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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

Boomer Broad Scores! (and you can, too)

A few weeks ago I wrote about saving $50 because I took a chance and negotiated, even though I’m not that kind of girl. (I once bought a car at full sticker price because the salesman told me no negotiations were allowed on that model. For the love of God, how stupid can you be? But I got even with the dealership. I married the owner, and he took the car back.)

Anyway, I challenged you to start negotiating. Look for opportunities to improve your life, I said. Just ask for a sweetener. You might be surprised.

But then I did the exact opposite of what I told you.

Last Tuesday I went to my local gym to see how much it would cost to get a trainer. My workout routine is as old as I am, and I need something I can do at home, because in a few months I’m doing a deep dive into fulltime babysitting.

The sales person told me it would cost $150 to sign up for the training (on top of the gym membership that I already paid for), and $60 a week for one session. Holy crap! Are you kidding me? Pleading poverty, I rose to leave.

But she was a nice young woman, and persistent, so I stayed. I kept thinking of that darned book called Ask for It, and the authors, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, pleading with us women to believe them. To paraphrase: “women get taken all the time because they don’t ask! Men are richer because they ask!” So I asked her to waive the signup fee. My heart was pounding and I felt awkward (as in  cheap, weak, low-class), but I had this weird feeling that Sara and Linda were hovering over me, arms crossed, and ready to hit me with an imaginary rolling pin. So I stuck to my guns. Well, half my guns – I still thought $60 per session was too high, but I didn’t have any more courage.

The girl went to ask her manager. He came back. We talked. Then he dropped the price! I walked away with NO signup fee and $45 a session, good for as long as I want. No, I am not kidding. I felt like crying and hugging these people. I love them, and I love my gym (only fair to say, it’s LA Fitness).

So here’s what I learned, for future negotiations:

1. Before you arrive at the negotiating table, decide what your bottom line is (I failed to do this and it left me sputtering at a time when it was important to appear confident.) My bottom line was $45, a fact I only realized when I walked out of the gym thinking, “I feel good about this price. For this price, I will stick with the program.”

2. Remind yourself, once you’re at the table, that women don’t tend to bargain. This leaves more money for the men. So be a man. Bargain.

Since women usually do not bargain (a documented fact), they have less money later in life (also a documented fact). We need to preserve our cash, girls. And, at our age, after all we’ve been through, we should have the cajones to do it.

We might be wrinkly, but what comes with old age? Power!

The power of knowing you’re worth it, whatever it is. Of knowing you’d rather go without, than feel sick about going along. Next time you’re about to spend money, ask yourself if you feel good about it. Ask the seller if there’s any wiggle room. Ask if they can do any better. Ask to step away to make a phone call. Ask for time to think. Ask for anything, but for the sake of your own well-being, learn to ask.

Leave a comment


  1. Good one, Lynne! I had heard years ago that anything can be negotiated, certainly anything involving services rendered. Last week, I reacted a bit negatively to word from my dentist that I would need a new $1500 crown to replace an old crown that was simply old. The dentist then told me that I was eligible for a 15% senior discount. But I know the offer wouldn’t have been made had I not objected to the cost of the crown.

    • EXACTLY. By reacting “a bit negatively,” in essence you were “asking”. And the dude folded. He probably made up that senior discount on the spot. AWESOME, Renee!

  2. A rendition of this on the streets of New York. Hawker of say, sunglasses: Ten dollah, ten dollah, ten dollah. Sidewalk customer: All I got is a 5 and a fifty. Hawker: Ok, 5 dollah for you.

  3. It can be useful to remember, too, that rarely is something “one of a kind.” In many cases you can get the same thing elsewhere, possibly for less money. I think if you had walked out that gym door without signing on for the trainer at the original price, someone would have called you or run out after you to offer you a better deal. Getting past the “shiny thing” sensation makes for a less emotional decision, and more money for a celebratory martini.

