A big family, a reading addiction, and the occasional celebrity scandal are the ingredients of life that create one woman's opinion on just about everything.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Are you an AGEIST?

age·ism also ag·ism (jzm)
n.
Discrimination based on age, especially prejudice against the elderly.

In a book I read recently the female protagonist was 41 years old. The book was a sort of coming of age book for her. This woman was finally growing up and getting her life together. She was engaging and interesting. The book was well written. So what was my problem?

The character's age.

I can't say I spend a lot of time thinking about what age the characters have to be when I pick up a book. Quite the contrary. While reading the book about the 41-year old I looked again at the back blurb and realized that her age wasn't mentioned. It was a sort of a light bulb moment to realize that if the age had been mentioned I probably would not have purchased the book. Sad? Yes. But true.

In the middle of the book I began to wonder why this well written story about a 41-year old woman was bugging me so much. Many of my favorite story elements were there. I'm a woman of *clears throat* mature years myself. So what was my beef?

Turns out I'm an ageist. Apparently I don't mind reading about a woman figuring things out whose in her 20s. I love reading about a woman in her 30s getting her priorities straight and finding the 'right' man and settling down.

On the other hand, as soon as I see that a main character is a woman is in her 40s I have a mental let down that sounds like a whine in my head saying, "Oh, really? In her 40s? Oh." I can feel my interest in the story deflating second by second.

Since I pride myself on having an open mind, I do read books about woman (and men) who are closer to my age, but not often. I also must admit that I rarely find myself as engaged in those books as I do when the characters are younger.

This realization really bugged me. I thought about it for a couple of days. There was no escaping the fact that if I could set up the characters in a book, I'd make them all 25 to 39 years old. This premise just begged the question. Why? As a woman who is 53 years old myself do I really think people of more mature years aren't as interesting? That life doesn't happen after 40?

The answer to those questions is obvious. Of course not. I like my life. I'm still active and interesting things still happen to me. I don't have to worry as much about money, I have a great husband and a relationship with him that is fulfilling. I also have two sons, who while they often drive me crazy, tend to contribute lots of drama in my life. I'd be insulted if anyone called my life...boring. Or uninteresting. Or insignificant. Or unimportant.

Understanding I do that every time I pick up a book that is about characters who are in their 40s or 50s, and dismiss it, was a disturbing one. I still haven't completely worked out what it is that bothers me so much.

It's not news. Age happens.

So what about you. Do you want your characters to fall within a certain age range? Is there an age for central characters to a story that you find less appealing? More appealing?


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12 Comments:

OpenID scooper said...

It sucks when you realize that you're not as open minded as you thought, huh? I find many things bother me when it comes to books, but in real life I could care less.

Anyways, back to age... I went through this phase in a book several months ago. I think like you about this topic.

5:54 PM PST  
Blogger meljean brook said...

I do this, too. Historicals, I can go younger, but otherwise I prefer 25-39 in both the hero and heroine (um, paranormals excluded).

There have been exceptions in contemporaries, particularly those that skew younger, but something in my head just turns off when I read about a post-40 character.

...although, now, I'm trying to remember how old the heroine in Crusie's ANYONE BUT YOU was (which I really enjoyed). There was such a big deal made about the age gap, but for the life of me, I can't remember how old she was. If she was over forty, there are obviously exceptions.

But if I have two books by unknown authors, and one has characters that are 39 and the other has characters that are 40? Something in my head just says, "Go 39!"

6:21 PM PST  
Blogger Becky said...

Interesting food for thought, Rosie. I guess I'm an ageist, too, in some respects.

I find that I have little patience with 'adult-escents'. People that are a bit 'long in the tooth' to still be acting like college kids and to still be 'finding' themselves at 40+.

What have they been doing for the last 15-20 years while the rest of society took responsibility and grew up?

In a novel, a person like this would come across to me as either very immature, or something of a screw-up, having 'missed the boat', which wouldn't 'jive' with her landing a HEA with a dashing, successful, goal-oriented hero. A dalliance, perhaps, but never the one with the HEA.

6:37 PM PST  
Blogger Holly said...

Yep, I'm with you and Meljean. I just can't read about a heroine who's over forty. I have no idea why this is.

Meljean, to answer your question, I'm pretty sure she was around 44. It was the same with Fast Women by Crusie. I really enjoyed that book despite the fact that the characters were all in their 40s/50s.

I started a book the other day (can't remember the title, sorry) where the characters were all in their 50's. Even though it wasn't labeled romance (chick-lit, I think) I still couldn't read it. Actually, in the opening scene one of the women is found dead of a heart attacked (I want to say she was 52 or so) and I just couldn't continue.

I wish I could say there's a reason this is the case, but I can't point to one thing. I guess something in my brain just shuts off at a certain age.

OTOH, while I can deal with a heroine (in a historical) who's about 18, I can't deal with one any younger than that.

Saving Grace by Julie Garwood features a heroine who's about 16 (I think) and I never could wrap my brain around that. In my mine? She's at least 18.

