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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

Living Well in the 2nd Half

Do you sometimes feel that your time is past? It happened as I read Scott Adams’ new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.  It’s funny and informative, but some of his advice is geared toward younger people; for example, how to persuade more effectively, overcoming shyness, and the importance of good grammar. (Before you question the value of the entire book, he also talks about the impact of social biases; tracking your personal energy level as the most important metric in your pursuit of a successful life; and his belief that the mind is a “moist computer you can program.”)

But back to my original problem. We, the People of the Second Half, have harder questions that I rarely see addressed, certainly not in popular best-sellers. Here are a few:

  • How do you cultivate a happy, productive life when half of it (or more) is over? How much work do you put into this effort? Should you speed up or slow down?
  • How do you feel confident in your maturity when you’re denigrated for it?
  • Where do you go to find answers in this youth-obsessed society?

Luckily, I have answers for you, because I found a teacher.

Dorys Forray, writer and wise woman

Dorys, writer and wise woman

Last Friday, at a writing retreat, I sat with a wise friend, Dorys, and asked about her life at eighty-five. She admitted that sometimes it strikes her hard that “I’m fifteen years away from being one hundred!” And yet, her eyes danced with humor and kindness as she answered the pathetic questions of this 59-year-old.

One was about being alone long-term. In response, she told me about a day she spent recently in which the phone did not ring, no one knocked on her door, and she had no reason to get in her car and drive anywhere. Instead of feeling lonely, Dorys reveled in the solitude. How lucky I am, she thought, to have one entire day all to myself, where I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, no obligations, a whole landscape to explore without interruption, free to do whatever I want. With just her kitty for company, she had a day of golden solitude.

A therapist once told me that to live happily alone, we must first become ALL ONE. Whole. Dorys says that is a major prescription for life. Here are the highlights of her advice to me:

  • Stop overthinking the aloneness question. We expand what we focus on, and thus might give too much power to the fear. With maturity, this and other issues won’t seem insurmountable.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of distraction when the blues or loneliness hit you. She might escape into a movie or two. Usually, by the time the movie ends, her attitude has shifted.
  • “Give of yourself to someone, or fill a need,” Dorys says. “I volunteer in a hospital one day a week; I also volunteer at the community theater, and I’m a political advocate working with our local politicians to make improve our community. I participate in an annual variety show. I am learning Spanish.”
  • “My philosophy is to choose where you want to spend your time and with whom. The minutes we are given are precious.”
  • And along those lines: “Wasting (time) worrying about what might be is like preparing yourself for it to happen.”
  • “Find your authentic self or seek out your passion, embrace it and learn to fill the void you are consumed with.”
  • “Keep your life in perspective. You may be having a blue afternoon, but there’s someone out there who’d kill for your blessings.”

I appreciate Dorys. She’s an inspiration and a source of comfort. Life is complicated, but if you find a good teacher you might feel happier and more at peace with the unknowable. Manage what you can and develop the confidence to leave the rest alone.

Do you have any suggestions for living well in the second half?

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  1. The advice is terrific and the energy with which it is given is even better!!

    • Mimi, it was such a great day. Dorys and I met through a mutual friend, several years ago. Said friend, Tammy Coia, runs a series of memoir-writing classes and retreats in the Coachella Valley. For this event, we were at the Shadow Mountain Winery in Warner Springs, CA, on a cool Fall day, sitting on the patio for the class and an exquisite lunch, followed by a tour and wine tasting. The perfect spot to tap into the wise mind of a mentor/friend. Fantastic. Here’s the winery’s website. It’s a tiny, handcrafty kind of place: http://www.shadowmountainvineyards.com/photos.html

      • Thank you for sharing this with me – I’m still on a high from reading this (and I haven’t had anything more than coffee).

