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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

I Love / I Hate “Progress”

Today I read that the entire amount of knowledge we accumulated in history doubled in the last two years.  I can believe it, because recently, I bought a new DVD player.

I was unhappy with the old one because the colors were distorted. It looked like somebody threw a red shirt into a load of whites. Pink clouds, pink walls, pink socks. Bleah. So I bought a simple model from Target. Plugged it in, but it looked like we were watching the movie through a window screen. Took that back, too. Decided I was going to have to spend more than thirty bucks.

For eighty, at Best Buy, I got a sleek model with Internet capability. I asked the clerk why I needed Internet on my DVD. She said it would download automatic updates, and we could also watch YouTube and Netflix instant streaming.

I like Netflix, so I bought it and tried to connect it, only to discover I’d selected the wired model when in fact I needed wireless. Took it back and exchanged it for a more expensive model. At that point, I was in it for several hours, a hundred dollars and lots of driving.

I now have a TV with a DVD player that’s actually a kind of secondary modem that interfaces with the Verizon modem in my office. It connects with Netflix, YouTube and Pandora Radio, but nothing else. So now I’m thinking, why not the whole Internet? And can my wireless keyboard interface with it? How about phone calls? Texting? Voice recognition? Come on, Samsung, don’t leave me hanging.

All this to watch frickin’ TV.  Life is so complicated now. Don’t even ask me about my car. It’s like a rolling iPod or iPad or something. The other day I was trying to show my son a video on my smart phone. We were standing in the driveway next to my car, which was running. Because my phone and my car are connected by Bluetooth, the car overrode the phone and we couldn’t hear any sound. The car had turned my phone’s audio off. I had to turn off the car to restore the audio!

This is life in 2013. I shudder to think what it’ll be like in another two years. I’ll probably need a master’s degree to flush the toilet.

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  1. I saw a segment on Huff Post yesterday about a bluetooth toilet, you can sync with your iPhone or device and listen to your favorite music while in the bathroom! The wireless DVD is much more practical.

  2. Great post — very accurate description of what’s what today in high tech and it’s efforts towards total electronic connectivity and integration.

    Had to laugh about the toilet. We recently had to replace one of ours and the guy who does this kind of work for us talked us into getting a self-flushing toilet — cf your remark about a master’s degree to flush.

    We never got it working. He came back four times and he’d leave with it supposedly working and the first time we used it again it wouldn’t work. Fortunately you can flush it the old fashioned way, too. So we decided not to go back to grad school to learn how to work it.

  3. My wife and I get up around 4:30 AM and hit our IPhones, IPads, computers (Mac of course), and Kindle Fire. Even a book, a real one. We read, we write, we are married. Married on October 2, 1976. One thing hasn’t changed, we still drink coffee…. first….. from a K cup. I take back the change thing.

    • Bob, I’m the IT Manager in our home. If anything happens to me and Bill is left on his own, he’ll have to go back to analog and paper.

  4. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  October 11, 2013

    It’s getting so difficult to stay low-tech. We’re forced into most of these new bells and whistles. I’m the most disgusted and angry about what has happened to vehicles. I feel very sorry for a lot of the elderly who didn’t grow up or adopt all this high tech. The dashboards in most cars are unbelievable – might as well be flying the space shuttle. What happened to usable design? It’s gone the way of technology bling, dammit.

    • I was completing a survey recently about my car – it’s a 2013 Honda – and they asked questions about the dashboard like it was a home computer screen. Do I use the Facebook App, for example! I answered with something heated along the lines of “who would be stupid enough to do that in the car?”

      • Snoring Dog Studio

         /  October 12, 2013

        Good for you, Lynne. These distractions in one’s vehicle have gone beyond the ridiculous!

  5. I can so relate to this! I just now have a vague understanding of “streaming TV.” But I think you can do that on your computer/iPad/laptop, too, right???

    • Yes, Pam, and because of that, I figured I could hook my laptop to my TV and watch DVDs that way; I would skip the player completely. But it wasn’t good enough! For one thing, a cord was needed to connect them (WHAT! No wireless connectivity bet. laptop and TV? Barbaric!) and to pause, FF or rewind, I had to GET UP AND WALK ACROSS THE ROOM. Well, I mean, we are civilized people. Clearly I had no choice but to buy a dedicated device.

