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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

Boomer Men Share Housework

For women of a certain age, this is a seismic shift. As girls, it was our job to clean the toilets while our brothers mowed the lawns. We ironed shirts while they – well, we ironed shirts. Then those Boomer men grew up. Now they’re at or near retirement age, and there’s a change afoot. Have you noticed?

Boomer men are turning domestic.

They cook! Many have their own specialties, and you don’t want to get in the way when they’re in the kitchen. Bill makes spaghetti just like his mom used to. Or salmon with honey-mustard marinade. Or pulled pork, simmered in beer all day in the crock pot. This new breed of husband goes to the grocery store. My friend who is still working says she hasn’t been for a year, ever since her husband retired.

They clean! My sister-in-law is learning to relax and let my brother, who just retired, clean the house. He feels that it’s his job now. He also shops, cooks and runs errands. Both of them are loving it. (Maybe they’ve discovered what some of my friends tell me: a houseworking hubby stirs our libido. Even without an apron.)

They negotiate chores! In my retirement community, the division of labor between couples seems logical for the generation that came of age with Women’s Lib, Gloria Steinem, and the Equal Rights Amendment. My friends say they tend to divvy up chores based on who’s good at what, and who hates a job less.

We joke about it, us girls. The men have their own way of doing things. Like in my case, when Bill mops the kitchen floor, the corners remain kind of cruddy, but do you think I’m complaining? Helllll no. I tell him over and over again how much I appreciate him. That comes with being an old broad. You don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Besides, I can always sneak over with a wet rag and fix things. He’ll never know. His eyesight isn’t that good.

Kids these days, those impressive young men of Gen X and Y, share more of the housework and child-rearing than did their fathers, but I want to give the old dudes credit. I think our generation, the Baby Boomers, broke ground on this. We turned our backs on tradition.  So now when I see Bill mopping the floor, I feel love and gratitude but also a sense of history being made. We have come a long way, baby.

Leave a comment


  1. hmmm. I could use a little help around the house. Maybe I should think about remarrying 🙂

  2. “You don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Love that phrase! And it’s so true. Rick grocery shops, cooks and “cleans up” after dinner. After he’s done, I get the grease off the stove top and countertops and wash the pot lids. I think it’s in the male species’ genes to not see yuck left behind. But in my house we’re equals. And from my seat, that’s the only way to live!

  3. Peggy

     /  March 30, 2012

    Great blog! I am fortunate indeed. My husband is 13 years my senior….he was born in ’41….so not a boomer. But, from DAY 1 he’s done as much or more than I have in the house.

    He’s particular about how he likes clothes and towels folded so does ALL the laundry. He cleans the bathrooms, vacuums, does shopping, washes floors, dusts, and even makes our coffee in the morning, and takes care of the “manly man” chores, such as taking out the trash, maintaining the car, picking up dog poop, mowing the lawn. I do most of the cooking (only because I’m the better cook) and although he’ll do dishes, he doesn’t like cleaning the kitchen, so that room is primarily my domain. But, he certainly will make his own food if I’m not around or busy or on a diet and can’t eat what he wants to eat. No problem.

    Once a week, we both roll up our sleeves to clean the house as a team from top to bottom, and once or twice a week, we are both in the front or back yard pulling weeds and planting side-by-side, but there are sometimes days in a row when I’m busy on my novel or working on a project that I don’t lift a finger in the house…he says “I prefer that you just concentrate on your writing.” Is that a blessing, or what? Oh…and did I mention that he works part-time from our home, so he’s not even 100% retired?

    Do I feel guilty? Initially it took some getting used to…I mean back in 1990 when I first met him…because I’d never had a man “do” for me, and I was raised in the way that most of us are…women do the housework, laundry, cooking, shopping, ironing…but I eventually “adjusted” and now instead of guilt the only feeling I have is gratitude.

  4. Peggy, you may want to go into hiding today so jealous hordes don’t descend on your well-tended home!

    • Peggy

       /  March 30, 2012

      Hahahaaa….thanks, Lynn. I wouldn’t say my home is “well tended” — like many men, Steve doesn’t do things “perfectly” and doesn’t always stay on top of the household chores the way I would, but through the years I’ve learned to just step away, turn my head if something is not perfectly done, and just say “Thanks, Sweetie” because I don’t have to do it! And…it’s so nice when clean, folded panties end up magically back in my dresser drawer. Gratitude. That’s what I feel. Gratitude.

  5. You paint a rosy picture, Lynne, but remember, you’ve trained Bill to be a model husband. Others aren’t so fortunate, or so wise. Frankly, there are far too many women still doing all the housework, all the cleaning, all the child-nurturing, and all the elder-care. They’re overworked and exhausted, while hubby sits around trying to figure out what to do with his life. I sympathize with those women. They, too, should have willingly lifted some of their high standards, letting hubby help when he was a “young ‘un” and not insisting things always be done their way!

    • Peggy

       /  March 30, 2012

      Debbie, I do understand what you are saying. It’s good to be compassionate toward women who are in traditional marriages and don’t know how to change things. But, Trained? Oh my gosh. I can’t imagine attempting to “train” any adult to do anything….especially not my husband, who is (thankfully) a nurturer by nature who never minded pitching in, but he’s still a strong man who I respect. He’s very unlike my first husband, by the way, who felt a woman should do it all…and ironically, my first husband is 11 years younger than my present husband. Women, though, even the ones who are “overworked” can often say “no” or simply ask their mate for help at any time. Even if the division of work has always been a certain way doesn’t mean things cannot change at any time, and it doesn’t matter how old a man is either. It’s not always easy, I understand that, but it can be done and is really necessary in some cases. My motto is “If I need help with something, and you ain’t gunna give it, Honey, that’s fine, but it ain’t gunna get done, so I hope you don’t mind.” But, that’s simply one adult asking another for assistance. I don’t see that as “training.”

      My question is WHY do so many women in this day and age continue to allow any man to treat her like a maid? I wouldn’t (and didn’t) stay in a marriage where the man wouldn’t treat me as an equal partner rather than as his personal house servant. Sometimes things have to get done no matter what, of course (such as feeding and changing a baby) but oftentimes we do have the right to refuse any household tasks, but for one reason or another we don’t. Maybe we are afraid to, and fear is a difficult thing to overcome?

      Personally, although I can feel some level of compassion, I can’t feel too sorry over a long period of time for a woman who refuses to stand up for herself in her marriage and ask for what she needs and wants, then complains. I just don’t even know who these days stays with a man who “sits around trying to figure out what to do with his life” allowing his wife to “do it all” rather than being productive and supportive. I think maybe it’s these women who need to be trained on how to respect and love themselves while in a relationship. And…I know it’s easier said than done, especially as I already stated if a decades old pattern is firmly established and habits formed already…but we certainly can ask an “old guy” for help, too. When I married Steve nearrly 21 years ago, he was 51. I think the problem is not in any way failing to “train our husbands early” in hopes they will change or be more how we want them to be (which, we can’t do anyway), but in not loving and respecting ourselves.

      • Good coffee this afternoon, eh, Peggy?

        • Peggy

           /  March 30, 2012

          hahahahaaa…I DO go on, don’t I? Been digging in the dirt all day…planting, weeding, just found out that we’ve got out of state company showing up on our doorstep on Wed night. Oye! So, needed a break…your stimulating topic gave me the “brain jog” I needed after tearing out burmuda grass.

  6. Vonnie

     /  March 31, 2012

    Hi Lynne,

    My life-partner, like Peggy’s) isn’t a boomer either. What do we call them = pre-boomers? Beyond-boomers? Anyway, born in ’44. He does all the cooking and grocery shopping and used to more around the house while I was still working outside the home. But even though I’m still working in ‘my home office’, he’s been noticeably slipping – BIG TIME!

