As you surely have noticed, book review editors frequently make mistakes when they assign books for review. Think of all those stories you hear about how Y got to review X's book when X was the person who ran off with Y's wife. So it shouldn't surprise you that I, a mere girl of 42, was assigned this appealing little book, which happens to be subtitled on the dust jacket "The Panic (and Pleasures) of Middle Age" -- an appalling mismatch.

A reviewer of the appropriate age would have been far better able than I to discuss Joan Scobey's work, mentioning the relevance, perhaps, of her thoughtful observations about memory loss. I myself have few problems in this area. So long as I start writing a book review within 45 minutes after finishing the book, I have absolutely no need to reread it.

An appropriately aged reviewer could explain with more feeling than I the deep truths contained in Scobey's description of what it is like to bid farewell to an offspring whom you have just trucked up to college, and who, as you "turn toward him for the Real Good-bye is nervously eyeing not you but his new roommate and clearly wishing for your immediate departure." Only because I was a child bride do I happen to have a son whom I trucked up to college last year, which enables me to identify, if only marginally, with Scobey's winning description of the empty nest syndrome.

A reviewer of the proper age could do a much better job of conveying how bracing is Scobey's handling of subjects including aging parents, midlife career changes and the breakdown of the physical plant, subjects a girl such as myself can only imagine. The best I can do is to commend the author for her avoidance of psychobabble throughout her book and her adherence to common sense.

Fortunately, a great many of the qualities that make "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" a candidate for becoming the Dr. Spock of the Depression Generation can be appreciated by young pre-Pearl Harbor persons. Rather than waxing mawkish about the pleasures of middle age as some self-styled gurus of the genre do (so what if your husband drops dead when he's 50; think how nifty it will be eating crackers in bed while you watch the late show), Scobey points out the pleasures calmly and preaches, if she preaches at all, a wryly educated acceptance of the changes that produce the panics.

If her optimism seems at times removed from reality (almost all of the people about whom she writes have engaging jobs and are still on their first marriages), perhaps optimism is the only way to stave off the acute depression that hits certain persons the minute they discover there is a shampoo expressly formulated for women over 40.

Scobey's relaxed attitude is nicely served by her casual but never sloppy prose, laced with a pleasant amount of humor. She is particularly amusing on the subject of what it is that makes people realize they're actually middle-aged. Usually it's something quite small, say something on the order of being asked to review a book on the subject of middle age.

Interestingly, many people never reach that point at all, thinking of themselves despite what the calendar says as truly much younger. This form of self-deception is a subject I may treat in my next review, a reassessment of Nancy Drew and "The Secret of the Hidden Staircase."