The Next Chapter

Ian Brown on finding the humour in growing older

Ian Brown's latest book is an unflinchingly honest, profoundly funny memoir that explores the year he turned 60.
The author and journalist Ian Brown with his memoir Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year.

Ian Brown is a feature writer for the Globe and Mail and the author of several books, including The Boy in the Moon. After his 60th birthday, Brown decided to keep a diary, just keeping track of the days going by. He's published this humorous account of his day-to-day life as Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year


When you come to be 60, you start to conduct an actuarial analysis of everything. If you have books, you begin to think that you have to cull your books — but which ones are you going to throw out? Not that one because you might read that... well... you probably won't read that one again actually. You've only got time to read 1,000 books and that's if you start immediately. So you've got to start making these existential choices.

My first reaction was to speed up. I said I wanted to read Ulysses, Moby-Dick and War and Peace again. Because I've already read them before. I really wanted to read those, so I sped-read them. I was just blasting through and then I realized I couldn't remember what I'd read — and not just because I can't remember things anyway — but because I had skipped all these details. And the details are actually the glue of your episodic memory. What I discovered, counterintuitive to what I wanted to do, was that I needed to pay attention to the stuff that actually grabbed me, instead trying to focus on the stuff that's supposed to grab me.


The trouble I had was when I would read poetry, like Philip Larkin, and philosophy — those made me feel like death was right around the corner. On the other hand, you have this self-help literature which is saying that you can be younger next year and stuff like that. That's why I thought if I keep a diary, maybe I can slow detail down long enough that I can see time going by, as opposed to looking back and seeing that it's all flooded past, unnoticed.

Ian Brown's comments have been edited and condensed.