  2. Thanks for sharing Dorys’ wise words with us. We older adults should all have the handle on life that she has.

  3. I think her advice is solid to the core!

  4. Can’t imagine your questions as pathetic, and I am speaking as an elder. :>) I claim it. We recently had a luncheon where our subject was mentors. This would have fit very well. Our ages ranged from eighty something to fifty something. Men and women.

    • Bob, I sometimes have to stifle a smile when hearing an anguished question from a thirty-something person, so I assume that’s how elders see me. My slight embarrassment is a compliment to them, because I believe they know things I have yet to learn. Claim it, yes. Claim it. It seems a prize hard-won.

  5. What an amazing friend you have and a great post to read with my morning coffee! I especially liked the quote, “…Choose where you want to spend your time and with whom. The minutes we are given are precious.” Anita

    • Anita, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot when I sat down with Dorys and found that, instead of her being put off by my “childish” questions, she was so happy to help show me the way.

  6. Just think about when you are in your eighties and younger people talk to you about some of their problems and worries, how well you will be able to advise them! By this I mean you are picking up wonderful ideas all the time it seems because you have an open, curious, caring mind..

  7. Sue Shoemaker

     /  November 8, 2013

    In Dorys you have found more than a friend, teacher and mentor, Lynne, you have found another “gem.” Thanks for sharing her wise words with us.

    Here are some other suggestions that promote “living well in the second half”…
    1. ALWAYS have “something fun” to look forward to. Today I am looking forward to spending several hours with two of my grandchildren, and then having leftover chili for supper. There are a couple of movies in theaters now that I want to see, plus I am currently dreaming, thinking and making plans for the winter trip I will take with my husband. “The Bucket List” inspired many people to generate their own lists.
    2. Move your body. Stay fit enough so that your “vehicle” will be able to “transport” you to those places you wish to go and the activities you look forward to doing.
    3. Exercise you brain by reading inspirational blogs (like Any Shiny Thing) and books. Journal (I especially love doing “morning pages” as explained in THE ARTIST’S WAY). Do “research” on a subject that interests you.
    4. Pay attention to and value intuition (that still small voice). Look for “synchronicities.”
    5. Be friends with people of all ages when possible.

  8. What a rich stop in my morning to have perused these thoughts and wisdom. Finding friends like Dorys is synchronicity, isn’t it? You go to a writing retreat for one or two things and come away with an encounter like that. Always learning, moving, being grateful, not worrying; ah, these and more. Each day, each punch that life doles out – we’re just damn lucky to be along for the ride, aren’t we? Loved this. Thank you Lynne.

  9. Lynne, you always bring us such treasures both in the form of people such as Dorys–what an inspiration she is– and in your insightful distillation of all the information. I feel I can take each of your points and make it work for me. My favorite:“Keep your life in perspective. You may be having a blue afternoon, but there’s someone out there who’d kill for your blessings.” Thank you, dear friend, for enlightening me again.

    • Kathy, when I started asking Dorys for her perspective, I was a little shy about probing. After all, we’ve been trained in this culture to equate agedness with negativity. The word “elder” connotes power and wisdom, yet it’s delicate to use it – some may be offended. But Dorys was excited to talk with me! She radiated enthusiasm for the subject. She said I was ahead of the curve for even asking, so I say, let’s start asking! Delicately…but if you find an elder who wants to teach you something, stick like glue. And thanks for your kind comments, my friend.

  10. Sue Abramowitz

     /  November 8, 2013

    Thank you so much for Dorys’ wise council. I was lucky to have her share some of her wisdom with me last year. She is an amazing woman and a wonderful example of how to live! I miss seeing her! Thanks Lynn.

  11. Dogs help! But also meditation and keeping a gratitude journal.


  12. I like people with spunk no matter what age. I can’t understand those who complain they are bored or lonely. Get on your walking shoes or car keys and get out there and get involved. I like Dorys. She has spunk. 😀

    Of course, people who are infirm aren’t as able to still take charge.

