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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

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  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

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  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

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This Boomer Will Never Die

I wanted to make you laugh. Last week was pretty heavy, what with my lament on the possible extinction of the American Dream. So this week, I was going to describe funny people and situations I’ve encountered tripping around Lake Havasu and Laughlin for the past couple days.

But then on Wednesday, October 5, we lost one of the most amazing Boomers ever. Steve Jobs, Dreamer, Dictator, Tech-Boss-In-Chief, passed away, assumedly due to cancer. Apple and we are left to figure out what will replace him. Probably nothing and no one.

One of the things Jobs was known for was his motivational quotes. Here’s a creepy one:

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

What do you feel when you read that?

I have two reactions. The first is that he’s wrong. Sometimes I think all we have is the certainty that there IS something to lose. The love and respect of our family and community, and the chance to leave something of good and lasting value to them, for example.

Or maybe he was saying you only have so much time. Get it done. You don’t know how much time you have left.

Jobs was an imperfect Buddhist who didn’t worry about karma biting him on the ass for his bad behavior He wasn’t warm and fuzzy. More like vindictive, territorial and secretive. Did you know he’s been married for twenty years and had three kids from that marriage? Me neither. And yet look at all he gave the world, how far he helped us evolve.

It bums me out that Jobs, only one year younger than me, doesn’t exist anymore, at least in the corporeal realm. And this leads to one of the biggest mysteries: what happens to all the material you accumulate in your brain, all the effort you exert to learn about things. Where does all that effort go? I like to believe some part of it goes with you to the next life cycle but we’ll never know. There’s at least a possibility it dies with you, that there is no reincarnation into the energy of the next soul who will be farther along his journey thanks to you.

In writing you’re told to not hold back, to give it all away right up front. Maybe that’s your hedge against dying. Just in case there is no afterlife, you can at least pass something of yourself on. It’s like insurance, and you might even be able to help a nice young person achieve greater heights than s/he would have alone.

So go ahead, mentor somebody. Share what you know. Pour your knowledge into someone else’s mind. Guarantee your own immortality. Pass it on.

Just in case.

Kindle readers can email me at Lmspreen@gmail.com.

Leave a comment


  1. Jobs was a poet/inventor, a dream spinner, a creative genius. All he was is in his story, which is still accessible to any kid with a bad haircut and a place to tinker. So, you’re already doing what you can, Lynne – sharing stories, telling truths and inspiring the dream spinners and storytellers who may be finding the adventure short and golden; or the young minstrels, taking their first creative steps.

  2. Yesterday, I heard the speech that included that quote. It was a commencement speech at one of the universities, back when he had come through his first bout with cancer. I think he meant it in the more positive way. He also went on to say that he would ask himself if it was his last day, would he be happy spending it doing what he intended to do on that day. If the answer was no several days in a row, it was time to rethink what he was doing. So I think he meant, go for your dreams, even if you might fail. I found that inspiring as I have been so afraid of failing that I don’t submit my poetry to get it published. And yet, what have I got to lose? And what if I wait too long?
    As for what comes next, I think that perhaps our bodies are simply hosts for a small portion of cosmic energy. When we die, it is only the body that dies, the energy leaves the body and returns to the universe. That it will return again, in a different form, but that it never truly ceases to exist.
    Of course, I am not sure what that does for our unshared stories. I guess we have to rewrite them on the next go-round, in some shape or form. Carol

    • Carol, that’s the big question: what happens to that energy? I was taught that earth is a closed system. No energy is wasted. So then how can all of the efforts we put into learning, maturing, and becoming better people, be wasted? The only way to guarantee it’s not is to share it. Do it, girl.

  3. Jean

     /  October 7, 2011

    Great advice, Lynn! “Share what you know. Pour your knowledge into someone else’s mind. Guarantee your own immortality. Pass it on.

    Just in case.”

