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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

What If We Didn’t Consider Aging a Problem?

Rossellini younger

The world is a magical place limited to some extent by our low expectations.   Today while I was meditating these ideas bubbled up:

  • If it’s true that forming a new habit takes 21 days of repetition, shouldn’t we be able to form a new habit every 21 days? So if you picked three new things you want to groove into your brain (say, meditation, Kegels and exercise), and did them for a month, wouldn’t you have three new habits? Over a year you could develop 36 new habits/behaviors. Is that really possible? What a better person I could be in a year if that were true.
  • What if you looked in the mirror on a regular basis and thought, “You’re smart! You’re pretty! Dang, you’re awesome.” Oh, put away the modesty. You love yourself, right? Why not unabashedly tell yourself that? Oprah does, or at least I assume she does. I wrote about it here. I think it would feel wonderful if we could stop with the negativity and start celebrating ourselves. My shrink used to say, “change the behavior and the feelings will follow.” Isn’t that a lovely thought? What if we could change our feelings simply by acting like we believe it?

Rossellini older

Okay, now that I’ve laid the groundwork, now that you are floating on a bubble of what might be, I would like to share with you a fabulous anecdote. A reporter asked Isabella Rossellini what she does to try to look younger. She fixed him with that half-mocking, studious look of hers and said, “I do nothing. I don’t think aging is a problem.”

Can you imagine feeling this way? Let me create a mental image for you: we look in the mirror and see that our necks are veiny, our eyes are surrounded by a starburst of lines and our hair is thinning. We shrug, because we know that looks go away.

We accept with a peaceful heart and good humor that older women look different from younger women. We marvel at their strength and ability to bend down and reach into the lower shelves, and we hand them things to carry and put away because they can. We laugh, knowing we’re taking advantage. They laugh, knowing it’ll be their turn one day. It’s all good. It’s just the way of the planet.

What would that feel like? What if we acted as if we believed it for twenty one days? Change the behavior and the feelings will follow.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my AST friends. I am grateful for the companionship we share.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks Lynne. I actually enjoy the aging me, though I must confess, I do what I can to look the best I can without resorting to anything drastic – including – coloring my hair. I like the peace and contentment I feel and the dissipated desire to prove myself.

  2. Sarah

     /  November 25, 2011

    I love that quote. I’m going to practice saying that to myself every day, and to others, if the occasion arises: “aging is not a problem.” Then I might even add: “aging is a blessing.” After all, consider the alternative- not having lived long enough to earn those wrinkles.

    • Sarah, I can promise you the saying works. I have practiced it for years and it allowed me to get thru many tough situations.

  3. Jean

     /  November 25, 2011

    It isn’t looking in the mirror that counts. It is looking into the faces of others. Are you smiling? Are they? That’s ageless! Great post, Lynne. Thank you.

  4. Life has gotten better at every stage. Do I miss the fresh faced Nanci? Sure, but do I miss the bundle of anxiety and worry about what everyone else thought….. Nah! I love what Isabella said and plan to rev up my 21 day habit to include that thought. Thanks, Lynne for bringing this back to center stage. Maybe if the largest generation (Boomers) start to believe and act on this concept it could change things for future gens.

  5. Beautiful thoughts. Perhaps we’ll start seeing our faces on the covers of magazines, in major media like movies and television, when we stand in the power that being an elder gives us naturally. I earned every wrinkle, and I’m delighted that most are laugh lines and none of them hurt. Look at the extraordinary beauty of Mother Earth. She’s been smiling for billions of years!

  6. As usual, you nailed it again! I, too, do not see aging as a problem … it is all simply a state of mind ….. thank you for voicing your thoughts and insites … grand reminders!

  7. Excellent! Personally, I embrace aging. There are so many benefits that far surpass the negatives. We are wiser, we are more the person we were meant to be, we care less about what others think about us, and best of all we become grandmothers!

  8. Great idea Lynne! I am going to try it for 21 days then send you a photo to let you know how happy, fit and ageless I look. That damn mirror has been distorting our self image for years!

  9. Some cultures don’t look on aging as a burden; too bad ours does. Mature people have so much to give, so much wisdom to share. We’re inundated with media photos of lovely young people. Why should ALL of us feel worthless unless we look just like them?? Thank you, Lynne, for pointing out what should be obvious yet often isn’t — hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful, too!

  10. Lynne, I love the idea of thinking our way into believing, kind of a “fake it till we make it” mentality! It definitely puts the responsibility for our life experiences squarely on our own shoulders. I agree with Debbie, that we live in an “age-defying or denying ” society. Your idea to think our way into being ageless or whatever we want to be is fantastic. I’m just going to tell myself,age is merely a number and I am living a joyful life right now. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  11. I think we all have the problem with criticizing ourselves too much and not liking the way we look.

    Oh, okay. I’ll speak for myself. Yes, I do a lot of negative self-talk in the mirror at times. I’m not proud of it. But I think I remember an episode of Oprah where models like Tyra Banks thought they were ugly–at the height of their careers! This tells us that beauty is really just in our heads. If only we can learn to accept ourselves just the way we are. I think we all struggle with that. I’m not there yet, but I hope to be one day. 🙂

    • Ollin, I appreciate your comment. I think we could maybe come around to a place where we feel grateful for what we have and not the opposite – ie not throwing back in the face of the cosmos that great gift of our uniqueness, and the fact we’re blessed to be alive!

  12. My New Years resolution is to live by this saying…..”age is insignificant unless you are cheese”!

  13. Lynne, I love this! I wrote this week about my amazing 90-year-old aunt. She gets around better than I do and has the most beautiful positive attitude. She likes to laugh, too. Attitude and self-talk are so important.

    • You are so right, and I think as we live longer, we’re going to get over our fear of wrinkles and just. start. living.
      Have a great weekend!

  1. Aging: One Long Downhill Slide? | Any Shiny Thing

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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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