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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

Getting Old is Fantastic!

Anna Quindlen, Author

Anna Quindlen is 59 years old, and she thinks the same way I do, so today, I’m going to borrow from her new book to make my own points about age:

It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again.

Dr. Christiane Northrup says that after menopause, we’re more like we were at eleven years old. That little gal had dreams, and wasn’t embarrassed that she was smart. Anna Quindlen gets it. She’s accessing her inner eleven-year-old, and she’s digging it. Here’s more, and these quotes are all from her new book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

I wouldn’t be twenty-five again on a bet, or even forty. And when I say this to a group of women at lunch, everyone around the table nods. Many of us find ourselves exhilarated, galvanized, at the very least older and wiser.

There are a good number of youngsters who read AnyShinyThing, and I’m guessing this next quote is going to make them feel a lot more excited about getting older:

(at this age)…we’re unlearning so many lessons, about how we should live, be, work, feel. We hold our fingers up to the prevailing winds of custom and behavior and think, nope, that’s an ill wind. It’s not that we question authority, it’s that we question who gets to be an authority in the first place….For me, one of the greatest glories of growing older is the willingness to ask why and, getting no good answer, deciding to follow my own inclinations and desires. Asking why is the way to wisdom. Why are we supposed to want possessions we don’t need and work that seems besides the point and tight shoes and a fake tan? Why are we supposed to think new is better than old, youth and vigor better than long life and experience? Why are we supposed to turn our backs on those who have preceded us and to snipe at those who come after?

Oh, Anna. Thank you.

BTW, if you got a bad link to last week’s post, I apologize! I was trying to multitask, and I accidentally hit “publish” when I meant “save draft”. The subject of the post was making our own powerful milestones and expectations for the second half of our life, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Here’s the link, and again, sorry for the confusion.

Leave a comment


  1. For me the magic number was 30, until that point when anyone asked my age I had an instant reply. After thirty for some reason I had to go back and count the years when asked. Educators today emphasis the importance of life-long learning. If we remain active and continue to learn as we age, we retain a sense of youth and whatever age we are feels younger.If we are one of the lucky ones without serious health age I feel we grow younger with age.

  2. I’m fifty-three and these are the best years hands down! That’s an interesting thought from Northrup about us being like our eleven year old self after menopause, isn’t it?

  3. I was very devilish at age 11 and now that I’m 59, I believe that side of me is coming back. I spent years as a disease to pleaser. So glad those days are over.

    Reading this post has inspired me to look forward to the fun I’m about to have. 🙂

    Thanks, Lynne.

  4. Anna offers some wonderfully hopeful thoughts on the aging process. I believe that, as long as you have your mind and your health, as long as you continue to be interesting and interested, you can indeed have a rich “old age.” Sadly, too many retreat into cocoons, wrapping their fear, anger, and hurt around them like a blanket when they should be reaching out.

    • Debbie, I think part of that is fear, and part of it is that we’ve been raised to believe that there’s no second half, that after a certain point, you’re pointless. Maybe our generation can turn that thinking around, and people can start dreaming again.

  5. Lynne, you’ve become my new guru to aging gracefully.
    To be frank, I would have loved to recovery the first ten years, but after that I was a rebellious dink head. But somewhere inside I’d determined that life would begin at age forty…and it has. Except for the redistribution of certain features, I’m likin the journey even better than I thought I would.

    • Hey, Kickstart, welcome to AST. Thing is, we have to stop obsessing about the bad stuff – it’s there; I’m not trying to say it’s not – but there’s a lot of good, too. Anna Quindlen, in her book, quotes a Gallup Poll of almost 350,000 people about their satisfaction about being certain ages, and there’s a curve upward (in happiness) from age 50 thru the 80s. So you have a lot of satisfied company!

  6. Lynne
    I have been at my folk’s cabin in Wisconsin where I have everything the writer needs for inspiration except internet, (maybe that is a good thing) I have been missing reading Any Shiny Thing, so I headed to local library to reconnect. Loved this post, love anything written by Anna Quindlen, love the way you make the aging game glorious!

    • Pat, my dad was born in Wisconsin. I probably still have relatives there. Enjoy your solitude, and don’t let the mosquitoes carry you off.

  7. So, I’m wondering what women are striving to become eg. Alice in Wonderland? I think that it’s more than just making yourself happy. We need to reach out especially to those Adults 50 Plus (both women & men) that are searching for some meaningful things to do in their pre-retirement or retirement lives. I believe that without having a purposeful passion in your later years it will be very difficult to get an upward curve (in happiness) for the 50 Plus demographic. Let’s start with Lifelong Learning and go on a self-discovery journey for the purpose of finding what the right fit is for you to be a part of our active, creative, productive and useful society. More consumption will not achieve happiness but ‘productive longevity’ has a great chance to startup a new paradign for Adults 50 to be increasingly happy for themselves and others. Thanks for listening.

    • Joe, I think it’s about being aware and mindful. Even if a person only wants to sit and think quietly for the next ten years, my wish is that they do it with full commitment and understanding. Don’t sleepwalk thru your life, in other words. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Lynne,
    In the first place, I don’t think of us as “getting older” – I have as much energy at 64 as I did at 18, and am way more interesting (just ask me, I’ll tell you!) I believe that as each new generation inhabits their winter years, the idea of “old” will fade away – it is simply a number. Most of the people I know that are my age or even a decade or two older are still vibrantly interested in learning new things, sharing what they learn, and savoring their stroll through life’s journey. As you say, even if I choose to sit and meditate rather than be actively productive, if attuned to my passions I am NOT old! Life is way too precious to fritter away ‘striving to become’ anything…we are already quite something 🙂

  9. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

     /  July 20, 2012

    Anna Quindlen has a new book!!! I heard it here first. Thanks for the review.

  10. I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago titled “Being 10, Being 60” and am delighted to read that it feels like that, because it is like that! Thanks, Lynne, for finding and showing us such lovely affirmations. Always.

  11. You’ve really struck a major chord here, Lynne! I love what Anna Quindland, Christine Northrup and you have to say about the beauty of making it to our age in one piece! My 11-year old self was painfully shy so something transformational has happened between now and then -therein lies my story. But I must say,that 11-year-old loved to read and hang out with her family and friends so that part is true. I’m not dying my hair. I’ve earned every silver strand and I’m loving life at my age! Wonderful post. Thank you!

  12. You know how much I agree with this post and your own unique brand of menopausal wisdom. Thanks for putting it all so beautifully. Your blog is a delight to read: rich, informative, and inspirational.

  13. So glad I stopped in this morning…can’t remember exactly from where. You’re just the kind of voice I love to hear. So I’m subscribing….you know, so I won’t have to figure out how I got here in the first place. Do I sound like one of those lost women standing in a mall parking lot, keys in hand, desperately lost, very confused?

    • Barb, it’s just that at a certain age, our RAM is so full. If only there was a way to dump now-useless data (like the name of our kid’s kindergarten teacher) and free up more space. I’m glad you’re going to be a regular. See you next Friday.


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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.

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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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David Kanigan


Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

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thoughts on the spaces in between

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Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

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