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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

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  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Are Boomers Wise or Just Smug?

I think we Boomers sometimes use our age and our self-perceived wisdom as an excuse for not learning anymore. It feels safer to tell yourself you have all the answers, and the only way to find out otherwise is to ask, engage, and learn, which can be risky. However, I’ve found a cover story, an alter ego. A fake ID to use in such a pursuit.

I think of myself as a cultural anthropologist. I got the idea from my 85-yr-old mom, who freely plays the “old person card.” If somebody’s trying to rip her off, she’ll complain, saying, “You think just because I’m old you can take advantage of me.” (She’s a feisty 4’11” and nothing gets past her.)

So, in pursuit of current cultural awareness, I’m starting to play the older-person card. I’ll sidle up to young people, and ask questions. I was at LA Fitness the other day and really liked a song that was playing over the sound system. I asked these two boys, maybe 18? 20? who it was. You could tell they were thinkin’, “Granny wants to rock!” But then they got into the spirit, answered my question, and yakked with me a minute. Nothing bad happened.

I used to help out at an elementary school. At breaktime I sat with the young women teachers. Talk always turned to family. To excuse my prying, I’d play the old lady card: “Are husbands still like that? Are you ladies still doing most of the housework?” Oh, boy, that was a hot button. Let’s just say, very little changes. But they were eager to fill me in. I’m just curious, and people seem to like that.

Here’s another example: have you noticed that when you thank a younger person, they’re likely to respond, “No problem”? It bugged me when it happened at a store when a youngish cashier handed back my change. I felt like saying, right, it shouldn’t be a problem, because it’s your job. But when I opened my mind and asked my Gen-Y friend about it, she said that it’s a way of shrugging off the appreciation, because the young person feels it was nothing. As in “de nada” in Spanish. For nothing. No problem.

I felt kind of stupid. Peevish, even.

So be brave, Boomers. Get out there and ask. You might learn something.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks for sharing these insights, Lynne. Things to roll around in my mind rather than taking my first thoughts and letting my ego run with it. I have been annoyed by that “no problem” thing, too. Wow – the difference in culture and language ——right next to me 🙂

  2. That’s the head-slapper, Arlene, that the culture HAS changed but not all bad as we Boomers sometimes tend to assume. And the way to engage is to ask; the way to ask with confidence is to play anthropologist. It’s very cool because in my experience it makes me feel part of things again, and the kids appreciate the respect of being asked. WIN/WIN!

  3. I use the “short woman” card. I’m 5’1 and can never get anything off the high aisles. I struggle for a bit because I’m quite proud, and then I ask someone taller to help, men and women both. I also use the “I don’t bake” card, which I don’t unless it’s really easy — everything is pre-packaged for me. “Excuse me, is there a purple icing out there, or is my kid’s teacher trying to trick me into coloring this crap myself?” Women Bakers love helping me out at the supermarket.

    Really funny voice you got there. Love the smug shot, too.

  4. A cultural anthropologist, huh? What a clever idea for connecting, engaging, and learning, Lynne! And you’re absolutely right — we never stop learning (or at least we shouldn’t) until we’re dead. This sounds like just the right “excuse” to satisfy our natural curiosity — good for you!

  5. Vonnie Kennedy

     /  November 16, 2010

    I find younger people surprisingly accessible at times. All they want is a little respect so asking them questions makes them feel good. One of my pet peeves since I’ve gotten “older” is having a waitress or clerk call me sweetie. It doesn’t matter how old she is, it just feel condescending to me.

    BTW, you couldn’t have chosen a better smug face, in my opinion. ; )

  6. Nanci

     /  November 16, 2010

    I have a really cool Aunt Betty, who I want to be like when I grow up. She is in her eighties and she saw a young woman with many tatoos. She siddled up to her and asked if she could question the young woman about her tats. Somewhat defensively, the woman agreed. Aunt Betty asked her which was her first tat and which were her favorites…. she made a friend that day and raised the respect level older adults….

  7. Exactly! I want to be like Aunt Betty, too. I’ll bet she and Mom would get along famously.

  8. sophielumen

     /  November 17, 2010

    “Oh snap!”, said the young woman behind me in line at the Post Office. I had heard it before, but this time I played Granny/cultural anthropologist and asked her what it meant.
    Apparently it’s sort of a zen-ish ‘oh darn, yeah right’ statement.
    Oh. Snap.
    I’ll get it right. Maybe.
    Thanks for the post Lynne!

    • Thanks for that, Sophie. I always wondered what that meant. Next time you want to comment you won’t have to go thru any approval process, so I hope you’ll stop by again. PS loved your women dancing video. I did a tiny post with it here.

  9. Annah

     /  November 18, 2010

    The use of “no problem” as “you’re welcome” has always struck me the same way it struck you: “Who suggested it was a problem! It’s your job!” I wouldn’t want anyone in my employ to answer my customers with that particular line, no matter how well-intentioned they were. But when I naively posed a “Does this bother anyone else?” question about it on a (rather volatile) message board I frequented, I was practically tarred and feathered. So I learned two things: One, it sounds worse to me than it does to many others. Two, it is possible to keep a New Year’s resolution; I decided to break my addiction to that message board and not so much as peek in at it for an entire year, and so far I’ve done it.

    • Yikes! I hate that about the Internet – that people can be so volatile, protected as they are by virtual anonymity. Glad to have you here, though. My commenters are always sisterly! And I hope you’ll stop by again. Any future comments you make will go online immediately.

  10. Rae

     /  December 11, 2010

    I cannot remember how I found this sight BUT I am so happy that I did!! I am still “catching up!” but I wonder if there has ever been a topic about a particular woman that we have admired and why.

  11. Rae, what a fantastic idea!! Thank you. I am going to do that. We’ll all feel better for it. Is there anybody who springs to your mind?

  12. rae325

     /  December 11, 2010

    YES! there are many, but “Glad” comes to my mind.

    I took a class in reiki at a local community college. At the time, I owned a skin care salon and wanted to offer something more than just facials/massage, etc.

    As I entered the class, I perused the room to find mostly YOUNG nursing students, a 30 something, sophisticated looking blonde and a large, white haired lady who seemed out of place in the “mix”.

    Gladys, a lady in her LATE 70’s, introduced herself and said “Call me Glad”…she went on to tell me that most of her lady friends who spent their afternoons playing cards, did not understand her interest in reiki OR any of the many “adventures” she felt the need to experience!

    She owned a large home, took care of her ailing husband and at the same time, enjoyed weekends filled with kids and grandkids!

    When I put it all into perspective, I felt guilty! I had immediately judged this woman who I didn’t know, basically “wrote her off” as someone who wasn’t capable, SIMPLY because of her age!! EEK!!!

    Five years later, I am still in contact with her, not only listening to her about her many new accomplishments, but the fact that she went on to take advanced classes in reiki and has passed those benefits on to her husband and lady friends, facilitating balance and pain management in their lives.

    • Rae, I meet into so many women who are like Glad, quietly living heroic lives, and I think people would love to read about them. I’m going to run with your idea. You’ve done a nice thing today, Sis. Thanks.


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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • my read shelf:
    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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