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Best Books, Podcasts & Apps for Seniors 2020

Update for 2021: Best Books, Podcasts & Apps for Seniors

In 2020, we asked our community at The Senior List for recommendations of books, podcasts, and apps to read. During the chaotic time of COVID-19, we wanted to give everyone opportunities to escape, reflect, learn, or simply enjoy. The project was fun and went really well, so we’ve updated our suggestions for 2021. (Unfortunately, COVID-19 remains a major issue as we write this!)

These suggestions come from our community and editorial team. We assume you’ve already read the literary classics that interest you, and you can read, listen, or otherwise consume all of our recommendations in a variety of ways. For instance, nothing beats holding a book in your hand, except maybe accessing dozens of books on a Kindle.

Best Books for Seniors 2021 Community Picks

Here are some of our favorite suggestions, lightly edited for clarity.

The Princess Spy

The Princess Spy takes readers to World War II Spain, where Aline Griffith, the future Countess of Romanones, works as a spy for the United States. She operates amid glamour and galas, but make no mistake, her work is the real thing and can be deadly.

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Author: Larry Loftis
  • Suggested By: Kelly

The Liar’s Dictionary

If you love wordplay and whimsy, give The Liar’s Dictionary a whirl. Set in London, it presents two timelines about a century apart. In the 19th century, Peter Winceworth goes overboard as he helps build a dictionary with traps for potential plagiarists. In the 21st century, an intern named Mallory must find all the false-word traps Peter set.

  • Genre: Absurdist Fiction
  • Author: Eley Williams
  • Suggested By: Kelly

Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark is a heck of a ride: twisty, suspenseful, frightening. Maggie Holt inherits Baneberry Hall, the house that her father’s bestselling memoir made famous. She has never really believed what he wrote about it being haunted, but things change.

  • Genre: Ghost Suspense
  • Author: Riley Sager
  • Suggested By: Kelly

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Winner of the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine tells the story of a social misfit who is content (or so she thinks) in her routine until she’s forced to reject her life of isolation.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Author: Gail Honeyman
  • Suggested By: Susan

A Gentleman in Moscow

The second novel from former investment banker Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Russian aristocrat Alexander Rostov, sentenced to live out the rest of his life on house arrest in a luxury hotel.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Author: Amor Towles
  • Suggested By: Susan and Barbara

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and Murder of a President

The 2012 Edgar Award winner for true crime, Destiny of the Republic covers the extraordinary life and partially botched assassination of America’s 20th president, James A. Garfield.

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Author: Candice Millard
  • Suggested By: Susan

The Overstory

The Overstory won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is an ode to the natural world in which the trees dotting the landscape are the true heroes in the stories of nine people whose life experiences call them to the cause of environmental activism.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Author: Richard Powers
  • Suggested By: Barbara

Unsolved

A long-awaited follow-up to blockbuster bestseller Invisible, Unsolved follows FBI analyst Emmy Dockery’s relentless effort to solve a string of seemingly unconnected deaths.

  • Genre: Mystery/thriller
  • Author: David Ellis and James Patterson
  • Suggested By: Pereta

The Sun Down Motel

An atmospheric suspense story, The Sun Down Motel dials up the creepy factor as a young woman attempts to uncover the secrets lingering in a rundown roadside motel.

  • Genre: Mystery/thriller
  • Author: Simone St. James
  • Suggested By: Susan

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Horror

The Stupidest Angel is the darkly funny story of an angel (Raziel) whose disastrous attempt to bring back to life a murder victim dressed as Santa plunges a town directly into a zombie crisis.

  • Genre: Fantasy/humor
  • Author: Christopher Moore
  • Suggested By: Thais

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series)

Starting with 2005’s Still Life, mystery author Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is scheduled to get its 17th installment in 2020, and Penny’s series has garnered her many honors in the mystery genre.

  • Genre: Mystery
  • Author: Louise Penny
  • Suggested By: Anita

Outlander Series

Inspiration for the popular TV show by the same name, the Outlander series began in 1991 with Outlander, and author Diana Gabaldon has now finished eight in her planned 10-part series. Outlander’s central figure, Claire Randall, is a time-traveling English nurse who discovers adventure and romance in the 18th century Scottish Highlands.

