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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

Are Aging Rockers Irrelevant?

McCartney then

I saw that headline atop this story a few days ago and of course my first reaction was anger. But then I read the article, and this comment by the writer, Lee Zimmerman, touched me:

McCartney now

Young people don’t have a monopoly on zest, enjoyment, adventure… Sure, energy and enthusiasm may wane as we get older, but the primal urges that stir our psyche — especially when it comes to the music that moves us — continues to create a bond. At a certain age, it transitions from a rallying cry into nostalgia, allowing the music of our memories to exert a powerful grasp… Perhaps more than ever.

Heart, then

Heart, now

Do you ever find yourself next to an elderly person and wonder who he used to be? Do you ever take a minute to think that behind that crevassed face and stooped posture is a person who once leapt for joy, cashed his first paycheck, fell in love, and maybe raised a family?

Behind the looks, implies Zimmerman, is an artist whose years of experience could only yield greater depth of creative expression, topped by the sweetness and bite of nostalgia. How could their music be any less wonderful than it was in their youth?

Don’t poison what is with regrets about what was.

Is that even possible? Sure, looks aren’t everything, but they’re a lot. The beauty of youth suggests power: strong backs, flexible knees, supple dendrites, powerful voices. (Did you know the reason elderly folks’ voices get high and thin is because the collagen in their throats dissipates? Yep. Like everything else.)

Thing is, you can’t let it get to you. You’re still here. You have to respect your life! Wring the value and the blessings from it.

Besides, trying to judge yourself on society’s standards is a game you can’t win. Here’s an article about how fashion designers are now using 13-year-old models. Seems the 16-year-old girls were too big, what with having passed puberty and all.

When our culture declines to the point of preferring a little girl’s body over that of a normal, grown woman, I’m opting out of the fashion zeitgeist. Declare victory and go home. As the computer said, the only way to win is not to play.

I mean, I get the concept of “aspirational.” I don’t necessarily want to see a model who looks like me. Where’s the challenge to improve myself? But 13?

Stevie now

Stevie then

I make fun of More magazine once in a while (“This is what 4o+ looks like!Right.) But I like the editor, Lesley Jane Seymour. If you read between the lines of her monthly editorial letters in the magazine, you definitely sense her frustration in trying to serve us. Her readers want to see real models, but they also want to be inspired by what might be possible. It’s a thin line to walk.

Aging is a bummer, no question. Bodies break down. My mom has been through so much in the past 18 months. Broken leg, follow-up surgery when the pain wouldn’t stop, cataract surgery, removal of a basal cell thingy on her face that required reconstructive surgery. I drive her to all her doctor appointments, and after surgery I usually stay with her. We’ve experienced it together, for better and worse.

Mom, then                             

Mom, now

Yesterday she chipped a tooth. I said, “Thank God you didn’t need a root canal.” She said if that had been the case, she would have sat down and shot herself. I told her it would have been a murder suicide. We laughed so hard we had to hang up.


Leave a comment


  1. Well said, Sistah! Aging is something that happens to all of us, if we’re lucky. There’s no reason an aging rocker can’t continue to rock, no reason an aging actress can’t continue to act. It’s sad that we’ve been conditioned to look at the outward person, rather than marvel at their inner beauty and talent. I totally empathize with you on caring for your mom — it’s hard, time-consuming effort, but I know one day we’ll be glad we made the sacrifice (and I know our moms are glad right now!)

  2. As it happens, I’m also working on a post about aging rockers. My take is that the great ones are energetic and passionate about the music. They’ve still got it.

    Mick Jagger looks much older than his chronological age–due to years of drug abuse and wild living. He reminds me of people who’ve spend way too much time in the sun or abused one substance or another (legal or illegal) for decades. Not a judgment, just an observation.

    • And no matter how bad they look, they still have full heads of hair. reminds me of that old joke: “why do you think they call it HAIR-oine!?”

  3. Nanci

     /  May 25, 2012

    I love looking at people and imagining their lives. Not only are they (we) full of past experiences, but they are full of possibilities made all the more rich by what has come before. I appreciate reading your thoughts that remind me of the deeper world.

  4. Yes, every face tells a story and the way I see it the more wrinkles and rough spots, the more fascinating the tale. So heartwarming to read about how you are taking care of your mom and helping her fight back after every health setback. Also just noticed your Dakota Blues is coming out in a month. Loved the cover. Can’t wait to read it!!!

  5. Well said, Lynne! Aging has its downfalls but it sure beats the alternative. And humor tempers it all as evidenced by you and your Mom! I’m fascinated by the wisdom of the elderly when I stand still long enough to listen. Looking beyond the wrinkled faces and faded memories and visualizing them as younger people with hopes and dreams is so important.

  6. PS, I’m so excited for Dakota Blue’s book launch especially as I reflect back to those practice pitch sessions in the lunch line in Cincy.:-)

  7. tsx15

     /  May 28, 2012

    Great article. Like you, I’ve spent a lot of time with my mother at the hospital recently too. Despite the circumstances, it’s nice to share the time together.

    One thing I did a few years ago to preserve all the old memories was to write a book about her life. I interviewed her about her experiences, taped recoreded it, and then transcriped it. I added some picturers and viola!. Now the grandkids will one day be able to see their grandmother as a real person too.

    • “Despite the circumstances, it’s nice to share the time together.” So true. Those words really resonate for me. It’s real life, and in spite of the pain and sometimes downright agony, it’s quality time. Much more real than 2 hours making idle conversation in the living room and then heading back for your regular life. Since she moved, Mom IS part of my regular life. Up close and personal. I don’t always like it, but I treasure it. Thanks for writing.

  8. Yael Cohn

     /  June 2, 2012

    I am watching PBS pledge drive about the British invasion with many of the performers as now aging rockers. The music takes me right back to the sixties and it is hard to see and think of myself as a middle aged woman. I went looking for an something that speaks to how I feel and came across your article.


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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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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

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Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


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