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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

Stay-At-Home Grandma

Me with my granddaughter.

I’ve started babysitting again. My book and my grandson are infants, and I’m nurturing them both in the same crazy year. So while I plan for a book signing at my home on Saturday, I have to lean on my sweet, hard-working hubby to handle the logistics. And while I have my hands full babysitting my grandson and, once a week, his sister too, at least I get to go home. My son and daughter-in-law are in the heat of it. I tell them they’re young. These are the years they’re like a nuclear reactor; they’re vibrant and powerful and everything feeds off them!

Bill with our grandson

I know I’m a big help, but I couldn’t do it without Bill. He’s my support team. Not only does he fix our dinners every night, run errands for Mom, and do all the home stuff, but he was prepared to come over every day for a couple of hours, as he did in spring of 2011 with our granddaughter. This time around, I suggested he take Tuesday and Thursday off. I don’t want to burn him out, but also, I feel less guilty because on those days he ends up with a pretty big honey-do list!

I told him to hang in there – next year will be the year I start to age gracefully! My kids know this is the toughest year, at least until the babies turn into teenagers. My kids both work fulltime as teachers, and with two children under two years old, they’re grateful for the help.

I’m typing this right now as my grandson watches my fingers. We’re sitting on the carpet together. He has a bunch of mobiles dangling overhead, his feet can kick me, and I reach over every few seconds to pat his belly and coo at him.

Our daughter-in-law with the newborn

I also feel a bit guilty falling in love with him, because my first love was his sister. However, she’s moved on. She loves being at her daycare with other kids to play with. When she first started going there she wasn’t yet walking and was frustrated that the other kids could run away from her, but now she plays on the swings and the sandbox and runs everywhere rather than walking.

Wow. He’s waking up from his nap – thirty minutes, just like the first one. What happened to the two-hour one he was supposed to take this morning? Or even the hour? Stay-at-home-moms, I feel ya!

My mother with her great-grandson

But it’s a dream for me. I never got to be a SAHM. I went back to work when my son was one month old! Horrific, but thank God my Mom was able to babysit those first six months. I had no choice. I was the primary breadwinner. So staying home now is like revisiting those days, one generation removed. I don’t have to dress up or be ready for a boss – my little boss doesn’t care what I look like. My favorite time is in the middle of the day, sitting in the rocker in his room while he naps, listening to him breathe. The neighborhood is quiet, and I’m all alone in this daytime world of mothers and babies, snoozing within the walls of our houses.

Our son with our granddaughter

Sometimes it floors me, that my son is a grown man and I’m a grandma. Beautiful and weird at the same time.

Today I’ve got a Skype conference in the afternoon. I’ll probably have the baby on my shoulder. That’s where he’s quietest. Such a snugglebug. It’s not with a client, it’s with people who I’m helping develop a curriculum for a writers’ organization I belong to. I told them next year I’d be there physically to teach or whatever they need, but this year, it’ll have to be Skype or Saturdays.

My dad used to say family is everything. While I don’t believe family is defined by blood, I surely do agree with him. We need each other. Life is hard. We’re in it together.

Leave a comment


  1. It’s wonderful that you’ve taken the time to express your appreciation for your other half so publicly. Letting your partner know how grateful you are to have them regularly is what I think keeps relationships going. Also, well done for balancing what sounds like an incredibly well-rounded and busy life!

    • Thanks, Larry. He is a doll. Also, best wishes with your book. Sorry I don’t have time to review it (it’s 4:45 am and I’m racing already) but I’m sure it’s a helpful read for us in the second half.

  2. Enjoy your grandchildren Lynn. Close ties are really all we have.

    I finished Dakota Blues too. Loved Karen’s awakening and freedom!

  3. Lovely family and article. Life is rich at the moment and it gets better if we appreciate the moment. You will be amazed how quickly the next twenty years pass.

    • Morning, earlybird. Your new email had to be approved but after this your comments will go right up. As for the going fast part, I hear that all the time, and it’s like they say, the years are fast but days are slow – is that it? It amazes me that my son is now the age I was when I was getting really good at my corporate job, strong in so many ways. So that seems like it passed fast, but if I have 20 years left, that’s how long it took me to raise him. And looked at it that way, slow. I think the best advice is not to rush so much, try to savor the moment so you know it is leaving. Even though I’m rushing every morning to get to my grandson’s house, once I’m there and his parents leave, time slows down and I savor it.

