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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

Getting Old Is a Privilege

Bill, Lynne and Mom (Marie)

The doctor felt sorry for the elderly woman. She had recently been widowed after seventy-three years of marriage, and now she would live out her days in this rest home. “I’m so sorry,” the doctor said. “What has it been like for you losing your husband after so many years together?” She paused for a moment and then replied, “Heaven.”

I just started reading How We Age by Dr. Marc Agronin, and that’s an excerpt. In our culture, the prevailing viewpoint is that everything about getting old is bad, it’s horrible, it’s hell. Okay, I get the mortality thing. I don’t want to die, and the older I get, the likelier it seems! But does that mean that the older I get, the sadder and more resigned I have to feel? That’s the message our culture shovels at us.

Unless you look for counterintelligence: according to this article in Psychology Today, people in their 70s are as happy as those in their 20s! Bill and I were discussing age and illness the other night, and here’s something we both found comfort in: if we were to die suddenly, at least we reached the crucial milestones of having raised our kids to the point where they can take care of themselves. We’ve enjoyed fulfilling careers and traveled, seen two grandchildren born, and eased the old age of our parents. I’ll bet that plays into the satisfaction our group feels. They’ve won the race; now they can stop running, unless they damn well feel like running. In which case, lace up and rock out.

Ella's first visit to Grandma Lynne's house October 2010

One of the difficulties we face as we age is letting go of our career identities. For thirty years I was a corporate suit. I crafted and polished this identity. I spoke and dressed and thought a certain way. It took me years to let go – actually, I still have my blazers and dress pants. They fit well and look nice and I might have to dress up someday, right? It’s the last vestige of my ID, hanging in the guest-room closet. But now that I’m not Ms. Corporate, I can cuss and wear hippie clothes and not do my nails. Take that, bureaucracy world!

In our society we “fight” aging. As if that’s going to stop time. Well, it won’t, and I’ve decided to enjoy it and to seek out people who can help me understand how to do that. In More magazine this month, Dr. Vivian Diller talks about letting go of wanting to look young in favor of wanting to look good for your age.  She says the benefits of “consciously letting go of youth” are:

You will feel differently. You will feel more hopeful. You will create a solid foundation from which to grow for the rest of your life. Yes, there is loss. But you also gain something on the other side of it. There’s a comfort level, a renewed energy for other things.

I can’t link to the article due to copyright considerations but it’s at your grocery store now. I felt invigorated after I read it, and I wish that for you.

(Apologies and best wishes to those seniors who lost their retirement dreams in the Great Recession. I hope and pray that things get better for you very soon.)

Leave a comment


  1. Great piece Lynne. I have consciously let go of needing to be young, but I still feel youthful and better than ever. And, like you, have let go of the professional me to create room to develop the personal me.

  2. I lost my retirement dreams in the great recession, but it has been an opportunity for me to reinvent myself and work at something I love. I am 61 and have great plans for the future. After all, 3 of my grandparents lived into their 90s. My mom is 87 and still going strong, so I figure I have a lot of living left to do, and unlike in my younger years, I don’t feel the necessity to impress anyone. Who says old age is for sissies?

    • Laura, you’re like a double shot of espresso and a walk through an art gallery all rolled into one. I feel energized and inspired by your post.

  3. Barbara Strauch reports in “The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain” that our brains may well be choosing happy as we get older. So I choose to join my brain on this journey forward, a collaboration I couldn’t have pulled off until now. I’m still keeping the Dior single-button, shawl collar suit; like you, the past business model. It was a find! Just like my current happier brain. Thanks, Lynne, for another thoughtful start to the weekend!

    • Good to hear from you, too, Linda. The more I read about brain development and function, the more it seems true that we create patterns in our grey matter. And we can change those patterns. The “happy choice” is probably that very thing. Empowering!

  4. Wow, Lynne, what an upbeat, optimistic post! I think it should be fairly easy to be happy in old age, provided you have your health, more than two cents to rub together, and a purpose. I do feel sorry for those who must spend their “golden” years strapped to a chair, lonely, forgotten, penniless, and ailing in mind or body. Our country really should stop thinking of “old age” as a curse and start revering old folks as the treasure trove they are!

    • Debbie, one of the members of our book club recently made me aware of the truism that “every time an old person dies it’s like a library burning.” Doesn’t that just say how important our seniors are? I love that. Happy weekend.

  5. Pennie

     /  January 27, 2012

    I love the quote from Psychology Today stating that folks in the 20’s aren’t any happier that those in their 70’s. I would go one step further and and dare to say that many 70 year olds are happier! Sure, there are a few more aches and pains, but those are easy payment for the wisdom, enlightenment and discernment that only comes from the experience of life. I would not go back to my 20’s for all the tea in China!

