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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

Did You Forget to Have Fun?

My sister asked, “If you had all the time in the world, and weren’t always working, what would you do for fun?”

I had to think. To me, work is fun. Always has been, even as a youngster. These days, writing, blogging, public speaking and hanging out on social media are my work and my hobbies. But those aren’t things I can do with a buddy on a Saturday.

Suddenly, I felt like Poindexter, always in the lab, hunched over another invention, cackling to myself.

Rallying, I told her I liked to go on field trips to gather dried plants, which I could then spray with metallic paint and use as decorations around my house. Calculating silently, I realized, but did not admit to her, that I hadn’t done that for at least fifteen years.

My Sis, hamming it up in the San Jacinto mountains

Two days later, Sis and I borrowed my husband’s truck and drove up to our local mountains. We spent the day taking pictures of the fall landscape, and gathering dried, dead or otherwise promising plants for my project. When we tired of hiking, clipping and snapping, we retreated to the Idyll Awhile Wine Shop and Bistro for a glass of wine and a fruit and cheese plate. We had a blast.

I hung the clippings in the garage to finish drying. In a few weeks you’ll see how they turned out, if they do. I also took the tree picture you see at the top of this page. A nice souvenir of my day.

I had fun. Hanging out with my sister and climbing around in the hills made me feel like a more complete person, even though, truth be told, I yearned to get back to my “work.” Yes, that’s the Poindexter mindset.

Still, her question set in motion an experience that reminded me:

  • we need friends
  • we need fresh air
  • exercise is good
  • once in a while, you need to turn off the computer, go outside and play.

What hobby or leisure activity have you been putting off?

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  1. When I was a kid I would reassemble all the chairs in the room, throw a blanket over them, get a flashlight and a book, and read in my newly born tent. Today I read with only one chair, the blanket is for warmth and I forget where the flashlight is. The commonality is fun. And oh yes, my doctor tells me to walk once a day. So I do.

  2. gulp… Great question. I know I’ve spent way too many hours at the computer of late. So, this weekend maybe something outdoors! Thank you for the nudge. Love your project idea.

  3. Fun is something most of us forget about on a regular basis. But what is fun for one may not be fun for another. I love to share in fun, but also know that there are things that I need to do for myself to have fun. Like paint or weed the garden. I need to do those “fun” things alone, sharing with only myself.

  4. I have always enjoyed reading about topics relating to my profession as a psychotherapist. I find it fun to read about dreams and Jungian material, it is fun to take online classes about these topics and fun to talk about it with others. In addition, I play at knitting, browsing antique stores and it is fun to eat in little cafes. And, I have such fun with my grandchildren.

    • Linda, those sound great! A long time ago I enjoyed eating at little cafes too – at tiny airports. You know, the municipal ones that are too small for jets, or security? Fun to enjoy a ham and egg breakfast while watching the prop planes take off and land. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Sue Shoemaker

     /  October 25, 2013

    Fun for me includes…my dance classes two nights a week. This is my 15th year of tap dance and 10th year of clogging.

    I LOVE “FIELD TRIPS!” Learning something new or “connecting some dots” or visiting a new place is always a “rush” for me. Last weekend I got to take a tour of one of the beautiful, old cemeteries in Detroit. The next day I attended a lecture at the Detroit Institute of Arts and then volunteered to work at the Freer House, which was open for tours.

    Spending time with our grandchildren is ALWAYS FUN. They are 4, 3 and 2. Our grandsons (4 and 2) live just down the road on our farm. Our granddaughter (3) lives five miles away and just started dance class this year…I got to see her dance during an observation class last week…and I was mesmerized. Time spent with these little ones is pretty much ALL PLAY…we “pretend”…do puzzles…chase one another…laugh…sing…dance and generally goof around.

    I LOVE FINDING FOSSILS AND INTERESTING ROCKS AND STONES…and I love to travel. We were “on the road” for 38 days last winter and 21 days in September. The September trip included a ten day tour of the National Parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona…and on the way we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park and spent three nights up on Mesa Verde in Colorado. We were so blessed to be able to complete our entire trip before the shutdown. I felt so bad for all of the people who had planned trips in October and were unable to fulfill their dreams of seeing these amazingly beautiful natural wonders.

    I could also spend hours wondering around a book store or library…that’s another kind of fun for me.

    As you can see…fun is a priority in my life! Thanks for asking.

    • Sue, what an inspiring, motivating comment! I really think I’m too insular. I love your list and feel like building my own.

  6. What I do all day long is my f-u-n, but you are right. I always come back refreshed and invigorated (if not overwhelmed because I must catch up). I must make more time for reading and I must walk more or my bones are likely to seize up. 😉

  7. Sue Shoemaker

     /  October 25, 2013

    What I noticed while generating that list is that some of the things I enjoy require the participation of other people and some of them I do alone. I believe in the importance of “tribes.” I consider the women I dance with as one of my tribes…my grandchildren and children form another tribe…friends I take with me on “field trips” are another tribe…my husband and I are a tribe…and the new “cyber friends” I an forming with people from all over the world (like you) are another tribe. My “tribes” help me enjoy life!

  8. Chico

     /  October 25, 2013

    Reblogged this on Sixty and Single Again.

  9. Bird watching. Here along the Texas Gulf Coast it is too blasted hot during the summer to get out for our favorite fun activity–bird watching. Now the things are cooling off, it is time to get out the binoculars and birding books and go for a day trip to Brazos Bend State Park.

    I am really looking forward seeing how your plant project turns out.

    • Me, too, Florence. I have a dresser-top where they’ll look good if they turn out.

      Bird watching sounds very relaxing; I imagine you work a picnic lunch into it. Have fun.

  10. I want to take up horseback riding again. Used to be a favorite activity when I was a girl. But then I start thinking…what if I fall off? I guess the answer is, you get back on! Rosy

    • That’s ambitious, Rosy. I used to ride when I was a kid. Paid $4 an hour for the rental horses. Rode a bad-tempered little chestnut mare named Chili every time I went out. She and I had an understanding. She tried to bite me and I snapped her on the nose. Then I fed her a handful of carrots. I loved her. She tolerated me.

  11. I loved Dakota Blues, Lynne. It was uplifting and real, and you are one fine writer, Thanks to Sandy Nachlinger who turned me on to it. I am getting older and as my days turn faster and faster, I realize how much fun I am missing, When day when I retire …. I think you know how that sentence ends,

    • Oh, man, thanks for telling me that, Grace! I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. I also hope that you can do that stuff now, before you retire. But if it makes you feel better, I retired and now I’m so freakin’ busy I long for weeks of nothingness…stupidtime, languidtime, nothingtime. Hmmmmm. How much of this is actually IN my control?

  12. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for awhile, Lynne, and this post was wonderful. I haven’t been to Idyllwild for a long time. I think I’ll grab a girlfriend and go one of these weekends. Husbands/boyfriends are great, but good women friends are a gift.

    Your picture of the leaves changing is beautiful and inspiring. We don’t get much of that in southern California – I’ll have to remember to take my camera.

    • Probably should hurry on up there, Janis, before the color disappears. Thanks for your kind words. BTW, any future comments you make will be published immediately without this pesky approval process.

  13. What a great idea to spend a day outdoors enjoying a hobby and who better to share the day with than your sister. I have so locked into internet every free moment that I haven’t picked up my old guitar in years. Time to get back to it…singing, too, is good for the soul. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Shelley Charlesworth

     /  October 27, 2013

    Dancing, swimming, walking on the beach, adding mag clippings to my design notebooks, expanding my plant based recipes repertoire, sketching, sharing health info – all these are fun for me and I try t do them often.


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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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