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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

How Ashton and Jay Z Made Me Happy

I used to look at Ashton Kutcher and think pretty boy tech geek who got lucky when he caught the eye of Demi Moore. And that’s true, but it’s not the whole story.

When I saw this video of Kutcher, I fell in like with the guy. (Skip the first minute.) He tells his teenaged audience three important things, all of which I agree with:

  1. Opportunity looks a lot like hard work. He’s been a roofer, a custodian, a sandwich maker, and a sweeper. “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I’ve always just been lucky to have a job. Every job was a stepping stone to the next job, and I never quit my job until I had the next job.”
  2. Being sexy: “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful. And being generous. Everything else is crap, I promise you. It’s just crap that people try to sell to you, to make you feel like less. So don’t buy it.”
  3. Living life: “Build a life. Don’t live one. Build one.”

I think it’s reassuring to feel a sense of commonality with younger people. it’s nice to think we’re in it together, because otherwise, we divide up into tribes, which is a bummer, and a waste of potential synergy. Life is hard for everybody. We’ve got our old problems, and they’ve got their young problems.

Jay Z made me happy, too, with the way he related so generously to people who are talents in their own right. In this video, he gets out of the stadium and does an interactive gig with about 50 people.

Jay Z and Marina Abromovic eye to eye

Jay Z and Marina Abromovic eye to eye

In the video, “Picasso, Baby,” Jay Z performs for artists, dancers, and other creative types, who in turn perform for him, and I dare you not to dance. I especially liked when a stylish woman in her late 70s, early 80s? sits down in front of him and he forgets his lines, like he’s blown away by her fabulousness. She throws back her head and laughs.

One of the ways we create tribes is through our music. I wonder if there’s not something about the way our brains form when we’re young that causes us to imprint a certain kind of rhythm and sound. For example, I love the music of my era, the 60s and 70s (Led Zepp, Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Turtles, Beach Boys; you get the idea). I don’t cotton to hip hop or rap. But then along come Jay Z and his friends, and suddenly I’m dancing to hip hop. That made me happy.

In earlier times, tribalism kept us safe. But now the challenge is to break out and see if you can share a feeling with someone not of your tribe – in this case, the tribe of age. I loved what Ashton Kutcher had to say, and I danced my @$$ off to Jay Z’s video. I felt happy and safe, thinking I’m not alone, that I’m part of their tribe and they of mine. Life is sweet.

On another subject, when I was in Rushville, Indiana last month, I went for a walk every morning in the neighborhood around my hotel. It was pretty enough, in an old-home American flag way, that it choked me up. I was listening to a particular song one day on my iPod, and I thought, dang, I have to make a video of what I’m seeing, and set it to just that music, so you can experience my heart land. So here it is, my love letter to Rushville, accompanied by Gregory Alan Isakov’s The Stable Song.

phone July 22 2013 453

Click on picture to see video

Leave a comment

26 Comments

  1. I too had a change of heart about Ashton Kutcher after seeing the video (perhaps better stated – ‘I finally really noticed Ashton Kutcher). I’m not the greatest hip hop fan, though I loved Jay-Z’s documentary too – touched as you were by his warmth, affinity for others and seemingly generous heart. I prefer to think of us as all in this together too – for in the purest sense, when you cut through all the generational, cultural crap – we are.
    But my favorite part of your post? The video without question! Now I want to go to Rushville..

    Reply
  2. I have always respected Jay-Z’s music, but I really came to appreciate him as an “artist” after coming across this video. I have been sharing it like crazy because it gave me such a good feeling.

    Reply
  3. I’m not a hip-hop fan but I won’t trash it. I try to enjoy all kinds though.
    When Ashton made his speech, he grabbed my attention and now I have a lot of respect for him. Someone who still is young enough that young people will listen, needs to set a good example and I like his.
    I’m glad he’s not running around making (bad) news.

    Reply
  4. Sue Shoemaker

     /  August 23, 2013

    For some reason I couldn’t get a “picture” of Ashton Kutcher out of my thoughts when he made the comment about “being sexy.” Seems to me there was a photo of him in a hot tub with more than one “smart, thoughtful, and generous” young woman about the time he was breaking up with his wife. I liked the content of his message too…just not sure that I can “buy it.”

    The term “tribe” has come to mean something very special for me at this point in my life. Obviously, my family is my first and most important “tribe”…and we have “grown” in the past six years with the addition of two wonderful daughters-in-law and three little grandchildren.

    However, in the past 14 years I have connected with four other “tribes” that have had a positive impact on my life.

    At 50 I began tap dancing classes…and four years later I started clogging. The women I dance with are the first people who I considered to be one of my “tribes.” Just recently I have begun taking an exercise class that seems to be turning into an “extension” of my “dance tribe.”

