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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

Do Appearances Matter?

In this article, Ellie Williams says New York police have started warning girls with too-short skirts that they could attract sexual predators. Williams is annoyed, because she feels the police are blaming the (potential) victims.

I agree with her that we shouldn’t assume sexual assault is the fault of the victim, but I do think people don’t always think about what their clothing says about them. Like the underwear models in the picture above. Maybe I’m old, but I don’t get what the girls in the thong panties are trying to say. Any ideas?

We love laughing at the “People of Walmart” pictures, and HR people always have a half-dozen funny stories about people who come to an interview in appalling outfits. Appearance matters.

This prom dress got a lot of attention a few years ago.

Believe me, I rebelled against this as a young woman in the 60s and 70s. I thought it was superficial to judge people based on appearances. I’d go into a nice clothing store in faded jeans and feel offended when the clerks treated me like an unserious customer, which I was, in view of the fact that I was poor, but I thought they were snotty and elitist.

In my thirties, I was waiting for a guy to come by the house and pick me up for our first date. I saw his car from the bathroom window. It was an old, faded, Fiat with torn upholstery and bald tires.

I should have stayed in the bathroom. Instead I ended up marrying and supporting that man. We divorced seven years later. The first impression I got from his car said everything, but I had been taught not to judge by appearances. Now that I’m older, I realize that humans really don’t have any other way to draw first impressions.

We respond to visual cues

We humans respond to visual cues. While dressing like a streetwalker – or going naked – doesn’t entitle a criminal to use your body, at the same time it’s wrong to say that people don’t look at what you’re wearing and draw conclusions. Those conclusions might turn out to be wrong, but the chance to demonstrate that fact may never come.

What do you think the young woman in the cowboy hat is saying with her choice of clothing? To me, it says I’m sexy and fun. Let’s play. That’s her decision – she’s a grown woman – but I’m hoping she’s also a martial arts expert.

Ah, well, she’ll probably change as she gets older. When I was a teenager, I applied for a job. The prospective employer called my current boss and asked for a reference. Vick praised me to the hilt. The prospect kept pushing. “Come on, she can’t be perfect. Tell me one single flaw.”

Finally Vic relented. “I had to be honest,” he said later. “I told him your skirts are too short.”

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

Leave a comment


  1. Points well taken, Lynne! We all tend to make snap decisions about others, based in large part by what we see and hear. That’s particularly evident when it comes to job interviews and first dates. Nobody should condone the “she was asking for it” rationale for sexual abuse, but neither should women (or men) dress to convey the impression that they are!

  2. here’s what I’ve always told my 3 daughters: there are wacko guys out there who think that women in hot clothing are inviting them to be wacko–
    we will never be able to control the wackos….
    thanks Lynne-hot topic…so to speak..:)

  3. It’s still part of the patriarchal world we live in, and I still don’t get all of what that involves. Robert Heinlein (definitely a science fiction writer) wrote often that the reason there’s sexual violence is that we all wear clothes. Hide something, and it’s more interesting. Don’t know about that either. Watching Women War and Peace on pbs, and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer was talking to Afghanistan president Karzai’s advisor about bringing more women to the peace conference table. Karzai’s minister responded in a way much like the police officers offering wardrobe advice. It was a backhanded way of blaming the women. Listen to what he had to say on that episode and hear if it doesn’t ring the same. How many steps from warning females about their wardrobe to stoning them for men’s behavior? I’m with you, Lynne. Dress with your navel hanging out, you’d better be able to knock a guy out with your left pinkie finger.

  4. Marla, Debbie and Linda, I appreciate your thoughtful replies. Marla, it’s too bad but we do have to look out for the wackos. I’ve told my husband that in certain instances it’s best not to make eye contact, and we’ve learned to recognize situations where it’s better to stay under the radar. Linda, Karzai makes me sick on so many levels. This is yet another.

  5. Nanci

     /  November 4, 2011

    Appearances make a huge difference. Anyone who doubts it should watch What Not To Wear. They choose people with schlumpy or inapproprate clothing, bring them to NY with $5000 and teach them how to dress themselves. The amazing thing is the difference in posture, body language and personality at the end. They don’t do anything to change those things, just the clothing and grooming make a huge difference.
    While no one would want to blame someone’s clothing choice for their victimization, the fact is that clothing is viewed as a come on for some neanderthals. Laura Croft may not need to worry about that, but most mortal females do. Thanks for the post, Lynne and thanks for the reminder that we were once the ones with the provacative clothes. I once had a teacher who came to school with overalls and a baby tee with her thong exposed through the sides. She couldn’t understand that this was not an appropriate clothing choice for a professional. All the 4th, 5th and 6th grade boys liked it!

