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21+ Books for Older Adults about Aging

These books for older adults feature themes of aging and end-of-life, with characters who are coming to terms with advanced age or are making decisions related to dying.

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Looking for books for older adults? The recommendations on this list include books about aging and growing old gracefully–or not so gracefully, in some cases! These are the perfect books for seniors and older adults who want to read about characters like themselves.

As a reader in mid-life, I sometimes get a little tired of reading only about characters in their twenties and early thirties.

I read plenty of them, but I often wonder why the default age of characters in most books seems to be about 33. And why are there even fewer good books for (and about) older women?

Thankfully, I’ve noticed many more books in recent years geared toward older readers, with characters of many different ages facing issues related to aging–including accepting it, growing old gracefully, and facing the end of life.

If you search for books about aging, and you get plenty of nonfiction reflections (I’ve included just a couple here) and guides, but few books for seniors and older adults who find more meaning in fictional stories.

So most of this list offers novels about aging, ranging from funny stories to thoughtful reflections to romance and even thrillers.

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21+ Books for Older Readers about Aging

Treatment of Aging and Elderly Characters in Fiction

It occurred to me while pulling together this list that, when it comes to older characters, we’re often subjected to two tropes: the feisty old woman or the dear, wise old man.

It’s not that people like this don’t exist, or that they can’t be enjoyable in literature. It’s that the range of personalities, emotions, and life experiences are just as vast for older characters as they are for young–and that should be reflected.

The list of books below includes characters who are aging in different ways. Some are not very old but are just starting to come to terms with their more advanced age. Others are nearing the end of their lives.

Some are alone, while others are married, wrapped up in life-affirming friendships, or starting new romances. Some are feeling the urge for one last great adventure, while others are reflecting on the lives they’ve lived and their regrets, successes, and legacies.

There is no one way to age, and none of us knows exactly how or where we will find ourselves at that stage of life. But the “third act” of life is one worth reflecting on in literature, and I hope we’ll see more like some of the recent books below.

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Must-Read Books for Seniors and Older Adults

Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Author: Anna Quindlen
Publish Date: 2014
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Rebecca Winter is a 60-year old photographer, still famous but no longer sought-after, who moves to a rural town in an attempt to save money by renting her Manhattan apartment. She feels lost until she begins spending time with a local roofer, twenty years her junior, and finds a photography project in the mysterious crosses and mementos scattered through the woods. 

Quindlen is always a solid choice for excellent prose and depth of feeling, and the light touch makes this a great cozy read.

Less by Arthur Sean Greer, a book about a man facing his own aging that will help you start a reading habit.


Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Publish Date: 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Arthur Less is a failing novelist on the brink of turning 50. When he receives an invitation to his former lover’s wedding, he embarks on an around-the-world journey to avoid the event. Less is both frustrating and endearing, a bit bumbling, and above all, certain of his own failures.

Light on plot and heavy on wandering musings, this Pulitzer Prize winner can be slow at times–but certain parts also had me laughing out loud.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety

Author: Wallace Stegner
Publish Date: 1987
Genres: Literary Fiction

First meeting at the start of the men’s academic careers in Wisconsin, Larry and Sally and Sid and Charity instantly fall into a friendship that lasts through decades of work, play, children, sickness, travel, conflict, and heartache. These are quiet lives, punctuated with successes and disappointments, driven by ambition, intellectual pursuits, and their closeness with one another.

Stegner brings close the small moments that loom large in personal memories, especially as the four reflect on them late in life. Curl up with a pen to underline the many poignant passages.

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Must-read books for seniors

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules

Author: Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Publish Date: 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

This book about a 79-year-old woman who decides to rob a bank along with four of her friends may fall a little into the “feisty old woman” trope, but it does sound like a fun ride. Feeling constrained by the rules imposed on them by their care home, the group of friends makes a plan to fund the exciting life of their dreams–and stand up for other residents who feel similarly constrained.

I expect this book to offer plenty of laughs, but it also speaks to the limited lives that elderly are often relegated to–and to their desire to continue to be relevant and sometimes even adventurous.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread

Author: Anne Tyler
Publish Date: 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Abby and her husband, Red, are spending another lovely evening on the porch of their family home, telling their familiar love story to their children and grandchildren. But this time is different: Abby and Red are aging, and the family must start to decide how they’ll be cared for in their old age, as well as what will happen to the home built by Red’s father.

This book promises to be reflective of lives well-lived and tinged with sadness as the family must face the inevitable difficult decisions and coming losses.

