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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.

    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

Easier to Give than Receive

I like money. I mean, who doesn’t? So why is it so hard for me to accept it from people to whom I’m giving a skill or benefit?

Mika Brzezinsky wrote about this in Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth. Women are good at giving, but not so good at taking. That’s beautiful, and the world needs more of it, but sometimes we stand in our own way. Mika careened from not asking her bosses for adequate pay, to asking inappropriately (acting like a man would, since that’s who modeled the intervention for her), to asking in a way that was true to her comfort level. The last time, when she asked authentically, it happened.

Part of my problem is that I am starting a new business, so my students were my guinea pigs. I didn’t feel it was right to charge them for something that wasn’t particularly polished, but now it’s a valuable product, so I had to break the news.

I felt like a jerk, but I did it, and they were beautiful!

“Of course; your classes are worth it!” was the general sentiment. I am so relieved, but I still feel kind of clunky. To be honest, I dread when my book is published and I have to take money for that. Not the money part. The take part.

I never had any problem negotiating in a corporate setting, because for some reason that seems impersonal. My problem is asking individuals to open their very own wallet and share their personal cash with me.

Some of it is my upbringing: very Catholic. We were taught to give and give and give until it hurts. And then give some more. From my North Dakota German heritage I got the idea that we only give, never take. And then there’s this timeworn maxim: it’s better to give than receive. Right?

My parents taught me to give. My mother worshiped sacrifice and we kids were indoctrinated. No surprise I supported two jobless husbands. When I met Prospective Husband Number Three, I took him to be interviewed by my therapist. Seriously – I didn’t trust my own judgment. After thirty minutes, Dr. N looked at me and said, “He’s got a job. What the hell do you see in him?”

But I digress. Women still earn less than men, and one reason is because they don’t ask, let alone negotiate.

Here’s a surprise: the younger generations are no better.

When interviewed about their book, Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever say this:

A lot of the younger women we talked to…believe that they’re just as assertive about what they want as their male peers. Unfortunately, this is not true. Younger women may assume that things have changed far more than they have, but our studies show that even among men and women in their 20s and early 30s, men are much more likely to initiate negotiations than women.

I’m going to take a stab here and say it’s probably about two things: one, our indoctrination as caregivers and nurturers, and two, the lack of role models. I guess that was redundant.

The situation perpetuates itself.

In the future I’m going to read up on and study more about this topic for my own benefit, yours, and that of my daughters and granddaughters. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making a sacrifice for those you love, but it can’t be all you, all the time. The act of taking cash from your peers may feel creepy, but giving away your work feels worse.

Have you experienced this inability to ask for what you’re worth? Did you figure out a way to overcome it? What’s your story?

Leave a comment


  1. Lynne, you described me. It is difficult for me to accept money also. I am sure it came from my childhood. That is the way that I was raised; poor but proud. I am getting better though. After all we deserve it.

    • Ann, the “we deserve it” truism might help. I am also going to remind myself it’s an even exchange, something for something, between equals.

  2. I had come this close to resigning myself to getting this sorted out next lifetime. Thanks to you, Lynne, I’ll not give up on this one just yet.

    • No, don’t, Linda, because I think it has something to do with our sense of self-worth, which is definitely something to tackle in THIS lifetime!

  3. Peggy

     /  March 2, 2012

    This is a problem that many of us struggle with, Lynn. We want to think of ourselves as “givers” and it makes us feel good when we do give of ourselves. Permit me to blather a bit: Money is nothing more than a means of energetic exchange; that does not mean it isn’t an important exchange. If we give our art, time, services, experience to someone else we are giving them our energy. If we are not able to accept money (or barter or gifts) or some sort of compensation in exchange, then we lose our energy, and eventually, we are so depleted we are unable to give more to others or to ourselves. No one wins.

    Also the “taker” becomes out of energetic balance and develops feelings of guilt and becomes self-critical, or conversely, they develop a sense of “entitlement,” meaning they lose respect for the giver and the gifts rather than valuing them. So…another loss. It’s okay to give a gift or to even work without asking anything in return, to volunteer, to help…sometimes it’s the right thing to do, but for all parties involved to be happy, giving and receiving must remain in balance. If at some time you do not feel “good” about your giving (for example, if you work too hard for too little money, or give so much of your time you leave no time for the things you love), you will eventually feel resentful, worthless, or exhausted. Worse, you make a powerful statement to yourself and the world that you do not value yourself.