In a contemp? I need them to be at least in their 20's.

6:41 PM PST  
Blogger Holly said...

Oh, and I forgot to say...

Heroes I'm a bit more lenient with, but not too much. I think my cut off for a hero is about 41 or 42. And I can't stand him being younger than about 25 (and even then it's kind of a stretch for me). There have been a few exceptions, of course, but not many.

6:43 PM PST  
Blogger Rosie said...

Scooper, I seem to have more compassion for people in real life than characters in books. Sometimes.

Meljean, I belong to the same club as far as historicals go. I also have to agree about Crusie's women. I've read those and didn't seem to have a problem.

I was still thinking about this last night and realized that characters that are immortal don't seem to bother me at all.

Go figure.

Becky, I'm not much interested in reading about the mid-life crisis people. Male or female. If a person is that confused about who and what they are I would have to agree that finding their HEA is not likely to happen or be believable.

Holly, you've brought up a good point. I'm not wild about huge age gaps between couples, but if presented in a believable way I can fly with it. In real life I think 20 years is a bit of a hurdle for most (not all) couples to overcome. I can go with a male protag being a bit older. If the female protag is say 35 and he's 42.

I guess it points out another one of my flaws. I'm realizing that I think of women as on the down hill side of life after 40 and men are still in their prime, especially in their careers. Most of my friends peaked in their careers right around 40 while male friends (sometimes their husbands) still have forward momentum.

6:46 AM PST  
Blogger Wendy said...

My only requirement is that characters act their age. I think I'd probably take issue with the book you described because a 40-year-old woman "finding herself" doesn't work for me. "Moving on with her life," yes. "Starting a new chapter/phase," yes. "Finding herself," no. Cuz like Becky said, what the heck have you been doing for the last 15-20 years?

So I'm not an ageist per se, but I want the characters to be believable. Oh, and count me in as someone who doesn't like huge age-gaps. It's probably a good thing I wasn't reading those bodice rippers in the 1980s because an 18 year old heroine with a 35 year old hero squirks me out.

8:26 AM PST  
Blogger nath said...

Hey there Rosie :D

I know I am an ageist. For me, I prefer my heroines under 35 y.o. I'm 24, but I guess in my head, I'm still in my college years, so I don't mind reading under 20, even 18. I'm like everyone else... at 40, I think the heroine should have found herself... I mean, in some books, at 40, heroines are already grandmothers!! Even if it's starting a new life, starting over, I can't stand, cos usually that means grown-up children which talk to much. That's why I didn't enjoy Snowfall at Willow Lake.

For heroes, I'm tolerant till 40... after that, I just don't find him appealing anymore.

As for immortal characters, LOL :) You don't mind them because a) they usually have a lot of baggages and b) they usually "look" young, like in their thirties.

6:20 PM PST  
Blogger Rosie said...

Wendy, sometimes I don't mind when a 40-something is starting over. But most of the time I'm not that invested. I do think you and Becky have hit on one thing though. I do think at 40 I have a mental picture that a person should be "settled" for lack of a better word. Therefore, if you are settled there is no conflict.
Maybe. I'm still pondering this one.

Nath, interesting. 35 huh? Hey, wait a minute. You read about older characters all the time when you visit my blog. :P

If I'm honest though, and we are all about truth, justice and the American way here at Nobody Asked Me... I always get the most hits (believe it or not) when I write about Shmoo. Who'da thunk?

6:38 PM PST  
Blogger LtL said...

Oh, boy. I am so out of step here. Some of my favorite characters are in their fifties and sixties. One I'm reading now has a woman of 101--who is making the hero help her search for a part for her burial place. As for "finding yourself" being done with at 40--bilgewater. We have to keep finding ourselves, over and over. We find ourselves with young romance, with marriage. We find ourselves again when we have children, and believe me, marriage is renegotiated when the nest empties out. And again when one or the other spouse flies the coop--or dies.

Maybe the big problem, and this was addressed in the Crusie book about the 40-something heroine and he hero about tem years younger, is the fact that older bodies have not, in the past, looked anything like younger ones. Being interested in the continuation of the species, we have always defined younger as better in that regard.

I hope you all can see your way out of the darkness, because until you do, you're missing out on some amazing heroines--including yourselves. And me, she said, waving bye-bye and hopping on her Harley.

5:02 AM PST  
Blogger Dev said...

I'd say I'm an ageist. My problem is when heroines are in their early 20s and the heroes are late 30-ish. That bugs me. It never used. When I was younger, I loved the stories that had older heroes/younger heroines. I loved Diana Palmer because of it. But, as I've gotten older I don't really like a huge age gap between the main characters. I like them to be closer in age.

8:51 AM PST  
Blogger flip said...

Honestly, I wish that there were more heroines who were older. I am 50 years old. Life doesn't end when you are 30. Recently read Skinnydippng by Connie Brockway. I loved the book, the heroine was a 41 year old who was finally growing up. Seriously, it is sad that people think that love and passion are reserved for the young.

12:57 PM PST  

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