  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Author: Diana Gabaldon
  • Suggested By: Liz

Smoke Screen

A novel by acclaimed Christian suspense author Terri Blackstock, Smoke Screen tells the story of decades of fallout from a fateful incident that killed one man and put another in prison.

  • Genre: Christian suspense
  • Author: Terri Blackstock
  • Suggested By: Wesley

The Boy From the Woods

American suspense master Harlan Coben’s newest work, The Boy From the Woods, focuses on a mysterious man, Wilde, whose bizarre past could be the key to finding a missing girl before tragedy strikes.

  • Genre: Thriller
  • Author: Harlan Coben
  • Suggested By: Amy

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Ideal for Stephen King fans, The Bazaar of Bad Dream is a collection of 20 short stories by the beloved horror master.

  • Genre: Horror
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Suggested By: Michael

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing is the most popular print book of 2019, selling more copies than any other fiction or nonfiction title, and the story tracks along two timelines that slowly begin to intertwine over the course of the heartbreaking story.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Author: Delia Owens
  • Suggested By: Barbara and Wilnovie

Anna Pigeon Series

Now numbering 19, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series follows an intrepid park ranger as she solves murders across the vast network of U.S. national parks. Boar Island, published in 2018, is the most recent installment, set in Maine’s Acadia National Park.

  • Genre: Mystery
  • Author: Nevada Barr
  • Suggested By: Kathy
Best Books for Seniors 2021 Editor’s Picks

We’re assuming you’ve already read some of the best-loved books in literary history, so we’re going to focus on the best biographies, novels, self-help and more that’s come out in about the past 25 years, and we’ll tell you a bit about the book, including its author and genre. Also, each of these is available in hard copy as well as audio and Kindle or other e-reader versions.

Dancing Man

Who doesn’t love fun with generous servings of gossip? In Dancing Man, former Broadway chorus member Bob Avian dishes about his experiences with Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) and Mary Martin (Hello Dolly!). He gives a wealth of insight into hugely successful musicals as well as those that bombed.

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Author: Bob Avian with Tom Santopietro

Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers isn’t your typical coming-of-age tale. For one thing, it includes an ancient, alchemical potion made from stolen gold. Neil Narayan is a second-generation Asian-American teenager who has his sights set on neighbor Anita Dayal (the beneficiary of the aforementioned gold).

  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Author: Sanjena Sathian

Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic is the story of the people and secrets inhabiting High Place, a faraway house in the Mexican countryside. Noemí Taboada heads there after getting a worrying letter from her cousin, a resident of the house. There’s a lot happening, for sure. (Hulu is developing a limited series based on this book.)

  • Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy, Gothic Fiction
  • Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A Man Called Ove

Originally a Swedish work that’s been translated into English, A Man Called Ove is the bittersweet story of a curmudgeon who finds his life turned upside-down when a gregarious family moves in next door.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Author: Frederik Backman

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House

A far cry from an installment of Good Housekeeping magazine, Home Comforts is a lengthy (very lengthy at 884 pages) recitation of what amounts to the collective societal wisdom on all things related to keeping a home, lighting design, folding clothes, throwing away garbage, tuning a piano and basically anything else you could imagine.

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Author: Cheryl Mendelson

Florence Gordon

A former NPR book of the year, Florence Gordon tells the story of a 75-year-old self-described “difficult woman” who at the start of the novel is a former literary star who is now setting about to pen her memoir, which becomes a surprise hit. It’s not exactly equal parts biting and sweet, but the novel’s realism will likely ring true with many women who lived through the ’60s and ’70s.

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Author: Brian Morton

Rules for Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life

Prize-winning essayist Roger Rosenblatt pens these 54 pieces of advice for aging well, from avoiding the use of wit (which the author himself admits to breaking in the very title of his book) to understanding what really matters (nothing?).

  • Genre: Essay
  • Author: Roger Rosenblatt

Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam

Subtitled “The General Who Lost Vietnam,” Westmoreland is an unflinching portrayal of a career soldier whose cascade of bad decisions proved disastrous as he led the U.S. war effort in Vietnam for four years.

  • Genre: Biography
  • Author: Lewis Sorley

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series

Named for the first in its 20 installments, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series is one of the most acclaimed modern crime series, focusing on Mma Precious Ramotswe, a Botswanan private detective.

