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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

We’re Too Old and Smart for This

Am I too old for this? 
Should women over X wear Y?

Do you ever see such questions directed at men? But it’s too early in the post for me to start digressing.

Why are we still trying to be The Good Girl? Haven’t we outgrown the need for approval from that anonymous authority, They? As in, “They say you shouldn’t wear shimmery eye shadow after forty.” Or, “They say a woman over fifty should never wear shorts.”

In this article, a woman wonders if it’s still okay for her to want to wear sparkly things, at her age. She says:

I want to sparkle…just a bit.

Isn’t that OK? Does it really matter how silly a middle-aged woman may look with sparkles on her backside?

I took it to Twitter a few weeks ago and threw it out there…

When is a woman too old for bling on her back pockets?

I’m wondering when does a woman get too old to let people tell her what to wear. Here’s what They said on Twitter:

If she has to ask, she probably already knows the answer.

I understand the desire to look appropriate. You wouldn’t wear torn jeans to a wedding, or a see-through blouse to a job interview. But when it comes to age, any article questioning whether we’re too old for a certain style annoys me, because it implies there’s an authority to whom we owe obedience. Really, at this age? Listen, if I have to live with the wrinkles-and-turkey-neck thing, I need compensation, and compensation in the form of bucking authority sounds good to me.

It does take a certain amount of self-confidence to wear what you like, public opinion be damned. For me, it’s a little hard to wear flashy costume jewelry and scarves on an everyday basis, but it’s either that or I’m going to donate them to the Goodwill.

These days, I try to resist being told what to do. If at all possible, I make up my own mind, now that I know what it is. Besides, I’ve worked too hard over lo these many years to develop a backbone, and I like the feel of it.

A couple of my friends blog about fashion for women who love being over fifty. They’re excited about creating a brand new style for themselves. One is Donna Pekar at Rock the Silver, and another is Lisa at Privilege. Here is Lisa, below, and I think you’ll agree she personifies the type of woman who would never allow anyone to dictate fashion to her.

Especially not with those shitkickers on.


Leave a comment


  1. You know, I didn’t listen to my mother when I was a teen-ager hellbent and determined to wear what I wanted (though I will say it was relatively within reason, though arguably not particularly flattering); I sure don’t pay much attention to editorial fashion ‘don’ts’ at 58. That said, I love Lisa’s look!!!

  2. I loved my mother-in-law. As she aged, she wore long or three quarter sleeves even in the summer. I knew she did this because the skin on her arms sagged and draped as it has begun to do on my arms. If someone told me to wear clothes to hide my aging, I would probably flash every sagging bit of skin I could. It’s about choice and what makes us feel comfortable. Dressing our age is not about protecting others from the realities of aging but about living a life that makes us happy and comfortable, so if bling and long sleeves does it, so be it.

    • Dolores, I like that example. I will probably drape myself somewhat, but it has to be a choice, as you say. I’ve been wearing skirted swimsuits for several years now. They look like tennis dresses. If I were told I SHOULD wear them due to my age, though, I’d probably figure out a way to manage a bikini, surgical scarring notwithstanding!

  3. Lynne; I feel this way about hair style. I’ve tried to wear my hair the way others tell me: longer looks softer; less spike looks kinder; too much red makes you look angry. But you know what? Those people aren’t me and I like short, spiky, dark red hair. I also like bling, punk, sweats, retro and tight jeans with biker boots. So sue me.LOL

    • Shawn, one of the most confident, talented, stylish and active people I know wears her hair in a Dorothy Hamill. She jokes about it, and says she drives for over an hour to get to the stylist who cuts it. But it is her haircut and she will not change. I admire her for this.

  4. Susan Ritchie

     /  April 19, 2013

    This was brilliant . . . ” I make up my own mind, now that I know what it is. Besides, I’ve worked too hard over lo these many years to develop a backbone, and I like the feel of it.”

    Love it! Great insight. Thanks for the links. Look forward to checking them out. Your friend, Lisa, rocks.

    I’m 63. Is that too old to say someone rocks? 😉

  5. Amen and howdy Sista! I am going on a cruise next week and showing my mottled crepey legs and arms to the world!!

    • Because you are IN the world, Nanci! How dare anyone take that pleasure from you. Have fun on your cruise. Remember our 3-day one with Sharon Dimery, around Catalina (endlessly) and into Mexico? That was my first cruise ever, first time to see the inside of a cruise ship. I had just met Bill and he lent me a book by Wilbur Smith, which made me fall in love. That was about 20 years ago, Sista! Be sure to wave at the Panamanians as you go through their canal. They’ll wave at you from tall buildings at one point.

      • I was just telling your” meeting Bill story” to friends who had just bought a new car at dinner last night. They thought it was awesome…… Pam Evenson was on that cruise…..Cool that the Panamanians will wave. We are actually stopping in Panama. I am looking forward to it!

  6. AMEN, Lynne! We’ve worked for years to become ourselves — strong, independent. And just because we’ve reached “a certain age,” we’re supposed to roll over and die? I think not! I just bought the cutest pair of lime-green Chuck Taylors and wear them with pride — sure, ALL the popular kids are wearing them, but why shouldn’t I, too? After all, I didn’t have to let my parents buy them, for cryin’ out loud!!

