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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

The Writing Life – An Update

Tentative Cover Shot for Dakota Blues

I usually post every Friday about issues facing us older women, but I’m also a writer and occasionally I’ve got to spout off about that, so bear with me.

I’ve been working on my novel, Dakota Blues, for a few years now. It’s taking a long time because I’m learning as I go. That’s cool; I’m teaching myself to write. I read everything I can get my hands on, attend conferences, and ask for feedback from my critique group. Recently I hired an editor.

Wendy’s feedback was really helpful. She made some observations relative to pace, tension, and the believability of characters. Like a wise professor, she also complimented me and I felt empowered. With the changes she recommended, my manuscript will be perfect.

I’m not as disciplined as some people. My friend Kathryn for example will get up at four in the morning and write until lunchtime almost every day. She’s a Ferrari; I’m more a touring convertible.

I sometimes wonder why I’m working so hard to create a work that, in this publishing environment, will probably not earn a lot of money, if any. I could be playing with my granddaughter,

or golfing.

What would my life be like if I weren’t, in effect, starting a small business at the age of 57?

What drives me? Am I stupid?

Well, maybe. But here’s what else:

  1. I have four more books in my head about the experiences of middle-aged women. I want to share these with you, but they have to wait their turn and Dakota Blues is first.
  2. I don’t know.

That’s right. For a girl who hates the idea of sleepwalking through her life, I cannot tell you what drives me to write. Mom says I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. If I stopped writing, I think it would be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Now that I’m immersed in Dakota Blues, I love my characters. To me, they’re like real people who are in prison, slipping notes to me through the bars. I have to set them free.

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

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  1. Carol

     /  August 15, 2011

    Sounds like you and I have a lot in common! I write poetry, but it wasn’t till I turned 58 that I wondered if I was more than just a dabbler. With some encouragement, I called myself poet. I have the makings of several books of poetry all queued up. Started to edit the first one, but it has been a year and a half and stalled. I figured I had to finish it first before moving to the next. But now I wonder if I chose the right group of poems to start with. With a friend’s help and advice, have 98% finished a chapbook, instead of a full book. And newer poems, not the one I started. I recently left my job, after 20 years. Now I seem to be poised on the edge of a new career as writer. Ready to set my poems free, just as if they were characters. I am interested to see how we both progress along the path. If I can only stop worrying about “how few years are left”!

    • Oh, Carol! RE the “how few years are left”, I put it in perspective this way: My mom is just like us, vibrant, excited about life, striving to improve herself, etc. Yet she is 86. Whenever I feel badly about “how few years are left”, I remind myself that Mom would love to have those 29 years back. Thanks for writing, and keep me posted about your progress.

  2. Vonnie

     /  August 15, 2011

    Hey Lynne,

    Love the new color theme on the blog. It is new isn’t it?? : /
    Your granddaughter is so cute!
    Love the golfing hat!
    And finally, if you’ve ever noticed, there’s a lot more convertibles driving around than Ferraris (no disrespect to your friend).
    My little Miata is parked in my driveway, but it often wakes up and drives around in my head bumping into new ideas. LOL

    Hang in there – you’ll get ‘er done and maybe by the time you do, the publishing industry will be on track again. Can’t wait to read all your books!!!!


    • Thanks, Vonnie. Re the pubbing industry, they are nothing without writers. We may be POOR writers, but content is still king!

  3. WoW! Do I ever relate to this post! First of all, we’re the exact same age (although I’m still trying to figure out how I got to be 57 – wasn’t I just 37 a couple years ago??) I’m a writer, too – so ‘nough said! Since I was a young child, I’ve been reading, dreaming of being an author, reading about other writers, studying writing, etc. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I got “serious” about it. I’ve sometimes asked myself the very same questions…and tried to give up the “dream.” But, I can’t…and won’t. Even if I never get published. I am a writer!

    • Yep, Cindy, it’s something beyond a hobby or even a passion. It’s like having the eye color you’re born with – you’re a writer. THE END. Right?
      PS I don’t count the first 20 years, only the “adult” years. So we’re 37! (That’s what I FEEL like, anyway!)