  • Genre: Mystery
  • Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Being Mortal

Atul Gawande is an American surgeon, and his 2014 book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, addresses the limitations of medical science as it relates to hospice and end-of-life care.

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Author: Atul Gawande

American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center

Written after the author had nine months of unfettered access to every aspect of planning and executing the cleanup of the site of the former World Trade Center, American Ground tells in painstaking detail the story of repairing not only the site of the attack but the American psyche following 9/11.

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Author: William Langewiesche

The Loyal League Series

With three installments so far, the Loyal League series is a historic romance series set during the U.S. Civil War, each one telling a different story of love and loss during the bloody battle.

  • Genre: Romance
  • Author: Alyssa Cole

Alexander Hamilton

The inspiration for the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton goes beyond the political philosophy to bring to life the flawed but persistent individual who founded America’s banking system.

  • Genre: Biography
  • Author: Ron Chernow
Best Podcasts for Seniors 2021 Community Picks

Podcasts, basically radio shows that play on your phone, are the perfect way to learn more about the things that interest you or to participate in your hobbies. For whatever interest you have, chances are several podcast options exist. iPhone users can tap the native podcast app on their device and browse through different options, while Android users need to go through Google Play Music.

Here are some of our favorite suggestions, lightly edited for clarity.

Office Ladies

Fans of The Office must check out the Office Ladies podcast. It’s an Office rewatch podcast hosted by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. They break down an episode each week and give behind-the-scenes info.

  • Genre: Rewatch

Girl Talk: Women, Aging, and Sexuality

Women over 50 have needs, too! In this podcast, host Marcia Meier and her guests explore topics such as the male-female orgasm gap, sexual expression, surviving cancer, and much more. These 12 episodes were released in 2018 and 2019 and still pack a punch today. Suggested by Kelly.

  • Genre: Health and Fitness

Criminal

Host Phoebe Judge talks true crime without wading into blood and gore. Look for new episodes twice a month, and there is five years’ worth of content to catch up on. In the episode released Aug. 27, 2021, the podcast discusses Beatles-era DJs who sailed past UK territorial limits to set up pirate radio stations. They did this to get around BBC control of the airwaves. (Also, give Judge’s other podcast, This Is Love, a try! She discusses how obsessions, relationships, and romance drive people.) Suggested by Kelly.

  • Genre: True Crime

CraftLit

From community member Thais: “The host was a teacher and it shows. She has readers for books in the public domain and she fills us in on info that we might otherwise not know, like old phrases. At the beginning of each episode is ‘crafty talk,’ like knitting, but she’ll give the time so you can skip straight to the book if you wish.”

  • Genre: Literature

The Daily

The Daily is hosted by New York Times political reporter Michael Barbaro, who interviews his colleagues about the news of the day, including their original reporting. Suggested by Liz.

  • Genre: News

Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is the first podcast to be produced entirely in a prison, featuring interviews with inmates about their experiences inside San Quentin State Prison in California. Suggested by Liz.

  • Genre: Nonfiction

The Indicator

Produced by the team from Planet Money, one of our editor’s picks for best podcasts, The Indicator is billed as, “A little show about big ideas,” with topics designed to help listeners make sense of what’s going on in the economy today. Suggested by Roderick.

  • Genre: Finance

Mobituaries

Hosted by author and former “Daily Show” correspondent Mo Rocca, Mobituaries introduces the audience to lives worth reliving. Suggested by Laurie and Ken.

  • Genre: History

Let’s Argue About Plants

From the editors of Fine Gardening magazine, Let’s Argue About Plants tackles a variety of topics in gardening, often including interviews with horticultural experts. Suggested by Amy.

  • Genre: Gardening

To the Point

Hosted by Warren Olney, To the Point is a KCRW podcast about the issues impacting our world today from Olney’s edgy perspective. Suggested by Roderick.

  • Genre: News

The Way I Heard It

Host Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame tackles a new story every week, providing his unique spin on people and events throughout history. Suggested by Dwight.

  • Genre: History

Tiny Desk Concerts

The audio version of NPR’s popular Tiny Desk Concerts video series, the podcast features a new performance each week by some of the most popular musicians from today and the past. Recent concerts have featured The Black Crowes and Harry Styles. Suggested by Dwight.

