In spite of lazy editing which allows unnecessary repetitions, this straight talk on old age by an author ""just turned eighty"" falls in a comfortable middle distance between manuals of flip-top inspiration--or militant rallying cries--and the more strenuously cerebral attempts to make sense of it all. Carlson is inclined to lay on hard truths: ""Being old means fighting a whole series of battles on a number of fronts."" And she's not talking about the political campaigns of the Grey Panthers, she's heading into familiar deep waters: the erosion of health and the current dread of a long terminal illness with the spectre of ""homes"" and hospitals; the matter of establishing identity and self-respect in spite of a deteriorating body; the loss of status and the traditional attitudes of society which the elderly person has known about all his life. The crux of Carlson's approach is her insistence that old age is a new stage of life with its own values--values to be discovered or created. Although she discusses specifics of coping and enjoying life (grandparenthood, methods of ""contributing"" even if bedridden, freedom from the rat race and the illusions of youth), she deals also with spiritual growth (there is a forthright section about ""assimilating"" the fact of death). At the root of her charge against the feeling of uselessness are variations on a poet's statement: ""You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here."" Plain speaking for the author's contemporaries who deserve nothing less.