Book Review: Stories of Elders by Veronica Kirin (4/5)

16 Jun

I came across Kirin in a very unusual way. I’m friends with her younger brother. He sent a message to a group of us that his sister was having a book signing and I was all in. I had no idea that his sister was a writer and I was excited to dive in. We drove out to Ann Arbor to visit Nicola’s Books and hear Veronica speak about her book. I’m only embarrassed that it took me so long to finally read the book.

Cover image via Amazon

Stories of Elders: What the Greatest Generation Knows about Technology that You Don’t by Veronica Kirin

Summary from Amazon:

America’s Greatest Generation (born before 1945) witnessed incredible changes in technology and social progress. From simple improvements in entertainment to life-changing medical advances, technology changed the way they live, work, and identify. Sadly, with each passing year, fewer members of the Greatest Generation remain alive to share their wisdom as the last Americans to grow up before the digital revolution.

In 2015, Millennial author and cultural anthropologist Veronica Kirin drove 12,000 miles across more than 40 states to interview the last living members of the Greatest Generation. Stories of Elders is the result of her years of work to capture and share their perspective for generations to come.

Stories of Elders preserves the wisdom, thoughts, humor, knowledge, and advice of the people who make up one of America’s finest generations, including the Silent Generation. Their stories include the devastation that came from major events in U.S. history like World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II.

This book raised a lot of conflicting feelings in me. It made me think about my grandmothers a lot and how much the world has changed for them. My grandmothers are 100 and 87 and both fall into the Greatest Generation so I was able to think about some of the topics and how they would have affected them. It made me think about how I interact with my grandmothers and how life changed with the advent of technology. My one grandmother just got an iPad to video chat with her family. At 87, she’s having to learn something completely new. But during her life, she learned to use a washing machine, television, and dishwasher. I think she can handle it.

The interviews seemed very faithfully transcribed. There were times that it was clear Kirin had cleaned a few things up so it was easier to read but for the most part, I felt it was truthful. The quotes read differently, clearly as if it was a conversation and not formal writing. I think Kirin asked great questions to get these answers from the elders. It’s such a wide variety of topics that were covered by so few questions. It made me wonder how much time she spent with each one to get to so many topics.

A lot of the comments made resonated with me more than I thought they would. I think everyone is drawn back by new advances in technology, even someone my age who has less of a marked difference from conscious memory to present. I think the speed of technological change is going to only accelerate so that Generation X will have even more of an issue with emerging technology than the Greatest Generation has. I can’t imagine how things will have changed by the time I’m an octogenarian.

Me, Veronica Kirin, and featured elder Gerrie Powell

There were some areas of the book that surprised me because I didn’t think of them as very technological. Food and poverty are two examples. I work for a greenhouse and I hadn’t thought about how much technology had changed our access to food. The changing definition of poverty was a new concept to me, too. In my job, I hire a lot of people who live below the poverty line. Yet each of them has a smartphone because access to the internet is so crucial today. Making one’s own clothes is such an odd concept that we see it as a hobby and not a necessity for the poor. Amenities and war are other topics that surprised me.

There were times when Kirin would interject some of her own stories and it threw me off. Some of them connected the elders’ stories to my generation, but others seemed to distract from their stories. It took me out of the story a bit and didn’t seem to gel with the rest of the book.

Kirin narrated her own audiobook which I really enjoyed. Since she’d done the interviews with the elders, she was able to replicate their tone, pacing, and intonation during quoted sections. I think that would have been lost by someone who didn’t have the original experience. The only downside to the audiobook is that a few times, I would be confused if what I was hearing was a quote or commentary. The print makes this obvious but it wasn’t as clear when hearing it read aloud.

There’s always a perception that elders don’t adopt technology well. They struggle to use smartphones and can’t troubleshoot a simple computer error. But when we think about technology as a broader thing, more than computer technology, our elders have adopted a huge range of technologies in their lives. It made me feel bad for joking about my grandma’s struggles to use her iPad or how often my other grandmother plays Solitare on her Kindle. They figured so many other things out and changed their lives with them along the way.

Writer’s Takeaway: I did a similar project (on a much smaller scale) in high school where we were asked to interview our grandparents or elder relatives about their lives during WWII. My maternal grandfather had passed but I was able to interview my paternal grandparents and maternal grandmother while collecting photos that were assembled into a scrapbook. I transcribed the three interviews and included quotes about different aspects of everyday life that my grandparents remembered. It was a lot of work for a 15-year-old to handle. I can’t imagine the time and effort that went into Kirin’s work and I have so much respect for her and the project she completed. She’s back at it again, currently doing interviews for Stories of COIVID.

An enjoyable read and one that made me think. Four out of Five Stars.

I’ll be sharing an interview with Veronica next week so stay tuned for more! Until next time, write on.

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Related Post:
Veronica Kirin: Entrepreneur, advocate, mentor and more | neu


5 Responses to “Book Review: Stories of Elders by Veronica Kirin (4/5)”

  1. Rae Longest June 19, 2020 at 9:51 PM #

    kinteresting post. I had a great aunt who lived to be 106. She, in her lifetime, went to school in a horse drawn buckboard and saw men walk on the moon. She attributed her flexibility and longevity to “natural foods and hard work.”


    • Sam June 19, 2020 at 10:13 PM #

      It’s crazy for me to think about how much life has changed for our elders. It makes me wonder how life will change for me. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rae Longest June 23, 2020 at 10:42 AM #

        Who knows what we have ahead? Who would have ever “thunk” we’d be in the middle of a world-wide pandemic? Huh?

        Liked by 1 person


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