    It’s important that all of us graciously accept energy of some kind in some satisfying (if not equal) measure for the energy we give to others, that is if we want to retain our self-worth and if want others to know we are worthy, too. If we do not first value ourselves and what we have to offer, who else will?

    • Peggy, you are so wise. I’d like to do a whole post just about your thoughts. 1. I enjoy helping so much that the giving is its own reward.
      2. Yes, giving makes us feel better about ourselves. See http://anyshinything.com/2011/11/11/the-courage-to-be-average/
      3. Unfortunately, human nature tends to ascribe less value to that which is easily accessible. The struggle (or cost) seems to add the perception of value.

      Isn’t life interesting?

  4. Claudia

     /  March 2, 2012

    Well said, Peggy.

  5. Would that we could always deal in energy transfer! Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’m going out on a limb here and saying I work at a job that pays me waaaaaaaay too much money for what I do, which is essentially nothing 39 hours a week. I have an ambivalent relationship with money (which drives my husband crazy — fortunately I’m not much interested in spending it). Doing nothing and getting paid for it only supports that ambivalence; and, in fact, it negatively affects my sense of self worth. However, I’ve found that when I start charging money for something I love doing (I had a windchime business and have received payment for writing), the activity degrades into being about the money and my creativity departs for more open pastures. (Hmm, I’m sounding rather conflicted here.)

    • But when you think about it, the money represents energy. It’s just a way of expressing it for the purpose of transfer. Hmmm. Peggy, you started something good.

  6. Sadly, too many of us don’t fully value our talents and abilities. When something comes easy for us we tend to think it comes easy for everybody else, too. That’s particularly true with writing — witness how many people “want” to write professionally! Giving, and receiving graciously, are learned abilities. With practice, we can become more adept at both!

  7. Peggy

     /  March 2, 2012

    Hahaaaa…Lynn…we’ll if you want to post on my thoughts…we’ll need to edit first. My comment is “too wordy” as Ray and others say in our group. LOL Hugs, Pegg

  8. Peggy

     /  March 2, 2012

    Mad Queen Linda… I think your issue isn’t out of the ordinary. I think we’ve all been there at one time or another. But….actually, depending on how you look at it, everything is “energy.” So it is that we really are “always dealing with energy transfer”.

    The way I look at accepting money is this: You have an apple. I love apples. I don’t have an apple tree. I have a banana. You love bananas but live where bananas don’t grow. You give me an apple — (meaning some service, or thing that you make, or some skill or talent that you have that I need), and in return, I give you a banana (my money, or a barter that satisfies what you need, or compensates you for your time or talent). Both of us are fed, both of us have energy now, we both win. We’ll keep that flow of exchanging apples and bananas between us for a long while. That’s what I call “the flow of abundance.”

    Now… let’s suppose you gave me your apple but instead of asking for a banana in return you say, “Oh, I can’t possibly charge you for that apple, Here, just take it.” Obviously, I’d have both a banana and an apple and you would have nothing, which not only means you are hungry, but it also means you have nothing left to give. To perpetuate the flow of abundance we MUST exchange apples for bananas, services or goods for money, energy for energy, otherwise, we are “out of energetic exchange” and the flow stops.

    • A great way to look at it, Peggy. I will think apples and bananas/energy exchange from now on when I get uncomfortable about this situation.

  9. Lynne, I know what you mean about being programmed for caretaking,submissive,handmaiden roles- Catholic, nurse, female. I think I learned to value my work when I started an educational consulting business independent for nursing and had to put a price tag on my sessions. I needed to convince myself first that I had something of value to offer. It felt strange at first but when I recognized all the hard work I had to put into it (4 hours of prep,at least for a 1 hour session),eventually it became easier. It involves a conscious, concerted effort which starts with convincing myself that what I what I have to offer has value for others. And sometimes it means “fake it till you make it.” 🙂 Great post and discussion.


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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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