Nothing beats a good book. Books can take us places we have never been, help us relive another time, and take us on great adventures – all without ever leaving home. Stimulating conversations across generations, bringing people of all walks of life together, books and the discussion surrounding them are powerful tools in improving the quality of life for anyone. Maybe that’s why book clubs are popping up at senior living communities all over the country. Or maybe it’s because reading has been linked to reduced stress, increased mental stimulation, and even improved memory. Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that reading is a popular pastime among people of all ages – and especially seniors.
From time treasured classics to more recent thrillers, here are 10 books that seniors shouldn’t miss.
1. THE NIGHTINGALE BY KRISTIN HANNAH
Hannah’s novel is a World War II page-turner featuring two sisters living in France when the Nazi’s invade. The sisters respond in very different ways to the occupation with one ultimately joining the Resistance and putting her life on the line for freedom. A popular book for all generations, The Nightingale is a must-read for anyone who loves historical fiction and cheers for the underdog.
2. A MAN CALLED OVE BY FREDRIK BACKMAN
In this novel, a lonely and sad old man hides behind a grumpy exterior, leading his neighbors to call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but it all changes when chatty young neighbors with young children move next door to him. At times funny and at other times breathtakingly heartbreaking, A Man Called Ove explores the power of intergenerational friendship and makes us want to love our neighbors a little bit better.
3. THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS BY DANIEL JAMES BROWN
This non-fiction read will appeal to those who enjoyed Unbroken and Seabiscuit by Laura Hilenbrand. The dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics, the author draws from the boys’ own diaries and journals to share their remarkable story about beating the odds and finding hope in desperate times.
4. THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS BY REBECCA SKLOOT
Henrietta Lacks, known by scientists as HeLa, was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge and ultimately became one of the most important tools in modern medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture are still alive today, even though Henrietta Lacks passed away more than 60 years ago. Skloot takes the reader on an extraordinary journey, breaking down hard to understand scientific principles, and leading the reader to question the origins and ethics of modern medicine.
5. THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE BY ALAN BRADLEY
Set in the English countryside in 1950, this book is an old-fashioned mystery novel and is the first book in a 10-book series. The main character is an 11-year-old amateur sleuth and chemist who uses her skills to clear her father of a murder charge. Although the main character is a child, the style and tone of writing and the powerful character development makes this a great read for anyone who loves vintage traditional crime novels.
6. THE HELP BY KATHRYN STOCKETT
Exploring an era that will be familiar to most seniors, The Help is a story of African-American women in the South, the white women that they worked for, and the children they helped raise. Hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time, The Help showcases cultural and socioeconomic differences in 1962 America but is truly a timeless story about the rules we follow and the ones we refuse to follow.
7. THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA BY ERIK LARSON
Alternating between two men, The Devil in the White City tells the tale of the Chicago World’s Fair, contrasting the fair’s brilliant architect with a young doctor and murderer. While the architect builds the fair’s attractions, the murderer constructs a torture chamber just outside the fairgrounds. Drawing the reader into another time and place with real-life characters, The Devil in the White City and Larson’s superb story-telling skills brings the Gilded Age to life for the reader.
8. WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR BY PAUL KALANITHI
Author Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who died from lung cancer while working on this book. Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, the neurosurgeon goes from a doctor treating the dying to the one being treated and struggling to live. Chronicling his transformation from a medical student to exploring questions of life and death, this exquisite memoir is an unforgettable and life-affirming reflection on what it means to live truly.
9. I AM MALALA: THE STORY OF THE GIRL WHO STOOD UP FOR EDUCATION AND WAS SHOT BY THE TALIBAN BY MALALA YOUSAFZAI
On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for forcing her right to an education. Her miraculous recovery has taken her from her remote village in Pakistan to the United Nations, and at the age of 16, she has become the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The true story written by Malala herself will inspire every reader to stand up for injustice and speak out against violence.
10. THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD
Set in a futuristic dystopia, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in an age of declining births where a totalitarian state has overthrown the United States government. Exploring a range of themes including a woman’s role in society, women’s rights, the role of childbearing in society, the role of religion in society, and government’s role in society, there is sure to be a lively discussion following this read.