Whether you’re participating in the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, or simply interested in reading books with elderly characters in their 80s, we’ve curated a diverse list of recommendations! Our list of eighty-something books includes a mix of memoirs and novels with octogenarian protagonists.
What is an octogenarian? The definition of an octogenarian is a person between 80 and 89 years old.
80 Somethings: Living in the Moment
Throughout the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, we’ve written an intro like this about each decade of life. In each age group, up through the 70s, our research finds that people generally don’t view themselves as old. And they specifically reject terms like senior and elderly. But after the age of 80, that perspective seems to shift. And that’s good news because a new study shows that people with a positive attitude about getting older actually live longer and have better mental health.
When psychologist Katharine Esty turned 80, she decided to interview other 80-somethings, and she published her findings in a book called EightySomethings. Over a period of three years, she spoke to 128 octogenarians about life in their 80s, and she discovered that most felt happy. Even those dealing with pain and disease generally felt at peace and reported experiencing less anger, worry, and stress than they did in past decades. Most of Esty’s interviewees said they had few regrets in life. Those with regrets typically pointed to wishing they’d changed jobs/careers or that they’d opted to leave an unhappy marriage sooner than they did.
We’ve all heard that one of the keys to happiness is to slow down and live in the moment. With the demands of work and family life, however, that often feels hard to do. Esty finds that when you reach your 80s you have likely already experienced major loss, and you understand that the future is short. This reality makes it easier to focus on and enjoy the present.
Additionally, reminiscing has been proven to have very positive benefits for octogenarians and their loved ones alike. Recalling happy memories, and especially sharing those memories with others through engaging conversation, helps seniors improve their outlook on life and find even greater satisfaction in their old age. Of course, in sharing those memories, they are helping to pass on and preserve family and cultural histories. Reminiscence therapy – which helps individuals remember the past through sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell – is often used with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to reduce agitation and stress while boosting their mood.
Global Perspectives on Aging
Studies have found – not surprisingly – that a culture’s attitude toward older citizens can have a profound effect on the well-being of that population. Orb Media conducted a study that used a five-point scale to rank each country’s attitudes – 1 being very low respect and 5 being very high respect. Orb found that the global average is 3.75, with individual countries ranging from 2.75 to 4.8. Hungary and Uzbekistan tied for the top spot with a respectable score of 4.8, and Pakistan was also very near the top. The United States, on the other hand, was in the bottom 10 countries, tied with Venezuela as having the eighth worst attitude toward its aging population.
Books with Elderly Protagonists in Their 80s
In selecting titles for our list of novels with elderly characters, we’ve focused primarily (but not exclusively) on contemporary stories that help us understand what life in your 80s is like in today’s society. We’ve curated a diverse list of recommended books with characters in their 80s.
Some of the titles on our list are deeper books about growing old that address the challenging aspects of aging, while others are funny fictional books with an elderly lead character. While all of the books introduce us to main characters who are in their 80s, some of those characters spend a portion of the book reminiscing and reflecting on their long lives and the changes they’ve observed over the years. We’ve also included several memoirs that provide first-hand perspectives on aging, and advice on how to get the most enjoyment out of each year. In addition to reflecting a wide range of life experiences, the main characters also vary in ethnicity, religion, class, background, lifestyle, and more.
Other Books to Consider
If you’d like to read books with senior protagonists set in different parts of the world, then you’re in luck. Quite a few of the books on this list take place abroad. We also recommend that you browse our Book Voyage reading lists, which are organized by region. Additionally, if you’re looking for novels with elderly characters that provide a historical perspective, our Decades Challenge reading lists, which cover the 1880s through the 2010s, 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.
Book Lists By Character Age
Links to our book recommendations for all twelve of the Lifetime of Reading challenge prompts can be found below:
- Books with a Child Protagonist
- Books with Teenage Characters
- Books with Characters in Their 20s
- Books with Characters In Their 30s
- Books With Characters in Their 40s
- Books With Characters in Their 50s
- Books With Characters in Their 60s
- Books With Characters in Their 70s
- Books With Characters in Their 80s
- Books With Characters in Their 90s and 100s
- Intergenerational Novels: Books that Connect Generations
- Books Spanning a Character’s Lifetime