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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

We Look Old? Big Deal.

Lauren 3

Lauren Hutton looks great, doesn’t she? She’s featured on the cover of April’s Elle, where the words translate to “Women Who Make You Want to Grow Old.” Hutton is around seventy. She looks fantastic. Sharp jawline, great hair, etc. Doesn’t it make you feel like you should be doing something more with your sad old self?

Before you make an appointment with Dr. Plastic, you should consider that Ms. Hutton really looks like this:

Lauren 2

For the first photo, Elle airbrushed her to within an inch of her life because they’re selling stuff inside the magazine, which you’re not going to buy unless you feel uncomfortable. Advertisers cut you down for a reason. They use smoke and mirrors to undermine your confidence so you will give them cash. Of course, you know this.

It’s hard to resist, though. Recently I was getting my hair cut and colored. For all the niceness of the salon, the lighting is a bit harsh. There I sat with my silvery roots, jowls, and turkey neck staring back at me in the mirror. To complete the look, I had a broken blood vessel in my left eye.

I looked old. Is that a problem?

I’m serious. Is it wrong to look old? Is that some kind of crime for which we must castigate ourselves, writhe in shame, and vow to try harder?

Appearances are very important to humans. Animals have other means for judging who’s strong, who’s sick, or who’s to be feared, but we can only go on looks. Somebody told me recently that I look tired. I asked why she said that. She stammered, “You have bags.”

I am tired. That’s what happens when you run after a couple of toddlers for eight months. But maybe the bags are there naturally, and won’t go away after I get rested up. Will the world now assume I’m tired? If I go for a job interview, will I be seen as slow, unmotivated, or unproductive?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. You may be awesome in every way, but still have a face that’s got a hundred thousand miles on the odometer. Society will then assume you are pointless, ineffectual, and stupid.

Until society grows up and gets a life, you’ll have to be ready for this. If you can’t fix the externals, or don’t choose to, work on the internals. We People of the Second Half must practice finding reasons to hold ourselves in high regard. We can celebrate triumphs other than looks, like the fact that we wowed everybody at a recent public speaking engagement, or we’re finally accomplishing our dreams, or we’re an amazing resource for our family or community.

The more unhappy we are with our aging looks, the more we deny ourselves the joy we deserve. Let’s aspire to be at peace with our looks. Let’s aspire to be free.

Leave a comment


  1. I think you can look old and look great or old and lousy. Although I believe there should be no mirrors at hair salons (because one always looks particularly unappealing with dye on one’s roots, harsh lights and a black cape), I am still going to get my roots done, I”m still going to go to the gym (not maniacally let me assure you), still swipe on a lipstick before heading out. It’s me – without airbrushing and with a little (emphasis on little) effort. And I’m not going to change the American view of beauty – I am going to re-define my own. 🙂

  2. Oh I hate that mirror at the beauty salon! And when somebody tells me I look tired, I’m ready for a nap! lol

    Spot on, as usual, Lynne. Great post.

  3. Boy howdy, did you hit the nail on the head with this one. I grew up with a beautiful mother who did her Pond’s cold cream and her facial exercises every day of her life. Blessed with beautiful skin anyway, she never had a wrinkle line in all her 101 years. She would exhort me to do my facial exercises and a few years before she died she said I looked “older than my years.” A curse. My facial odometer does register a lot more miles than mom’s did at 101, and I’m 37 years younger! But SO WHAT!! I keep telling myself. Thanks for a great post, Lynne.

    • Funny you should mention mothers, Martha. I was thinking this morning of how Mom still mentions weight gain (not to our faces) or loss (“Don’t lose too much. You need your reserves.”) But I don’t recall hearing her say we look just right. At 88 (next month) she’s still very concerned about looks. I’m sure my strong feelings are at least partly based in that.

  4. Beverly

     /  May 3, 2013

    Hi Lynne, I read your blog religiously but have never posted a comment. This post really hit me and I wanted to ask you and your readers a question. Even with have the bags and wrinkles, if we are happy with who we are, do you think that people notice the aging less? I would rather they see my laugh lines and smile wrinkles than the luggage under my eyes!
    And why in the world do they want bad lighting and mirrors in a salon where you are coming to make yourself look more beatiful?

    • Beverly, I’m so glad you commented. All future comments will go up immediately without the approval process, BTW. Anyway, I think part of the issue with looks is wanting to appeal to the opposite sex, if that’s a concern for an individual. Also, looking for a job and having a 30-something assume you’re slow and tired. Those could be real problems. Luckily, I live in a bubble where neither of those situations matter to me, so I’m free to celebrate my smile lines! (Re the salon, I know. You are right!)

  5. Bravo Lynne. As always you make me proud to be me. All 56 years of me. And if there is road mileage on my face and it makes me look old, at least I know if you kick the tires, there is still tons more tread on them. LOL>

    • Thanks, Shawn. Maybe as we mature in this country, we’ll appreciate the look of health and happiness as much as plump-skin fecundity. Sigh. One can hope.

  6. Reblogged this on SSpjut | Writer's Blog | Stardate and commented:
    Lynne Spreen reminds woman that we are beautiful, wonderful, and don’t mess with us unless you are willing to get your butt kicked.

  7. Folks die young in my family so getting old is fantastic in my opinion. How smart were we when young? How strong? Truly confident and not simply arrogant? I like this old body much more. I am sexier,bolder,more interesting – older.I am not interested in advancing my career, not trying to impress folks I probably don”t even like. No worries about babies or finding love. This time is grand and I sad for the women of our age who haven”t recognized the joy,freedom and adventure to be had.

