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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

Old Age Better Than I Ever Expected

Ronni Bennett

Ronni Bennett

I never expected to feel as alive and vibrant and spirited and vital as I do at this time of my life.

These are the words with which my friend, elder blogger Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By, began a recent post. It seemed so powerful I asked if I could reproduce it for Any Shiny Thing. The following words are Ronni’s. Enjoy.

“There is little if anything in our culture that would lead me to believe I would feel this good about being an old woman. The media relate to old age almost entirely via health, poor health – and mostly about dementia.

“There are more news and feature stories about Alzheimer’s, for which no prevention or treatment exists, than reports on all other elder health issues combined.

“The New York Times publishes what is now a long-standing, daily blog about and for elders titled The New Old Age. Day in and day out over several years now, it is exclusively about being sick or frail or demented or all three at once as though there are no other states of health in “the new old age.”

“Someone ought to tell The Times that 80 percent of old people live independently until they die.

“Then there are the politicians. Elders are a big topic for them because we are more frequent voters than younger people and our numbers are ballooning.

“But the pols see us exclusively in economic terms, wringing their hands over how expensive we are, a bunch of greedy geezers who they would rather starve than allow a Social Security cost-of-living increase.

“Is it any wonder nobody likes old people?

“The only positive words about us involve freaks who jump out of airplanes at age 85, reported by the media either as a joke or as an object lesson to all other old folks to get off our duffs and climb Mt. Everest.

“As regular readers know, I think about these things a lot and frequently rail against them…

But that doesn’t stop me from being amazed at how good old age feels. This is the most interesting time of life I have known.

“It seems to happen when I’m not paying attention that a lot of former imperatives fall away, making life easier and far less fraught with shoulds.

I am done improving myself. Self-help be damned. I am what I am and so I shall remain.

“My ambitions these days are about how I might be able to contribute to my community and not the next better, higher-paying job. I’m not competing for work or recognition or awards anymore and that takes off a load.

“My concern about myself has shrunk to little more than a daily mental checklist on well-being rather than how I compare with others. I have less to prove to them and to myself.

“I’ve almost learned that there are good days and bad days, good and bad moods, and that’s all right. Each is as much a part of living as the other.

“And, as I’ve mentioned here before, I have lost my younger sense of urgency, the need to do, do, do. I still find it odd that as my days dwindle down, I more frequently say, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

“I still don’t understand that but it sure feels good and for a bonus, I suspect it helps keep my blood pressure in check.

“There is time now, finally, to be. Time to follow my interests and instincts, to investigate those avenues – internal and external – I was too busy for in the past. Or not. I get to choose and the freedom I’ve arrived at to do so thrills me.

“Whatever the rest of the world thinks about being old, from my vantage point of 72, it is unexpectedly better and more exciting than I ever guessed it could be.”

Lynne again: Are you surprised to find yourself happy at an age when we expected to be bummed out?

Leave a comment


  1. What a terrific perspective!! I share this view most of the time, feel lousy less of the time, and I don’t think that’s any different from how I felt at any other time in my life…

    • Good morning, Mimi. I feel more challenged physically, but much more joyful mentally. Somehow the culture has decided the only good human is a young human – but not necessarily so! We need to talk it up, cuz older age has many wonderful aspects to it.

  2. 1959duke

     /  September 6, 2013

    Reblogged this on Change is Never Ending.

  3. I feel much the same way and am still somewhat alarmed to be 61! I was walking with a colleague from work (an energetic 24 year old) who elated “I want to be as active as you are when I’m your age!” I find it very rewarding that I have started to become the kind of woman I always admired when I was young. Not sure when the whole aging thing started happening as I haven’t been paying much attention to it. Thank you for a wonderful reminder.

  4. This was terrific. Thanks for sharing. I sent to NH State Committee on aging, of which I am a member.

  5. Right on! I’m 70, about to be 71, and I love it. Never knew I’d experience such freedom!!

    • Jzrart, I think we are going to see a lot more chortling in the years ahead as more of us speak openly about this feeling. One of my friends described it as “glee.”

