Time Flies

For several years a ranking star of prime-time television and now cited for his financial acumen in FORBES magazine as well as for his acting skills in VARIETY, Bill Cosby has written a new best-selling book close on the heels of his first success, FATHERHOOD.

The subject of TIME FLIES is aging, a subject with its origins in the author’s own fiftieth birthday. Cosby reflects on such matters as diet, medical checkups, sex, aching muscles, forgetfulness, and failing eyesight. The style is largely self-mocking: A son who hates to run follows his father out onto the track, then reluctantly pulls ahead. The author wears his new trifocals, through which an autograph seeker becomes a giant eye and the telephone book an exercise in futility. Cosby views himself as an astonished victim, alternately bemused and indignant about whatever force may undermine his body and confidence next.

A motif threading through the succession of short essays and vignettes is Cosby’s sports background, in particular his career as an athlete at Temple University. Past accomplishments provide a standard against which middle age’s physical betrayals become all the more poignant and embarrassing--a high-jump bar that had once been at an easy six feet, seven inches now turns formidable at five feet three.

Cosby’s self-deprecating humor may serve to reassure the middle-aged reader by admitting common disabilities and at the same time taking them no more seriously than life’s previous indignities. His own message is counterpointed by Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Poussaint’s introduction more calmly describes some realities of aging and their accompanying anxieties. He confronts some of the symptoms that Cosby describes and some others, such as depression and senility, that are not addressed elsewhere in the book. Poussaint’s approach is reassuring in its own fashion. Seemingly unavoidable signs of age are either placed in sensible context or shown not to be inevitable. Time need not become an implacable foe. As Poussaint points out, the positive aspects of aging may emerge when amused common sense such as Cosby’s can work effectively to contain some of our fears.