  6. We’ve got a Blueray player that came with our Smart TV it is sitting in the cupboard because I can’t figure out how to connect it. Friend recently told me of her experience staying in a fancy-schmancy hotel where the toilet lid automatically raised every time she walked into the bathroom. Insanity, I tell you!

  7. This is delightful. I hate being forced to progress whether I want to or not. I’m one of those stubborn people who doesn’t like to be told what to do.;-) Two months ago, I bought a new phone. Still am not comfortable with it… I mean, I still don’t know how to use it.

    • Ha ha, Tess, I actually bought a phone that doesn’t require electricity to work. Can you imagine? See, my mom has an old (remember “burnt orange”? It’s that color!) phone that keeps working if there’s a power outage. I wanted that. I had to go online to find one (how ironic). The receiver is connected to the phone by a cord. Sound quality is amazing.

  8. And if we have to sync with out toilets, what other anatomical things will they ask us to sync with? I don’t think even George Orwell saw all this coming.

    • Uh oh. Years ago the stupids were squawking that we’d soon have toilets that could analyze our stuff and tell us how we’re doing. Healthwise, I mean.
      That’s just sick. And I don’t mean “good.” I mean the old definition.

  9. Lynda Bernard

     /  October 11, 2013

    brilliant post. now i know why i’m feeling that i can’t keep up with anything anymore. lately i question why i want to – life in the fifties, bring it back! and please, no flushing toilets from my iPhone. surely progress needs some limits.

    • I think we have to set them, Lynda. Although this picture is worth the price of progress: my grandson, 18 months old, is fascinated with remotes. The other day, he grabbed the one from my bed and ran out of the room. As I’m watching, his 3-year-old sister, now on my bed alone, started rising up. THE BED WAS MOVING! She looked at me, wild-eyed, and I started laughing. Then she did too. I made the baby give the remote back.

      • Lynda Bernard

         /  October 11, 2013

        quite a moment there. my almost 3 year old granddaughter has “pretend” conversations on the iPhone. it’s worth the laughs.

        • The 18-month-old will hold anything up to his ear like a phone. Even an empty, hinged pillbox. I think we’ve been on the phone too much in his presence!

  10. I can feel your pain. I try to avoid anything with smart in the label.

  11. I can feel your pain. I try to avoid anything with (smart) in the label.

  12. I sometimes say I’d like to move to the mountains where there is no Internet and live a simple life. But alas, I’m hooked on all the technology and like you, have a love/hate relationship.
    It took us several months to get our remotes figured out after hooking up Apple TV/Netflix. And one day while talking to a friend on my cell phone, she was dropped from the call and I couldn’t call her back. My husband had started the car outside and he was now talking to her because the car bluetooth picked her up.

    • OMG, Martha, you too? This isn’t something I’d heard about before it happened to me. I’m going to put it on Facebook and see if others have experienced it.

  13. So true Lynne…but the way I look at it, who needs to do crosswords anymore to keep our minds flexible and growing? Instead we just learn the language of tech and stay young (at least that’s what I tell myself)…and consider the alternative? If we don’t keep up at our age (no matter what age that really is) then we will definitely be left behind…and I know don’t about you but I am a long way from wanting to be left behind. Of course, it also helps that I like most of it too 🙂 ~Kathy

    • Kathy, I do think we could get left behind. I mean, for people like my 88-year-old non-computerized mom, she feels totally left out by all this WW stuff, as she calls it. And I recently read that straining the older brain actually helps repair it. A good outcome!

  14. After reading (and laughing at!) your post and comments about your car, my old 2003 Toyota is looking better and better! All it does is occasionally lock its doors all by itself. You’ve got to wonder: who’s the master and who’s the servant?

    • Yep, Sandy, I’m riding in an iPod on wheels. It also has phone function in it, and when I first got it, I’d unknowingly hit the “call” button on the steering wheel, and this authoritative female voice would cut into my music and order me to “SAY A COMMAND.” How about, “BUG OUTTA MY MUSIC, GIRLY!”

