Written by James Allen Sparks and Reviewed by Jan Minardi
The introduction to Jim Sparks' Friendship After Forty says: "This book will probably make you smile and feel uncomfortable at the same time." Sounds like the Jim I worked with at a Presbyterian youth summer camp on Onaway Island one week in 1959 when he was a young pastor on staff and I was a high school senior and camp counselor. His sense of humor and serious focus were still there when we reconnected at Covenant decades later.
Jim's training and experience in the church and at the UW extension as chair of Mental Health Continuing Education are both valuable here. He starts with several scenarios for us to ponder as we read on: As a participant what are your choices, their implications, and their risks? The reader then brings the insight of each chapter's focus to help see how these could develop. Sparks explores different types of friendship and how they develop, such as professional, sentimental, acquaintances, special interests, close living arrangements, need for care and help, shared joys and concerns. He also addresses what barriers can arise in friendship, what holds friendship together, and the role that community can play (like church/synagogue and mutual help groups). Readers are reminded that criticism can be a problem, and listening plays an important role.
Friendship After Forty definitely encourages discussion throughout and closes with suggestions and plans for six sessions for a group study. The final chapter, "Putting Friends First," includes headings that seem to me to be encouragement and marching orders! For example: "Take some positive action today," "Find people with similar interests," "Reach out boldly," and "Don't be put off by failure."