  4. Pennie

     /  May 18, 2012

    Proud of your courage, Lynne! And I will be thinking about you the next time I come across the opportunity to negotiate. I am hoping I wll have that same courage to follow your lead…..

    • Like I said, Pennie, just think of it this way: do you want to save more money for the men? or take it for yourself? Strangely motivating.

  5. Right on, Lynne. You always seem to hit the nail on the head. Why is it so hard for women of our generation to bargain or like you say ASK? Every week you validate me with your insights.

    • Wow, Pat, what a kind thing to say. But it’s actually the other way around. Validation-wise, I mean. Thank you.

  6. Good for you, Lynne! And doesn’t it feel good to walk away knowing you’ve succeeded in keeping more of your money while still scoring the services you want? You’re an inspiration, Sistah!

    • It was THRILLING, Deb! I was so excited I ran home and told my husband, the car guy, all about it. He was proud of me. I’m finally growing up.

  7. sally

     /  May 18, 2012

    I’m not a writer, so this will probably be a jumbled mess. I often advised people “It can’t hurt to ask, if they say no, that never killed anyone.” As a nation we aren’t hagglers. I have a price in mind, if I want it and it’s at my price I’ll buy. If it’s to high, I’ll wait for it to come down to where I want it, if not, Oh well, I’ll get along without it or find something else. I’ve spent alot of time recently getting rid of alot of impulse purchases, and am getting better at saying no.

    • Hey, Sally, good to hear from you. Re negotiating, you were born to it. It probably seems more logical to you. See you next month.

  8. isthisthemiddle

     /  May 18, 2012

    Loved this– my husband has always been the superior negotiator, but it’s past time for me to grow cojones for myownself. Thanks for a great illustration and reminder that the men can’t have all the darn $$$!

  9. blessedmamaof5

     /  May 18, 2012

    Met you through Christina K – Just visited your blog today and kudos to you for asking/negotiating. And special kudos for working with a personal trainer. My son is a personal fitness trainer and he watches his customer improve so much quicker with a personalized plan.


    • Jan, thanks for stopping by. Isn’t Christina amazing? Re the trainer, I am excited to learn about working my 58-year-old body. My new trainer is about 14, but he’s really knowledgeable and smart. Can’t wait to start seeing changes.

  10. You really scored,Lynne in several ways here: in getting a personal trainer because you are worth it; in doing it on your own terms and for this powerful reminder to those us who are of “a certain age” that we need to step out of our comfort zones and go for what we need and want. You inspire,Lynne!

  11. Good job Lynn ,I always try to do the same thing with everyone ,and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I try.my son says this isn’t Mexico but why not try? I really think you can get a deal if you ask ! I am glad to hear that you went to Ansestry to look at your family tree and I am not surprized that you are connected to someone great,you are really a nice person and I enjoyed your blogging class and your blogs. Sincerely ,Jan Carlsen

    • Hey Vintage Girl, good to hear from you! Thanks for your kind words and I hope we’ll cross paths often.

  12. Well done, Lynne
    I worked with a young female engineer once who had a great strategy for doing comparison shopping for a new car. She faxed her specs to various dealers, using a gender-neutral
    name–initial of first name and full last name. When she got back the price info. she used it to negotiate the best deal.

    • What a smart kid. Proves why we need more female engineers. BTW, I asked The Car Guy about her strategy, and he said that’s the only way to go. He adds this: don’t even deal with a salesperson who won’t give you the info you’re asking for via fax or email. If they call and try to get you to come down, don’t.

  13. Wish there were more post like this.

  14. Vonnie

     /  May 21, 2012

    Good job, Lynne. I’m not a negotiator either, but you’ve given me hope. Thanks for the post.

  15. Don’t feel bad about how you’ve spelled cojones. I used to think they were some sort of fried cornmeal dumpling, like hush puppies. But I could never find them on the menu at the taco place.


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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • my read shelf:
    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.

    View all my reviews

  • 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

Live & Learn

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

A Place of Observation

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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