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest

Author: Fiona McFarlane
Publish Date: 2013
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

Ruth is a widow living alone in an isolated beach house, and one day Frida shows up claiming to be a care worker sent by the government. Ruth lets her in, and suddenly she begins to question her own perceptions, her memories, and whether Frida can be trusted. I chose this book because it seems to speak to the vulnerability of some elderly people to be preyed upon, particularly if they are isolated.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Author: Kathleen Rooney
Publish Date: 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction

On New Years Eve, 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish sets out for a party in Manhattan. Wrapped in her mink coat, she walks over 10 miles around the city, meeting all manner of characters and reflecting on a life filled with excitement, challenges, and romance. Once one of the most successful women in advertising in the country, she has lived a life of excitement and witnessed the changing city through the decades. Hailed as a “love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur,” Lillian may have aged, but like the city she loves, she hasn’t changed entirely.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce
Publish Date: 2012
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

When recently retired Harold Fry steps out to his mailbox, he is surprised to find a letter from a woman he hasn’t seen in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and has written to say goodbye. At the spur of the moment, Harold decides to say his own goodbye in person and walk 600 miles to the hospice where Queenie resides, holding onto the hope that, as long as he keeps walking, Queenie will live.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

Author: Rachel Joyce
Publish Date: 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

In this parallel story to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Queenie Hennessy takes her own journey as she faces the end of her life. While Harold is walking, Queenie is writing, reflecting on her past, her choices, and her secrets. This poignant pairing is unique in its multiple perspectives on aging and end of life–one facing the end of her life and the other facing loss and secrets he never knew.

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21+ Books for Senior Adults

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Author: Emma Hooper
Publish Date: 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

In yet another story about an elderly protagonist taking a walk, 82 year old Etta decides she must see the ocean–3,232 kilometers away. She embarks on her walk with a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots. Soon she is joined by James, a coyote. Her husband Otto finds a note saying she will try to remember to come back. Their neighbor Russell, in love with Etta his whole life, insists on finding her. As each takes their own journey, they grapple with memories, regrets, pasts they can’t change, and futures they still hope for.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night

Author: Kent Haruf
Publish Date: 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

This poignant story from Haruf set in Holt, Colorado, brings Addie Moore and her neighbor Louis Waters together. Both widowed with grown children far away, they find companionship and understanding of their lives and the futures they still want to have.

A Man Called by Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman
Publish Date: 2015
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Ove is a solitary curmudgeon who is set in his ways and unreserved in his criticism of anyone who crosses his path. But behind his rough exterior is a sweet, sad backstory and a soft-hearted man committed to his morals who is about to have his world rocked by several people (and a cat) who refuse to be held off by a few cranky words. Ove is by turns funny, sad, and heartwarming.

Exit by Belinda Bauer


Author: Belinda Bauer
Publish Date: 2021
Genres: Fiction, Mysteries & Thrillers

Felix Pink is a retired widower who volunteers as an Exiteer–someone who stays with terminally ill people as they die by suicide. It is a mission of mercy and compassion, and the volunteers operate on just the edge of UK law. When one of his visits goes horribly wrong, Felix is dodging the police and trying to find out what actually happened.

Don’t let the ominous cover and dark description put you off. They really don’t do this book justice–it is surprisingly delightful. Felix is lovely and well-meaning, and many of the other characters are as well, which makes for many chuckle-worthy interactions. Dark themes and shady characters are a part of it, yes, but this is much more like a A Man Called Ove than an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

The Shell Seekers

Author: Rosamunde Pilcher
Publish Date: 1987
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

An amazing cozy read about a woman named Penelope, who discovers that her father’s painting is worth a small fortune. Her adult children have their own ideas about what she should do about the discovery.

The Shell Seekers moves between past and present, revisiting various times in Penelope’s life, including her Bohemian youth during World War II. Penelope is truly an unforgettable character. I loved the slow reveal of her life told over decades and I know that I’ll be rereading this in years to come.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Killers of a Certain Age

Author & Narrator: Deanna Raybourn
Publish Date: 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery & Thriller

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have been assassins for the Museum for forty years. Originally formed to hunt Nazis, the Museum targeted the world’s most evil people. But as the four women set out on a cruise to mark their retirement, they realize that they are now the targets. Using their lifetime of old-fashioned experience, they have to turn the tables on their own employers in order to survive.

The outrageous storyline, the 60+-year-old assassins taking down bad guys, and the satisfying premise (how can you not cheer for Nazi hunters?) all made this irresistible. Perfect for anyone looking for a fast-paced, light, and funny thriller.

