Books With Characters in Their 50s

Whether you’re participating in the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, or simply interested in reading about life at 50-something, you’ll find your next great read on our list of books with main characters in their 50s.

What does it mean to be 50-something in today’s society?

Men in their 50s are often viewed as being in the prime of their life – experienced, mature, and competent. On the other hand, despite having gained the same experience and maturity, women often feel invisible after age 50. Forbes cites research that shows “as men age, they are viewed as more valuable and competent in the workplace.” Conversely, the same research shows that “women lose their credibility with every new wrinkle.”

Novelist and screenwriter Ayelet Waldman, in a 2015 interview, spoke about her impending 50th birthday. She explained: “I have a big personality, and I have a certain level of professional competence, and I’m used to being taken seriously professionally. And suddenly, it’s like I just vanished from the room. And I have to yell so much louder to be seen. I just want to walk down the street and have someone notice that I exist.”

Of course, the workplace is just one example. Author Hilary Mantel describes women over 50 as the “invisible generation.” Not just in their professional lives, but also in their personal lives.

But this perceived invisibility comes with some perks, as an article in Psychology Today points out. “First, let’s be clear: quite a number of these women are not issuing a lament but a proclamation of relief.” With fewer people paying attention, many women actually feel a sense of freedom. Fewer eyes on them means less fear of judgment. The Atlantic explains, “As women become older, they entertain a wider set of choices about when and how they are seen.”

Reading Trends in Middle Age Fiction

This phenomenon of the invisibility of women in their 50s is particularly fascinating to examine when it comes to books. According to The Guardian, women, particularly those over 50, “have always made up a disproportionate amount of readers.” A 2016 survey found that around 77% of the most active readers are women over the age of 45. And the largest group of readers (30%) are women between the ages of 55 and 64.

Despite accounting for the largest market share of avid readers, it’s quite challenging to find books about middle-aged women in their 50s. Throughout the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, we’ve researched books with protagonists in each decade of life. Compiling our list of recommended books with main characters in their 50s proved considerably harder than finding novels about older main characters of the septuagenarian and octogenarian sets.

An online search turns up numerous lists of midlife fiction novels that claim to speak to middle-aged women’s lives. Invariably, however, these lists mostly include stories about women in their 40s. Other search results promise “books with characters over 50,” but are typically filled with strong and interesting elderly characters. Unfortunately, there are very few 50-year-old fictional characters to be found. And even when books do feature protagonists over 50, The Guardian points out book publishers are very reluctant to put older women on the cover.

The Best Books with Main Characters in Their 50s

After extensive research, we’ve curated a diverse list of recommended books with main characters in their 50s. These titles reflect a wide range of life experiences during this decade of life. While many of these titles feature 50-something women as main characters, the list also includes some wonderful male characters. The protagonists vary in race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, class, background, lifestyle, and more. Most of the recommendations are fictional novels about middle age, but the list also includes several memoirs about life in your 50s.

One of our main goals for the Lifetime of Reading Challenge is to create understanding and reinforce an appreciation for our fellow humans in different life phases. As a result, we focus primarily (but not exclusively) on contemporary stories with 50-something main characters. These current stories can help us all understand what life in your 50s is like in today’s society. They deal with a wide range of topics, including career changes and ageism, becoming an empty-nester, caring for aging parents, marriage, divorce, midlife romance, and much more.

Other Books to Consider

If you are specifically interested in reading books about fifty-somethings that are set in a different part of the world, we recommend taking a look at our Book Voyage reading lists, which are organized by region. Additionally, if you’re looking for a book that provides a historical perspective, our Decades Challenge reading lists, which cover the 1910s through the present, are a great place to start!

We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.

If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.

You can read all about the Lifetime of Reading Challenge and sign up for a free printable challenge book tracker here.


Comments on: Books With Characters in Their 50s

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  1. Suzy Bennett says:

    I love your posts! I can’t agree more about Less! What a bore!

    1. Melissa George says:

      We both tried so hard to love or even like that one because it contains so many things we love, and it just wasn’t doing anything for us. 🙁

  2. Our book club read The Bette Davis Club. It was a fun, screwball comedy. We enjoyed it.

  3. Kathy Coaker says:

    I personally appreciate when you provide that information. I do not care to read books that are heavily religious whether it is Christian or any other religion.

  4. Hi, let me start by saying that I have very much enjoyed being part of this group for the past two years. You ladies do an enormous amount of work preparing lists and descriptions each month, and it is greatly appreciated. There are so many great books I probably never would have discovered so thank you. That is why it makes it difficult to share a comment about something that didn’t sit well with me. In your recommendation for Dearly Beloved from June, and Bring on the Blessings (July) there is a “disclaimer” about Christianity. A lot of your disclaimers have to do with abuse, profanity etc, so I was taken back to see this disclaimer. You offer so many book choices with different genres, beliefs, situations and lifestyles that I personally don’t see any reason why books with a Christian undertone would need a warning label. As a Christian, I enjoy reading about different life experiences and perspectives and was disappointed to see that the Christian nature of a book would be listed as a possible deterrent to the book being a reading choice. Thank you for including these choices and I hope that people will overlook the impression given, that Christian faith books may want to be avoided, even though they were included.

    1. Melissa George says:

      We appreciate your comment because we value everyone’s feedback. We want to clarify that notes about the content of a book in the “Book Girls Say” section of a description does not mean it’s a “disclaimer” or something negative that we are trying to warn people about. Rather, we use that section to provide additional context and help match the right readers with the right books. Sometimes that is the existence of difficult themes, but often it’s other details like notes on the writing style, specific things we personally liked or disliked, or neutral facts about the genre or theme. For example, if a book is classified as a thriller, but we know it’s more of a mystery with no gore, we’ll note that.

      When we are researching books to include on our lists, we spend a lot of time reading reviews and taking note of commonly asked questions. In the case of both of the books you mentioned, we saw many questions asked about the religious content. So we wanted to address those questions by noting that we think – like you – that the books can be enjoyed by everyone.

      Our hope is that adding these context notes will encourage more people (not fewer) to pick up these two books. Sometimes people see the book genre is Christian Fiction on Goodreads and automatically avoid those books. We’re hoping our Book Girls Say section leads more people to give those two titles a chance. Hope that helps clarify where we were coming from, we appreciate you reading with us!