Book Review: “Life Gets Better”

Life Gets Better coverLIFE GETS BETTER: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older, by Wendy Lustbader (Tarcher, 2011)

By Alyssa McFarland

Reading Life Gets Better by local author Wendy Lustbader is like sitting down with a friend who regales you with brief stories about how people have weathered the storms of their lives and settled down into more peaceful waters. It can be comforting to read these stories and know that life can, in fact, get better.

The early chapters of the book weren’t doing much for me and at first I thought, “I’ll read enough to write a review and then give the book to my mom or something.” But by the end of the book I was savoring every chapter and thinking I’d have to get a new copy for my mom and maybe my mother-in-law as well, so sure I was I’d want to read the book again someday.

For a book that contains so many personal stories, there’s a lot of breadth and depth. The author has interacted with many people throughout her life, and has collected stories from other sources and from her own life experience. The book covers a lot of ground: there are chapters on loss, generosity, relationships, and beginner’s mind, to name just a few.

“If youth is the piling on of identities out of a need to feel substantial, later life is boring down into the depths of the essential,” Lustbader says.

Some of the most memorable parts of the book for me were when she described the personality change her mother went through in her final months (becoming a better listener and friend), and when she shared her secret for becoming a confident public speaker (remember that everyone in the room will one day be dead and won’t remember what you said).

“If youth is the piling on of identities out of a need to feel substantial, later life is boring down into the depths of the essential,” Lustbader says. I’m forty-five and have noticed that as teenagers, we tended to box ourselves into specific identities like outsider, jock or cheerleader. Then as new adults, we begin piling on identities culled from job, hobby or parenting roles, which make our personas more complex, but also make life complicated. I am relieved to think that in a couple of decades, I can shed some of these roles, and – like one of the people mentioned in her book – eventually refine my material possessions down to a single shelf of books.

Even for a relatively younger person such as myself, the book has lessons that can be helpful. She says, “We must move through difficulty, rather than try to get around it, if we wish to be strengthened by life experience.” This is true no matter what your age.


Find this book!

Seattle Public Library:

Indie Bound:


PNA Swoosh


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