I’ve been in a bit of a reading slim for the last week or so. Every book I picked up lost my interest within a few paragraphs or pages. Though my TBR shelf is full (as usual), I stared at it with the same apathy as a woman with a closet full of nothing to wear. So I went to the bookstore, hoping to find something that would jar me out of my slump.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. No specific genre or author. I knew what was on my shelf and what wasn’t working, but I didn’t really have an idea about what would work. So I roamed around the store, from section to section, picking up books, reading a few lines, and setting them back on the shelf. Nothing was quite breaking through the fog. But as I wandered, I started to notice a weird pattern.
Jumping out at me from all over the store were titles about specific ages, or really, specific decades: the importance of your twenties, the experience of turning forty and feeling middle-aged, reclaiming life at fifty, things to do in your sixties, reflections on life at ninety, on hundred questions to ask in your twenties, fifty is the new forty, and on and on. And it wasn’t just the titles. Books that seemed innocuous at first revealed themselves to be firmly planted in age-defined brackets: personal narratives about mistakes made as a twenty-something, spiritual revelations of empty-nesters, confronting the awareness of one’s mortality at fifty.
Do you notice the pattern? The thing missing? The giant, ten-year gap that apparently doesn’t warrant its own stories? Suddenly, my aimless wandering morphed into a mission with a distinct purpose. Because I couldn’t believe it. I had to be wrong. There was no way that there was a genre of book for every decade of adult life except one’s thirties. Obviously, I just hadn’t found those titles yet and wasn’t looking hard enough. So I started searching the store.
Skipping over the dozens of “30 Before 30” books and the parenting section entirely, I went in search of an essay collection like My Misspent Youth or an advice tome like The Defining Decade since those seemed like the most likely candidates. I also kept a running list in my head of books I’ve already read that could fit into this category: Eat Pray Love (obviously), Love Warrior, Wild (forgetting Strayed was in her twenties when she hiked the PCT), Jenny Lawson’s two memoirs, Poser, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and possibly the two You Are a Badass books. And that was…it?
I ended up leaving the store with Cheryl Strayed’s collection of Dear Sugar advice columns, Tiny Beautiful Things, still somewhat unsatisfied and utterly baffled but the gap I’d seemingly uncovered. So I turned to Google. But I as again disappointed. Filtering through the lists of books every woman/person should read in their thirties (minus the ones we were apparently supposed to read before thirty), I compiled my own list that basically amounted to Eat Pray Love, Nora Ephron’s books, generic bestsellers that are on every recommended reading list, and classic “serious” novels that we’re now mature enough to “get” I guess. The only new addition to my TBR (because Nora Ephron has been on there since her death in 2012, oops) was Julie and Julia, the blog-turned-book-turned-movie about a thirty-something woman cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
I’m still not convinced that there’s actually a lack of books the thirty-something experience. That just can’t be true…right? Maybe it’s just that thirty-something women aren’t singled out by their age and are instead folded into narratives based on other life events like marriage and parenting, though that excludes a whole swath of the population who don’t have those experiences. When I told my fiancé about this apparent gap he responded, “well that’s weird. Is that true?” My response? I have no idea, I don’t think so! Hence, why I’m writing a post about it, because if you want to be corrected about your ignorance on a certain topic, there’s no more effective means than airing that ignorance on the internet.