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle

Author: Matt Cain
Publish Date: 2022
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

After living a quiet life alone with his cat and working as a postman, Albert Entwistle is informed that it’s time for him to retire. He realizes that he’s about to lose the only way he connects with other people, so he sets out to change that. Albert starts trying to make friends, and he also thinks it may be time to share who he really is–and find George, the love of his life who he lost years before.

I loved listening to Albert’s journey to connection and acceptance. His deep shame and fear about his sexuality being discovered were so sad and affected his entire life–in ways that were probably not uncommon. Albert is a lovely character and he forms a number of delightful friendships.

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club

Author: Faith Hogan
Publish Date: 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Elizabeth and Jo are friends who live in a small town on Ireland’s west coast. When Elizabeth’s physician husband dies and leaves her with a mountain of debt, Jo asks her daughter, Lucy, to take over his surgery while Elizabeth sorts things out. Lucy arrives from Dublin with her teen son and seems in need of healing herself. Jo lets the two in on her secret: midnight plunges in the ocean bring peace.

As the three try to sort out their lives, the midnight swims become central–and become a community rallying point when Jo has her own challenges to face. Charming, heartwarming, and filled with wonderful friendships.

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21+ Books Senior Readers will Love

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael

Author: Beth Morrey
Narrator: Harriet Walter
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Missy Carmichael is lonely and full of regret. At 79, she spends her days alone in her big old house in England, nursing sherry and past hurts, and missing her son and grandson in Australia, and her estranged daughter. When Sylvie and Angela, along with Angela’s young son, push their way into Missy’s life, she is both hesitant and hopeful. And when a dog is brought into the mix, she gets more than she bargained for.

Readers who liked A Man Called Ove will enjoy Missy Carmichael. The circumstances and voices are different, but the heartwarming and unlikely friendships feel much the same. This is delightful on audio; Angela’s raw bluntness alongside Missy’s genteel fussiness occasionally made me laugh out loud.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publish Date: 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction

When aging movie star Evelyn Hugo recruits Monique Grant, an unknown reporter, to write her biography, Monique can’t fathom why Evelyn would want her. She is quickly drawn into Evelyn’s winding tale, from her rise to stardom, her multiple marriages, and the dramas of her life.

Evelyn is an enigmatic character–fascinating, confident, and powerful. It’s no wonder, since she and her story are based on several of Hollywood’s leading ladies.

I loved the peek behind the curtain of the careful construction of Evelyn’s public life versus her private life. This was juicy, smart, and unputdownable.

Calypso by David Sedaris


Author: David Sedaris
Publish Date: 2019
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir

Most of David Sedaris’s essay collections are pure entertainment with a hint of sharp observation that always makes them feel smart. Calypso follows this path, but it’s darker and more poignant. The familiar Sedaris family is aging, and with age comes all the attendant self-reflection and life changes.

This plays out differently for each family member and affects their relationships with one another. In this collection, most of the family feel closer to one another than they ever have before, with the exception of Tiffany, whose suicide shadows most of the essays here. Sedaris’ writings on Tiffany’s suicide, as well as aging, politics, addiction, and regret, make this essay collection darker and more reflective than many of his previous. He is still dryly funny, and the ability to prompt regular laughter while writing about such serious topics is a particular talent.

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends

Author: Amy Silverstein
Publish Date: 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir

Twenty-six years ago, during the infancy of heart transplant surgery, Amy Silverstein received a new heart. Now in her fifties, that heart is failing, and she again waits for a new heart. Her wait requires a move to California with her husband, and with them, nine of Amy’s closest friends sign onto a schedule to keep constant vigil at her bedside. They pass the baton to one another, flying in from across the country for their times with their friend.

This is a brutally raw memoir of suffering and friendship. Amy is unflinching her examination of herself and what it means to be a sick person, dependent on others, and what it means in such a situation to find the balance between caring for yourself and caring for those who surround you.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Author: Shelby Van Pelt
Publish Date: 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

After the death of her husband, Tova Sullivan began working as a night cleaner at the local aquarium. The job helps her feel useful, especially in her loneliness after his death and her ongoing grief since her 18-year-old son disappeared 30 years ago. When she discovers that Marcellus, the giant Pacific octopus, has been escaping on nightly adventures, the two develop an unlikely camaraderie. When a young man shows up in town, Marcellus realizes he knows something about him, and Tova’s past.

This bestselling novel from 2022 is absolutely delightful. Full of grief and hard things, yes, but Marcellus’ voice is distinctive (and you MUST listen to the audio–the voice actor for him is so wonderful!). His observations about humans will have you chuckling, and his relationship with Tova will warm your heart. My only complaint is that we didn’t get MORE Marcellus (his chapters are criminally short).

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  1. Oh my gosh – such a good list theme! I’d never really thought about this before, but as I was reading it a number of books came to my head!

    Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties by Camille Pagan (not exactly an elderly protagonist, but mid-50’s), One True Thing by Anna Quindlen, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas…and I absolutely adored Our Souls at Night and Lillian Boxfish!

    1. Thanks for these additional suggestions! I’d definitely like to read Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, and I also need to pick up One True Thing.

    2. I, also, love Our Souls at Night and Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk. They are two of my all-time favorites and will dfinitely be re-read by me.

  2. This is a great theme idea! I’ve only read A Man called One on this list. I bought Three Things about Elsie recently so this reminds me I need to read it:)

  3. What a great idea. I would NEVER have thought of it because I think I usually avoid books about aging. (Probably because it’s starting to hit a little too close to home!) I’ve only read A Spool of Blue Thread and A Man Called Ove from your list, but really liked both of them, so it just might be time to try a few more.

  4. I love several of the books on your list but hate to think of Still Life as aging- probably because I’m closing in on 60!

    Did you read The Night Visitor? It is powerful.

    I’d add Benediction (Kent Haruf’s writing is exquisite), Let Me Be Frank With You and Lay of the Land by Richard Ford, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, and Goodbye, Vitamin.

    1. I haven’t read The Night Visitor, but it definitely sounds intriguing!

      I debated both Still Life and Less for this list, since I don’t consider 50 and 60 “aging” either. I included them because the characters are both at turning points in their lives and their feelings about it are related to age. But I don’t think they fall into the “end of life” side of things 🙂

      Thanks for the additional suggestions!

  5. The leisure seeker : a novel / Michael Zadoorian I would add to this excellent list as well comes highly recommended.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion!

      1. I specifically searched for fiction books about aging, and it brought me to your list. I look forward to reading several, including “The Night Guest”, due to the fact that I’m in my mid-forties and caring for my grandmother with alzheimers. Thank you for the suggestions!

        1. I’m so glad you found a good book–I hope you enjoy it. That sounds very difficult–what a wonderful thing you are doing for your grandmother!

          1. Major Pettigrew’s last Stand by Helen Simonson was wonderful! I also enjoyed Backman’s Britt-Marie Was Here. I just retired 3 months ago so I’m there!

  6. Thank you for this lovely list. I love books about old people & will without doubt get some..
    ART & CREAKY BONES , my latest book ( which includes a French translation) isn’t fiction but it is a beautiful art book about how a creative activity helps us live longer and stay healthier. Just thought you might like to read it. It’s at amazon

  7. How could you leave out the very best novel about aging, Memento Mori by Muriel Sparks? I’m 86, and this novel is the only one I’ve found that’s real.

  8. I agree with Jo… Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson would make an excellent addition to your list. That, and A Man Called Ove are the BEST books I’ve read in a very long time. I look forward to exploring other titles you have listed here. Thank you for posting it

  9. Still Alice written by Lisa Genova. A memorable book about early onset Alzheimer’s. It tells the story of how this disease effects her and her family. This is a book you remember. I’ve enjoyed several of her novels.

    1. This was also a movie with Jo Beth Williams, and very well done.

  10. One of my very favorite books is Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. It’s about an old man and a young boy in the South.

  11. So many excellent suggestions listed. I have read almost all of the post listings and recommend them all. I would like to suggest At the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. It’s an excellent read on family, ancestry, and how life can hand you a sweet surprise in your later years.

  12. I’d add Emily Alone by Stuart O’Nan. I read it a while back so the details are hazy but it was great!

  13. I absolutely loved Shelby Van Pelt’s debut (?!) novel “Remarkably Bright Creatures”, and was surprised it didn’t make your list. I loved the interaction between Tova Sullivan, an elderly widowed caretaker at the local aquarium, and Marcellus, a very astute octopus. Throw in other wonderful characters, and this became one of my “you must read this” recommendations to anyone who will listen.

    1. You’re right–this is a great addition to the list! I just listening to it this year and loved it 🙂

  14. Great list! I just finished The Thursday Murder Club which was a fun read.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I haven’t read this one yet.

  15. I would suggest the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny (begins with Still Life, and she is up to 18 novels now). Armand Gamache is in his 50’s, in a good, strong marriage with grown children, and his career in the Canadian Surete Department has been a long one.
    The other book I would suggest is The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. An older bookstore owner who is fastidious and then…well…stuff happens!

    1. Both great recommendations! I’ve only read the first of Penny’s books but would like to read more. Thanks for adding these!

  16. Thank you for your list. I liked, Olive kitteridge and Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout

    1. Forgot to mention I listened to them on audiobook from my library. The narrator is amazing!

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