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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 Young Women Pressured to Be Beautiful 24/7/365?

Boomers aren’t the only age group worrying about their looks. According to Dr. Vivian Diller, Ph.D., in this post, young women are feeling more pressure than ever to look beautiful at all times. She says that Gen X and Y believe “…pampering and primping does not betray their feminine beliefs. They believe it’s their right to do both and in fact, it’s the expectation to do so that is their own struggle…women in their 20s and 30s say that there is no down time when it comes to looking good. They feel compelled to appear fashionable at work, at play, at the gym, even going to bed at night.”

Dr. V goes on to say that young women are feeling a great deal of pressure: “No more sweats and t-shirt to relax in. There’s Victoria’s Secret to wear under the Nike or Adidas workout clothes. Sexy skirts with designer shirts have replaced the practical pants suit for every day work. Even that ‘I don’t care’ fashion while out partying is a carefully put-together look that takes hours to create.”

Have our daughters become entrapped, or is Dr. V mistaken? I started asking. My hairdresser, who is 28, says she personally doesn’t feel that way but all her friends do. A couple of my followup questions:

  • Are your friends single? (I was thinking that this compulsion made more sense if they were looking for a husband.) She said they’re all married.
  • Do their husbands expect it? She said no, but she thought it was partly about competing with their friends and other women their age, generally, and also what they’re “force-fed” in the media.

This is troubling and frankly fascinating to me. I hope it’s not true. What do you think? In the weeks ahead I’m going to be looking for data one way or another. I’ll let you know what I find out. Let’s hope Dr. V is exaggerating.

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  1. nanci

     /  January 28, 2011

    I think this is interesting. I am reading Cleopatra:A Life, a fascinating history of the ruler of Egypt and even in her most powerful days, her appearance was key. I think it’s pervasive through the ages. I work with a number of young women…. how would you like your data collected? I think the answer in Oregon might be different than in CA. It might be worth checking out. Are there certain questions you want asked?

  2. I wasn’t going to be scientific, just looking for a general sense of whether the situation is true for them and why. I’d lead in with a paraphrase from Dr. Diller, e.g. “a recent bestselling psychotherapist thinks that young women are under intense pressure to look good all the time. Is this true for you and if so, where do you think that pressure is coming from?” I’d also, just because I’m curious, ask the young woman what she thinks will happen if she bucks the trend, and also, if she doesn’t feel that way herself, does she see it in other women her age.
    Re the book you’re reading, the whole idea of Cleopatra having power deriving from her beauty (first, and assumedly, from her intelligence second) says something about how women are viewed historically. I wonder, has there been any real change since then?
    If you would like to develop your own brief study and do a guest post as to the results, I’m sure it would be fascinating!! I know how busy you are but I hope you’ll consider it. So many of us Boomers don’t really have access to any sizeable group of younger people, so you could give us the birds-eye view.

  3. This is an important topic, Lynne. And would make for a terrific book. I do think young women (women, in general) are encouraged to focus on external qualities to the exclusion of more important concerns in life. (also left you a comment under Dakota Blues) Some in-depth interviews with young women would be fascinating. Take care! Sending sun from Dakota (I think we have a sliver or 2 today) and P.S. have an artist visiting in sunnyroomstudio @ http://susanhpohlman.wordpress.com/about/

  4. So here is the correct link for sunnyroomstudio @ http://tinyurl.com/6kkqne3 — but you might also enjoy Susan’s blog! So much for accuracy today!

  5. Good luck on the research! I’m at the point of not caring how I look…I’m too busy trying to get published and “make something of myself.” But I’m not young anymore. My mom wasn’t into make-up. I never got into make-up or dressing up. I never feel myself in a dress, but I know a lot of women who put on their “shiny” faces and heels just to go out to dinner and movies with the girls. They act differently, carry themselves differently, and I think it’s so fake. But there is great pressure out there — mainly because of TV shows — just hanging out in the house, female characters on TV are all dolled up.