  6. At 51 I’ve just begun to feel this way – sometimes. I’m inspired by this and look forward to feeling this comfortable and self-contained at the author’s age.

    • Sharon, the 50th birthday can be pivotal…it’s saying goodbye to youth and experiencing the uncertainty about what comes next. Then you have a period where you realize, hey, I could be only halfway through my adult years, and you catch fire. At least that’s how it is for me. Think about it: from 20 to 50 is 30 years. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be vibrant right into your 80s, so you’ve got another 30-year lifetime to live. Kick butt, girlfriend!

  7. I’m just 2 years younger than Ronni but am routinely taken for being in my 50s… maybe because I don’t ‘act’ old? Unlike Ronni, I still aim to improve myself – but just for myself, not to prove anything or because I’m dissatisfied with myself. Rather, I love learning, trying new things (I celebrate turning 70 by starting a new job), funneling everything through the filters of my spiritual practice and enjoying just Being.

    • Chela, acting old is a good thing, so I don’t understand that sentence. And I think Ronni meant she’s happy with who she is and doesn’t feel any compulsion to change. She enjoys just Being.

  8. 11315miles

     /  September 6, 2013

    Reblogged this on 11315 Miles and commented:
    I’m no youngster, but I don’t consider myself old either. I liked this article because I’ve been wanting to expand on age (specifically mine) and running. I hope you enjoy – reblogged from Any Shiny Thing.

  9. There’s that dang word again: old. No-body’s calling me by that silly word because I’m NOT. Heck, I haven’t even grown up yet and maybe never will.
    I began my retirement almost seven years ago, taking it easy, but now I am busy, busy, busy. Can’t sleep in, haven’t time to read, always into something. Maybe I’m so busy because I can’t MULTI-task anymore. That’s one failure I’m well aware of these days. 😀

    • Tess, I’m calling you old, because it’s a compliment in my world. Old means free to reinvent, to charge forward, to be busy, busy, busy by choice. Congratulations on being old. You’re awesome.

      • I wasn’t saying you called me that, I only meant to hack that word to bits. If we start thinking of old as old, it might be depressing and I’m not about to be depressed.

  10. I tell people that retirement is like being a kid again…but with money and a car. At 62 I feel great, Sure there are some things I am not as good at as I used to be, but there are also things I never had time to do before that I now do. That means I am now better at those things than I used to be. I don’t spend much time thinking about becoming older. I like to concentrate on who I am and what I can do today. All stages of life are great if we make see that way.

  11. THIS Is what I need to hear. 80% live independently. Leave it to the media to exaggerate the negative…I should know better. Thank you for reblogging this. I am so afraid of aging, and the stupid thing is that fear of aging robs me of youth. Stupid.

    I started following you because of your frank and positive take on aging and how we value ourselves and others as we age. I still read your posts regularly and appreciate your perspective and all the things you share. This is such a positive message.

    • Thanks for all your kind words, Meg. Re fear of aging, that’s why I started this blog. I needed, for my mental health, to reject that fear and rebel by finding something not just good but outstanding about getting older. And I have.

      When you say this fear robs you of your youth, I’ve had that same concern! I so identify. Sometimes I wonder if by obsessing about “the good in old age” I am missing “the good in being 59.” But I counter that by trying to be mindful, and grateful for the here and now. And reading Ronni’s blog, http://www.timegoesby.net, is a kick-ass antidote. She’s so real.

      Take care.

  12. Thank you (and Ronni Bennett) for this delightful post. I completely agree with everything Ronni mentioned. What a great way to start my morning! I’ve linked it to Facebook’s “OC Boomers” page for everybody to enjoy.

  13. Isn’t it nice to be able to do the things that you want to do and to retire from the things you don’t want to do. I’ve really been enjoying that.

    • To the extent we can, that is really one of the luxuries. The challenge is not to retire from everything. I’m dropping off and picking up my granddaughter from preschool a couple days a week now, and I have begun trying to look more presentable and interacting with the young mommies standing in line with me. It’s kind of exciting to blend in with their “culture.” I can do research, too, asking them questions about such and such aspects of their lives. Very cool!

