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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.

    View all my reviews

No More User Name/Passwords

Almost every time I buy something online, or subscribe to a service, or reveal that I am an alive person, I am encouraged to create an online account.  I have accounts for my email and virus protection, utility companies and local library, credit cards, banks, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Norton, Kindle, Amazon, Office Depot and a whole bunch more.

This phenomenon is becoming unavoidable. When I tried to help Mom change her address with the DMV online, we had to create an account. Or when she tried to cancel the call waiting feature she didn’t ask for/doesn’t want? She had to create an account on TimeWarner.com. Either that or continue to jabber with ineffectual magpies at their 800 number, or go down to the local office and wait in line for forty-five minutes. Neither of which work. So you go online and create an account with a new username and password.

I have more than seventy user name/password combos.
I do not want any more.

Perhaps sensing you’re falling out of love with this process, some companies try to lure you back by letting you personalize a little sliver of their corporate website. They do this by tacking on the cutesy “my” to their web address (e.g. “myverizon” or “mytoyota” or “myfibroids.com.”) (Okay, I made that one up.) Some of them, like my local newspaper, even want you to create personal profiles. Pretty soon you won’t need Facebook. You’ll have “mypressenterprise.com/me”. Go ahead. Put that on your business card instead of a personal website. Wait, I think I’ll delete this blog. You can just go to my page at Frigidaire.

Many of them would like to make it even easier for you to log in by using your Facebook or Google UN/PW. Isn’t that nice of them? I’m sure it’s all on the up-and-up. Very secure.

I’m not a Luddite. I love new technology, but we might have achieved critical mass of ridiculousness, and now it’s time to stop and reassess. Does it make sense that corporations are firing all their humans and then programming software to act like employees? Who needs a bricks-and-mortar bank, store or library? You just go on the Internet and, with the help of a smug little voicebot, do it all yourself. Pretty soon we’ll be performing surgery on our own bodies. The only thing we’ll need is the proper user name and password.

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

Leave a comment


  1. And when everything is internet-based, all employees fired, who will pay for any of the products and services these companies are selling?

    If they aren’t automating something, then they’re moving the jobs offshore to places where people aren’t paid enough to afford those products and services either.
    Then again, if we make the companies and employees in those countries strong enough through the money sent offshore and through the training and education provided, they might just end up taking over the whole of North American business.
    This might be a little bit of sour grapes on my part, having been given early retirement when most of my tasks were sent offshore. And I am not against helping out those who are working to become better, but should it be at the cost of our own citizens? I think perhaps what works in the short term will fail in the long. I marvel at the short-sightedness of management these days.
    Perhaps just one more way that the rich get richer and the poor stage protests on Wall Street… Carol

  2. This is a great thought provoking post. As someone who is lost in the maze of Internet and social media, I, too, wonder where all this is going, especially in our schools. Teachers today spend as much time answering emails and creating moodle and other on line curriculum sites, as they do interacting with students. What will be the cost to society, if we lose the human touch in education?

  3. I hear you re all the passwords. I must admit I cheat — even though “they” strongly recommend against this. I use the same password in a lot of place.

    Subject aside, I love your humor, Lynne. Keep these posts coming!

  4. Pat and QF, thanks for your comments. Two positive developments of late: the viewership of the three network evening news programs (Sawyer, Williams and ?) is growing. Apparently 24/7 cable blather is losing its appeal.

    Secondly, companies are beginning to “onshore” jobs back into the US. According to the report, and in accordance with Tom Friedman’s predictions in his book The World is Flat, it’s only a matter of time until the wages of workers in other countries rise, diminishing the value of offshoring. Because part of the cost of offshoring is problems based in cultural differences, lack of trademark security, and cost of shipping. If American workers aren’t that much more expensive, those other intangible factors can even out the difference, and the work can come back. So there are two minor silver linings for you.

