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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

The New Work of Age: Deep Thinking

Dorothy Sander

Dorothy Sander

Good Friday morning, everyone. My friend Dorothy Sander wrote today’s post. Dorothy blogs for the Huffington Post, and her blog, Aging Abundantly, is another joyful resource for those of us in the second half.

This is her response to “I Don’t Want to Live Forever”. I felt empowered by Dorothy’s words. Hope you do, too.

How very sad that advancing years seems to spawn despair and a sense of hopelessness and fear. About ten years ago, in my early 50’s I watched my parents journey through their last days, one dying at 89, the other at 97 and the thing that struck me then was exactly that. They couldn’t figure out how to live without “doing” something. I vowed then, that I would try to figure out a better way to die so that I don’t have to die in despair.

I have been wrestling with my own version of this issue and at sixty two I now see things very differently. I have never felt more at peace with life than I do now, and while the numbers say otherwise I feel like my life is just beginning. I’ve begun to think of the first half of life as “boot camp” for the good stuff. What we are missing in our western culture and  perspective is the big picture. Is life really about “doing”? Is it about thinking, planning, executing?

For me, I now see it as a process of being and becoming, of transformation and personal and spiritual growth which is more of an inward journey than an outward one. Sure, we will live in the world, enjoying all that it has to offer until we can no longer do so, but perhaps what we are meant to do in our last years, no matter how long they last, is to do exactly what people like Erikson, Kubler-Ross, Dr. Estes and others have been saying for years, go inward. Aging is a transformative process that, when we choose to embrace, rather than fear, deny or avoid it, we are gifted with the ability to offer wisdom and perspective to a world that has grown mad with doing.

No one looks forward to living in pain and losing one’s faculties, but it’s just another change that we can choose to embrace or fear. I want to live in this place of transformative aging until I die and I want to resist falling into the trap of fear or despair to the best of my ability. If it is 70 years or 170, I don’t think I will have learned or experienced everything there is to learn or experience and I will be sorry to see this journey end, but I plan to leap, to the best of my ability, into the next world, whatever it is.

Lynne again. I’ve written before about how we might need courage in the second half to allow ourselves to ratchet down a bit, sit quietly and think hard of a day, and that may be one measure of productivity. In this TedX video, geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas talks about how we judge older people according to how closely they imitate the physicality of youth. And in this post, I talk about how a group of retired/retiring psychologists and therapists, all female, all feminists, all with the ability to think deeply, appear stuck on the productivity standard.

As my Dad used to tell me, “Use your thinker.”


Leave a comment


  1. Great post. I’ll be working on using my thinker. 🙂

  2. Terrific Lynne – as always. Comforting (and amazing) how many of us struggle with the idea that we are ‘doing’ when we are traveling inward. More to think through and most importantly accept about where we are now.

  3. Reblogged this on Waiting for the Karma Truck and commented:
    I have been having many conversations with friends of mine about what the second half holds. The key perhaps is in re-defining one’s understanding of the concept of ‘doing’ – turning that energy inward and valuing it as much as one valued all those years of externalized effort. Some thoughts for this morning…

  4. Reblogged this on waitingforthekarmatruck.com

  5. What a beautiful reminder, Dorothy to learn how to “grow old gracefully”, taking the focus off doing and putting it on being, whatever it is we are capable of being. Lovely thought as is having an”unproductive weekend” Great post, Dorothy and Lynne. Thank you both.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I deleted that last line because it suggested deep thinking wasn’t productive – sorry! But in exchange, a lovely book deal.

    • Thank you so much Lynn, for sharing my ramblings in response to your great post. To be given space for my message on your site is an honor and I am humbled by it. I have enjoyed reading the responses thus far. I am always curious to hear what other women are thinking and feeling about life as we age. Each decade seems to bring its own challenges and each individual learns different things in different ways. I love seeing where we converge in our perspectives, as I believe it makes us stronger and more resilient. When we diverge we are provided with an opportunity for re-evaluation and growth. The conversation is absolutely the point and I appreciate the opportunity you have provided to carry it further.

    • Thanks, Kathy. Nice to see you here!

  6. No problem, Lynne. I knew what you meant..how about have a relaxing weekend just being, not worrying about doing something. I got it.

  7. This post could not have come at a more perfect time for me today. I thank you from the depths of my heart. I love it, Lynne.

    • That makes me feel really good, Cathy. I’ll pass along your kind thoughts to Dorothy.

    • I’m so grateful to Lynne for bringing up this conversation. It’s such an important one and we all struggle to make sense of life, both the good and the bad. So glad it touch you in some way, Cathy.

  8. Thanks for this great post! By nature I enjoy and value ‘being’. But I am greatly influenced by society’s value on doing. I needed this reminder that it is okay to hunker down and rest and not to run here and there like a chicken with its head cut off. I’ve been retired for 2 months. My workplace threw me a retirement party the other night. All people could ask me was, What have you been doing, travelling? So I’m feeling obliged to travel. The truth of the matter is that I’ve been just puttering around and recovering from a little nervous breakdown. I have recovered and all the better for it.

    • I’m glad you’re recovered, Hafong! It’s such a challenge to savor the roses at this time of our lives, yet we sometimes feel we have to justify our existence by running around with hair afire. Like a shrink once said, “You are enough.”