  7. Hi everyone! Lynne, thank you very much for including my picture here. It’s a question that fascinates me, why society cares so much about what women wear. I have to assume it has to do with our fertility, Darwinist that I am. So in our 50s, we can’t show our flesh if it no longer aligns with the desired female form because its inappropriate; we can’t show our flesh if it does have the “look,” because we might distract the male gaze. Or so goes my theory. I am not sure yet of the real answer:).

    • Oh, Lisa, I am so in agreement on that. Our society thus far has not figured out how to value age, of whatever gender. So at this point, fertility is the standard, but we older women have the numbers and the desire to change that perception. That’s what I’m trying to do. PS I LOVE your blog.

  8. I’m with you, Lynne. And, like Shawn (above) I wear my hair short and spiky with big earrings and enough makeup to make me feel pretty before I go out. 🙂

    I did slip back a bit this morning and asked my sweetie if I looked okay in black leggings and a thigh-length top to go to Barnes&Noble. He said I looked fine, but I thought, why am I asking??

    If I get too crazy I ask myself, ‘Would this look ok for a 59 year in Manhattan or San Fransisco? The answer is usually yes. 🙂

    I feel much more confident when I doll myself up. I don’t think I’ll ever be a capri pants and sneakers kind of girl.

    Great post, Lynne.

    • Vonnie, it’s all about us! (I love being able to say that sometimes). If you’ve decided you want to do X and it doesn’t hurt anybody, rock out!

  9. Jane W,

     /  April 19, 2013

    Looking oh so fine!!!

  10. Pennie

     /  April 19, 2013

    Love this post and the invigorating replies – especially about the sagging arm skin. I read your post each week and enjoy every one. However, the ones I identify with the most are those dealing with body image. I am redefining my own body image after weight loss and I really want to stop wearing sleeves when it is 100+ outside. I doubt I have the courage, but I am going to keep reading your posts and sole searching for that courage. Thanks!!!!

    • Pennie, if you’ve lost weight, you’re a champ and you deserve to enjoy the feeling of sun on your arms. Nobody qualifies to judge you. Nobody!

  11. Jane W,

     /  April 19, 2013

    Well, moderate me, baby!

  12. Jane W,

     /  April 19, 2013

    Yesterday, I went through all of my clothes and donated anything that I have not chosen in a while..The result is a collection of cool, kick ass outfits. Some are from the Goodwill. Some I have made, etc. I like short skirts and tights with no feet! I like cammies and see-thru over shirts. I like tunics and skinny jeans…these are my style. I really believe that if our bodies are not ideal ( and whose is??) we just have to dress for how we are. Love our awesome bodies. Never say negative things about ourselves..just say Thank You when someone compliments you!!! This WILL happen when you show your positivity.

    • Love getting rid of stuff I don’t use. Otherwise, it’s a false front. My closet appears to hold clothing but if I never wear it, where’s the pleasure?

  13. Good for you! Great, confident readers replies. We can do anything we want, we’ve eared it. Of course, the family is still talking about the pants my mother wore at age 76. Cut out hearts up th sides. But we loved her spirit and her younger boyfriend. 🙂

  14. LOVE this conversation! I’m 54 (or 55, I’d have to check my driver’s license) and feel I HAVE to wear sparkly eye shadow. It’s the ONLY thing that looks right with my long hair and skinny jeans!!

  15. Love the look here, if I looked like her, I’d be in the skinny jeans too. I do like posts like this, Every woman should wear what she feels good in.

  16. I can tell you right now that I wear what I want. I love my walking shorts. They show off my two beautiful new scars on my knees so beautifully.

  17. I have always been indifferent to fashion, which is ironical given that I lived in Paris, fashion capital of the world. I wear what is comfortable and never throw out outdated clothes, because I know that eventually it will be back in style again, (ie. bell bottoms, painter pants, bib overalls.)

    • And it always comes back around. It kills me to see the platform shoe turned into a justification for 7″ heels.

  18. Hi Lynne — thanks for the shout out! I’ve been a bad blogger lately. Lots of drama in my work life, but hopefully all is getting settled and I can get back to writing and thinking about fun stuff again.

  19. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  April 21, 2013

    Lisa is gorgeous. The hell with people telling us how we should dress. I think most of us 50+ women have the sense to know that micro-minis won’t pass at our jobs. I’m glad to see some designers who recognize that there’s a huge market out there for older women. I am so very sick of seeing designers constantly focusing on the younger, skinnier groups.

    • If the designers want to make money, they can focus on us. If they want the glory of dressing little girls, well, I guess they can do that. But we’ve got the bucks. Allegedly.

  20. Lynne, I’m pretty conservative as I have always been and I usually go with comfort and what looks best on me. Most of the clothes that are in vogue would look ridiculous on me. And quite honestly , I never really learned how to walk in spiked heels. I don’t care what “they” say especially when a lot of the fashions are geared to the younger, skinnier type. Great discussion!

  21. Love the attitude and look! Will be checking out her blog. I work part-time in retail fashion and I’m always looking for fresh, sexy, stylish looks for me and my peers.

    • LaTonya, Lisa at Privilege blogs exclusively about fashion, and Donna at Rock the Silver does other subjects in addition to. BTW, I love the tagline on your blog (“One woman’s terrifying and glorious leap off the cliff of midlife.”) Hope you’ll stop by often.

  22. oh, I failed to add, ‘tell it, girl.’ lol I’m too old and ornery to ask permission for anything regarding what I do, wear, feel. “Don’t like it?” Let the person deal with their issue cause it ain’t mine. 🙂


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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.

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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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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

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

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A Place of Observation

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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