    During my 55th summer I went to San Francisco to become a certified Tour Director. I was totally “at home” with these travelers who had come together to be trained to help other people “see the world.” This particular “tribe” is one of my favorites, and continues to grow and expand to include others who work in the travel and tourism industry, as well as the clients who repeatedly request that I lead them on another trip.

    Another “tribe” is the people I have met through social networking (especially in Elderwomanspace) and through online “conversations.” Lynne…you are part of this “cyber tribe.” This tribe continues to expand as well. When I retired in 2010, I would have felt very “isolated” without the Internet and the opportunity to have meaningful “conversations” with intelligent, well read, mature, optimistic, purposeful and wise women. This is the “tribe” I can access anytime and anywhere I have Internet connection…even as I sit in my pajamas having that second cup of morning coffee.

    My fourth “tribe” is Hospice. I am a volunteer for the local Hospice residence. The people who work there as well as the residents I have met there are part of a unique “tribe” that gifted me with some profound opportunities.

    So to me, “tribes” are about expansion, growth, evolvement and reaching out to others. The people who are part of each of these “tribes” seem to “get me” in a way that other people do not…and I’m OK with that because I have my TRIBES.

    Reply
    • Sue, thanks for going into the detail you did. We can learn from you. My takeaway from your generous comment is that we are at home on earth when we’re part of a tribe, or tribes, plural, as you are. You’re such a great example for me. Thanks.

      Reply
  5. I so agree. That’s why it is not recommended for older folks to move to retirement communities. Hanging out with only your own tribe will make you age faster. We need the diversity of all age groups to stay young.
    Rosy
    rosythereviewer.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Rosy, thanks for your comment. I actually do live in a 55+ community, and I enjoy having people around/nearby of my own age-related tribe. But there’s truly a danger in getting too homogeneous, so I make sure to find opportunities to work alongside and talk with younger peeps.

      Reply
  6. Trifecta. Love the post, the video and the accompanying music. Nicely done Lynne.

    Reply
  7. Cynthia

     /  August 24, 2013

    Loved your video. Beautiful images! You have a really good eye! Reminded me of my hometown in eastern Ohio.

    Reply
  8. Loved the sentiment of this post on many levels

    Reply
  9. I’ll just never be able to understand folks’ (including my lovely wife’s) fascination with the lives of celebrities. I understand admiring their talent, but why do people care so much about what they do out of role? Did he/she do a good thing, a bad thing . . . who really cares? Well, of course millions and millions seem to care. But why?

    Not really criticizing, just wondering confusedly. I read an opinion piece yesterday in the NY Times by the woman who plays the protagonist’s wife in Breaking Bad. People hate her character. Well, that’s fine when she’s in character. But that hatred — and that’s the right word to use in this case — now extends to her as a person, even to the point of death threats!

    Come on, people, there really is a life beyond celebrity, honest!

    By the way, just discovered your site today. I expect to be a frequent visitor. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Martin, glad you found us, and thanks for your thoughtful comment. Speaking for myself, I was excited about Kutcher’s comments because he has a large audience and a lot of influence in the younger generations, and there he was, telling the kids exactly what I’d like to tell them: use your brains, be kind, work hard, and don’t be afraid to break your own trail as you create your adult life. Very reassuring to think this “thought leader” for young Americans is telling them a good thing. Second, re Jay Z, I’ve felt alienated from the kids’ music and thus a little bit cut off from them. So to see Jay Z, who is not only a vocalist/composer but a sharp, successful businessman, respecting older people, dancing with them, and being struck dumb by one gutsy, snazzy older broad, just delights me. And to find myself enjoying the music enough that I had to dance? Priceless. But bottom line, it was reassuring. Both videos were. I felt that I wasn’t so worried about the direction Youth is taking in America. BTW, did you watch the 3rd video? It’s my ode to the heartland, small town America. Makes people cry. Hope you enjoy it.

      Reply
  10. I got the same kind of smile when I saw Ashton Kutcher saying what he did. it gave me faith and hope that there are still some good things left in the world – and while what he said might have seemed like platitudes and such to the older set — this was something that needed to be heard for the first time by the younger ones. I know that I needed to be reminded, that’s for sure.

    Reply
  11. Lynn and Amelia, I have to confess that when I left my comment, one thing I wasn’t thinking about was the influence that celebrities have on their fans. And yes, when they do make intelligent remarks and issue sound advice, for example to young people, or treat older people with respect, then that is a certainly a positive element of their celebrity.

    But I’m afraid that the Yang to that Yin is often seen as well — what kind of message did Miley Cyrus send to her young adoring fans?

    Nevertheless, I’m pleased that Kutcher and Jay Z left the kinds of messages they did.

    Reply
    • Martin, you’ve commented here at AST before and your comments are always intelligent. So we figured that. But I enjoyed the expanded version too.

      Reply
  12. Your love letter to Rushville is beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply

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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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self-publishing tips for authors

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