  4. peggy

     /  August 17, 2012


  5. What a wonderful blog post ‘memory’ you’ve shared to start my day with. Thank you, Lynne.

  6. Ha! I’ve never heard a baby referred to as a nuclear reactor and I love your analogy….because everyone feeds off their energy! So very true. I have 2 new little NR’s to grandmother. Stella and Jane. They both make my heart dance! This is a lovely post; I could almost hear your little one cooing.

  7. Oh Lynne this is such a beautifully written piece! I love the image of you caring for your infants…your book and your grandson. But you look to far too young to be a granny! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy AND God bless family.

  8. It does take a family to get us all through it. What a sweetie. Enjoy every moment.

  9. I’ve heard it said that being a grandparent is easy — you can always send the kids back. I’m not to that stage of life yet, but you make it sound pretty appealing. Enjoy that little one (as I’m enjoying Dakota Blues!)

  10. Lovely post. I so relate to this as I too am babysitting for my cutie patudie 16 month old granddaughter. I have a bunch of grandkids overseas but I sadly don’t feel much connection to them; once a year doesn’t bring on the grandmotherly in-love feelings. But with this one who lives 20 minutes away, I’m in love. I am thankful everyday for this gift of seeing her often, being close, and having that loving grandma relationship. What a treasure chest of LOVE!

    • It’s true. You want to see them all, all the time! Because proximity is what helps you know them. If my 23-month-old gdaughter looks at me a certain way, I know what she’s thinking. I don’t yet know that about the 4-month old, but I will. It’s your reward for the time invested. I have a sweet granddaughter who is almost 12, who lives about 15 hours away, and we don’t get enough time together. Another gchild is about to be born, halfway across the country. You tell yourself, well, as long as the parents are happy! But it’s hard, isn’t it?

  11. Oh, Lynne, you have captured the essence and joy of being a grandma and how quickly these babes will grow! So nice to hear you enjoying these precious moments. The first time I held my first grandson in the delivery room, I had this overwhelming feeling that I would never see the world in the same way again- in a good way- and that feeling has only been enhanced as the years go by. Grandchildren are truly our reward for surviving our own children and the rigors of single-parenting! The picture of your Mom holding her great-grandson is priceless.

  12. sally

     /  August 20, 2012

    A win-win for everyone. Mom and Dad can know that loving care is given. Ella had a loving foundation as is Andrew. Loved the pictures

    • Sally, your brother is such a good grandpa! His specialty is taking Ella in the pool. She’s such a waterbaby, and so is he. Plus he remembers happy summer days growing up, playing in the pool all day long. He threatens to have lemonade and hot dog lunches, as your mother did for you kids and all the neighbors. Being a grandpa is a trip back in time for him, and the kids love him for being so big-hearted.

  13. karenalaniz

     /  August 20, 2012

    This is such a great post. Thanks for sharing your life.

  14. karenalaniz

     /  August 20, 2012

    I was having trouble posting so I kept it short above. Here’s the rest; I love what you wrote here. Although I’m a little jealous that you’re a grandma already, what you shared goes beyond your particular situation. Writers have a writing life. They also have a real life, which encompasses everything else. Every day brings something new and different on the home/life front. And yet, we manage to enjoy the moments while plugging into our writing life when we must. To me, it’s a perfect, messy, inspired life to live. And you live it well, my friend!

    • Karen, I love what you said, and I’m typing as fast as I can because my infant grandson is waking up. I’m watching the monitor from the kitchen of my son and DIL’s house, where I spend my days. I’m mobile! It IS messy. I tried doing my first Skype conference the other day and he ended up having a BM right when I was talking. He farted audibly! Luckily the conferees were parents and grandparents!! I hope you’ll stop by again soon; future comments will go up instantly without moderation.

  15. karenalaniz

     /  August 20, 2012

    I will definitely be back. I’m loving connecting with women at this point in my life. And as far as the farting grandson – better him than you, right? LOL Sorry…couldn’t resist. I’m in a house full of guys right now; apparently I’ve succumbed to the relentless fart jokes.

  16. Susan's Story

     /  August 21, 2012

    Lynne…I, too, am helping out now with the care of my soon-to-be 4 year old granddaughter….rich, rewarding, hard work


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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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