  4. There’s nothing wrong with slow and steady, Lynne. Writers, for all our similarities, aren’t cookies cut from a mold. Some work fast; some slow. Some are adept at painting a picture; others, at pacing a scene. What’s impressive is that, regardless of whether your work ever achieves publication, you’re still growing and learning and being relevant (just like your mom!). And I know exactly what you mean about your characters being real and clamoring to get out — mine are inn the same boat! At least you’ve got an editor to help you over the rough spots.

  5. Whoops, I meant “in,” not “inn.” Why can’t we go back and edit these blasted things???

    • Debbie, you crack me up! Just leave ’em in the future. Everybody knows we’re all moving too fast to get it all perfect. I’m always messing up to and too, and their and there. My former boss, long ago, called me a perfectionist. I smiled happily until he followed up with, “Perfectionists fear criticixm.” So now i try two leve errors alone 2 sho i am avobe all that.

  6. Kathy

     /  August 15, 2011

    Lynne, this situation you find yourself in….some of it is self doubt, I assure you, and it’s not uncommon…the writers I’ve talked to all have had doubts of one kind or another along the way. I lament this same situation! Of course, this is not the answer to your questions, though…but support groups are healthy to have, and your editor sounds like a good support for you, and a knowledgeable one. And, you do need honest ones, too!

    You asked, what drives you? I think you know that answer. And, NO, you are NOT stupid, so please don’t call yourself that…..but you are the only one who can answer, as far as what drives you.

    Unlike you, I haven’t been a writer all my life, just half of it. I’m a visual artist. Creativity has always been part of my life, and what drives a person who has to create, comes from many things. Look at your history, background, and your exposure to living life. Everyone is unique in these aspects. Look at your personality. Look at the things in your life that are important to you, and only you. The internal drive shifts you into gear. If someone doesn’t have that drive, or the imagination developed enough to create, I see no point to continue, unless it’s only for study. Anyone can learn the basics of all art, not everyone can turn it into something that speaks out loud to them, and to others.

    And, Lynne, it’s not your characters that are in prison, it’s you. They should be handing you notes, and a file in a cake! Listen to them, ask them where they want you to take them….yes, talk to them! Again, I’ve asked many authors this question, and they DO talk to their characters. But, be prepared to listen, listen, and listen. I think that’s the major problem of conflict in a support group of many….some people can only hear their own voice, and sometimes that voice isn’t enough, and can cause further conflict of interest, and stifle a certain amount of creativity…just be aware.

    I, personally, have always had an imagination that wanted to live outside of my mind. I was probably about fifteen, when I was told by a teacher in high school, that I had something inside of me that needed to be taken out of its slumber. My mother was artistic, she was an expert at what she did, but she didn’t try to develop it…she was a perfectionist, in that her perfection was to follow everyone else’s rules, no matter what, and she had no desire, no creative spark, whatsoever. Over the years, my brother has taken his art in many directions. He’s creative, but follows the major rules….I learned what I needed to know in my dozens of art classes; now I follow NO rules. That’s what makes writing, or any creative venture, fun for me! It makes me happy when that baby is born, comes into the world and you can say….she belongs to me! The hard part is letting go of that child. It can be difficult for some writers to let go. You put yourself out there. You become vulnerable…just be prepared. So, you see, Lynne, my history dictated a certain amount of who I am, and what I’ve become.

    I have a muse. That muse sits in my head, and when she speaks to me, I JUMP! Day or night, rain or shine….I JUMP!

    Good Luck!

    • Kathy, what an awesome, inspiring comment. I laughed out loud at this: “it’s not your characters that are in prison, it’s you. They should be handing you notes, and a file in a cake!” Thanks for the creative boost.

  7. Looks like most writers are doubters too! I feel like I am in good company here! Carol

  8. Jean

     /  August 15, 2011

    What a great post and comments. Doubt, fear, love, passion, vulnerability, joy…we breath because we must. We write for the same reason.

