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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Too Old To Have This Much Crap

Wardrobe discipline. I just read about a woman who has it. It sounded intriguing. What is it?

What it isn’t is displayed in my closet as follows: a couple dozen white or black knit blouses. A colorful collection of tank tops I never wear. Three knit shirts I do wear, over and over again. They are the same style, but each has a slightly different color scheme.

I have a lot of nice slacks that are suitable for working in an office. I don’t work in an office. And many pairs of Spandexed pants. Mostly black.

Lots of bags. I love purses and bags. I only use one or two, though. The rest are stuffed with paper and lined up on a shelf, acting like they’re still for sale.

So I don’t think I have wardrobe discipline. A woman with WD goes clothes shopping with laser-focus. Maybe she needs tops to go with the pants she already owns, or shoes for the winter. She goes to the store, buys those items, and drives home. I start out focused, but then I come home with more white tops. Or black pants. Or pretty bags, suitable for stuffing.

We’re at an age where we’re supposed to be shedding, traveling light and getting rid of stuff. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to have in your closet only those items you really wear? and like? There’s a way to figure this out. You’re supposed to hang everything in your closet backwards. Turn the hangers around, the opposite of how you normally hang them. Then when you put something back, hang it the usual way. At the end of a year, you’ll see what you haven’t worn and can get rid of it.

What a great system. It forces me to wear everything at least once a year.

Here’s another problem: what I can’t see, I forget. For example, I have a lot of costume jewelry. There’s a reason they call it that: I feel like a clown when I wear it. One day I chopped up a lot of wire hangers. Holding a pliers in one hand and a wire-snipper in the other, I made S – shaped hooks and hung all my necklaces in my closet.

Now I can see them, but I still wear just the six in the front row, over and over again.

I was looking around for guidance on how to clean out my closet and kept running across the word “edit.” Like it’s a book and you’re just cutting and pasting little phrases and sentences instead of tons of clothing.

I would use a different word, something more forceful, less delicate. Something in keeping with the massive workload. Vomiting? Time to vomit your closets, ladies!


But if you’re still wondering, here’s a place you can sign up for a monthly reminder of the weeding and pruning you’re supposed to do on a regular basis.

Ha ha! Me neither.

Remember a couple years ago, Mom broke her leg and had to sell her house and move? While helping her pack, I found an entire dresser jammed full of sweaters. We live in southern California. I asked her “What were you thinking?” Mom said, “When my clothing wears out I don’t have the money to buy new.” She grew up in the Great Depression, so it makes sense. Maybe a closetful of crap makes us feel more secure. But I’d rather be like Bill. He only keeps what he loves. Can you imagine?

One of the cool things about getting older is you know what you like. You’ve seen the fads come and go, and you’re not as susceptible to gathering clothing that will hang in your closet for the next twenty years. They say if you live long enough to see a fad come back around, you should pass on it.

How about you? Are you organized? Has anything changed about your closet now that you’re older? Come on, ladies, spill it. Let’s have a laugh. Tell us your closet stories.

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  1. Oh Lynne, I love this post. I so do not have wardrobe discipline 🙂
    I have three types of clothes,
    1) I wear all the time
    2) I wear once in a while
    3) I never wear but refuse to get rid of

    now the good thing about 3 is that the longer I hold onto it, it will come back in style.
    Great Post

    • Debbie, the only problem with your strategy is those brilliant people in the fashion industry always thwart us by changing one little detail so the retro stuff is different from the “coming back around” new stuff. Like platform shoes – who knew they’d morph into something suitable for hookers! (Apologies to any of my friends who may wear and love them.)

  2. Roxanne Morrison

     /  September 28, 2012

    Whenever I buy something new an item comes out of my closet. This method not only helps with clutter, but also makes me think before I shop. “I really want these new shoes, but which pair has to go?” I keep a donation bag in my closet as a reminder.

    • Roxanne, you are my idol. I try to do that but everything I try to get rid of crawls back out of the donation bag at night and hangs itself back on a hanger!

  3. Hi Lynn,
    This is one thing I don’t have a problem with – my closet is bare bones. I’ve been this way for several years now. Compared to most women, I’m pretty sure my closet would look pretty empty. I actually DO need a few things as some of my clothes are looking…well, like rags. lol I’m not one to keep anything that I don’t use…or doesn’t have sentimental value. I could happily help others clean out their closets!!

  4. Organized? Heck no! But my husband and I do carry a lot less stuff than we used to. Three years ago we decided to lighten our load and try living in different parts of the country. He’s retired and I’m mobile, so why not? We sold our house and our furniture, and “rehomed” a LOT of other stuff. The hardest to let go of? My books. But really, how many will I ever reread? Then we rented a furnished condo on the beach in Wrightsville Beach, NC, for nine months. Then we went to Reno, NV, for 18 months. Rented unfurnished, bought used (mostly) furniture, rehomed most of that when we came back to the Carolina coast last fall. Renting again – I don’t think we’ll ever buy another house, although a condo might be a possibility. But we’ve come to enjoy the freedom of knowing that if we decide to go somewhere else, we can as soon as the lease expires!
    The whole thing has been a great reminder about how few “things” are necessary for a rich life. I had leaned that lesson when our house burned down when I was 19, but had lost some of the lesson over the years.

    I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “Oh, I would love to do what you’re doing, but I can’t because….” and often the “because” is a piece of furniture or a collection of stuff. I have no quarrel with loving things we’ve chosen carefully and cherished, but for my part, I won’t go back to letting “things” dictate my life. Well, other than my laptop, of course! 🙂

    Great post, Lynne. (I don’t have the stuffed closet, btw!)

    • Sheila, my husband and I fantasize about living in different rental homes around the country. The thing that stops us is the feeling that our grandkids need us. We’re going to try it anyway, next school year when we’re not babysitting fulltime. Thanks for the reinforcement.

