How did you feel about your last birthday? Especially if it was a "big" birthday? Did it make you think about the things you've accomplished so far, and what you hope to do in the future? Did it make you wonder what that future might hold? No one can answer that question and every life is individual. But there are some viewpoints and sentiments we all share at different stages of our lives.
That fact is the inspiration behind the thought-provoking new book 100 Years: Wisdom From Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life. It was co-authored by the legendary designer Milton Glaser (who created the "I ♥ NY" logo among other iconic designs) and Joshua Prager, a journalist whose book Half-Life and TED Talk chronicle his search for the truck driver who caused the accident that paralyzed him.
Prager happened to read a comment by Louis Menand that at 19, discovering a new poem or poet can be "the most exciting thing in the world." Not long after, he came upon this in a novel by Don DeLillo: "At twenty years old, all you know is that you're twenty. Everything else is a mist that swirls around this fact."
He began wondering if other great writers had also commented on what it was like to be one age or another, and if these comments could come together to give you a general picture of the progression of a human lifetime. To find out, he began collecting quotes from great literary masters about every age from zero to 100. Glaser agreed to design the resulting book.
As the list came together, "the great sequence of life revealed itself," Prager writes. "Here were the wonders and confinements of childhood, the emancipations and frustrations of adolescence, the empowerments and millstones of adulthood, the recognitions and resignations of old age." Sometimes different authors would have opposing views of a given age--Thomas Mann saw 30 as an age of fulfillment while F. Scott Fitzgerald described it as the start of a future with diminishing prospects and thinning hair. But surprisingly often, authors from different continents, different walks of life and different eras saw the same ages in a very similar light. As Prager notes, "There were patterns to life. And they were shared."
Compiling all these passages took a very long time. Prager was 38 when he began the job--an age when, according to the novelist Yukio Mishima, youth seems not so far away and yet there's no way to get back there. He's now 44, an age that, according to Norman Mailer, "felt as if he were a solid embodiment of bone, muscle, heart, mind, and sentiment to be a man, as if he had arrived."
Depressingly, the 19th Century Swedish novelist Hjalmar Soderberg had this to say about 57, the age I'll be at my next birthday: "It's a critical age.... Desire is much the same as it ever was,--but satisfaction brings in its revenges." Nevertheless, I plan to give this fascinating and gorgeous book to just about everyone on my Christmas list.
Here's Prager's six-minute TED Talk about the project: