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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

Improve Your Life with One Simple Tactic

The male of our species seems to spring from the womb ready to negotiate everything. This tendency not only increases the wage and pension gap between men and women by the end of life, but it also adds to men’s sense of empowerment and control in their world. Women don’t ask, and as a direct result they get less. Exponentially less.

Why do we fail to ask?

Because we have this little voice inside of us, clucking and frowning. According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, who wrote Ask for It, we need to ignore that voice because:

“The little voice inside telling you not to do it (don’t rock the boat, don’t get pushy, why can’t you be happy with what you have?) isn’t your voice. It’s the voice of a society that’s still trying to tell women how to behave. It’s a voice whose message is conveyed, often unwittingly, by our parents, teachers, colleagues, and friends – and then repeated and amplified by the media and popular culture.”

The authors present numerous examples of the unintentional, unconscious, and overwhelming bias society applies to women.

Female musicians applying for a job with an orchestra were 250% more likely to be selected if they auditioned behind a screen.

I know what you’re thinking. “I’m fine,” you say. “I don’t deny that it exists. It’s just that I personally have never suffered from discrimination.” However,

“Social psychologist Faye Crosby calls this ‘the denial of personal disadvantage’ in which members of a particular group recognize that other members of the group have suffered but believe that they themselves have escaped it.”

This bias without malice starts early. In a study, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey’s Kisses.)

In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% – 78% less than boys.

It adds up – or I should say down. According to the latest US Census, women still earn less than men in every category. But there’s a simple way to overcome this ingrained self-doubt, self-effacement, and self-denigration: ASK. Simply pause before you agree to anything, and ask for something to sweeten the deal. Why not? What are we afraid of? All they can say is no, and then you’re where you were before the ask. However, you might be pleasantly surprised.

I bought some furniture a couple days ago. The salesman tallied up the price, ending with “and delivery is $149.” I looked at him and said, “Do you have any flexibility on that?” Without hesitation he knocked it down to $100. I saved fifty bucks with seven words! Men do this all the time. Per study after study, women don’t. The authors found “clear and consistent evidence that men initiate negotiations to advance their own interests about four times as often as women do.”

If you’re unhappy with something in your life, assume it can be changed.  How many of us assume the opposite, sigh, and keep plugging? This book includes many, many practical tools for learning to ask (as well as tons of examples and anecdotes, which made it fun reading.) In Chapter 10, for example, the authors describe “cooperative” bargaining (It’s also called collaborative, or interest based, or win/win bargaining). It is more effective and comfortable than the traditional stony-eyed, fist-pounding version you might envision. Also – bonus! – this strategy is more natural to women. In fact, you probably use it every day with your kids, partner, and coworkers.

Now, here are some great tips taken from the book:

  • Women specialize in waiting until they can’t take it anymore and then blow up. Better to “assemble documentation, showing how you’ve increased the value, identify the best time to approach the boss, and make your case in a calm and businesslike way.”
  • Doing it sooner rather than later makes a negotiation easier. “The brain imposes costs when we worry about something, and the longer we worry, the higher the cost. The sooner you ask for something you want, the better the negotiation itself will feel.”

I hope this post has been helpful. Let me know if you scored in a negotiation, or if you have a tip or strategy to share. We can learn from each other!

Leave a comment


  1. I ask all the time and usually receive, but typically not in the workplace as much. I need to work on that…thanks!

  2. I was very young when I married. My husband is 5 years older than I am and he is the youngest with two sisters, a mother and a grandmother that raised him. I never factored in what that might mean for me. Years after we married and had 4 children I drew the line in the sand. Oh I still loved him but I asked him to make me feel like we were a “team.” I asked him to be responsible for filling the ice-trays (pre-icemaker days), make the coffe and the bed every morning. Small requests but suddenly I felt we were a team. I wondered why I waited a dozen years to wake up and realize I needed to spell out my requests. Yes, I was one of those women who waited until I could not take something anymore and then blew up. I ask and negotiate much better at age 65 than I did at 20.

