"Rules For Aging" is an unfortunate title for Roger Rosenblatt's thin, unassuming little book of advice. It makes the book sound unfathomably boring, preachy, or possibly both, and the hardback subtitle, "Resist Normal Impulses, Live Longer, Attain Perfection," and the self-help-icon-looking exuberant sketched dude on the cover only enhance that preachy feeling (at least until you start reading the book and realize how tongue-in-cheek they're probably supposed to be). The paperback subtitle of "A Wry And Witty Guide to Life" just sounds somewhat desperate.

The point of this is that Rules for Aging is one book you do not want to judge by its cover. The book is a hoot and a holler for anyone, whether or not you think you're aging. The writing style and the content are flat-out brilliant. Rules for Aging is written as a list of 56 rules, many of which come in the form of "don't do X" rather than "do X." On this matter, Rosenblatt says in the Introduction:

When I urge you to refrain from a certain thought or course of action, I do not mean to suggest that you are in any way wrong if you do the opposite. I mean only to say that you will suffer.

And the hell of it is, he's right. In my opinion, that quote pretty much sets the tone of this book. These rules are simple and wise and range from profound to slightly ridiculous, but every one of them rings true and due to Rosenblatt's style this book is a joy either to browse or to read straight through. The inside flaps of the cover have blurbs from various celebrities, such as Garrison Keillor and Jim Lehrer, about their favorite rules. Many of them mention Rosenblatt's Rule #1, which reads as follows.

Rule #1: It doesn't matter. Whatever you think matters - doesn't. Follow this rule, and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late, or early; if you are here, or if you are there; if you said it, or did not say it; if you were clever, or if you were stupid; if you are having a bad hair day, or a no hair day; if your boss looks at you cockeyed; if your girlfriend or boyfriend looks at you cockeyed; if you don't get that promotion, or prize, or house, or if you do. It doesn't matter.

I don't think I know a single person - myself included - who couldn't benefit from taking this rule to heart and following it at all times, and I can say the same thing about most of the other rules in this book. The only one I take issue with is #14, "Be not witty; neither shalt thou be clever," and, based on the other rules, what I'm really afraid of is that I'll disregard it and, some years down the road, find out that it's true the hard way.

Rosenblatt, Roger. Rules for Aging. Harvest Books, 2001.