The Summer of a Dormouse

In early April I shared my recent foray into literature about aging, as seen through the eyes of those older than I. The Summer of a Dormouse is book number two, and I have just made a discovery that, although entirely fitting, has me somewhat indignant. But first, some background.

Turns out that my local library only had access to one version of this book, the large print version. Having never seen a large print book, I was curious to know if it would make reading easier. What I discovered is that the text overwhelmed the pages. A bit more white space or leading between lines would have made a positive difference; better yet, access to a standard print size would have been greatly appreciated.

John Mortimer is the author, and he already had one claim to fame with me as the writer of Rumpole of the Bailey, a PBS series about an English barrister, lovingly portrayed by Leo McKern. In The Summer of a Dormouse, Mortimer entertains while sharing reflections on a year of his life in his seventh decade.

Now for the indignant portion, of which there are two! Only this morning, in checking out various versions of the book, did I discover that The Summer of a Dormouse is “the third installment” of Mortimer’s memoirs. Am wondering why that isn’t noted anywhere on the book’s back cover blurb. But here is the stronger reason for indignancy – the title is off! In the concluding paragraph of the New York Times obituary (yes, alas, John Mortimer died in January, 2009 at the ripe age of 85, and here is The Guardian’s obituary), Mortimer is quoted from this book – The Summer of a Dormouse: A Year of Growing Old Disgracefully. Why is it that the second part of the title was left off of the large print version?

Well, disgraceful as it may be to switch titles on different publications of a book, Mortimer’s memoir is anything but disgraceful. Mortimer reminisces on politics, writing, socializing, family, building a theatre, and finding a statue to sit on an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, among other topics. In his humor and seriousness, he shares a healthy approach to aging, seizing it for all it is worth and making the most of his time. What especially struck me was Mortimer’s statement on old age.

The real trouble with old age is that it lasts for such a short time.

He goes on to say:

All worthwhile projects are investments in the future. … After you’re seventy, it’s probably too late to establish another career, create a mature garden, or discover a new way of writing. The old, grabbing time by the forelock, have to go for immediate results.

Worst of all, there’s not time to see a child grow up.  [Mortimer is talking about his youngest child, a daughter who was born when he was 62.] … For me life becomes insupportable, and inoperable pomposity is liable to set in, unless there’s a fairly young child about the place. Having such a child makes it essential not to die until it’s absolutely necessary.


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