    • You bring up an interesting point, Hafong. “What are you doing?” seems to be the first question everyone asks upon seeing someone they haven’t seen in a while. I have a family reunion coming up in October and it’s that very question that I dread. I always have, primarily because I find I resist ego based conversation that often results; the value judgments of self and others. What I really want to know about them is do they feel and believe that what they are “doing” is adding meaning and value to their life and bringing them joy, or are they struggling in some way. Sometimes such a conversation is a natural outgrowth of the superficial, but not often. Perhaps we don’t take the time to develop a level of trust with others that allows us to share honestly. And, Bravo! for taking the time to heal and choose from the inside out what you will do next.

  9. “No one looks forward to living in pain and losing one’s faculties, but it’s just another change that we can choose to embrace or fear. I want to live in this place of transformative aging until I die and I want to resist falling into the trap of fear or despair to the best of my ability.”

    What great common sense and perfect attitude for those of us in the second half (or third third in my case).

    • “Perfect attitude.” Exactly, Martin. Have a great weekend.

    • When does the third begin, Martin? I’m perhaps there and didn’t know it! My husband always says “we need a ‘church of common sense'” and I think he’s on to something!

      • Dorothy, thanks so much for your post and for visiting to talk with our readers. I know it feels great to be able to interact with the actual author!

      • Actually, Dorothy, I should have said the fourth. I’m thinking about 100 and I’ll be 76 in January.

        • I think the 1/4 thing might have validity Martin. If I look back over my life there seems to have been some significant learning experience and transition in each decade. 40 to 50 was so different fro 50 to 60 and I see very different things lining up fro 60 to 70. Have you noticed that?

          • I’ve noticed that absolutely, Dorothy. The decades differentiate themselves markedly. When I look back at what I did and what I was in my 50s and 60s, and then in the first half of my 70s, I see what are almost different lives and understandings, ones that changed radically from decade to decade. And I love these differences, the good and the bad. It’s a series of new and exciting lives in a certain sense.

        • Martin, would you be able to articulate a characteristic perspective change, or understanding, that you found unique to each decade?

          • Wow, Dorothy. That’s an interesting question. I think I’ll take a crack at it and let you know. Hope I’m perceptive enough to really understand the changing perspectives. Thanks for the idea.

  10. A wonderful post. I still babysit my grandchildren when they come home from school after three years of all day long plus two years of three days per week. Finally, I get to relax a bit more. Sigh.

    • Tess, I do a similar routine. Last year was rougher, but this year they’re older and we (Bill and I) do only two days a week. Still, it can be a challenge, because by the time they’re napping I’m so tired I can’t think in terms of writing or marketing my work. I barely have enough brainpower to watch TV or check my email. And yet…yesterday is an example of the beauty, why it’s all worthwhile: Bill was home sick and I was alone at my son and DIL’s house. After the 18mo old woke from his nap, (big sis still asleep) we played a bit and then laid on the rug in the playroom, side by side, looking up at the ceiling and the patterns formed by the reflected rays of the late afternoon sun. I’d point, and then he’d point, and every few seconds he’d make some comment in his own language (he doesn’t quite talk yet). His little happy sounds. And he’d grin at me, those perfect little corn-kernel teeth, as peaceful and happy as could be. I hope I never forget those minutes with him. If I never wrote another book or sold one more copy, it wouldn’t matter, because I have the memory of yesterday afternoon.

  11. Shelley Charlesworth

     /  September 27, 2013

    I’m 65 & retired 10 years now – from teaching. I think the first few years after I retired I was busy “doing”. Not so much now. Like Dorothy says “What are you doing?” seems to be the first question everyone asks upon seeing someone they haven’t seen in a while. Or “Have you got any trips planned?” . I too want to know if people feel and believe that what they are “doing-doing-doing” is adding meaning and value to their life and bringing them joy, or are they struggling in some way? It’s good to have a change of scene and get away now and then but I really feel incessant traveling is over-rated and I like these quotes from Thoreau:

    “Only that traveling is good which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to enjoy it better…” [Journal, 11 March 1856]

    “We need only travel enough to give our intellects an airing…” [Journal, 20 November 1857]

  12. Great post, Dorothy. I think due to illness/injury I was thrust into that transformative inward journey earlier on. Though I don’t particularly embrace it, I no longer fear it. What you have said about the process is so true.

  13. Love this post. I work with twenty and thirty-somethings, and they are constantly going or doing. At their age I did the same, collecting novelty, and experience like a beachcomber collects shells. But now I crave introspection like I used to crave sensation. The journeys that mean the most to me are launched from my porch chair and go deep inside. Mary Oliver sums it up beautifully in her poem Today: “I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance.”

    • I agree. We are in different places, the young ‘uns and us. On Sunday I attended my granddaughter’s 3rd birthday party. It was boisterous and wonderful, and after a few hours I was ready for quiet, but before I left I saw two generations thriving in the noise: the young adults and their kids. It was wonderful; they were happily gathering seashells. But I had my full cache, so I happily left.

    • Love the quote…Those rocking chair grandmas may have been wiser than we sometimes like to think!

  14. Great post and at 59 I am one who feels as if my life is just beginning

    • Elizabeth, I’m 59 also, and agree. But this morning I feel like I was run over, and as I search my brain – what the heck did I DO yesterday that was outside the usual??? – I have this sad answer: I rode a swing. Yup, that’s all.

      I swung vigorously, pointing my toes up into the sky and holding them there; pumping madly to achieve great heights. I wanted to delight my 18-mo-old grandson, who was nearby in a baby swing. Mission accomplished, but I’m so sore! From simply swinging. But glad I still can!

  1. Do You Want to Live Forever? | Aging Abundantly | Women Over Fifty | Empty Nesters | Caregivers | Aging Gracefully

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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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