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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

Where Are All the Stories about Older Women?

When Marla Miller, teacher, media whiz and mentor, heard me squawking about the dearth of movies and novels featuring mature women, she asked me to do a video rant about it. I did, and it’s called Why Am I Talking to YOU?

It was my first ever YouTube video and I’m so excited, because it forced me to learn a new skill, one that will be helpful as I market my books. Of course, in the couple of days I experimented with backdrop, lighting, clothing, makeup and script, I wasn’t actually writing, unfortunately. But now that I know those things, any future videos will be done more quickly.

Marla’s blog is called Women over 45: SPEAK! You will love it. Check it out. Maybe you have an issue you’d like to talk about. It’s a great forum for women to be heard.

About one minute after I posted that video, I found out about a stellar new work about an older woman, the fantastic new novel by Ann Patchett entitled State of Wonder.

It features two strong women in the lead roles, one of whom is older. The reviewer suggested Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep should hustle to option the script right now. The book is supposed to be Patchett’s very best, even better than Bel Canto if you can imagine that! You can read the review here. I just received my copy and I’m savoring the opening chapters. Just awesome. The setting, the conflicts, the premise, the adventure to come – and none of this is belabored. Patchett isn’t just a gifted writer, she’s a gifted writing instructor. The story is unfolding cinematically as if I were watching a movie. I almost don’t want to read it, because I don’t want to finish it! This may be the slowest I’ll ever read a book.

Kindle readers can send comments to Lmspreen@yahoo.com.

Leave a comment

14 Comments

  1. Vonnie

     /  June 10, 2011

    Wow Lynne – it was so cool actually see you in person!! I love that video and you are right, woman, we baby boomers are still hot, too – lol!!

    I used to belong to the romance writers chapter in my area and they pretty much cater to the Harlequin publishers who are not interested in boomer women romances. When I was writing fiction, I tried using 50+ in my writing, but even I had a hard time putting them in a romantic scenario because all the books I was reading were about the younger chicks. And you’ve heard me complain about the magazines for older women.

    But it doesn’t seem as if our peers are protesting as much as we are. Most of the women in my area don’t want to admit they are getting old so they’ve rather follow the fashions that are way too young. It pisses me off!! We can still dress sexy and classy without making fools of ourselves, right??

    Anyway, I’m going to check out Ann Patchett’s book and you keep promoting we boomer babes!! YEAH!

    Reply
  2. Good job, Lynne — what fun, discovering the ins and outs of making a YouTube video, and boy, will that come in handy one day!

    Reply
  3. Girlfriend, you deliver on all counts-the message, the presentation, the truth- Boomers Rule and you are star for broadcasting and promoting it~ Bravo! I loved it 🙂

    Reply
  4. You guys are too kind! It is funny in retrospect. I never realized my neck looked that bad, but a scarf was too much of a tip off. And then I’m thinking, “you’re not supposed to care, remember? Miss ‘Celebrate Getting Old’!” And the number of times I got tongue tied – I did like 30 takes, some only a couple words long before I jabbed the STOP button. I got so pissed off and tired, but then finally I made one that was good enough. I have a new appreciation for movie making.

    Reply
  5. Debbie

     /  June 13, 2011

    Hi Lynne, The smile on your face and light in your eyes are what people connect with (not your neck).

    Reply
    • Debbie, what a nice thing to say. You be sure to come back and comment often, okay? We like to hear from positive peeps! And next time you won’t have to go thru the comment approval process – your comment will appear instantly. See you next time.

      Reply
  6. Marilyn Jean

     /  June 13, 2011

    I agree that it was really great seeing you “live.” I agree with you that I love movies about women “of a certain age.” So many amazing actresses out there who can convey such depth. However, I must admit that the ones who have botoxed their faces into comical versions of their younger selves do NOT interest me. That why people like Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand and a few others will always be my choice over Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn and Cher. eeekkkk!

    I also agree about the ready-made market for books and movies. Has anyone written a screen play? I would not know how to even begin. I noticed on the Tony Awards last night that fewer women actors seemed to have the frozen face of plastic surgery. They looked like real people, like us.

    Reply
    • Marilyn, I saw a documentary by Rosanna Arquette called “Searching for Debra Winger,” in which she interviews a bunch of actresses about the dearth of age-appropriate roles. At one point they talked about this very thing: when Hollywood wants an actress to play a woman in her mid-60s, there won’t be anyone who looks like one! Good to hear from you.

      Reply
  7. I’ve also heard good things about the new book from Ann Patchett, Lynne. I always appreciate the work of a gifted writer. Thanks for sharing the review link here. Hope life is good and that this award-winning blog continues to shine a bright life on life and all that matters! (Heading outside to plant a climbing rose bush; we’ll see how it does. Summer and fall will be fine, but not sure it will winter here.) –Daisy

    Reply
  8. Lynne, this is a brilliant start to a new powerful dimension in your career. I’ve posted your video on my blog, Twitter, and if I can find a way to get it to go intergalactic, I will. You’re my inspiration. I sent a link to my favorite female screenwriter, too. Someone needs to send this to Bassett, Barrymore, Dormand and Bullock as well.

    Reply
    • Wow, Linda, thanks! There’s a part in that Arquette documentary wherein Frances Dormand says they’d better start making movies about women age 50-plus because she was about to turn 50, and that’s what she would want to see. It struck me then that if you have 50 million women-of-a-certain-age (actually, according to the 2010 Census, 40 million over age 55 specifically), that’s a helluva market. And as I said in the video, lots of them have time and money available to spend, and I’m betting that they’re hungry for stories about women navigating this challenging phase of life. A ready market! Who wouldn’t jump at that?
      (Cue crickets.)
      Thanks for the encouragement, Linda.

      Reply
  9. Great stuff. Even greater cause. You tell it like it is and make us all feel stronger!

    Reply
  10. I was soooo jazzed when I viewed Lynne’s video—-and look at ALL the response it generated—–Ladies, I invite you to contribute your vids to ME Quiet?
    We are anything BUT quiet and we have LOTS of stories to tell!
    Lynne, you rock!

    Reply
  11. Hi, Lynne…I’m writing as fast as I can! 😉

    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.

    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

  • Blogs I Follow

  • This Blog Got Five Stars!

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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