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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 Courage to Be Average

Not me.

I used to be a hero. That sounds conceited, but I mean it in the sense that I put everybody before myself. I sacrificed for the good of others, and refused to accept help. Many women are brought up this way.

In my mid-forties, I began to treat myself as well as I had
everybody else.

But I still I worry about certain people whom I love, and usually I discuss my concerns with my husband, who has been a good mentor to me. (Vice versa, he says. Nice.)

Recently I was venting my pain and confusion about a troubled friend of mine, and Bill said something so smart that I had to write it down. And then I decided to share it with my friends at Any Shiny Thing. Bill said of my friend, “She has a strange life but it’s not your responsibility.”

How liberating to hear it put that way. I’m not responsible for saving her, fixing her, or changing her. (She is not in any mental or physical danger, and has not asked for my opinion or my help.) How she lives her life is not only not my responsibility, it’s none of my business.

It’s her life. Hers to choose, hers to decide. Who am I to “help” her?

I used to try to change people, but I’ve learned that my advice isn’t always useful or applicable. I also have come to understand that most people change when they’re good and ready, not when you want them to. Hell, that lesson was the whole purpose for meeting my last ex-husband. So I have to let things go.

This is a humbling thing to accept, because it means I’m no longer the hero.

It’s hard to sit back and let people live their own lives. You want to help. You want them to like you or think well of you. You want to think well of yourself. Leaving them alone means you have nothing to feed off of, and it takes a pretty strong ego to let it go. But my message is, it’s freeing.

So what if nobody thinks you’re awesome?

Years ago, I told my boss I was a perfectionist. Like many people who say this, I said it with a bit of pride. He smiled at me and said, “Perfectionists fear criticism.”

Crushed! I was humiliated, but he was right, of course. It takes more guts to be imperfect than perfect, and it takes more guts to be average than non-heroic. Now that I realize this, I’m trying to hang up my cape.

What a relief to let it go.


Leave a comment


  1. Libbye A. Morris

     /  November 11, 2011

    Great blog post, Lynne! I once lost out on a freelance writing opportunity because the subject asked what my greatest weakness was, and I replied–like you, somewhat proudly–that I tended to be a perfectionist. I was thinking that it was really a positive attribute that I would present as a negative. “Oh, I can’t work with a perfectionist,” he bellowed. “That’s not going to work at all.” I learned then that perfectionism isn’t a positive attribute at all!

  2. Lynne,
    I think you’re awesome and appreciate your editing skills.
    My husband was an anal perfectionist and I almost hated the characteristic until he died. Then one day in a restuarant as i straightened the salt and pepper shakers and alligned the silverware, I realized OMG! I have become my husband!…or has he possesed me? He trained me to be a perfect ( he was the best or worst..however you look at it) perfectionist and I was not born with the trait, at my core I am still a slob. So when I absolutely cannot be the perfectionist I strive to be( that’s right I strive to reach that goal) I call my imperfections “Spirit Holes.”
    Whatt is a “Spirit Hole”? When the Indians created their crafts never made them perfect, leaving a flaw in their creation. They believed if they made something perfect they would anger the Gods thus they leave “Spirit Holes.”
    So just remember “Spirit Holes” please the Gods.

    • Spirit Holes – I love it! Also Leonard Cohen sang about “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” The song is called Anthem.

  3. Good for you, Lynne! My late dad taught me a long time ago to “live and let live.” As a woman, I think we tend to want to fix things, whether it be our best friend’s marriage, our children’s first heartbreak, or our aging parents’ social life. How much better to listen quietly, provide a shoulder to cry on or advice when asked — how freeing to realize these are their problems, and they’ll have to be the ones to resolve them!

    • Exactly, Debbie! If we have the strength to NOT try to fix them, our loved ones might have a chance of developing those important skills on their own. But hard to stand by with your hands in your pockets, huh?

  4. Bingo,Lynne! You nailed this one on all counts.First ,you captured the expectation that our generation was brought up on-to thrive on the notion that we could”bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan”blah,blah,blah- to be everything to everybody because “I am woman, hear me roar” until we finally woke up from our frenzy to realize that the world could & would go on without us and that there is tremendous freedom in truly letting go..Hurray!!

    You have some great discussion here. In relation to Libbye’s comment: I remember being coached to say I was a perfectionist when asked what my weaknesses were in a job interview. It was felt to be a positive negative.

    Thanks Lynne, You are our cheerleader. Let’s all go out and” live and let live” 🙂

    • Kathy, I remember that song. Here’s the link, ladies, courtesy of the Divine Miss M!!! (love YouTube)

      And man, we ate up that story line, didn’t we? With our bows and our shoulder pads and our new briefcases? What a burden to set down now that we’re mature enough to know better. Whew.

  5. Vonnie Kennedy

     /  November 11, 2011

    I still have flare-ups of the ‘disease to please’ from time to time, but at least I know to stop myself instead automatically putting others before me. I only wish I’d recognized the problem years ago, but oh well, better late than never.

    When I read your posts, I know I’m not the only one.
    Thanks. 🙂

  6. Excellent post! One of the things I appreciate the most about aging is being able to be satisfied with “good enough”.

  7. Vonnie and Linda, I think this is one of those things we can list under “benefits of aging.” I just read Isabella Rossellini’s comment when asked what she does about aging (they were talking about her looks). She said this: “I do nothing. I don’t think aging is a problem.” Can you imagine thinking that way? Here’s the rest:

  8. You never cease to amaze and delight me Lynne. I just love your “Any shiny thing” blog and take time to read it even when I’m as busy as a one-armed paperhanger. I can certainly identify with this post – my Mom used to say – “Just be as kind to yourself as you are to other people.” I think she had a darn good point.

    • BLC, I am honored that you would make time for my blog! And I love that expression. A coworker used to say busier than a one-legged man in an @$$-kicking contest.

      I just bought your book, Cracks in the Sidewalk, and can’t wait to read it on my Kindle.

      For all my AST buddies, here are the first 2 sentences of her book, and it whets my appetite to know more:

      “I’m an old woman now. Some might say too old to dream, too old to believe in miracles…”

      WOW. Don’t you just want to know what comes after the “…but”? Here is Bette Lee’s website.

  9. Mary

     /  December 23, 2011

    Letting people deal with challenges is how they evolve and when one overcomes these challenges and/or obstacles they can have a sense of pride and accomplishment, especially if they go it alone. I really wish you luck with getting your book published and I look forward to reading it.
    ❤ always,

  1. Were You Raised to Be a Doormat? | Any Shiny Thing

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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • my read shelf:
    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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Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

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thoughts on the spaces in between

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