  • Genre: Music
Best Podcasts for Seniors 2021 Editor’s Picks

Welcome to Your Fantasy

Historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is at the forefront of this podcast that explores the dark sides of Chippendales. Yes, the Chippendales you’re thinking of! There’s even murder involved.

  • Genre: True Crime

Aack Cast

Any fan of newspaper comics probably remembers the comic strip Cathy. By many accounts, it did not age well. Enter Jamie Loftus. In this entertaining podcast, she lends nuanced insights into the comic strip.

  • Genre: Society and Culture

Decoder Ring

Cultural mysteries abound. For instance, where do artists who are good but not great go, and what happened to the Segway? This podcast by Willa Paskin explores these issues and many more.

  • Genre: Society and Culture

Planet Money

Produced by NPR, Planet Money is a short but popular podcast that deals with money, finances and other matters related to the value of goods and services. Don’t let that dry description fool you, though, as one episode involved reporters taste-testing cheap vs. expensive vodka.

  • Genre: Finance

The Mike Lupica Podcast

Hosted by longtime newspaper columnist Mike Lupica, this podcast features Lupica’s takes on the sports topics that interest him, as well as interviews with athletes and other newsmakers in the world of sports.

  • Genre: Sports

The Allusionist: Small Adventures in Language

Ideal for the former English teachers among us, The Allusionist podcast helps trace the origin and development of various words and phrases and other topics related to language.

  • Genre: Education

Serial

In a crowded genre, Serial’s first season still stands out. From NPR, Serial is a three-season anthology podcast that dives deep into a single story for a full-season run, and the first season helped open the floodgates of podcasting as well as true crime coming into the mainstream.

  • Genre: True crime

You Must Remember This

Each episode of You Must Remember This delves into a different juicy story (or rumor) from Hollywood history, ranging from the Manson family murders to how Jane Fonda was branded “Hanoi Jane.”

  • Genre: Entertainment

Conspiracy Theories

We’ve slotted this into this history genre, but many of the stories this podcast deals with are maybe not true at all. Conspiracy Theories attempts to sort fact from fiction with some of the most popular conspiracy theories, from flat earth theory to the notion that William Shakespeare was more than one person.

  • Genre: History

This American Life

Hosted by NPR’s Ira Glass, This American Life remains one of the most popular podcasts (and radio shows), highlighting a new, unique story every week.

  • Genre: Human interest

West Wing Weekly

Though the podcast wrapped up its several-season run in 2020, fans of the NBC show “The West Wing” should not miss the West Wing Weekly podcast, which was hosted by Joshua Malina, an actor on the show, and Hrishikesh Hirway, a longtime fan of the show. Episodes often feature interviews with “West Wing” actors like Martin Sheen and Allison Janney.

  • Genre: TV

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Though it has a self-explanatory title, Stuff You Missed in History Class dives deep into the overlooked bits of important historical events, including topics you likely never even knew were topics to begin with.

  • Genre: History

Science Friday

Another NPR production, Science Friday (SciFri, for those in the know) is a weekly news podcast all about new discoveries or burning questions in science and technology.

  • Genre: Education
Best Apps for Seniors 2021 Editor’s Picks

Must-have apps for seniors range in what they’re designed to do, but we assume that your phone already has the basics such as email and Facebook. For each of the best apps for seniors, we’ll tell you what it does, how much it costs, and what you need to enjoy it.

Snapfish

It’s fun to take photos with phone cameras. What’s trickier is printing your pictures. Fortunately, Snapfish makes it easy to create photo books and prints. Just pick your favorite photos, and Snapfish takes care of the rest.

  • Cost: Free with some costs for shipping, photo books, etc.
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Type: Photography

Bitwarden

Remembering passwords is a pain. A huge, real pain that Bitwarden eases. It’s a password manager with an excellent free version you can use across unlimited devices. It’s user-friendly, too, and includes Bitwarden Send. That enables you to securely share login information with someone else.

With a premium subscription, you gain multifactor authentication, encrypted storage, and even more abilities to share passwords, logins, and other sensitive info with friends and family.

  • Cost: Free version with subscription tiers for more features
  • Where: Works with Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iPhone, and iPad. Browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, Brave and Tor
  • Type: Productivity

Google Maps (Parking Locations)

Few people know about all the features available in Google Maps. For instance, you can save your parking location so it’s easy to find later. After you park, just tap the blue dot that shows where you are and choose, “Set as parking location,” or, “Save your parking.” You can even share the parking location with other people.

