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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.

    View all my reviews

  • 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

Life Rules

Older peeps sometimes think they’re starting to figure out this thing called LIFE, and then they’re tempted to make lists of the things that work. Our rules help us feel more secure, as if the world has a bit of logic to it after all.

My former boss and mentor once told me he had developed a list of rules or guidelines he found useful throughout his life. At the time I thought it was amusing. Old people did stuff like that (he was maybe 45?) However, now that I’m older, I would love to see it. Recently I asked him if I could please get a copy, but he professed he never constructed such a list (see Rule #5, below.)

My husband invented the “90/10” rule. After thirty years of selling cars for a living, he’s studied every kind of human behavior. He says people tend to over-buy for emotional reasons, but if they knew what they needed their vehicle to do 90% of the time, they’d be happy and save a lot of money. Maybe you don’t need 4-wheel drive if you only go on an occasional picnic in the hills.

90/10 means Mom needs to live where she can have a lot of friends, because she is a social butterfly, as opposed to immediate proximity to her doctor, who she doesn’t see that often. 90/10 means it’s a good day if I accomplished 90% of my to-do list. 90/10 means we should spend more money on education than prisons.

I’m not the only one who thinks about life rules. Gail Brenner, a middle-aged psychologist, blogs about it. So do Marc and Angel, a smart young couple who are eager to share their view of the world.

Here are some of my life lessons or rules. I hope you’ll contribute yours:

  1. Ask. Listen.
  2. Don’t make eye contact with maniacs. They’re looking for somebody to torture, and it doesn’t have to be you.
  3. Before you blow your top, consider the price you’ll have to pay later, because there is always a price.
  4. She who cares the most, loses. Sick but true.
  5. Cool politeness is a useful form of cruelty.

Do you have rules for living?

Kindle readers can email me at LMSpreen@Yahoo.com.

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  1. I’ve always found the Golden Rule to be the supreme goal — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Besides that, I’ve learned:
    1) Don’t be a follower; be a leader.
    2) Wherever your passion lies, there will be your success.
    3) People enter your life for a reason or a season.
    4) There’s no better medicine than a dog.
    5) Exercise, eat healthy, and stay away from doctors’ offices.
    6) Don’t air your dirty laundry.
    7) Put God first, family second, and everything else in line behind.
    8) Children are your chance to “get right” what your parents did wrong with you.
    9) If you knew you only had 24 hours to live, would you spend it doing what you’re doing right now?
    10) Love. Love deeply, unreservedly, fully.
    There’s more, but I’ll let others weigh in!

  2. Kathy

     /  April 16, 2011

    All good lessons to follow, although I may not put them in the same order. One of my toughest rules is, forgive myself when I can’t practice what I preach. Recently, I opened a Chinese fortune cookie and it read, “He that gives should not remember, he that receives should never forget.”

    Have a great day, Lynne!

    • Kathy, I love the fortune cookie message. And it’s so much fun when you get one that seems to speak to your own situation at the moment. When you open your particular cookie, do you ever think of how it happened to come to you? As in, how did it happen that you reached for that one, or were handed that one. Fate or coincidence?
      Good to hear from you.

  3. nanci

     /  April 16, 2011

    Lynne, What an interesting post from you. I am surprised by your rules, not because they are strange or bad, but because they just don’t sound like the you that I have known.
    I have one rule that I try to live by. It is that everything is the way it’s meant to be. I may not like what it is, but it is my job to discover, learn and make the best of it.
    I am not always so good at remembering this, but it helps me to stay in the present.

    • Nanci, so good to hear from you! I have a version of your one rule: it’s what is. Not necessarily that it’s meant to be, because that implies (to me) some plan or cosmic/divine intent, but rather that things just are what they are. How we deal with that is a measure of our wisdom.
      Re the me that you have known, I may be more jaded than the girl you knew back in our Jurupa Unified days. I’m more squinty-eyed (self-protective) for better or worse. Is that what came through? Or I might sound fearful, but I’m more respectful of mortality now. Lastly, I now suspect the existence of, and protect myself from, a strata of humankind to which one might ascribe the label “subspecies.” Or maybe I’ve missed your intent completely!
      Good coffee this morning.

  4. Sheila

     /  April 16, 2011

    Perfectionism is a killer.

    • Bam, you hit it on the head, Sheila. That wise mentor/boss I mentioned above? He once told me “perfectionists fear criticism.” Up to that point I, like most other humanoids, had bragged about being a perfectionist. After that I tried to leave typos and scratch-outs in my memos to him, to show that I did NOT fear criticism!

  5. Oh Lynne, you’ve got me thinking again!! This is a great discussion.Where do I start?
    1. Trust in God with all your heart
    2. Gratitude is essential to peace of mind
    3. Find ways to forgive even if you cannot forget
    4. If you have your health, you have everything
    5. Make a positive difference in all you do.
    6. Follow your dreams
    7 Take responsibility for your life and happiness
    8. Attitude matters- we’re all about as happy as we make our minds up to be
    9. Sometimes we have to” fake it till we make it”
    10. Respect for self and others
    That’s my 2-cents 🙂

    • Kathy, that’s worth at least fifteen bucks! I believe in so many of your rules, but #9 has been especially effective in giving me some control over my world. Thanks for weighing in!

  6. Vonnie

     /  April 16, 2011

    Hey Lynne,
    Great rules, although, how do you know when a maniac is near by? LOL I’m not making eye contact with anybody from now on!

