Suddenly curmudgeons are cool - and reassuring

Walk through bookstores in London this month and you might find yourself smiling at a quirky new title: "Grumpy Old Women." As if to signal the book's tongue-in-cheek humor, the cover pictures four almost-smiling women - definitely not old and decidedly not grumpy.

Written by Judith Holder, a stand-up comic in her mid-40s who also produces a TV series of the same name, the book offers readers a chance to chuckle at the countless petty vexations of life that often know no age limits.

Grumpiness reigns as a classic stereotype of the later years. It's the stock in trade of cartoonists, who love to draw little old ladies brandishing rolled umbrellas at whatever displeases them, as well as frowning older men harrumphing their way through the day. And in the world of TV, don't forget the crotchety Clara Pelter, who won a place in Americans' hearts by barking "Where's the beef?" in Wendy's commercials.

In Ms. Holder's world, what's there to grumble about if you're no longer young and a size 6? Trying to find stylish clothes can rank high on the list. So can wrinkles. And then there's the feeling of invisibility women experience as the decades roll along.

As reassurance that occasional crotchetiness can be an equal-opportunity pastime, a BBC TV series called "Grumpy Old Men" offers a similar gripe-fest for the other half of the population. For both sexes, one observer notes, it's now "cool to be a curmudgeon."

Surprisingly, it may even be cool to be older. Holder thinks her mother's generation might have more reason to be cheerful than her own. Women of that era, she explains, didn't have to wrestle with career decisions. They enjoyed more free time and less stress.

Holder also notes that by the time she reaches her mother's age, the pension she's been counting on may shrink or even disappear, forcing her to work into her 70s.

Perhaps she can be excused for indulging in a little middle-aged grumbling.

Around the time that Holder's book reached bookstores, New Woman magazine appeared on British newsstands with a study hinting that young career women may have their own list of grump-inducing complaints.

Seventy percent of young women say they refuse to work as hard as their mothers. And 60 percent find themselves irritated by role models who supposedly "have it all." Weary of social pressure to be perfect wives, mothers, and career women, they grumble about the lack of balance in their lives.

But don't call them Grumpy Young Women. The phrase just doesn't have quite the right ring.

Nobody wants to listen to a chronic grumbler for very long. But as Holder shows, playing the subject for laughs, some grumps offer comforting reassurance that others share our anxieties and petty grievances.

As these gripers sputter through their latest rant on the perceived indignity of the day - the vicissitudes of age, poor service, unruly children, rude cellphone users - the rest of us can be content to smile sweetly and listen in silence, letting them register our complaints for us.

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