georgia O' Keeffe, Alice Munro, Alice Neel, Philip Roth, and William Trevor. Delbanco presents a balanced, informed dialogue that never bores or gets long-winded. In the end, the skillful artist adapts to meet challenges in life and renews his or her creative impulses. (Jan.)
Prolific scholar and novelist Delbanco (Spring and Fall) applies his sound literary skills to this study of geniuses—as they aged—in the fields of literature, music, and the visual arts. Delbanco focuses on the fascinating question of why some people's creative talents flourish with age, while others' fade. He explores and explains our general societal conflict about our elders and the question of when to expect them to step aside. His profiles include Claude Monet, Giuseppe Verdi, W.B. Yeats, and Alice Neal, among others, all of whom lived until 70 or older and remained productive. Delbanco goes on to inquire into the essence of aging in America today and how creativity can actually increase with age, sharing his personal journey of discovery about his own achievements as he approaches age 70. VERDICT This erudite examination of growing old while continuing to make a difference will appeal to more learned, older readers with an interest in the arts and humanities.—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
A prolific author now in his late-60s examines why some artists remain productive, even innovative, in the dying of the light, while others opt not to rage but to rusticate.
Though Delbanco (The Count of Concord, 2008, etc.) confines himself to the visual arts, music and literature, he realizes the enormity, even impossibility, of doing justice to everyone who deserves attention. After some introductory ruminations on aging in America (it's not popular) and on the premature deaths of some notables, he begins his journey through his tangled subject with a discussion of his father, who practiced his cello into his 90s. Delbanco then moves to Herman Melville's late-life marvel (Billy Budd, unpublished in his lifetime) and a lengthy discussion of Shakespeare, who died in his 50s, an advanced age for the 17th century. The author follows with some brief biographical sketches of artists who labored long and well, among them Tolstoy, Hardy, Alice Neel and George Sand. Searching still for answers, he gives more lengthy treatments to nine more figures, including Casals, Monet, Yeats, Liszt and Lampedusa, whose late-life The Leopard(1958) was a phenomenon. Realizing the importance of good fortune, health and genetics, Delbanco also looks at brain science, and specifically at Picasso, who worked into his 90s—perhaps an exemplar, writes the author, of the notion that "competitive wrangling and brilliant innovation and sexual careerism may coexist." Delbanco provides an old-fashioned disquisition, not a self-help book, so he offers no bullet list of the Ten Things We Can All Do to Remain Productive Geniuses. However, he does extract from his wide reading and capacious imagination a few principles, among them the "desire to capture what disappears, to fix in melody or line or language what otherwise is mutable." In that vein, he reprints some eloquent comments on the subject supplied by John Updike, not long before he died in 2009 at age 76.
Shows that time's winged chariot can glisten brightly, even in the sunset.