  6. I don’t feel that pressure anymore at 32, but I have removed myself from friendships/situations that would almost require that of me. I am a laid back sweatpants girl now, though I do like to dress up once in a while, but I do it because it pleases me. 🙂

    • Rebecca, I’m not surprised about you, because you are so mindful. My hair stylist, Casey, is also very wise about what she does and does not value in life, and she doesn’t waste time with BS. Maybe that factor (awareness) makes the difference?

  7. Lynne, I think you’re onto something! Most young women I come into contact with do feel that pressure. I don’t know where it comes from, but I don’t believe it’s “other-sex” driven, having observed many of their significant others who are far from feeling similar pressure! (That’s a nice way of saying the guys look like slobs while their ladies are dressed to the nines!) Me, I’m just glad I work for myself out of my home and can throw on jeans and sneakers any old time I want!!

    • Debbie, if you get a chance to ask one or two of them, try to find out. I think it would be so interesting to know. And if we post the info, maybe younger women can garner strength from our words.

  8. Vonnie Kennedy

     /  January 28, 2011

    Living in S. Florida, I have plenty of opportunity to observe women, young and old, of many cultures, and let me tell you, they dress up. Of course, there’s plenty of designer stores down here so there’s no excuse not to have the latest skinny jeans. Unfortunately, there is a lot of peer pressure for the young women, especially in the urban areas, to be the thinnest and the most fashionable, and heaven forbid if they’re above a size zero! But, I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon. Think back to the Victorian era when they had those waist-cinching corsets?? Poor things.

    • That’s a great point, Vonnie, the Victorian aspect. Also, you make me laugh, because I lived in Palm Desert (by Palm Springs, only more expensive) for seven years, and you practically had to get a facelift before you went to the grocery store. Now I live in blue-collar Hemet, and it is MUCH more relaxing!

  9. Vonnie Kennedy

     /  January 28, 2011

    The great part of SoFlo is having the variety of colors and styles to choose from. I love that part, but the being teeny-tiny with no double chins, I’m too lazy and like to eat and drink too much. LOL!! I have a friend who’s constantly on weight-watchers and she already weighs 50 pounds less than me. But her idea of enjoyment is new appliances and a granite counter top. I don’t have the finances to keep up with the Jones. Talk about pressure!! Hey this could be another blog post! 🙂

  10. Hi Lynne,
    I work with adolescents in a pediatric practice and I also have teen nieces and I have seen both ends of the spectrum ranging from total obsession with hair,makeup,clothes to the sweats and tee shirt. Many teens are so busy with their high-tech lives (fb,texting,etc) they don’t have time to fuss with themselves. I think the 20-somethings feel it more. How sad to have all the focus be on looks. You have raised an important question though and I will be interested in your findings.

  11. Nanci

     /  February 4, 2011

    At lunch the other day I asked 5 young teachers ranging from 23-32 about their need to look good. All of them reported that they did not feel that pressure and hadn’t ever, with one exception. One had attended a private university in town and felt pressure while she was there. One of them loves clothes and loves to dress up, but feels just as comfortable not doing so. We all live in semi rural Oregon and there was a discussion that it would be different if they lived in a city, even Portland with it’s fleece and Birkinstock reputation. There was another teacher, my age, who has a young daughter who lives in LA. She said that her daughter was not a “dresser upper” but that she had been astonished how many of her friends there were anorexic, bullemic and spent more than their salaries buying trendy clothes. Her daughter is just naturally beautiful… and has been dating Billy Idol (May-December for sure!)for some time so she runs with a pretty expensive crowd, I guess. Anyway, everyone thought that the pressure may be geographically induced. Any other research done?

  12. Nanci, I think it IS “geographically induced” or maybe Dr. D was basing her hypothesis on her clientele, which tended toward people who work in the fashion and movie industry. What you said about LA made me sick! Thanks for sharing what you learned – I will when I get the chance and I hope others will, too.


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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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