'This Old Man' Looks Back On A Full Life Roger Angell's latest book is a collection of his writings from The New Yorker, centered on "This Old Man," his memorable essay about the pains and pleasures of living into your 90s.
NPR logo

'This Old Man' Looks Back On A Full Life

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/455920045/456007850" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'This Old Man' Looks Back On A Full Life

'This Old Man' Looks Back On A Full Life

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/455920045/456007850" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Eight attackers are known so far and all of whom died last night. But French officials are still looking for possible accomplices. We'll be following the story throughout the morning. Earlier in the week, we spoke with Roger Angell, before the attacks in Paris, and here's our conversation.

Saying that someone writes like an angel is a well-intentioned cliche, but Roger Angell writes like no one else. His eye and style, utterly clear, compelling, often funny, frequently moving. He's the only writer to be inducted into both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His latest collection includes articles, profiles, reviews and verse from The New Yorker that range from Vladimir Nabokov to Derek Jeter and recollections of beloved dogs and summer movies and baseball legends and a nuts and bolts - or maybe that should be flesh, blood and bones - summing up of the indignities and the glories of growing old. His collection is "This Old Man: Roger Angell All In Pieces."

ROGER ANGELL: There you go.

SIMON: And Roger Angell, in the altogether...

ANGELL: (Laughter) Not in pieces.

SIMON: ...All by himself, joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANGELL: Very glad to be here, Scott.

SIMON: These are pieces from the 1990s until, really, just a few months ago. Was it pleasant, fun or what, to read over your stuff?

ANGELL: Well, the stuff that I didn't find pleasant, I left out, so this...

SIMON: (Laughter).

ANGELL: I'm rather fond of this book and surprised that some of the old stuff still held up or just about.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you write every day?

ANGELL: No, I don't, but I try to write when I can because it cheers me up. Even if it's some very small thing, I feel better. And it's part of what I am, and I appreciate that I still can write. And I think I've been very fortunate.

SIMON: For the past few years, you've been writing a series of - I'll refer to them as really stunning pieces drawn from your personal circumstances. How did you start writing, in a sense, about yourself for The New Yorker?

ANGELL: Well, it was because of Tina Brown. When she arrived at The New Yorker, one of the things she said to me was, you've had a wonderful, interesting life, and you need to write more about yourself. And I said I have no interest in that. And she pushed me and pushed me and pushed me. And I began thinking about it and trying out to refine some way to write about myself without being sentimental or without being bitter, just trying to be myself and to find some kind of a voice about myself. And I wrote about my father and my stepfather and, indirectly, about my mother.

SIMON: At the center of this book, the title essay is, of course, the one you wrote which got a lot of attention, won a lot of awards, called "This Old Man." If you could just go top to bottom, tell us how you feel.

ANGELL: Well, I wanted to write about myself as I was when I began to write that, late in my early 90s. And a lot of things that happened to me - a lot of physical things - I started describing what arthritis has done to my fingers and on and on, I think in sort of light terms, not whinier, medical terms too much. But I wrote this whole piece in pieces. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to do with it. There was a lot in there about loss, but it's not the central theme, I think. I lost my older daughter. And I lost my wife of 48 years. In between there, we lost a wonderful dog of ours who jumped out a window during a thunderstorm.

SIMON: Harry.

ANGELL: Harry, yeah. And they're wound in and out, and I don't think in a gloomy way, just as they seem to me in recollection. And often interrupting with a change of tone, there are jokes, jokes about death even. I think it sounds like me. I love good jokes.

SIMON: Yeah.

ANGELL: And the piece has had a remarkable reception. I think a lot of it is because, near the end of the piece, there's a lot about old people and their need for love and for sexual affection and intimacy, which comes as such a shock to our children. But it is true, and I'm not the first person who has said this. And I think I do that lightly as well. But I think a lot of old people like reading this because it said something that they had been feeling about themselves. And there's some other things in there about how we get overlooked in conversations. There are many different aspects of being very old.

SIMON: Yeah, that's a very powerful section, too when you talk about how - you'll - I can't believe it - you, Roger Angell...

ANGELL: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Often considered one of the wisest writers in America...

ANGELL: Well, I don't know (laughter).

SIMON: ...Will say something in a conversational group with people, and you think...

ANGELL: Nothing happens. You say something - it happens all the time. You say something, and people are talking. And people smile and look at you and go on. And you think - didn't I just say something (laughter)? It's because, unconsciously, people brush you aside a little bit, says, well, he's had his turn. He's old, and they move along.

SIMON: Is happiness different for you now than it was...

ANGELL: It's a surprising thing. I found myself - I say at some point - how come this accumulation of loss, of pain and the arrival of a certain amount of loneliness doesn't crush us? How come it's not something we think about all the time? But that doesn't happen. And happiness does occur. The day-to-day seems remarkable in many ways. It's something quite moving and surprising. Almost every day, this occurs to you.

SIMON: Roger, do you have any idea what's next?

ANGELL: What's next?

SIMON: Yeah.

ANGELL: Well, I'm going to fall apart. I'm falling apart as you see me. And what's next some day, some down the line, I'm going to die. But I don't think about that very much.

SIMON: So you don't think about what might be beyond?

ANGELL: I don't. I mean, maybe some people do. I really don't. And I sometimes think, how come? But it's out of my mind. And I'm remarried and happily remarried. And the day-to-day is day-to-day. I am, in the team parlance, I am day-to-day. But (laughter) I don't think about it.

SIMON: Roger Angell's collection, "This Old Man: Roger Angell All In Pieces." Thanks so much for being with us.

ANGELL: Thank you, Scott, what a pleasure. Thank you so much.

SIMON: And we certainly didn't miss the opportunity to ask Roger Angell about baseball and what he thought about the World Series. You can hear him talk about that online at NPR.org.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.