    • LaTonya, you are right! I’ve had enough health scares that I feel great just being alive at this ripe old age! some things are worse than wrinkles.

  8. It is important to look old so that the young will not be afraid of dying.
    Tyne Daly. I absolutely will not be guilted into plastic surgery, I might do duct tape, but not unless it’s important and includes cocktails

  9. I’m with you. I am tired of having women held up as examples of beauty who have been so altered by surgery or photoshop that they are barely recognizable. We all get old. What is wrong with looking one’s age?

    • EXACTLY. What is wrong with looking like we’re 60, 70, 80, 90…if we are? We need to give up this single standard of youth = good.

  10. The newspaper I write for includes a photo of me that I keep vowing to update. I have written about it several times, usually to make fun of myself for not replacing it. Thus far I have resisted change. My wife calls it my obituary picture. Which brings me to my second vow. It will be.

    • Is that the picture in your email profile, Bob? I enjoyed seeing it because it helped me envision another part of your life, and anyway, it’s part of who you are. Maybe we should change our gravitars more often, rotating through the years to present a broader picture. Anyway, I thought it was playful of you to use it.(See Ginger Kay, above.)

  11. I was interested to read your comment about your mother Lynne. Mine is the same- positive messages or compliments about my own appearance have been scant over the years. Instead of assuming I wasn’t worth complimenting, I’m now wondering if it is mainly a generational attitude? I’ve tried to give my own daughter a message that I think she’s lovely, in all aspects (not just focusing on her looks, but those compliments are nice too once in awhile!!).

    • Sarah, I see my almost-3-year-old granddaughter four mornings a week. She’s so cute, and her mother dresses her in such adorable outfits, but I have to mentally slap myself to stop making such a big deal all the time about her cuteness. I try to slip in, “and you’re so smart! and you’re such a good listener!” so she doesn’t identify solely with her looks. Because I agree, we pass along those things generationally as our mothers did. I want her to feel great about her appearance, but also as she matures, about things that come more from inner-work, self-development, and diligence. Because those things she can affect, more than looks.

  12. “Let’s aspire to be at peace with our looks.” That line says it all. Is there a woman alive who has not been subjected to that cruel, mirror, mirror on the wall? It is time we united. Enough, already. Let’s refuse to peek into the looking glass and seek to refine ourselves through our inner beauty.

    • Takes guts, though, when you’re bombarded every minute with the opposite message. But if we have nothing else to show for having lived to this age, we have guts!

  13. Beauty shines from within, wrinkles and bags or not. Happiness is in the eyes (of the beholder), and as long as we stare at appearances and not at the stories behind the outer shell, our vision will remain narrow and bound to grow unhappy with each day that passes… growing old.
    Stay young inside, follow your heart and be happy with who you are. Good health is of much greater importance than injecting stuff to make you look like someone else. And once you start with these actions, where will be the end of it?
    Better to grow old gracefully, with pride of each wrinkle earned by laughing, then smooth and unnatural as a young girl at the age of 70.
    Great article, Lynne!

  14. I read this at the most perfect time! My mom and I were just talking about the importance/unimportance of appearances. It’s not just the age factor, it’s the “fat”/thin ugly/pretty. The fact of the matter is we are individuals and that makes us individually beautiful 🙂

    • Hi Kiki, it’s true. We should have the guts to appreciate individuality instead of demanding compliance from each other like we’re all still in middle school! Thanks for coming by.

  15. Nothing wrong with being old. The older I get the better I feel about the fact that I am getting older. I think we should do whatever it takes to make us feel happy because that’s what shows on the outside. There is a difference between being old and looking old. There is something to be said for the older woman who looks amazing.


  16. Ah Lynne Another great post. I stopped coloring my hair 2 years ago so I’m liberally salted now. Do I look old, ask me if I care, I’ve earned every gray hair, every line and every ache honestly and if they don’t like what they see, they can turn the other way.

    • Love it, love it, love it, Deb! Not only your attitude but the idea that we can now choose to feel this way. Amazingly gratifying.

  17. “We People of the Second Half…” Adore that! Made me laugh out loud. And I have sat in front of that same salon mirror. But now, thanks to you, next time I’ll enjoy my reflection instead of picking it apart.

    • We have to be friends to ourselves; sometimes a little gentleness is a good thing. Smile in that mirror next time. That’s my plan.

  18. Like others, I’ve earned every gray hair, every wrinkle, every bit of stiffness. With each hair or line has come wisdom. I know it, you know it. If others can’t see it, it’s their loss!

  19. I don’t think that even Lauren Hutton would recognise herself in that cover photograph!! Such images are big lies! Even when they photograph young women for the women’s mags, they airbrush any slight spot or blemish. Best way to proceed: don’t like, don’t buy. Thanks Lynne for your astute observations for us glorious women of the Second Half.

    • Hi Lynne! I just saw a Ted video where the model shows herself in a couple of pix vamping for a mag, and she looks sultry and sexual. However, the model explains how misleading the pix are: in one, it was the first time she’d ever worn a bikini, and in the other (where she’s arching her back and rubbing up against a guy) she said she hadn’t even started menstruating yet. There were other pix of her in model pose and in normal life, contrasted. I wanted to save that video for my granddaughter, but she’s only 2 1/2 !


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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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