When I had a monthly review slot on BBC Oxford’s Sunday Breakfast, Nick Page was the man to come in and round the show off, because his combined wit and wisdom had huge appeal. There is plenty of both here as he tackles the mid-life crisis.
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Format: Hardback, 220 pages
While Page would probably shudder at being labelled a brand, for those who have read him, his books ooze appeal like pine trees ooze sap. Among family, friends (and the couple who visited us for the first time this week and saw this book in the lounge) he is universally respected and enjoyed.
Why? Doubtlessly, his readable style has something to do with it, peppered as it is with some amusing self-deprecation and some scattergun references (on just one page here, for example, he mentions Jung, Macbeth, Woody Allen and Keats).
In a section about identity, he writes, “We don’t want to find our doctor unshaven, smelly, and sitting there in his underpants. Or, indeed, anyone else’s underpants.” There is a lot of this.
But it has just as much to do with his depth. He has the observation of a stand-up comic and uses it to test the breadth of his research, in this case from psychologists and historians to his mate Steve (several of his friends make valid, very relevant contributions and they are all, for the purposes of the book, called Steve).
This book is sub-titled ‘Men, the mid-life crisis, spirituality – and sheds.’ Investigating the onset of middle age, Page asks whether the crisis is real and then offers approaches that can leave you feeling younger afterwards, rather than older.
The problem for many men, he suggests, “Is not so much the failure of their bodies; it is the failure of their gods.”
He then proceeds to debunk these common deities, such as Lycra, the god of youth; Dosh, the god of wealth and possessions; and the twins – Exhaustus, the god of work and Kudos, the god of status. In a surprise move, he deals with Credo, the god of certainty and, more predictably, Rumpo, the god of sex (he told his wife “that this was the briefest section of the book. ‘Sounds appropriate’, she replied.”)
Halfway through, he gives one of the best summaries of Jesus that I have ever read, and shortly afterwards he lambasts the Church for taking the story of Jesus (“radical love and wild hope”) and telling it wrongly (“All the old songs are full of big words. He is immortal, invisible, ineffable (whatever that means), while many modern songs about Jesus make it sound as though he’s a girl we’re trying to get off with”).
Threaded through the book is the Old Testament story of Jacob, a man who messed up the first part of his life serving some of the de-bunked gods and then had a life-changing wrestling match with the real one.
The other thread is the shed. It is often the place that men retreat into, but here used as a symbol of our lives, and the renovation that can occur – and Page takes us through the transformation of his shed.
Page is now in his fifties, so he has lived this experience and brings wisdom. He notes how “the first half of life may be driven by acquisition, but the second half is powered by relinquishment.” He also ends the book with some practical exercises, including prayer, serving, fasting, celebrating and watching The Lego Movie.
This is one book for any man who wants to make the middle of his life as transformative as his teens.