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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

Are We Old or Just Out of Shape?

I agreed to babysit my infant granddaughter when her parents went back to work. At first I was sure I was doing permanent damage to my body, which is 57 years old and has arthritis. But after about three weeks, I felt better. My body adjusted to 9-hour days of lifting, carrying, holding, going up and down stairs, pushing her stroller on daily walks, and getting up and down off the floor (a mat where we play) , usually with her in my arms.

It was amazing! I got stronger and more limber. Turns out I wasn’t crickety so much as out of shape. The greatest part about this was discovering one thing in this increasingly weird world that I could control. You know this world: the one where your ears and nose are getting longer or you sneeze and pee your pants or you get growths in weird places on your skin? Unlike aging, this one thing – fitness – seemed to be within my ability to improve. I was pretty stoked.

Even though I’m not babysitting any more, I now try to work out every day, but I can’t get to the gym that often. So I bought Kathy Smith’s “Ageless” exercise DVD for not-young people.

Holy crap! I’m back at the “I’m gonna die!” stage. But Smith is around my age, she’s perky but not annoying, and Ageless is for older peeps, so I’m sticking with it. Ageless consists of four 15-minute segments, which anybody should be able to fit into their schedule most of the time.

I’m telling you this because I want to share with you my feeling of hope. At our age, so much of our bodily changes are of the stunning, what the hell now? variety, so it feels good to think that we might still have the power to improve something. Anything.

Also, I figured you can razz me if I don’t follow through. This part is probably a mistake. But thanks in advance for being my warden – er, I mean, coach. And if you or I need motivation, we can always watch 80-year old Sister Madonna Buder doing the Ironman Triathlons. 

Kindle readers can contact me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.

Leave a comment


  1. Oh, Lynne, your description of “aging” is priceless! I can’t say I feel all creaky and hurting (and I hope I never do!), but you’re right in saying you’ve got to MOVE! So many people think exercise is for kids (it’s not!) or athletes (nope!). Our bodies weren’t meant to sit or lie still all day; we do best when we don’t get all “stoved up”!!

    • Hey, Deb! Sometimes it is scary, so you have to laugh. I watch my mom going through it, and she’ll be 86 tomorrow. So I think, dang, I have 29 years to learn how to be as courageous as she is.

  2. I’m out of shape, which makes me look older than I am.

    I like your attitude that any kind of improvement is worth the effort. Will try to keep it in mind while I regain some of my strength after a few years of forced sedentariness, courtesy of two accidents.

    • Well hello, Ms. Bean. Good to hear from you! I get what you’re saying about accidents. I’ve had more than my share of surgeries (not accidents) and at this point I feel like, hey, it’s somebody else’s turn. So when I am in a place like right now when I’m healthy and able to exercise, I am going to run with it. Then if I’m forced to sit on the sidelines again, I’ll at least have that in the bank. Start slow and don’t be too hard on yourself. Let us know how you are coming along. Best wishes.

  3. Vonnie

     /  June 29, 2011

    I have been complaining about a stiff neck for ages. I noticed it mostly when driving – when I’d crank my head around to check my blind spot – ouchh!! I thought I was doomed to have an arthritic neck for the rest of my life until I started doing neck exercises. Every time I think of it, I bend my neck from side to side, back and forward and, although it still hurts, it keeps getting better and better. My miracle massage therapist, that you’ve heard me talk about, says that your body will adjust to whatever you want it to do. If you want to sit on the couch every day, it will adjust. If you want to take a daily walk, it will adjust. I guess as we age, we have move it or lose it!! Good luck with your exercises! I’m rooting for you!

    • You know, Vonnie, I had a therapist (the mental kind) who told me “you get good at whatever you practice” and he meant I had practiced being a servant and a doormat, so that’s what I got good at. Those were the bad old days.

      But I am going to try turning my head more because I’m getting that left-turn/merge-left kind of stiffness, too. Thanks for the info.

  4. Oh Lynne, I so enjoy relating to your ageless regimen! Exercise is the answer no matter how old we are, even if we are sitting in a circle in the nursing home day room.:-) But of course we aren’t there ..yet! I try to do 2-3 Zumba classes/week and walk in between and always feel better when I make the effort. The more we keep moving, the longer we’ll be able to keep moving. Good Luck with your program!

    • Wow, Zumba! My Weight Watchers teacher is always trying to get us to try that. I sounds like fun. You’re an inspiration.

  5. nanci

     /  June 29, 2011

    Your post made me laugh!!! Thank you… and you are so right. I’ve had this proven to me a few times in my life, when I thought I was going to hurt myself by pushing in my chair…. then excersizing and feeling lean and limber. Now that I am retiring (today is my official last day and I am using my computer for personal communication (don’t tell!) ) I am hoping to get my crickety body humming again. Thanks for the zen kick!

    • Nanci, congratulations!!!! I am so thrilled for you! Kathleen above is retiring next month from a nursing career. I hope you two will use this space to trade notes. Keep us posted, girlfriend! (Everybody, Nanci and I used to work together at Jurupa Unified School District in Riverside CA. She was an elementary school principal and I was a central office administrator. We have been friends for – holy cow, Nanc! – 30 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. You and I are on the same page! I love Kathy Smith and even had the opportunity to interview her. This gal has brains, spunk, and (of course) energy to burn! Congrats on getting her video–I’ve got my own and was quite good about exercising the first couple of weeks I owned it. Now I’ve been a bit of a slacker… so I’ll razz you if you razz me!