  • Cost: Free
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Type: Places, Navigation, and Traffic

AARP Now

AARP’s mobile app allows users to access many of the features of membership in the organization, including exploring nearby events, accessing membership rewards and browsing available discounts for members.

  • Cost: Free but some features may require annual AARP membership ($16 per year)
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Type: Lifestyle

Words With Friends 2

One of the most popular mobile phone games in history, Words With Friends 2 is essentially Scrabble in a phone. Play games with your real-life friends and family or get paired randomly with players from around the world. Do tread cautiously with people you don’t know who want to chat. Scammers abound in this game.

  • Cost: Free ad-free version and in-app purchases available
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Type: Game

Magnifying Glass With Light

Several similar apps are out there, but this simply titled one, Magnifying Glass With Light, is brought to you by Falcon In Motion, and it allows you to use your phone’s camera to enlarge and brighten small text.

  • Cost: Free
  • Where: iPhone and iPad
  • Type: Utility

DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, Uber EATS




Which app you use depends on what’s available where you live. The rise of delivery services means if you’re looking for a restaurant meal, you don’t necessarily need to leave the house.

We recommend downloading several meal delivery apps to maximize the number of restaurants you can order from. Plus, some restaurants may have exclusive deals with only one of the apps.

Each app functions in the same basic way: You sign up with your email address and enter your credit card information, along with your address. The apps then let you see which restaurants are options and lets you build your order in the app, including customizing your food as you desire. All payments and tipping are handled in the app.

  • Cost: Free
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Type: Food Delivery

CaringBridge

An ideal way to keep loved ones informed about your health status without posting all over social media, CaringBridge lets you share news and updates to your CaringBridge network. The folks in the network can then share messages of strength and support. You can access your CaringBridge site from a computer, if you find that’s a better way to share your journey.

  • Cost: Free
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Type: Health

Instant Heart Rate

A simple heart rate monitor, Instant Heart Rate checks your pulse by having you place your finger over your phone’s camera. A series of beeps lets you know when the reading has been completed. The app is free to download, but some of the more robust features, such as tracking your heart rate, can only be done with a purchase.

  • Cost: Free
  • Where: iPhone, iPad and Android
  • Type: Health

Calm

Though it’s one that really becomes useful once you buy a subscription, the Calm app can still help you reduce stress if you only use the free version. Just 10 minutes of guided meditation per day can help you become, well, more calm. For people with sleeping or anxiety issues, paid versions of Calm might be quite helpful.

  • Cost: Free subscriptions start around $15 per month
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android
  • Type: Wellness

MyRadar

Your phone probably comes stocked with a weather app, and depending on where you live, that could be all you need. But for people who live in more storm- or weather-prone areas, seeing exactly what’s happening above can be helpful. MyRadar is the best weather radar app out there, using your location to show you the satellite weather picture in the recent past, present, and near future. The app also works with Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker, and it can be downloaded to Windows computers and devices.

  • Cost: Free
  • Where: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android, Windows
  • Type: Weather

Pillboxie

A medication reminder app, Pillboxie was developed by a registered nurse. It reminds users when to take their pills and offers a unique interface designed to verify that a pill has been taken. The user simply inputs their medications, dosage, and dose times (and some other helpful info). When it’s time for medication, the app alerts the user even if the device is asleep or not connected to a network. There is a cost for the app, but it’s a low, one-time fee, and the highly interactive nature of the app may help some people ensure medication compliance.

  • Cost: $1.99
  • Where: iPhone and iPad
  • Type: Medication

Lumosity

An app that uses brain science to devise clever tasks that feel like games, Lumosity’s full potential is unlocked with a subscription service. Even the free daily exercises can help challenge and engage your mind in a variety of ways. Setup is easy; just download and subscribe with your email address or login through Facebook. If you choose a subscription, you’ll need your credit card or bank card information. The app guides you through each game or activity with clear on-screen instructions.

  • Cost: Free subscriptions start at about $12 per month
  • Where: iPhone, iPad and Android
  • Type: Game

Conclusion

We hope these apps, books, and podcasts help keep you entertained and informed as you enjoy your retirement years. What are some of your hidden gems? Let us know!