  6. I LOVE this blog! You are the voice of our generation-
    Thank you, Lynne–ANOTHER very enjoyable read!!!

  7. I work with 20 and 30 years olds and hope I am setting a great example for them by being first in at work, last out, with more vim n vigor than all of them put together (it’s pacing!), letting my hair go grey, joking about my wrinkles the “Buddha belly” lap for my grandbabies, and generally enjoying the hell out of my day! I love being 52. Wouldn’t go back for nothin’!

    • You ARE an example! Hopefully when they get older they’ll know what to do, how to act, how to own their lives, from following your example. We need more of you, but in the 75-85-year old range!

  8. Corinne

     /  January 27, 2012

    Love these thoughts. I’ve worked with older people for the past 30 years, and realize that most of the time, attitude makes all the difference! I know two sisters who are 80 and 82 respectively. The older of the two has a few more medical problems, but on the whole, you’d think they were 20 years apart in age, not 2 years apart. One volunteers at the hospital and at a thrift store, has a beautiful garden, runs a book club (reads constantly), entertains neighbors,is a world traveler, goes to the gym, and is interested in a wide variety of things. The other sits in front of the tv and goes to bed at 8:00 – no hobbies, no real interests, no close friends, and seeming to become more frail and “old” all the time. Amazing to me what attitude and not thinking we’re “old” can make in our lives!

  9. I love all of the discussions…I’m thinking of backpacking around Europe… maybe the world soon. I still can’t let my hair go gray though! My grandfather lived to be 100…he was driving until he was 99, playing the violin, and on the computer every day! I think I got some of his genes!

  10. Great blog Lynne and so life affirming for us boomers. Your weekly posts give me the courage to keep shaking my tail and sallying on out the door!

  11. Lately I have been kinda blue. Perhaps winter. Perhaps because my brother has gone out of town for work (we share a house). In 2008 I had a life-threatening illness that was cured by emergency surgery and powerful drugs. Then last June I was forced into retirement. So age and health have been on my mind a lot recently. I don’t want to die either. Yet I do realize I have no choice there. But in the last couple of weeks, I have started to concentrate on my health more, and to realize that worry and fret is not the way to enjoy the years (I hope!) that remain. I have been afraid to travel, due to the surgery I had. (An ileostomy) It has lasting effects, but the fear doesn’t really have a firm basis. Lots of people travel with ostomies. Travel has been one of the highlights of my life, and to lose it to fear is a price I really don’t want to pay. In May, I have booked a writing retreat in Massachusetts (for me, a 7-hour drive into another country as I am in Canada)
    I will likely be going alone. It is taking a lot of “push” for me to do this, as I have been finding lately that I haven’t wanted to go outside.
    Your post is such a positive one, and something that makes me pause and think YEAH! That’s what I need. A positive outlook. Stop being afraid of what could happen, or I could just die from stress and not enjoy the rest of my time!
    Thanks, Lynne.


  12. I just tlaked to a woman at the book signing in Quartzsite. She told me she had always had the fantasy to do what I am doing, traveling alone in my motorhome, but her husband lived too long and now she is too elderly to do it. Everyone has their story!

    • Well, that’s the problem with life – sometimes you have to choose between taking your solo roadtrip and enjoying the fact that your husband is still alive! Or was 😉 If it was that important to me I’d tell him I was going to join a women’s RV group and go anyway while he’s still kickin’. Then when you got home you’d have lots to talk about.

  13. Great post! Thanks for that much-needed paradigm shift. Growing old is a privilege and we almost dishonor those who lost their lives early if we don’t at least try to enjoy every moment of growing older. Thank you for the important reminder Lynn!

    • Ollin, we all need examples and role models. Glad to help, my friend. And if you hear of any in the 75-dead age range, please let us know!!

  14. Hey,Lynne, How could I have missed this gem? What a fabulous post about a topic near and dear to my heart~experiencing the sheer joy of living long enough to raise my kids, retire from my career and bask in the glow of a hard-earned retirement where there is” a comfort level, a renewed energy for other things” (as in things I want to do) Great post and discussion. Love your pictures too~ a bright spot in my day!

  15. This is fabulous. I have not lost my retirement (was already retired long before it began), but still plug away at all the things I love to do and begin new things as the mood strikes. I intend to enjoy all of the years, my grandchildren, my fiance (how’s that for staying young?) and anything which strikes my fancy.

    This post is one of the reasons why you need to see this: http://mommasmoneymatters.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/awards-vba-cla-la-sa/

  16. VelvetVoice

     /  February 4, 2012

    This is a great blog! I have always felt young and acted and looked young, but the whole world told me I was old and useless at fifty. I recently found a good job worthy of my brains, and they are amazed with my energy. I love your quote comparing death to a library burning. Luckily, my husband is preserving his family history and reconnecting with family so our daughter has a story to tell. Life is better the older you get, I’d never ever go back to my youth.


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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.

    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.

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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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David Kanigan


Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

Writing Out Loud

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Navigating the Third Half of Life

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