. . . Saxton’s beautifully fluid prose would be a pleasure to read while relaxing at the beach. A thought-provoking, informative, and valuable literary analysis.”
“Saxton teases out the diverse ways that these aging fictional women have to reimagine and reinvent themselves, just as she did, to cope with the demands of a society that dismisses their contributions and demeans their intelligence.”
—Julie A. Chappell, editor at Ink Brush Press
“A marvelously curated collection of must-read stories that carve a path forward for women who have come of age—and whose time has finally come.”
—Julie Shigekuni, Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of New Mexico
“Saxton’s work will delight, inform, educate, and enlighten all who read her book.”
—Viji Nakka-Cammauf, president of the Alumnae Association of Mills College and founder and president of Little Flock Children’s Homes
“In The Book of Old Ladies, Ruth Saxton offers readers, through curated conversation, the opportunity to defy the sweet-as-the-day-is-long stereotype and to examine the more fully developed and—thank goodness—realistic senior woman.”
—Jennifer King, director of the Downtown Oakland Senior Center
“The Book of Old Ladies is an inspiration for what life can be like in my future.”
—Sky Bergman, award-winning filmmaker and professor of photography and video at Cal Poly State University
“With an engaging, conversational style and feminist lens, Ruth Saxton guides us through an array of twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels and stories . . . An essential read.”
—Eileen Barrett, editor of American Women Writers: Diverse Voices in Prose and professor of English at California State University
“The Book of Old Ladies reminds us of the true joy of reading fiction . . . Ruth Saxton is an elegant writer, and this thoughtful book is a gem for anyone who understands the meaning of lifelong connection to literature.”
—Yiyun Li, award-winning author of Dear Friend and Kinder Than Solitude
“. . . thoughtful and thought-provoking. . . . Her careful deconstruction of plot and character reveal more than a few misogynist literary stereotypes and provoke readers to think more generally about where our ideas and assumptions about aging come from. This can be a powerful jolt. . . . The Book of Old Ladies asks us to consider the sexism that treats old women differently, more-often-than-not painting them as doddering, ineffectual crones. Can we imagine—and then create—something less demeaning? Literature, Saxton suggests, can send us in the right direction, but it is ultimately up to us to change the world.”
“Surprises and delights await readers of Ruth Saxton’s The Book of Old Ladies, a fresh take on literary expectations as well as cultural stereotypes regarding ‘women of a certain age.’”
—Roberta Rubenstein, Professor of Literature, American University
“The Book of Old Ladies [is] essential reading for anyone invested in or intrigued by ‘old lady’ narratives, women’s perspectives in literature, and age, aging, and ageism . . .”
—Kortney Stern, PhD Candidate, University of Indiana
A literary critique examines portrayals of older women in fiction.
Throughout her life, Saxton has known many strong older women, like her mother, aunts, and grandmothers, who—despite the physical challenges of aging—possessed a lifetime of spirit and energy. As a professor of English at Mills College in Oakland, California, the author attempted to introduce her students to fiction that celebrated the vibrancy of real-life women, but she was often disappointed. Instead of stories about positive aging, in which women over 60 years old became their “truest selves,” Saxton noted that much fiction about older women was structured like “Deathbed Bookends”—in other words, the tales opened and closed with the memory of a youthful (often romantic) past, and the protagonist’s glory days were sadly over. In this well-organized presentation, the author lays out a thoughtful analysis of works of fiction from the 20th and 21st centuries, like Tillie Olsen’s powerful short story “Tell Me a Riddle” and Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg’s comedy-of-errors novel, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. Thirty stories are examined in five categories—"Romancing the Past,” “Sex After Sixty,” “Altered Realities,” “It’s Never Too Late,” and “Defying Expectations”—and each segment contains illuminating critiques of six tales grouped into pairs. Saxton’s conclusions are memorable; for example, in Chapter 1, she writes that Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” and Susan Minot’s novel Evening both use Deathbed Bookends for their structures. The comprehensive work concludes with a compelling analysis of Margaret Drabble’s complex 2016 novel, The Dark Flood Rises. Though the chapters feel like individual essays that could be used in the classroom, Saxton’s beautifully fluid prose would be a pleasure to read while relaxing at the beach.
A thought-provoking, informative, and valuable literary analysis.