    This man has a new attitude since he found on a blog by an older woman (I’m thinking late 70s, early 80s). She and her commenters have agreed that doing one important thing a day is enough. Apparently, chores such as grocery shopping is exhausting for them, which I can understand at certain points in one’s life. I found it very tiring when I was bringing up kids and my husband wasn’t always around to help me carry them into the house in the middle of a snow storm. And if I was a handicapped-70 year old lived in 4th floor apartment in a building without an elevator, yeah, ok. But, Come on!?!?

    He’s 67 going on 87 and seems to be quite happy. Don’t get me wrong, grocery shopping and cooking (and his own laundry) are huge in my book because after years of shlepping for the family, I could easily live on cereal (and probably should).

    He will do things chores when I ask, but I have to give him at least a week. Let me add that he doesn’t ask anything of me and so it’s not as if I can threaten to quit doing housework. He would be happy to let everything pile up around his ears.

    He’s a good companion and great conversationalist, but I truly worry about his health and his lackadaisical attitude. (note: he’s already on anti-depressants and claims to be very happy)

    Sorry to dump, Lynne, you got me jump-started this morning. 🙂

    Btw, I’m glad to read about the ambitious hubbys out there.

    Thanks for letting me vent. 😀

  7. Vonnie

     /  March 31, 2012

    Sorry for the typos – my eyes are blurred this morning and brain on first cup of coffee. : /

  8. HI Lynne, This post and lively discussion reminds me of all I have to be grateful for- a husband who cooks, cleans, goes to the grocery store,etc. We do share in the chores but when it’s my turn to cook and he starts micro-managing me in the kitchen, I give him the option of taking over or leaving. Sometimes, I hand the cooking utensil over and sometimes he leaves. It all evens out in the end. I do love having a partner who shares in the responsibilities.

  9. Peggy

     /  March 31, 2012

    What a fun and interesting conversation. Thanks, Lynne.

  10. nanci

     /  March 31, 2012

    I am fortunate in that Michael does a lot of work around the house. When I was working full time and he was a one day a week-er it was awesome. It still is, but sometimes we seem to compete on what gets done. Michael thinks he is a perfect housecleaner and that I am not… I felt the opposite for a while. Now I realize that we each “see” different things. For instance, he is scrupulous about the toiet, but never notices the streaky mirror. I look at our housework as complimentary! It’s great….

    • We’re of the generation that can’t believe it when we see men doing housework, Nanci, so I think that’s why we’re okay with not demanding perfection!

  11. Though French women are still doing it all -keeping housing, raising kids, bringing home the bacon and cooking it too – in heels no less, some men have broken out the traditional mold. I married one who has pitched in and done more than his fair share, of course, the fact that I am a dismal failure in the kitchen helped the cause. ha

  12. Lucky me. Shortly after Now Husband and I married, I put something away in the kitchen and he said, “Hey, don’t put that there. It’s better here.” I looked at him and he responded with “This kitchen belongs to me.” It was the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me. The man cooks, cleans up afterward, does the dishes, makes the bed, shops, and does his own laundry. If I could bring my car into the kitchen, he’d clean that.

  13. Renee, I’m happy for you. He sounds like a real winner. Here’s my story: for the first time in my life, rather than be resentful at having to do everything, I feel guilty a lot of the time over all the stuff Bill does for me.

    High five, sis!

    • Peggy

       /  April 6, 2012

      I hear you on the “feeling guilty” because of what your husband does for you, Lynne. It took me more than a few years to get over that. I did, and I’m much happier. Finally after listening to my “guilt” for months, Steve said to me: “Why don’t you simply do something else with your time rather than feeling guilty? I’ll tell you what. I’ll continue to do the laundry and you can either feel happy about it or guilty about it. Up to you.” Needless to say, I backed away from the guilt and ramped up my appreciation and gratitude instead. I like being married to a man who is both helpful and wise.


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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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Still the Lucky Few

Reflections on Life as a Senior

Writing Contemplative life Essays

Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

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Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

Writing Out Loud

A Place of Observation

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Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


Life in the Boomer Lane

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