  5. Kathy

     /  October 21, 2011

    I tried to click on the LIKE tab, Lynne, but it asked for my username and password, which I forgot! [[[sigh]]] I know I wrote it down on some scrap of paper, but I don’t remember where I put it, because it’s in a secure spot.[[[grrrrr!]]] Anyway, I like what you and everyone has to say…But, in this day and age, of everyone knowing everything about everybody… just Google your name…nothing is really secure. Hey!! Maybe I can ask Google where that scrap of paper is!

  6. Oh, Lynne, you’ve presented some valid arguments here! I think we all are getting pretty tired of creating strong usernames and passwords for every single thing. It was fun for a while, but now we’ve got so many of the darn things we can’t begin to keep up (and we’re not even old!) I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope somebody can figure out one — maybe they’ll simply have a place where we can touch our thumbprint to the monitor and then we’re good to go — scary stuff!!

  7. Lynne, I’ve had to keep a notebook of all the passwords and accounts I am now the proud owner of. I’ll be dead in the water if I misplace that notebook.It is beyond annoying. it appears that human touch is being lost. I mean, when was the last time you made a phone call (if you could even get the #) to a business or service and talked to a live human being?? You have touched upon a very timely issue,my friend!

  8. I have a notebook too. I also keep a folder in my email (yeah, stupid idea) where I store all those confirmations they send back. The biggest problem I encountered was when my email was hacked. I had so many places and so many passwords to change, I couldn’t remember which were which. So I too am using fewer variations.

    re the offshore jobs coming back: glad to hear they are beginning to reverse gears on that one. Too late for me though. I was “restructured” out at the age of 64, back in June. I am in Canada, which tends to follow US trends, but not right away. While I would like the income, I don’t miss the stress of working, so not too likely I will go looking for work at this age. If I do, it will be something less stress-oriented. I’m a full-time poet now. Not too likely that will be a paying job, for sure! lol

    Quillfyre aka Carol

    • Hi Carol, I’m from a barely-middle-class background. All my life I supported deadbeats. In my forties, I married a sweet guy from a privileged background. When things went to s*&# with his family biz and our finances took a dive, I was able to show him the beauty of living simply, since before I met him, I had done nothing but.

      We have never been happier. And he married the right girl, huh?

      My dad always said, if the country falls apart, you can all come live in my backyard. We were always prepared for disaster. I might not be able to grown my own food on the patio, but in all other ways, I can be happy with way less. There’s strength in self-reliance, and you now have the time to indulge your art. I wish you the very best.

  9. Thanks, Lynne. I can rather relate to some of your experience as well. My family was actually working-class but I was fortunate to meet someone after my first marriage ended who had a different focus. Although we never had a lot of money, our life was comfortable, and we were able to travel much more than most people ever get to do. But it was not a time of savings, so when I went back to work I began to save as much as I could through work, and have managed so that as long as we don’t see anything like 1929 again, I will be ok till I am 90. Not wealthy, but I will be okay. I won’t be taking lots of trips, but I can perhaps manage every couple of years to take a modest one. Health issues over the last couple of years mean that I am a bit leery of travelling too far from home anyway, so I am glad I had all those opportunities when my husband was alive. My brother and I are going to see about sharing a place and expenses, which will make things easier for both of us, and we will plan to simplify. I start to find that it does not make sense to have so many “things”. Now if I could just stop acquiring books…Carol

  10. Here I am on your blog! And I see Debbie, another blogger who I follow. I can’t get started thinking about the nightmare of endless passwords and security codes because I will go into a complete emotional spiral. And then I won’t have the necessary password to get out of it.

    • Hey, Renee, you said you follow Debbie. Isn’t it cool to run into people who you’ve interacted with elsewhere on that big, oversized, uncontrollable World Wide Web? I mean, in some ways, it’s a small world online, too. Glad to see you here.

  11. I cheat on the passwords by only using a limited number. My older sister, who has a notoriously bad memory, uses a different password for each account and then writes it down. The problem is, she can’t remember where she wrote them. This gives us a good laugh.

    • Laura, you hit two nails with one hammer. You either reuse passwords, which is a risk, or dream up really good ones, but then you can’t remember them without a list, and where do you keep the list? If a thief found it, it’d be the treasure map to our lives! Thanks for stopping by.


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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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