    • Barbara, isn’t it weird how we – speaking for myself – put limits on ourselves? We have this notion that we’re responsible for those jobs, but then we rebel and, strangely, the sun keeps coming up every morning. Then we wonder why we didn’t rebel sooner. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I put 24 hours between a request for quote and quoting a job. During those 24 hours I argue with me about how much I’m worth. It is not about me; it’s as you say, Lynne, about our training. I have asked professional counseling friends for years to start an Unboot Camp for women – to untrain us from society’s suppression. Maybe one day.

  4. Lynne, what an outstanding post and review — should be printed out for future reference! I, too, struggle with asking for what I know I should charge in my business. Oddly, with male clients, I don’t have that problem (they pay whatever I ask); women always seem to think they can get the work done cheaper elsewhere. And when women do ask for what they’re worth, they’re seen as b@*%&es, rather than assertive, probably because they have such little practice with it and because they wait until the “last minute” to ask!

  5. Peggy

     /  March 16, 2012

    Another winner, Lynn. Your blog is PERFECT for us women of a certain age. Thanks so much.

  6. Peggy

     /  March 16, 2012

    Sorry…I guess I should learn to spell your name. Lynne NOT Lynn. In retaliation you may spellmy name Peggie if you want. LOL

  7. Great post, Lynne. As a former counselor who specialized in women’s issues, I consistently saw women who had been socialized to believe that they should receive less and that it was inappropriate for a woman to ask for more. It has changes a lot since I was a young woman, but we still have a long was to go. And, if someone tells you know, move on to someone who says yes.

  8. That should have been no, not know. I need to proof read better 🙂

  9. Hey, Laura and Peggy, I did a post a few months ago about not being perfectionists, and I chalenged myself to misspel things and not fix them as a way of shaking off the fear of not bein perfek so dont swet it got it??

  10. Great suggestions as usual, Lynne. Recently I had the opportunity to speak up at work and not wait. I got positive results. It seems to get easier as I get older.

    • Ann, I believe most things SHOULD get easier as we get older. I can imagine you thinking, Darn it, I’m to old for this. Or maybe imagining how in the past you might have let it go, preferring not to rock the boat, but this time, NOT. Or maybe you had the benefit of the savoir faire that comes with maturity…i.e. having lived longer, we know how to make the point in a graceful but unyielding way. In any case, congratulations.

  11. tsx15

     /  March 17, 2012

    Excellent article. Something we men need to work on to.

    • TSX15, some men do. If you are one of them, try this book. It’s a real cookbook for how to accomplish the goal.

  12. Lynne…these statistics are outrageous! I can’t believe that women are still second class citizens even in America. Thanks for enlightening me and also reminding me that it is never to late to ask. Like most women, even as feisty as I am, I was raised to accept less than and find it difficult to ask until I blow and of course I am sure it takes a toll on my health.

    • Pat, when I look at my 18-month-old granddaughter I wonder, where is it that she will begin to pick up this message that will have her believing, by FIRST GRADE, that she is worth 30-70% less than the boys? I am damn sure going to watch out for that. We all MUST.

  13. Another excellent post ,Lynne! I learned the hard way after years of working in the “good old boy” network where the societal standard was that women had to work harder to get recognized, compensated and valued. The good news is that my daughter has learned much sooner how to identify what she needs and negotiate her way through the system. That’s the beauty of age, I finally figured it out. Thanks for striking another chord for “women of a certain age.” You rock, Lynne! 🙂

  14. I enjoy all of your posts, and this one was no exception.

  15. Great post, Lynne. The behaviors that have been inculcated in us for eons (being supportive, empathetic, nurturing) can be showstoppers when it comes to manifesting our vision for our lives. We get to realize that we can be the best of those and still stand for what we believe we deserve.

  16. Hi, Lynne. Asking for something you want is amazingly powerful. Two of my best-ever professional projects came to me because I asked. In my personal life I also feel free to ask, but we mostly split work by interest and ability. I’m happy to cook delicious, healthful meals which my partner and I enjoy. He’s not a cook, but he brings me coffee every morning, is my personal IT guy, makes sure my car gets to the shop for routine maintenance, and other useful chores.


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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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