  5. heather

     /  September 28, 2012

    I know now in my 60s clothing just doesn’t bring me that lift any longer – that feeling that a certain outfit will change my life. It doesn’t — and like Popeye said, “I yam what i yam” — clothing doesn’t really offer up much soul lifting for me at this stage. That said, it is definitely time to lighten up the closet of decades of stuff — and that task comes with some emotional memories — remembering the times i wore a certain linen jacket or black tuxedo pencil skirt and perhaps those days are past. Now that is baggage i should let go ;-).

    • Heather, I went through that period, but then I decided I was going to dress according to my new, post-50 rules: it has to be comfortable, stylish, and something a young woman can’t wear without looking weird. Now I’m excited again; whenenever I see a boutique I try to find classy looking hippie clothes. My new thing! But they still tend to be black or white!!!

  6. Lynne, this one truly resonates. I started working for myself outside of my home more than a decade ago, but did I get rid of all my “professional” clothes? I did not. While I practically live in whatever is comfortable (read: jeans, etc.), I’m still hanging onto my “good suits.” Will I ever wear them again? Probably not. Even if they come back in style, because something is always changed (color, fabric, etc.) — the designers are hell-bent on weeding this packrat tendency out of us, aren’t they?? Still, I am in the process of parceling down — giving to charity and so forth — so that’s a good thing, no?

    • Debbie, isn’t that weird? Our identity must still be wrapped up in those suits, even though we – or at least, I – like to think I’m past it. Wouldn’t lightness be great, though?

  7. I’m ruthless with pruning and editing my wardrobe. I have much fewer pieces now and they’re really good quality and fit well and it helps me breathe to not have so much. Well – before I break my arm patting myself on the back – there is the issue of scarves and shoes. I could get lost in those that fill the spaces in my closet.

    • Thank God you said that about shoes and scarves, Barbara, or I’d have had to spam your comment so the rest of us wouldn’t be jealous.

  8. I am in the process of purging everything, so I really don’t have much. I can’t stand all the clutter of clothes I don’t or can’t wear. 🙂

  9. Interesting post, Lynne. Having retired last year, I now have a closet full of clothes I do not have the occasion to wear but I have a hard time parting with them. I think I’m more disorganized as I get older. I agree with Laura- I hate the clutter and need to purge my closet of the clothes I do not wear anymore. Bottom line= I am NOT wardrobe disciplined!

  10. Donna Holland

     /  September 28, 2012

    I just recently vomitted my closet. It felt so good.

  11. I loved this LOL post, Lynne. I have no WD only instead of being filled with designer clothes, my closets are filled with t-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatsuits covered with logo from every team I ever coached, played on or cheered for! Worse yet, every time I shop for dress clothes, I come home with another darling sweatsuit!

    • Oh, Pat, you’ve got it bad! How funny! You definitely need an intervention. Your sweatsuits are like scrapbooks or photo albums – “wearabilia”! Thanks – I’ve GOT to steal this aspect of your personality and give it to character in my next story. She’ll be just like you, lovable and can’t be kept down in spite of tough hand dealt!

      • Pat, your post cracked me up! When we were cleaning out before starting our “around the country” lifestyle, I finally cleared out all my “doggy” sweatshirts and t’s – from years of showing dogs. I still miss my ratty old faded sweatshirt from the first national specialty I went to….

  12. Good morning, Lynne, and congratulations! You have just received the So Sweet Blogger Award for being so AWESOME! We really do love your blog, and we’ve so appreciated your tweets, retweets, and comments on our blog, as well.

    To claim your award, just lift the badge from our post over on After the Kids Leave (http://afterthekidsleave.com/2012/09/29/award-time-this-ones-the-sweetest/), post it on your blog, and dish it out to some bloggers you think deserve it!

    We hope you’re having a brilliant day, and that we’ll see lots more of each other.

    Karen and Wendy

    • You guys!!! I’m sitting here with a big smile. I am so happy to think you feel this way about AnyShinyThing. I can’t wait to see how the widget looks. Thank you so very much!

  13. Boy did this post speak to me!!! My closet goes from stuffed to super stuffed yet I’m still a sucker for a 50% off sale. And, even if I don’t wear something for a couple of seasons, I still think I’ll need it at a later date. But wardrobe discipline is just around the corner…. I can feel it. Thanks for the reminder that less truly can be more!

  14. Hi Lynne! Thank you so much for pointing your readers to my Style Calendar PDF. I hope you find it helpful, and I’m looking forward to all your feedback! I’m also really happy to discover *your* blog, and I’m totally ecstatic you’re writing about women of the third age– some of my favorite broads. 😉 Excited to read more, and dig into your book!

  15. My closet!One day several years ago I opened the door and realized I hated all my clothes.Why had I bought them? Who had I bought them for?I had two closets full of clothes.Now I have one closet with too many sweaters( it’s cold here).I practice the get rid of it if you haven’t worn it in a year program. I also believe in being Ruthless in going through your closet and never buy anything unless you Love It.Great topic!

  16. Arlee Bird

     /  October 31, 2012

    This is not just a problem for the ladies. My wife and have clothes filling 3 closets in our house and I’m talking those big double sliding door closets. Since I am no longer working outside the home in a regular work environment and I don’t go all that many places I tend not to wear that many different items during the week. I’ve gotten rid of some of mine and I’m still trying to work through the process.

    It’s funny–it doesn’t seem like I buy all that many clothes. This is an accumulation over many years and most of the clothes are in decent wearable condition. I’ve been working on downsizing and it’s way more than clothes. I have way too much stuff. Oh, what to get rid of next? I like almost all of what I have.

  1. Paring Down, Kind Of | Musings by an ND Domer's Mom

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

    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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