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My Life in the Middle Ages is a portrait of what that unnerving experience is like. A collection of unified essays about the pleasures and pathos that attend the threshold of old age, it charts an original course between reportage and confession. Drawn from the author's own life, from the testimony of parents, children, teachers, and friends, from the books he's read and the life that he chose -- and that chose him -- My Life in the Middle Ages is a comic, poignant memoir that's both personal and generational.
Whether he is struggling with God (or trying to find out if he believes in one), celebrating the books he's loved and regretting those he'll never read, or leafing through the snapshots in his family album and marveling at the passage of time, James Atlas is always alert to the surprises of everyday life. He parses the fine points of success and failure among New York's "lower upper-middle class" (several of the chapters began as essays in The New Yorker) and expresses the largest themes: "I tried to remind myself that death was a part of life. I was here, then I wouldn't be here."
Atlas writes movingly about watching his parents age and his father die. In a wry and soul-searching piece, he recounts his perplexing quest for spiritual meaning after a secular lifetime, a quest that takes him to a private synagogue and a Buddhist meditationcenter. On the tennis court, he ruefully capitulates to his teenage son's blossoming athletic prowess, recalling a similar passing of the torch with his own father forty years earlier.
At once pensive and funny, lighthearted and profound, My Life in the Middle Ages is a tale of survival, but also a meditation on how it feels to flourish -- how to live.
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