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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

Let’s Pop the Cork on Our 2011 Goals!

Do you ever feel like your days are being nibbled away by chipmunks? My days seem to disappear in hundreds of tiny bites, and in the end what do I have to show for it? House cleaned? Groceries bought? Gym visits, car maintenance, body maintenance? Check, check, check AND —- you’re dead.

My greatest fear is of waking up at the end of my life and suddenly seeing everything clearly, whatever it is. I fear that I will discover I have squandered my precious time. (If you are thinking the antidote is to slow down and be in the moment, let’s talk about that in another post. Soon, Grasshopper. Soon.)

So I decided that at the end of 2011, I’m going to have something to show for it besides a deeper crevasse between my brows. I made up a list of goals, originally called “Things I Need to Do in 2011”, but that was just another to-do list, only on a massive scale.

But one of the cool skills I’ve gained from getting to be this old is the ability to motivate myself, and what always gets me moving is to anticipate the satisfying outcome. Example: No, I don’t especially want to go to my critique group today, but I envision that in six weeks of attending, my manuscript will be done and polished, ready to send out. Next thing you know, I’m fired up and ready to go. So instead of a list of things I wanted to do, I called it my list of things I DREAM of doing in 2011.

Another thing that motivates me is buddies who are churning alongside me, trying to get there, too. When you and I and the rest of our growing community on this blog chatted about “30 Years of Journals” the other day, I felt you wanted to have a place where we could talk about our goals and check in with each other periodically, so I’m volunteering AST. I’ll tell you my goals, you tell me yours, and I’ll run a post at the end of each quarter so we can tell each other how we’re doing. That way, we might actually get closer to or even accomplish some of our dreams. Here goes:

“What I Dream of Accomplishing in 2011”

  • Publish my book, Dakota Blues
  • Outline and finish the first draft of my second book, Stockholm Summer
  • Continue to build this blog so our community of voices grows, and we inspire each other and have fun.
  • Enter writing contests so I can post a few wins by the end of the year.
  • Maintain my Lifetime status with Weight Watchers (last year I reached my goal weight!)

Please add your list and comments, and I’ll compile them and run them in quarterly posts. We can see how we’re all doing and encourage each other, and actually get to our dreams. When we’re very elderly women, we can nudge each other with our bony elbows, smile, and say, “We did it, sister!”And if you feel tired and uninspired, here’s an upbeat article about Boomers who take the “retire” out of “retirement.”

Leave a comment


  1. I’m in! Thanks, Lynne, for this great thought experiment, and congratulations on your successes thus far.
    Aspirations =Accomplishments+Achievements in 2011
    1) Finish Practical New Aging, even if I do have to give up the title.
    2) Be more social, in person and in the online community, with people of like mind and similar age.
    3) Eat more vegetables. Even if it’s more vegetables than cheezy poofs, that’s an accomplishment.
    4) Use my telephone.
    5) Begin to sell more artwork than I give away.
    6) Floss more.

  2. Rae

     /  January 5, 2011

    Count me in also~ I’m loving this blog!
    Interacting with creative and inspiring women is top priority on my list of “people to know in 2011’

    “What I Dream of Accomplishing in 2011”

    1) Become more proactive and less reactive
    2) Become a better listener
    3) Improve accounting skills
    4)Learn something new
    5) Work on peak fitness
    6) Find a new hairstyle for my 50th high school reunion this summer.
    7) Plan special times for family

  3. Lynne, This is brilliant and I am in! It is forcing me to change my nebulous dreams into specific goals for 2011:
    1. Finish the first draft of my memoir
    2. Come up with a title that rings true
    3. Attend two national writing conferences
    4. Increase traffic to my blog,Write On
    5. Build social media skills via Twitter,Yahoo Lifewriters Forum, Facebook
    6. Actively participate in a critique group
    7. Submit to two writing contests
    8. Figure out a way to do all this and still spend quality time with my husband, my children, my grandchildren and my extended family
    9. Make time for my friends
    10. Daily prayer and rosary
    11.Maintain my Weight Watcher’s goal weight
    12. Exercise at least 4 days /week
    13. Gracefully retire from my nursing career
    14. Plant flowers
    15. Have fun doing it all!

    Thanks for the nudge!

  4. Linda, Rae and Kathy, do you have to make interim goals on some of these things to feel you can achieve them? If you’ve got ideas about that, please let me know. Some will take care of themselves (Kathy, I have no doubt you’ll retire gracefully!)

    And Rae, I once had a dream that if it’s true you can groove in a new habit by doing it for 21 (some say 28) days, I could give myself a new skill every month, and what a great year it would be.

    Linda, you crack me up! I love the pic of your Dad’s homemade bread on your blog. And you know that tears carry away bad chemicals. Hang in there, Sis.

  5. Hilarious post, Lynne. Your certainly got my attention with “something to show for it besides a deeper crevasse between my brows.” Lord knows my crevasse is becoming a canyon, so I think I’ll set goals for the first time ever. Here goes:

    1) Really be there for my sister during her breast cancer treatments.
    2) Get my book published (this would have been #1 two days ago, before I learned of my sister’s diagnosis.
    3) Not burst into tears when I take my son to the airport tomorrow for his return trip to graduate school in London.
    4) Gain 5 pounds and not give a fig. (That one is to lighten the heavy load, but I’m 55 and tired of not enjoying the foods that I love.)

    Thanks for the inspiration to set a few goals. It definitely feels different to write them down.

    • Hey, Darrelyn, tell your sis we’re all praying for her and sending her hugs. And your boy will be fine, but burst away. It’s good for the kids to see how much we love ’em. Best wishes!

  6. Vonnie Kennedy

     /  January 6, 2011

    Hey Lynne,
    Gotta think on this because I swore I wasn’t going to do resolutions this year. But, goals is a better word, I’ll get back to you over the weekend…

    • Yeah, Vonnie, don’t do resolutions. Just list whatever you think would let you look back in Dec. 2011 and think, wow, I kicked butt!

  7. My friend Tricia Manara said this:
    *Loose that last 20 lbs
    *Be more relaxed and enjoy the journey
    *Say Hi to everyone I meet on the street (I walk a lot here in Pasadena) sometimes that is the only human contact people have and that is sad.
    *Oh yes, make a little more money in this Real Estate business that I love.
    *Keep in touch more often with my treasured friends, I am so remiss in this area.

  8. My friend Danica Davidson swears she is going to sell lots of copies of her book in 2011. You can read her very first interview with Chuck Sambuchino here: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/7+Things+Ive+Learned+So+Far+By+Danica+Davidson.aspx

  9. Hi Lynne,

    I have stumbled upon you twice now and think you would be a good person to feature on my site about embracing aging, instead of dreading it. Let me know if you would be interested. Sorry to contact you through the comment section but I couldn’t seem to find your email address.

    Happy New Year,

  10. Lynne,
    About those interim goals-Yes some of mine are pretty lofty and general( i.e. finish the first draft of my memoir- that could take years!) I’m open to your ideas for sure

  1. Winter Dreams « Write On…
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  3. Monthly Goals Check-In | Any Shiny Thing

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    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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Still the Lucky Few

Reflections on Life as a Senior

Writing Contemplative life Essays

Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

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David Kanigan


Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

Writing Out Loud

A Place of Observation

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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