  15. You said it! What’s worst, to me, is that there are no compatibility standards, no consistency standards, nothing to make it even marginally easier for those of us old enough to have learned to type on a manual typewriter. No two copiers have you place the paper to be copied the same way on the glass; no two phones have the same buttons to indicate call or hang up… etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    • Oh, about compatibility, don’t get me started! This alone was maddening: I had to type in my usernames and passwords (1) to connect my TV to my internet modem ( (2) connect with Netflix, (3) do the same for YouTube, and (4) do the same for Pandora radio. ALL four of them had different mechanisms for entering the characters! and think of it: Where is the keyboard on a TV? Since THERE ISN’T ONE, they all had different screens just for typing, and it required some detective work with the remote to figure out which keys to press to make a keyboard appear! I’m getting heartburn just remembering that day.

  16. I really loved this post. A few weekends ago, I attended a book festival. My adult daughter went with me. As we were leaving, she said, “Mom, did you bring your new phone?” Well, I had to go back into the house and get the thing out of the box–where I’d put it after three days of accidentally calling people I didn’t know. How embarrassing not to be able to figure out how to use a phone! A phone, for goodness sake! Yes, it is Smart and sleek and able to leap tall buildings, etc. But it makes me feel stupid!

    • Oh, God, talk about stupid: my son texted me one day and said “are you pocket dialing?” I WAS! A seam was pressing on the send button or something and he was the last one I had called, so my pocket was calling him over and over again. Funny that they call it “dialing.” To the younger peeps, what the heck’s a dial, anyway? Your comment made me LOL, Joy. Literally.

  17. And while we are talking about how difficult all the technology is…. has anyone else purchased a “toy” with no manual? I bought a camera and you have to go online to figure out how to use it. Even then the directions aren’t that detailed and I am not always near a computer when I need help.
    . I think all these gadgets are expected to be intuitive…. well my intuition must be going the same direction as my memory… I love digital photography, but while on a cruise my husband got it onto a setting where it took 5 pictures in a row. We could not figure out what he had done and had many multiples until I took it back to the store after the vacay and had the 20-something explain it to me.

    • Nanci, you make me realize the main underlying pisser to all of this is: I DON’T WANT TO SPEND ALL THAT TIME FIGURING STUFF OUT!! I could, yes, I have the brainpower and so do you, but I get such an overpowering feeling of frustration that I have to spend my precious time figuring out where the right menu is and then what subsequent choice I should make to solve my problem. And even if you DO figure it out, the next time they do an update it’ll all be out of date anyway. There is no opportunity to learn something that you can use next time. Like Chela says, above, there’s no compatibility. The only hope I have is “intuitive” programming, where you poke a certain button because it seems right, and hey, the f$%ker works!

  18. My solution is that I don’t watch much TV. I love a simpler life. I have a smart phone and it continues to outsmart me. So those other things will have to keep their distance. xo Laura

  19. I laughed out loud, read this to my husband and we felt validated. He spent the day home from work yesterday with a tech guy. We are now deciding do we give up the home phone and just use our cells…what give up my home phone???

    • Patricia, I can’t stand the thought of giving up my house phone, but I’d love to save the money. Thing is, the sound quality is so much better than a cell. And I always know where it is. On the wall.

      • Exactly, giving up the home phone is like letting go of a trusted friend. But I agree that friend is costing too much a month. We decided to keep ours anyway. The price we are willing to pay for keeping some things the same.

      • For years husband kept asking me to give up the home phone. I said no because I used the home phone to find my cell phone when I lost it. Another excuse was if I needed to call 911 they’d know where I was…except they know with a cell phone, too. Finally I agreed. I’ve never looked back.

  20. So funny, especially the last line. I know we can’t go backwards when it comes to technology, but at the pace we are going how can anyone keep up?

    • Pat, there was an article in today’s paper citing a psychologist about how much more anxiety all this connectedness is causing us. People frantic to check their social networks, even crying with frustration about software/hardware that doesn’t work. (Well, I can understand that last part.)


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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

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