  13. Wonderful perspective from Dorys on what for some can be a difficult time. But everyone, no matter how young or old, has times when life is not a bed of roses. Her advice should go out to all people beginning in childhood. It’s just plain good common sense. And helps through all those rough patches.

  14. Love this so much. My grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 99 and kept herself current and passionate by following politics. Oh how vibrant she was in her loathing of George W. I hope to have her kind of civic interest when I hit the big 99. 80 years from now.

  15. Hi Lynne. I’m new to the blogging world, and have never checked out anyone else’s blogs. Yours is the first. I especially enjoyed it because I’m in that over 80 group…and still going strong. I’m blessed to still have the same husband after 63 years. We travel in his Honda S2000 sports car; we have an active church life, a large family (6 kids, 13 gr.kids, and 3 gr.gr. kids) From ages 40-60, I had 9 books published by Christian publishers, and just self-published a romance/suspense novel, “The River Runs Deep.” I agree with Dorys. Keep busy, love life, and spread the joy wherever you can!
    Shirley Cook

  16. Thanks for this post which I have printed out. It highlights positivity in aloneness, not just for those elderly. I am 59 and have been alone for 2 years now. Here is my own list, (short version)

    1. Accept aloneness and embrace it as a gift to become your true self
    2. Nurture yourself with a healthy diet, nature and a comforting routine.
    3. Live for and embrace each day. Watch the sunrise. Smell the flowers.
    4. Put yourself first and plan your day, your month, your life.
    5. Connect with your loved ones, by phone, email, letters.
    6. Reach out to others for support wherever needed; for home maintenance, gardening, emotional support etc
    7. Be kind to others. There is someone in the world less fortunate than yourself, or who needs your help. Recognize them. Find them.
    8. Start a gratitude journal of things in life to be grateful for.
    9. Find your passion and embrace it.
    10. Take control of your soul, your life and your destiny.

    # 1, 9, and 10 especially are the ones that I feel have been gifted to me through this direction in life that I did not choose. Now I pinch myself that I am so fortunate to have been given that gift of aloneness.

    • Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I had to adapt #4 somewhat, as I am often in service to others, but truth be told, I probably do it as much to reassure myself as to help them! It was generous of you to take the time to share your strategies with us.

  17. Cindy

     /  November 9, 2013

    I love this, Lynne. Thank you! I’m also 59 and live alone and work from home alone…So I spend an abundance of time alone! Luckily, I’ve always enjoyed my own company! Lol However, this past year has been a challenge and I found myself feeling lonely and depressed at times. Your friends advice is exactly what I needed to hear! I also greatly enjoyed reading the other comments. Another great post!

    • Good to hear from you, Cindy! Another thing to be grateful for is the Internet. How much easier to be alone when still in the company of all of us!

  18. Lynne, what a wise woman your friend is. I don’t know about Scott Adam’s work, but I think your Dorys should be the one writing the book on how to live well at any age.

  19. I’d add “hang on to your sense of humor.”

  20. I enjoyed your blog. As I age (67 years young) I try to do this gracefully, balancing a desire to speed up and do what I can when I can and slow down to “smell the roses.” Another balancing act is to spend part of my time with savoring my relationships with people I enjoying being with and part of my time alone savoring my solitude. I need both to make me happy.

  21. I can only add “routine” to the list of things that your very wise friend gave you. When solitude closes in, being alone is not a problem but not being active is. My husband spends time golfing and I find myself alone a great deal of the time. I have found that having routine when my days grow long help immeasurably.

    I am 72 and have been retired for 16+ years. I am still learning how to live the other end of my life. But it all good and I love the adventure.


    • Barbara, you are so right. Routine is important. I would guess that, if we train our brains to know or expect a certain pattern, there is a kind of comfort in not having to expend extra energy on the uncertainty. So we would have evolved into pattern-loving routine makers. I know I’m more comfortable with one. Thanks for the input.


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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

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

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

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

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

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

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

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

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

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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