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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.

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  • 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

Dare to Dream after Middle-Age

Iris Anderson

After watching yet another romantic comedy about twenty-somethings falling in love, starting families and landing dream jobs, I have to wonder: what about older people? Do they have dreams? Judging from Hollywood, the answer is no.

So I asked my Facebook friends: What do people who are middle-aged and older dream of accomplishing? and I got back the greatest answer from my buddy Iris Anderson of Palm Desert, who has carved out a wonderful life for herself:

My three daughters are just past menopause and asking the same questions. They gave me a lot of drama when I was in midlife. How about them visiting the Playboy mansion dozens of times, sitting with Hugh Hefner on the stairs, watching the parade go by; or one serving as a nurse in Africa during a revolution; or in Colombia where the coffee plantation was taken by rebels and family members kidnapped? I did not think I would survive my daughters’ adventures, but I began to find the things that I love to do, and the rest took care of itself.

Now I can do all the things I wanted to, like art and science classes, learn a new language, travel,  change careers, or go back to college for new training. Never too late. Women in 50s can get their LVN license, learn computers, learn finance, or just plain restart. I especially liked travel – my first opportunity in life. I have visited 81 countries on the cheap. Universities have special help for older women. 

As for men, I stayed with mine, but I see women in their 80s finding guy friends, though money and inheritances often get in the way, so they just visit or live together. I am 80 and going to Utah State University Summer Citizens program for classes in Spanish, world econ, genealogy, Westward Migration, How Tea Affected Politics, Geology, Cloning. I would like to be cloned…

Iris, I wish they COULD clone you. You’re such an inspiration. Readers, if you’re middle-aged or older, what are you looking forward to? What dreams motivate you? What horizons draw you onward?

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  1. Great story…great post! The kind of thing that draws you onward!

  2. Iris seems like a jewel! So vibrant, so interesting, so ALIVE! That’s the way we all should approach life — eager to keep learning and experiencing and enjoying, right up until we’re called Home. Thanks for introducing her to us, Lynne!

  3. Thanks, Debbie and Jean. Yes, Iris is a jewel – and an inspiration.

  4. What a delightful story of never giving up on your dreams! Iris is very inspirational,indeed and a shining example to us all that it is never too late to be the person we want to be. Thanks so much for sharing Iris with us!

  5. Nanci

     /  May 21, 2011

    Lynne and all,
    I turned 60 in April and am retiring in June after 35 years in education. I feel like I am graduating. I went to the meeting that all retirees needed to go to and I felt like I did after college…. excited, anxious and happy. I am looking forward to doing the things I haven’t had time for in many years…. kayaking, yoga, art, quilting, travel, making new friends and finding something I am passionate about. That may have come up after the quake in Japan. I live on the Oregon coast and will join a group that will help our coast prepare for the inevitable slippage along the Juan de Fuca fault. I would love to have been a scientist who studies tectonics, or volcanoes or other earth phenomenon .Maybe I can still do it. I want to be an Iris…. or an Aunt Betty, my wonderful 90 year old relation. Go girls!

    • Loved your comment, Nanci. It’s so full of energy it practically reverberates! I can’t wait to hear your updates on The Retired Life. One of the things my other retired friends say often is “when did I ever find the time to work?!” because they are now so busy (and happy). I love musing over the difference between the two phases of life, and I look forward to your thoughts and discoveries. One issue that fascinates me is the change in our identity. Some people are more than happy to let their work-identity go. Others are really jarred by it. I hardly know anything about Human Resources anymore, but it no longer disturbs me to have lost that expertise. So again, keep me posted. If you ever want to do a guest post about retirement life, you’ll have the floor. Open invitation.

  6. What an inspiring woman! Reminds us all that age is a state of mind. I can’t wait to retire from teaching. Thanks for sharing this Lynn.

  7. For me, at around the age of 60 and taking a sabbatical from corporate america and spending end of life quality time with my parents before they both passed on, I dropped in at our local Community Center’s Drumming Class and fell in love with the drum, the sound it elicited, the connection with community, my heart, and finally, my love of music and rhythm was back. Before long, I was sharing that passion with others by doing drum workshops for women. I stayed one step ahead of everyone else I was sharing it with and soon I was pretty good and expanded the drumming into workshops with poetry and writing activities. Through an article about my drum workshop in the newspaper, another woman found me and we joined up in business to start Blondes Drum 2. She brought years of performance vocals and guitar playing to our circles and now we perform as a duo around town and at open mic events and still do drum circles that include chanting, dancing, sounds, words,etc. We have inspired many other women and men to find their rhythm and use the drum as a tool for discover their own voice, affect their health and stress level, and build community. We are having a blast. We recorded a CD with the songs we have written and performed and one was selected to open an event in St. Petersburg, FL in June. (www.moxywomen.com the Heartbeat Concert)….we have no idea where this magic carpet ride is heading, but we are having the time of our lives. Each day when we meet to rehearse or plan, we are excited about new opportunities. We are wives, mothers, and grandmothers and we are still going strong. Find us at http://www.blondesdrum2.blogspot.com. Thanks for providing this opportunity to share…..we feel at our age, we are leaders for those women that follow.

    • Marilyn, you’re awesome! I can’t wait to go check out your blog. Thanks for telling us your really fun, uplifting story.

  8. Retire? Never! I am a writer and an artist, all right brained as my husband reminds me since he is a left brain retired physician. But I love creativity. So when I found Osher Lifetime Learning Institute at George Maosn University, it was a perfect fit. I have been acting with Readers Theatre, attending classes in all sorts of things, and I have taught a class myself (with 54 “students”) on Creativity which inspired me as much as my students. I still write (books and magazine articles) and paint (oils) and rescue thoroghbred horses. I am 68. Everyone has a hidden talent just waiting to be exposed and expressed. Retirement years are the best time to let that creative muse out of her box. Iris did!

    • Patricia, thanks for encouraging us to keep dreaming! In a recent post I lamented Susan Jacoby’s downer book about aging. Your comment, and all of the comments from our other friends here, are the sublime antidote. What a simple miracle: to give each other energy! I feel better about life all over again. I hope you’ll stop by often.

  9. Hi Lynn, my first visit to your blog. Iris sounds very wise indeed. The dreams that motivate my are the dream of seeing my memoir in print and “retiring” in a couple of years and moving to be closer to the kids and grands.

    • Hi Linda, thanks for visiting Any Shiny Thing – any future comments will go up instantly without waiting for approval. And best wishes with your memoir. Do you have a working title?

  10. Iris … you are a joy! That smile says it all. And Lynne, how wise of you to post this … we do need role models that define life for us at certain points in our lives … and we need inspiration, always. Our spirits are ageless, so that must be our focus … not external appearance or cultural stereotypes. By living fully at every age, we honor the timeless within us and that is a lovely way to approach life … with an abundant heart. Thanks again for picking a topic that is meaningful and important, Lynne! — Daisy “happy on the prairie” … but flooding in my lovely hometown (links to photos on my FB page)

  11. Iris is an inspiration to all women of whatever age.

    Personally, I don’t want to tax my brain with learning for learning’s sake. Anything I study – like creative writing – has to be fun and easy to do. I no longer believe that it only does you good if it hurts.

    I want to be totally self-indulgent. be kind to people only if I like them and ignore the others.

    I no longer worry about doing the right thing, the ‘what will people say’ thing.

    In other words, I want to be me, finally, without guilt.

  12. Friko, your comment is as luxurious as a hot fudge sundae. I love it! Good to hear from you.


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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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