  4. Lynne, I think the main message I get from Steve Jobs is” life is short, you can do it, get it done- FOCUS” He used his own date with mortality as a wake-up call for all of us, maintaining humility despite his iconic status. I love your advice”share what you know, pour your knowledge into someone else’s mind, guarantee your own immortality. Pass it on.” I would add my own:we all have unique treasures within to offer. All we have to do is stay still long enough to recognize it. Share your stories ( as you do!) xoxox

  5. You pose some interesting points here, Lynne. I never really considered what happens to all the learning we accumulate when our lives here are finished. I like to think that, when we move into our forever home, we’ll find out just how little we know that really matters, though! Regarding Jobs, I think he was telling us to Go For IT! That life is brief and we shouldn’t let opportunities for good pass us by.That sharing our knowledge and experience is an excellent way of passing on something for the next generation.

  6. Debbie, I wonder if he, like so many CEOs, went for it at the expense of his family or anything else on the other side of the work-life equation? He left us so much. I wonder what he left them? I think I’ll go read about more about his life.

    • I think it’s a myth that anyone can “have it all,” Lynne. We women used to believe we could succeed in having a perfect home-life and a perfect working-life, but I think we realized somewhere along the line that it was impossible — something had to be sacrificed. I’m betting Jobs found that out, too. Perhaps his wife kept the home fires burning while he was off being a genius. I’ll be interested in hearing what your research turns up!

  7. Hi Lynne, ah the great and wonderful Steve Jobs … our age in fact … and now he’s gone. It does give one pause, doesn’t it? For me the take-away from his life, his message, his style — believe in yourself not the dictates of society. Go against the grain to discover what lies on the other side. His spirit of discovery and adventure resonate with me. I recently wrote a guest blog post for The Women’s Nest, in fact, about Honoring Our Unique Selves … http://bit.ly/q85CK7 … avoiding a path of conformity. I love the fact that Jobs did it his way … and empowered individuals and the world with his products at the same time. A favorite quote of his … “I just want to put a ding in the Universe.” Great minds seem to be in tune with a force beyond sight and sound. It may not look perfect from a mortal perspective, but I think they are dancing to the beat of a higher intelligence. Thanks for sharing this post, Lynne. Great work, as always! –Daisy

  8. I think that you are right when you say… “give it all away – maybe that is your hedge against dying.” I don’t write because it’s fun; I write because I have to. I write to preserve memories, mark passages and reclaim my soul, to leave a trace of my existence. And when I am gone, I hope my “energy” will live on in the hearts of those who have loved me.

  9. I only wish I’d known more about Jobs’ background before he died. I knew he was a visionary, but didn’t realize he was a college drop-out. It’s unfortunate that he had to pass away to make us pay attention and reflect on our own lives.

    Thanks, Lynne. As usual, you make us think.

  10. Lynne, I like your subjects and the way you write. I’ve thought a lot about Steve Jobs’ recent death – my first reaction being: I’ll never be as accomplished as he and be the historical public figure postmortem he’ll become. I feel quite accomplished until I compare myself to the likes of Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey (with whom I’ve worked and share a similar professional background).

    That egoist viewpoint gave way to an admiration of his accomplishments and the recognition that with all his great achievements and his great wealth – he was still robbed of his life way before his time. And it’s along that line of thinking that his quote makes sense to me and provides inspiration. We have just this one life in this human form and it will be stolen at a time unknown to us. Allow that mystery to inspire us to do what we want, be who we want to be and reach for our personal stars.

    • You know what, though, Joyce? I wonder if what SJ and OW accomplished is worth it to them. Both have so much but gave up almost an equal amount. SJ was driven and was often very cruel. He was bullheaded and felt the rules didn’t apply to him, which may have led to him dying earlier than necessary.

      And Oprah’s biography was unauthorized, but if you only believe half of it, you get the sense she’s given up a lot, too. At the risk of sounding negative, I think she’s in it for the glory (or love, to put it charitably). She has gone to great lengths to squelch negative revelations about her life, and can be heavy-handed in dealing with competitors and adversaries. Sure, that’s business, I guess. But I’m just pointing out that for all she has done, I wonder if she is truly content.

      Not to say I’m not grateful to both of them, though. Very much am. And thanks for stopping by. Hope to hear from you again.


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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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