On Being 40(ish) – BookBar Book Review
by Stephanie Vessely
It seems cliché to say that when I turned forty last year I felt a shift. I don’t mean that when I woke on my birthday my life was suddenly different than it had been when I went to sleep the night before. But I did somehow feel official—as if I had been formally initiated into the club I had been sniffing around the last couple of years.
Reading On Being 40(ish), the collection of essays written by fifteen women about entering one’s fifth decade, felt like reading a guidebook for that club. Except instead of providing guidelines or rules to live by, On Being 40(ish) confirmed what I have been sensing for the last several years—it is different on this side of life.
On Being 40(ish), edited by Lindsey Mead, gathers a range voices to explore, reflect on, and unravel this milestone, with essays about everything from friendship to sex, aging to independence, and the consequences of choices made or not made. The collection also touches on careers, dating, family, and motherhood.
Meghan Daum explores solitude after her divorce and the realization that she may have always preferred it. Allison Winn Scotch gains new perspective on accepting help after a skiing accident. Catherine Newman explores female friendship through a diary of outfits worn over the years. Sophfronia Scott writes what it means to honor one’s gift by embodying the personal mantra, “I don’t have time for this.” Jill Kargman reflects on becoming an actress at the age of 39. And in the most concise piece of the collection, Sujeam Rim shares a cartoon about her decision to give up skinny jeans.
In between each essay the writers reflect on topics such as the biggest surprise of life after forty, the single most important lesson they’ve learned so far, and the thing they’ve given themselves permission to do now that they are forty.
Taken together, the essays in On Being 40(ish) fight the outdated notion that life ends when a woman turns forty. Rather, the decade is about refining what works and releasing what doesn’t, a process, I imagine, that will help one prepare for and live fully in their fifties.
In the years leading up to my fortieth birthday and in the year since, I have been seeking out and sometimes finding the wisdom and guidance of older women about how to navigate this decade. On Being 40(ish) is that counsel, and a collection I expect to return to as the years pass.