    Since I bought my little midlife crisis Miata sports car, my rule is to live life to the fullest because tomorrow I may be squashed by a garbage truck. :>

    Stop by soon, I’ve missed ya.

  7. Vonnie

     /  April 16, 2011

    Wow – I would love to take that drive someday.
    Thanks for the post. Sounds like your life is the perfect definition of the sandwich generation. I admire your strength. With both parents gone and no grandchildren, yet, I guess I better be loving life these days. Thanks for the reminder.

    Relax when you can and revitalize whatever you can. :>

  8. Marilyn Jean

     /  April 18, 2011

    Hi Lynne,
    Here are some of my rules for life and some my mother taught me, which may or may not make sense:
    1. Don’t sit with your back to the door in a restaurant. (mom’s)
    2. Never trust a man with thin lips. (mom’s) But my husband has thin lips so I didn’t stick to this one.
    3. Perfection is the highest form of self abuse.
    4. Life is too short to hate your job.
    5. If the man in my life doesn’t make me happier than I am on my own, it’s not worth the trouble. (used this when I was dating and young)
    6. Bloom where you are planted. (sometimes hard to do)
    7. It is okay for me to say no. (I’ve learned to do this especially with doctors and dentists, esp. If I don’t want to have a certain test or take a particular medication, I have the right to say no)
    8. There are thousands of worthy causes. Commit to the ones that turn your head and trust that others will take on the ones that don’t. We can’t be responsible for everything.

    I’m sure there are more. But those come to mind. 🙂

    • Marilyn, it occurs to me that the rules we make are like a Rorschach test. Your mom, for ex. Wonder what happened in her life to make her want to develop the ‘back to the door’ rule? Mine are signs of a big hurt. Yours are signs of your experience as well. Lots of wisdom there, hard earned. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. nicki

     /  April 18, 2011

    I have just recently found your blog and I am really enjoying it. Last year a friend shared a rule with me that has REALLY helped me. It is “Don’t assume”.
    Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking. There have been many times when I assumed something that was completely wrong. I assumed I knew what an employee was thinking. I assumed I knew what my various family members were believing or thinking. Many, many times in my life I have made the wrong assumption. I have made decisions and comments based on wrong assumptions. This rule has helped me alot!

    • Hey, Nicki, you are so right with that one. I have the same, well, not a rule, but an awareness that a lot of time the assumptions we’re making are really just projections of our own beliefs, conventions, expectations, experience, scars, etc.

      The way I became aware of this was (1) marrying a con man in an earlier marriage; a great education! and (2) working in human resources, where we learned to observe people’s behavior and not make assumptions about them – instead, to draw conclusions from our observations. So it’s hard to say “I think he really misses me,” without asking myself, “based on what behaviors?”

      My, how I do go on. Drop by again!

  10. I love to look at everyone’s rules! Isn’t it interesting to see the life behind the rules? It tells so much.
    I don’t know that I really have rules except to try to love everyone I meet today. I have no idea what their day has been like or their life, for that matter, but I can leave them with a little bit of love, whether they accept it or not. I will feel better that at least I tried and, who know, maybe some good will come of it. I may never know what it was, but maybe my act of kindness will change something or someone even a little.
    Blessings to you!

    • Hi, Ereline, I was raised to love everyone I met. My mom and dad had such big hearts. But I had to learn the hard way how to protect myself. So one of my rules now is to observe what people do, less than believe what they say. I make exceptions, say, for children, or I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to a new acquaintance or friend. I’m nice to everyone, but I’m more guarded now.
      Nice to hear from you.

  11. I recently found your blog, which I like very much. I’m intrigued by your question. Here are a few of my rules.

    1) Not everyone you meet will be your friend.
    2) Maximize your options/use what you’ve got.
    3) Laugh often.
    4) Don’t forget to floss.

  12. Rules for Living — excellent thought! (may I add your blog to my blogroll, Lynne?) So … yes, I guess I do have a few rules. One that comes to mind is try to value each moment … not wait for a better moment to show up … because each moment is pretty much the same, really. And why wish our lives away? Why miss our very own lives in a perpetual state of “waiting?” No thanks. So I hope that can be counted as a “rule for living.” 🙂 My best to you, as always, and Happy Easter weekend. –Daisy in Dakota 🙂 P.S. Annie Proulx, famous Wyoming writer, just published her memoir @ 75 — it’s called “Bird Cloud” and I just started reading it. I’m sure you know her, she wrote The Shipping News, etc.

    • It’s a great rule, Daisy. As usual, we’re thinking alike. My greatest fear is sleepwalking through my life, only to realize at the end that I wasted it. Your rule about valuing the present is the antidote, for sure.
      And I would be very honored to be included in your blogroll. As you can see, I’ve reciprocated.
      Lastly, Annie Proulx is one of my 3 favorite writers! She is the spiritual head of our community of prairie sisters, isn’t she? The Shipping News is one of my all time favorite books, and I just recently watched the movie again (Kevin Spacey was perfect in it.)
      Happy Easter, Sis.

  13. jgavinallan

     /  April 21, 2011

    cool politeness rule—excellent, I may steal it for a story.

    I enjoyed reading your writing.
    I have an incredible month of May. My floundering career will be tested.
    Meeting a few agents. Would you mind checking out some of my work and giving a brutal critique if need be? Others have


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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.

    View all my reviews

  • 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.

    View all my reviews

  • 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."

    View all my reviews

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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

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Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


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Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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