  9. Oh Lynne, once again you strike to the heart of the matter for those of us who are “called to” write. Sometimes I feel the stories choose us and coax us out of that prison cell. We live our lives the best we can balancing life ‘s fleeting moments with beloved people and activities(love your pictures!),constantly trying to weave in writing time in the mix. Let’s face it, we’re writers; we can’t help ourselves. I say, let’s just keep writing and set ourselves free of all those stories swirling around in our heads. I, for one ,will be looking forward to Dakota Blue and the other four books waiting to be set free! 🙂

    • Thanks, Kathy. And now that you’re a Retirement Virgin, you have lots of time. Later when you’ve adjusted to being retired, you will have so little time you’ll wonder how you ever worked. Keep me posted.

  10. There you are, you’ve said it yourself: you are driven to writing.
    What other reason could there be?

  11. “To me, they’re like real people who are in prison, slipping notes to me through the bars. I have to set them free.” Awesome thought. I haven’t yet found the time and discipline to slug through a first draft. That is quite an accomplishment. Look forward to seeing how the rest of the story turns out.

    • Thanks, SouthMainMuse. When I start my next book (I seem to come up with titles first, and this is going to be called “Golden Years, My @$$”), I will structure it first so as to avoid having to rewrite so much. I like the way Larry Brooks at StoryFix.com thinks it through. I’ve been searching for a better understanding of structure and I think that’s the Holy Grail. Best wishes.

  12. I calculated once that I make – $00.57 (that’s minus 57 cents) for every book I write. “Art” is the only business I know where we work to lose money and love it anyway! For some of us writing is coded into our DNA, as essential as water to a fish. We write because we must, not because it “makes sense”.

  13. This is encouraging. I’m not a writer, but about it not being too late to actualize something that has always been there no matter what age you are — yes and thank you. Very good to hear at this moment.

  14. Hi Lynne, I was told about your sight by a friend who follows you, how amazing that I am also a 57 year old who started a small business while still working full time. I just started moderating the B&N.com Fiction General Discussion book club forum and I also was just hired (after years of doing it for free) to review books by RT reviews. And I ask myself those very same questions all the time. The thoughts you presented impressed me because they’re those that we all have to face and it’s nice to know we’re not alone.
    Susan said she invited you to the forum but I’ll give you a link too

    please feel free to snoop around perhaps throw ideas off us and just let us know what’s happening.
    good luck with your writing, sometimes when you take the time to smell the roses you can describe them better


  15. Lynne
    Your words remind me so much of me. I don’t really write because I want to, I write because I have to. As the experts say, “just open a vein!” The difficulty is finding the time and energy to write about life as we are experiencing it WITHOUT missing out on anything! Stick with it! As I am sure you have already discovered….the only thing more painful than writing is NOT writing. I, for one, can’t wait to reading Dakota Blues!

    • Thanks, Pat
      PS I can’t make it through a day without internet – don’t know how you did the whole summer, but welcome back!

  16. Peggy

     /  November 14, 2011

    We are new to Hemet. I’ve been looking to connect with other writers and I JUST happened across this page. I’m thrilled. I’m also a 57 year old woman who has been writing forever…I have a degree from UCLA in literature and an M.A. in Creative Writing from CSUN. I’ve published and won awards for my poetry, but about 10 years ago I lost interest in writing poetry. One day, it just died for me. Don’t know why. I’ve written and published articles on alternative health II had my own health column in a Colorado magazine for over three years, and “new age hooey” as one of my friends calls it. An article I authored on the uses of fruit in magic is in Lleweylln’s 2012 Magic Almanac, now available in bookstores and Amazon.com. Also, I was a technical writer for 20 years. For eleven years, I was with a writers’ critque group in Los Angeles, and for seven years I was in a poetry group in Colorado. I’m writing my first novel (nearly done with the first draft) and I would much love to hook up with other writers in Hemet. Does your critique group have room for one more?

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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."

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