This Old Man: All in Pieces

by Roger Angell

(Knopf Doubleday, $26.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Roger Angell is 95 now, and he is still delighting readers. He is a senior fiction editor for The New Yorker, to which he first contributed in 1944, and began writing about sports for  in 1962. He has also written in many other fields for the magazine: reportage, commentary, fiction, humor, film and book reviews, and its rollicking Christmas poem, an annual festival of name-dropping, called “Greetings, Friends!”   His New Yorker connections run deep: his mother was Katharine Sergeant Angell White, The New Yorker’s first fiction editor, and his stepfather was the famous magazine essayist E. B. White. He was largely raised by his father, Ernest Angell, an attorney who went on to be the head of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Roger Angell has published 10 books, many about baseball, as well as the memoir, Let Me Finish. He has won a slew of major awards, including  a Polk Award for Commentary; the Michael Braude Award for Light Verse from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; a PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing; and the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given to writers by the Baseball Hall of Fame. His New Yorker piece “This Old Man” won the 2015 prize for Essays and Criticism awarded by the American Society of Magazine Editors. He is the only writer ever elected to both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

What is this book about?

The book was inspired by Angell’s prize-winning essay, also titled This Old Man, which quickly became a classic disquisition on the joys and sadness of growing old. The book contains the essay, along with other Angell pieces: essays, letters, verse, book reviews, New Yorker Talk of the Town and Profile piece and much more. Pieces range from an account of Derek Jeter’s leaving the game to an all-dog opera to a letter to his son, this is a wonderful compendium of Angell’s fine writing.

Why you’ll like it:

Angell is such a witty, graceful and perceptive writer that no matter the particular subject, you will find yourself enjoying each piece in this collection. Given his age, his output is impressive, but the happy fact that he still writes with such authority and dexterity is thrilling. His age also gives him the advantage of perspective, which in his case engenders wisdom. This is a fine book for readers of any age.

What others are saying:

The New York Times Book Review  says: “…there is a certain generosity operating here, an assumption of friendship between reader and writer, the way one is pleased to hear what a friend has to say no matter what the occasion. In inviting us to rummage through his literary files, Angell proves almost consistently engaging and companionable…For the most part…the pieces are kept brief. “The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts,” he apologizes. Nevertheless, we are grateful for [Angell's] perspective on the kingdom of old age and hope only to be as wise and realistic when we get there.”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “The latest collection of writings from New Yorker fiction editor Angell is anchored by his much-lauded rumination on aging, “This Old Man.” At 94, Angell is a witness to history but hardly a relic of the past. He always seems to know when to drop a reference to Harry Potter or David “Big Papi” Ortiz. The book is filled with many of Angell’s timeless subjects: baseball; aging; his stepfather, E.B. White; and life inside the publication that has dominated his life. Just as he is adept at changing subjects, so is he at changing forms, including a little bit of everything in this collection—he calls the resulting mixture a dog’s breakfast. Angell is equally at ease writing annual Christmas poems, witty internal memos, letters, haiku, speeches, literary essays, and “casuals.” His tribute to John Updike, with whom he worked for decades, is a touching portrait of the man as both friend and literary legend. Having written for the New Yorker since 1944, during the tenure of its founder, Harold Ross, Angell can write about it with a true sense of the magazine’s history. There is a reason why nostalgia feels so comforting—and Angell represents the best sort of writing about the remembrance of things past.”

“[Angell’s] reflections and commentary brim with steadfast wisdom and are possibly more nuanced than ever. [T]his is a uniformly engaging and eloquent selection that attests to a full life well lived,” says the Chicago Tribune.

Kirkus’ starred review says: “A miscellany of memorable prose. The author of both fiction and nonfiction and recipient of numerous literary awards, joined the New Yorker in 1956, serving as fiction editor, reporter, movie and book reviewer, and commentator on life, art, and baseball. Now 93, he has gathered work from the last few decades into a volume notable for its grace, wit, and humanity. Among pieces long (a tribute to V.S. Pritchett) and short (a scattering of haiku) are many elegies for fellow writers: the meticulous work of his stepfather, E.B. White; the “murmurous eloquence” of John Hersey’s Hiroshima; John Updike, “a fabulous noticer and expander”; the gentle, romantic Donald Barthelme. Many other pieces celebrate friendships: with the irreverent Edith Oliver, the magazine’s theater and film critic; and Harold Ross, the New Yorker’s founder, who often “stalked the halls, hunched and scowling with the burden of his latest idea.” Being a fiction editor can be wearying, writes Angell, “but then here comes a story—maybe only a couple of paragraphs in that story—and you are knocked over. Your morning has been changed; you are changed.” An unpublished piece from 1995 recounts a fearsome airplane flight, when a storm raged nearby. “Nothing happened,” he says, except a reminder to the passengers “not to forget, not quite yet, the imperial beauty of that thunderstorm and the boring but generally ongoing solipsism of pure luck.” “Writing is a two-way process,” he wrote to fiction writer Bobbie Ann Mason, “and the hard part isn’t just getting in touch with oneself but keeping in touch with that reader out there, whoever he or she is, on whom all this thought and art and maybe genius will devolve.” As this ebullient and eloquent collection amply shows, Angell can deftly touch that reader, on whom he bestows this lovely gift.”

When is it available?

This excellent collection is at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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