  14. I agree entirely. I wrote a blog post recently about how good it is to be 65.

  15. I am looking forward to my old age….. it sure beats the alternative 🙂

  16. Great post! Thanks for sharing Ronni Bennet with your readers, Lynne.

  17. Thanks for sharing Ronni’s treasure trove of wisdom about aging, Lynne. I love it–” I am who I am and shall remain.” What a wonderful attitude to embrace!

  18. Sue Shoemaker

     /  September 8, 2013

    Just a “head’s up” on another book that relates to this topic…NATURE AND THE HUMAN SOUL by Bill Plotkin. It may be that the ability to embrace one’s age has something to do with maturation. I started reading a “sample” of the book last night and couldn’t put it down. He makes a strong case regarding how industrial growth societies “grow” when people do not mature beyond adolescence. “Arrested personal growth serves industrial ‘growth’ … industrial growth society engenders an immature citizenry unable to imagine a life beyond consumerism and soul-suppressing jobs.”

    • Sue, what an intriguing comment. I’m curious to check out Plotkin’s book. Advertisers have known for years that if we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, we will buy. The front cover of any “women’s” magazine demonstrates this truth. I suppose to extrapolate that to his adolescence theory is a natural leap, but I’d like to think that with our new widespread access to each others’ thoughts (due to technology), something more exciting might be on the horizon. Like what happens if we as a society actually DO mature? What new products might we wish to consume? BIG thinkers might want to consider this potential as they plan for midcentury commerce.

  19. Sue Shoemaker

     /  September 8, 2013

    When you mentioned marketing to a mature audience, it made me think about some videos I found a year or two ago on YouTube by a woman named Marti Barletta. What I found especially interesting was she was discussing marketing to older women, and her videos had very few “views.” Our generation of women is the best educated and most economically solvent generation of American women ever. The reason marketers are not taking us seriously is because we have participated for so long in endless/mindless consuming, shopping and spending with our eyes on the ethereal “prize” of staying “forever young.”

    You are right on the money when you mention technology and the ability to “access” each other’s thoughts. This particular “conversation” could not have happened ten years ago. We need to keep thinking and talking and sharing ideas. That’s how we find out that we are not alone, even though we may feel at times that we are living in a pocket of isolation.

  20. I’ve been watching Marti’s videos for years: http://youtu.be/xZ_V7_u-hgU. She is so smart. And as for that isolation? As an introvert, I treasure the Internet.

  21. Sue Shoemaker

     /  September 8, 2013

    I treasure the Internet because I live on a farm. I LOVE the space and the peace…but it’s also great to be able to have meaningful and inspiring conversations with intelligent, open minded and mature women like you!

    BTW…Have you read QUIET…THE POWER OF INTROVERTS by Susan Cain?

  22. Sue Shoemaker

     /  September 8, 2013

    Thanks, Lynne…you do too.

    Thanks to you I have read and enjoyed DAKOTA BLUES, BENEDICTION and PLAINSONG…and I am still reading (and enjoying) IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN, FIERCE WITH AGE and EVENTIDE.

  23. I LOVED readin this–thank you so much for sharing it. I will definitely check out her blog too. I think the more of us who can share the news of the many advantages that come with a long, well-lived life are so very important. I happen to live in the Palm Springs area of CA where we are so fortunate to see so many people in their 80s & 90s who are still active, happy and mentally sharp. They are so inspiring to those of us on our way. Let’s all keep spreading the news! ~Kathy

    • Kathy, thanks for the affirmation. We really do need to celebrate the positive, challenge ourselves, and keep living – and inspiring each other! BTW, I live in Hemet and am a member of the Palm Springs Writers’ Guild.

      • Oh wow! Small world huh? I live in La Quinta (I actually grew up in this area) and have heard about the Writer’s Guild for ages (literally 🙂 !) Then you too know how many great role models we have here in the Coachella Valley. Who knows? One of these days our paths may cross in person…something tells me we have a lot in common! ~Kathy


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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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