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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

Dare to Dream: Sherry Miller

Sherry Miller

So many people were motivated by Iris Anderson in my last post. You remember that she is 80 and still avidly pursuing and accomplishing her dreams. Sherry Miller wrote after seeing my post on the Facebook page of The Boomer Broads, and she is so inspiring I want to share her 61-years-young energy and enthusiasm with you:

Lynne, I started a Bucket list after the movie by that name came out and I read a great book The Sunday List of Dreams” by Kris Radish. I have been a business professional for 34 years. Sometime in the next 2 to 5 years I will retire from the corporate life. I have been working on a plan that will leave me financially comfortable enough that I can choose to do something that benefits people rather than corporations. I also want to choose a healthy lifestyle in weight management and exercise so I will have the well being to enjoy this next stage of life. Let’s face it, ill health is more expensive than prevention.

I will be downsizing and reducing my material footprint. This is to leave me free to allow other things into my life. I want to be more involved in church missions, available to family (grandchildren), to travel, more time to read, spend quality time with my network of women friends (I have 12 friends from HS who email daily even tho we may only see each other every 5 -10 years).

I love to work but not at the time-commitment level that my profession as a Financial Project Manager requires. So I am still seeking my next passion. Lately I have been looking into Aging Gracefully (aka In Place) and the support services Seniors need to help them plan and stay in their homes. I am also looking to my spiritual life and what God would have me do with this next chapter.

I don’t think I am much different from my peers. My 12 friends who are my age are all relatively healthy with different economic means but we all want to be engaged with our families, communities and each other. That engagement is the biggest contributor to successful aging per the Blue Zones study. So I think we are on the right track.

I would add looking at your current posting that I would also like to continue education as I am a lifelong learner. Universities offering senior discounts are much appreciated.

I also will stick with my husband. This is my 2nd marriage and his first. After more than 30 years of being together it would take a break in trust (aka Maria and Arnold) to change my commitment. My husband is 10 years older with health issues so more than likely I will out live him by at least a decade. We accept that possibility and enjoy our companionship now.

Lynne here: One of the gifts I received in maturity was realizing that I wanted to surround myself with positive people, and Sherry is one of those people. I feel energized just reading her post, and I hope you do, too.

Kindle readers can comment by emailing me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.

Leave a comment

9 Comments

  1. Highly commendable. these are all worthy plans and I hope that Sherry will successfully implement them.

    Just one observation: What’s wrong with starting on them now? Nobody knows what the future may hold. This is a plan which foresees that nothing will change for Sherry. Sickness can hit at any time, grandchildren want attention now, there are many people who could do with a helping hand now. Etc. etc.

    Don’t wait for tomorrow what you can do today. Tomorrow may never come. And no, I am NOT of a negative disposition.

    Reply
    • Hi Friko, no, you’re not negative, you’re realistic. Sherry is too, though, so I would bet she is already making headway towards her dreams and passions. Your comment is very much in line with Tim Ferriss’ guidance in “The Four-Hour Workweek” in which he advocates the very same thing. Good to hear from you.

      Reply
  2. Lynne ,Thanks for having Sherrie and Sherrie you have summarized my exact feelings and thoughts about moving on to the next chapter of living life on your own terms. I love your statement about transitioning from contributing to people vs corporations,focusing on your health,family and your passions. I am very grateful that I will be able to do that in August. It took years of planning for the right time,as you are doing now. I found it to be a bit bittersweet because I love what I do (nurse practitioner), like I was saying goodbye to my best friend. But slowly the desire to move on was greater than the desire to hang on.You will know when the time is right. Wishing you much peace and happiness in your “bittersweet transition” Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Reply
  3. Lynne, thanks for introducing us to Sherry — just one more example of someone with energy and desire to leave the world a better place than she found it. Best of luck to her!

    Reply
  4. So nice to read an uplifting, realistic letter/post. No bitterness, no whining, no judging. I need to remember Sherry’s attitude whenever I get worn out by daily life. She’s an inspiration.

    Reply
  5. Sherry Miller

     /  June 3, 2011

    Friko, I had not realized how I had put my plans to Lynne into the future tense until I reread it on the blog. You are correct there is no time like the present. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day.

    I am healthy – Sleep is one of those healthy habits I am endeavoring (present tense) to keep. I am supporting a healthy lifestyle as a Lifetime member of Weight Watchers (track those health habits, ladies) and exercise.

    I am faithful – As a prayer partner in my faith community which is an activity that can fit in any day and place, like sand around the boulders and rocks of my day’s schedule.

    I am a caregiver – As a member of the sandwich generation with aging parents and a boomerang twenty-something child, their worries are my concern too. Sometimes their urgent needs take priority.

    Just having a bucket list makes a difference in striving to the next goal of doing a 5k, holding a jewelry party* for friends to get together, or reading the next book on my list. (The jewelry party is a 2 for 1 as it helps my daughter with her new business)
    Thank you for your thoughts – what are your I AMs?

    Reply
  6. Corinne

     /  June 3, 2011

    Loved these inspiring posts. As a soon to be 59 year old who knows she’ll have to work another 7-8 years, I still hope to achieve some of the “mini bucket list” items before retirement. There is so much to see and experience and so many fascinating people to meet! I have two sisters who are two years apart in age – one is “old” in every way – physically, mentally, educationally, and the other sister, while only two years younger,is vibrant, vital, and one of the most interesting people I know. Our outlook on life and our curiosity to know more and do more can certainly affect our “age”, even if it’s not our biological age. Thanks for sharing these great stories!

    Reply
    • Corinne, thanks for sharing your energy with us. You really make the point that so much about aging is subjective. I get that our bodies are mortal, but we don’t have to lay down and die prematurely! You and I are about the same age. Take care of yourself, stay healthy, and keep that great positive attitude. Hope you’ll visit often at Any Shiny Thing.

      Reply
  7. Debbie, Ally, Kathy, Friko, Sherry, I am so blessed to be able to talk about these thoughts with you. Thank you all.

    Reply

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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

Live & Learn

David Kanigan

ElderChicks

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

MIDLIFE MAGIC

Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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