    • Nanci, that teacher must have been something! Was she embarrassed? I remember “our guys” (when we were in high school” wore their Levis about 3 inches below their belly buttons and let their boxers hang out the top. I’m sure our parents were scandalized, but at least we weren’t looking at ass cracks!

  6. I had a discussion with several people a couple days ago, triggered by another blogger who included a video in her post about how women ar presented in advertising. I think we live in a world of sensory overload, and because of that, those in the media have to push the limits farther and father out to get people’s attention. The objectification of women is the fallout. And that, in turn, is internalized by young women. What saddens me is that women in so many places on the planet are denied their power. Many young women in this country, give their power away.

  7. Yes, Renee, I have a granddaughter who is 11 today, and I fear that she will eat that junk up, the fact that women are still seen as things. I never quite got it as clearly as when, in my 40s (!) I was driving down to the keys and saw a guy photographing his boat, with his girl on it. Beautiful setting, Boat (on trailer) with islands in background. Girl (in red bikini and tumbling waves of dark hair) posing on bow of boat. And CLANK! it finally fell into place in my brain. With his picture he was saying “My boat, My girlie.” Things. Of course, it might have been her boat, and she asked him to take it, what do I know. But as a visual to the lesson of objectification, I could see how it worked. It was profound.

  8. Excellent article, Lynne. My story was much like yours in my younger years. Now I work for a school district. I see way too much. It is unreal but real. I now have a different attitude toward appearance. Like you, I believe in the freedom of choice. A sex offender should be held accountable. On the other hand one needs to respect themselves and other by dressing appropriately. Why ask for problems when one can maybe help prevent one.

    • And Ann, what do these young girls think about the way they look? I think 99% of them are innocent of the message they’re sending, except of course Ms. Cowgirl above, who is old enough to know better. But dang, I sound like a crank, don’t I?

  9. This is a great discussion,Lynne. I do Sport’s Physicals in middle and high schools and am continually amazed how these 12-18 year old females dress, with cleavage,midriffs and butt cracks showing. I have to admit, I am old-fashioned. I feel offended and I wonder what they are thinking or if they are thinking. I suspect that many are probably just trying to fit it I want to tell them to go get dressed, they are sending the wrong message! I remember rebelling against authority and not wanting to be labeled by my appearance or what I was wearing. Then I remember that whole”dress for success” era where first impressions based upon your appearance were crucial for job interviews. For me, the truth is, we do send a message by how we present ourselves both in appearance,clothing, mannerisms and conversation.Personally, I think inappropriate clothing is a distraction that may give a negative first impression.

    • It’s a minefield, Kathy. I know all the good reasons they should be allowed to express themselves, explore identity, learn about group behavior, etc. but with those two girls in the top photo with the thongs? I just want to stand in front of them and say, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING!!!!! My husband told me that when he was in high school (back in the days of mini-skirts) if a girl came into class dressed really sexy there was no way he could learn anything. A classroom full of guys holding their jackets in their laps 😉

  10. Nanci

     /  November 7, 2011

    LOL with the comment from Bill!! Based on the much more widespread and open sexuality in our society I wonder if it would take a mere mini-skirt to cause the same reaction in a group of HS boys.
    Regarding the teacher with the thong… I think she was surprised and annoyed to be called on it…. and yes, she WAS something.

    • Surprised and annoyed, hah! I once had to tell a worker to pull up her neckline. She was proud of her giant bazooms and I guess she thought the Personnel Office was an appropriate place to show them off. You know, what with all the traffic coming in the door. She acted like I was a pervert for noticing.

  11. I think girls dress suggestively these days for the same reason they always have. They don’t value themselves as much as they should. They also have celebrity ‘role models’ who behave irresponsibly…and don’t respect themselves. If you have talent use it, and not your assets, to promote yourself.

    It doesn’t help that most young girls and women are boy crazy. If they don’t compete with the girls who dress provocatively, they might not get a boyfriend (their reasoning, not mine).

    • Good thought, Kristy, re competition. That part has probably been true since we lived in caves. But the lack of self-respect — where the heck does that come from? I think most of us go through it. I have two granddaughters and fear for their self-esteem. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. Raised 4 girls…..
    Go in your room and take that off PERIOD!! That’s how I roll!

    • Camary, your comment made me laugh. That’s what my parents would have said, no ifs ands or buts. You come back anytime, hear? Happy Thanksgiving.


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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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