    • You’re on, Eileen. It must have been intimidating interviewing her. On the DVD she looks like she is having such fun. I will report back. Best wishes with your fab blog. Everybody, check out the Feisty Side of Fifty here: http://feistysideoffifty.com/. It’s a fun and informative blog for gals our age and people who wish they were!

  7. Kathy

     /  June 29, 2011

    I’m old, out of shape, lumpy and bumpy
    one foot in the grave, and the other on a banana peel
    and because of all that, am I allowed to feel grumpy 🙂

    • Yes, you are, Kathy. And that’s what’s cool about being our age. We are “allowed” to do a lot of things. Should I say best wishes or hang in there?

  8. Lynne,
    Zumba is a blast. I can’t do half of what my half-my-age teacher does but I figure as long as I shake it any which way I can,it’ll work 🙂

  9. Great blog! Good for you Lynn—work that body and live by my motto—
    move it or lose it! Never were truer works spoken then when discussing body parts. Go granny go!

  10. I agree that keeping fit is very important as we get older.

    But, hello folks, you over there in the USofA, what is wrong with a good old walk? It does the lot, keeps you fit by exercising every muscle in your body, stretches your heart and lung capacity without undue strain and, most of all, it allows you to think, thereby training those little grey cells we mustn’t forget to exercise too.

    Fresh air, being out of doors, watching nature unfold, and all for free. Isn’t that something?


    • Friko, all you have to do is work in your garden, in the shadow of actual castle ruins (!!) to get a good workout. I’ve seen your blog and the pics are awesome. But to answer your question, so many of us do exercise outdoors. I live in a 55+ community and every morning the sidewalks are filled with walkers and we also have bikers and golfers, too. Plus people swimming laps in the pool. That doesn’t even touch on the exercise classes and gym. So one way or the other, they’re all out there getting it done.

  11. Good thoughts! I try to do yoga every few days because I hate that “stiff all over” feeling that began once I hit 25 (I mean 55 🙂 and it makes such a difference in how I feel. I’m not that good at it, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The physical activity helps no matter how imperfect it may seem. Thanks Lynne for this lovely reminder to keep at it … and wishing you a lovely 4th of July. –Daisy

  12. Pamela Hanks

     /  July 3, 2011

    Thank you Lynne. I’ve some years on you and if I could slow down I probably would. Necessity does invent. There is one that tops us both though. Helen, a ninty-three year old friend of mine, workes circles around many in their thirties. Years ago when I asked her what her secret was she said, “It’s all in the mind. Your body doesn’t give up, your mind does.”

    • Pamela, I love your message about Helen. Much of it IS in the mind. I keep getting these weird, mystery ailments. A toe that feels infected. A heel that is super sensitive to pressure, such that I couldn’t wear a shoe for a while (good that it’s summer!) An eyelid that got irritated, swollen, painful. A rash at the nape of my neck. I’m sick of the drama. I’ve decided to ignore it, for the most part. It’s not in my mind but I don’t intend to pay attention. Most of it went away. More will come. Meh.

  13. we’re not too old at all-most are just out of shape-i have an ebook coming out -written with an LA fitness guru–she’s in her 30’s—i’m not…:)
    it’s about being consistent and showing up! just do it and ur bod will thank u–especially when we ARE old….in all seriousness, we cannot afford NOT to move–the health care crisis is not lessening—-something like 90% of all chronic care is delivered to 5 % of the population-older unhealthy folks—don’t be one! Get ur u know what moving! exercising regularily also increases hormones that decrease depression…..
    great post Lynne

    • Marla, until my mom broke her femur in 2 places last February, she was going to exercise class 3 x a week. Sometimes all they did was get in and out of a chair (while singing “bringing in the sheaves.”) But at 85 it kept her going. She is recovering – now at about 80%. Hopes to get back to class and the company of her girlfriends real soon. What an inspiration. Looking forward to the wisdom in your ebook. Share the link when it’s ready.

  14. Good for you! I keep trying to preach this lesson to my 69 year old mother who lives like she’s 89. (Maybe that’s my problem…I’m preaching)? You must keep moving! Stopping is not an option! Like the eagles we have to move our wings to soar or, as Will Rogers said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

    I love this little nursery rhyme:
    The best six doctors anywhere
    And no one can deny it
    Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
    Exercise and diet.
    These six will gladly you attend
    If only you are willing
    Your mind they’ll ease
    Your will they’ll mend
    And charge you not a shilling.
    ~Nursery rhyme quoted by Wayne Fields, What the River Knows, 1990

    Keep going! We’re right there with you!

    • Ereline, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt grateful that I can simply SLEEP. Not perfectly but well enough. Thanks for the rhyme. Lots of wisdom there. Happy Fourth.

  15. I agree…along with taking fish oil, moving helps with those stiff joints. Stretching is so important too. I hurt my knee and have arthritis setting in but working out with weights has strengthened the muscles surrounding the joint and made it so much stronger. And when I was in my triathlon phase a few years ago — there were 70 and 80 year olds out there. Impressive.

    • Jamie, have you seen the Iron Nun? I mean, not all elderly people can do it but the ones who do put us “kids” to shame! Happy Fourth.

  16. the body’s like anything else, use it or lose it!


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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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