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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

Little Difference between Young and Old

What if there is no meaningful difference between people of different age groups? We tend to stereotype based on age, but the similarities between the groups might be more numerous than the differences. Here are some common ones:

  • Naivete or innocence: A young person may be exploited due to lack of experience, but other ages fall victim as well.
  • Independence: Young people can’t live alone or drive a car. Some older people are in the same situation. Commonality, not distinction.
  • Appearance: Older people may start to look funny, but remember those pictures of yourself as an adolescent? You say the younger people will outgrow it? So will the elders.
  • Dreams: Older people set out on the path of new dreams at every age. And some younger people just aren’t interested.
  • Frailty and illness: An older person may have physical limitations, but when I was in elementary school, a classmate missed a whole year due to rheumatoid arthritis. She was infirm. She was very young.
  • Death of friends and relatives wounds all of us.
  • Intellect: do I even have to explain?
  • We all go through physical and hormonal changes in life. Think of your own pubescence. Now think of menopause. Was either more fraught?

Yes, some characteristics are more typical of a certain age group, such as physical decline, but we certainly have a lot of commonalities. Why do we ignore those in favor of artificial differences?

I think because it’s easier. We stereotype people, throwing them into groups, because it saves us from having to see a person as an individual. We label them for our own convenience, but labels might dictate how a human is perceived or treated, leading to a huge waste of potential, not to mention heartache. Besides, labels and stereotypes change over time. One hundred years ago, in the United States of America, women were forbidden to vote. Everyone agreed they were insufficiently intelligent or rational to handle that responsibility.

Maybe someday our perceptions about age will change, too. We might come to think the differences between young and old are so trifling as to be immaterial. Why not start now? Let’s focus on what we all have in common, and beyond that, get to know each other as people. And as far as allowing those labels to limit you, stop right now. Decide who or what you want to be, and become that, regardless of age.

Your time on earth is finite and precious. Don’t waste it trying to comply with some soon-to-be-antiquated standard of behavior.

I’ll be away for the next two weeks. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! See you on December 6. 

Leave a comment


  1. I enjoyed the post very much. I think much of the key to mutual understanding between age groups are in your words “. . . and beyond that, get to know each other as people.”

    Seeing others as individuals rather than objects — because when we stereotype that’s what we’re doing — is the only way we can, as you put it, change our perceptions about age.

    Enjoy your time off.

  2. Have a great two weeks “off.” I think we seniors need to be in front of the camera more. Sharing, not lecturing. Taking away the wrinkles of time. Now that I am comfortable with being a senior, I want to make friends with death. I think Buddhists do it best because they some how give it life. Christians offer hope, but I also want to be friends with the practical.

  3. Lynne: It’s always about ‘Them’ vs ‘Us’…be it age, intellect, religion, spiritual, sexual, political etc. And like you said, until we begin to understand that we are all really just the same…there will always be the chasm of ‘Them vs. Us’.

    • Shawn, tribalism is comforting, but it’s seriously limiting, too. Not everything is football. Not politics, not religion, not age. Or shouldn’t be, right?

  4. Great post! No labels…No limits! Anita

  5. As usual well thought out and right on target. I suspect aging hasn’t changed you much just enhanced what was already you. Glad I’m around to celebrate that.

  6. Shelley Charlesworth

     /  November 15, 2013

    The merry-go-round of “success”

    At age 4…success is…not peeing in your pants.
    At age 10…success is…making your own meals.
    At age 12…success is…having friends.
    At age 16…success is…having a drivers license.
    At age 20…success is…having sex.
    At age 35…success is…having money.
    At age 50…success is…having money.
    At age 65…success is…having sex.
    At age 75…success is…having a drivers license.
    At age 80…success is…having friends.
    At age 85…success is…making your own meals.
    At age 89…success is…not peeing in your pants.

  7. In our hemisphere, the value of seniors is not understood.
    You’ve captured wonderful points, which need to be better understood and embraced. Two thumbs up.

  8. Sue Shoemaker

     /  November 15, 2013

    There was a picture posted on FB a while back that supports what you have said here, Lynne. The image was of an older man and a young girl who were wearing similar T-shirts with statements printed on them.

    On the man’s shirt: ”Talk to old people – they know cool stuff you don’t.”

    On the girl’s shirt: “Talk to young people – they know cool stuff you don’t.”

    Across the photo was this sentiment:

    Having spent the biggest part of my life working with middle school students, I have enormous respect for young people. Thanks for sharing your observations that we are more alike than we are different.

    Please enjoy your time away…see you on the 6th!

  9. Excellent, thought-provoking post, Lynne. I teach about intolerance and yet I have never discussed discrimination against the elderly. I want to address this with my adolescent students and get their feedback on the issue.

  10. Buddha did not want to teach after he achieved enlightenment.
    He realized enlightenment is sharing information without expectations and began sharing. We assimilate knowledge based on our individual levels of comprehension. If we keep in mind life is appreciating the moment and remain students of life we have a greater understanding of the relationship between youth and aging. Our attitudes (thinking) have a profound effect on our health and our psychological outlook on life. I am amazed by the fact, the older I get the younger the age I’m at seems. I don’t see white hair when I look at the mirror. Our youth enter a world ancients would have perceived of as magic and expand the possibilities. Both enrich our understanding and appreciation. In an ideal environment life becomes collaboration… If we appreciate the moment the future is improved for all.

    • Jim, every sentence in your comment is worth savoring. I dedicate this blog to this one sentence, though: “In an ideal environment, life becomes collaboration.” So great to hear from you.

  11. Lynne, I’ve been AWOL here but not due to lack of interest. As always, your points resonate. I take my lessons from my 90 year old mother who has always insisted age is merely a number. It makes perfect sense to ignore all the stereotypes our youth-oriented society places on us. Enjoy your break and have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.

  12. Re: women 100 years ago “Everyone agreed they were insufficiently intelligent or rational to handle that responsibility”
    I believe it was only the men who thought that!

  13. I’ve always been indifferent to age and have collected friends of all ages. I do think it’s sad, when people allow a “number” to limit their choices and options. And it’s sad for society, when stereotypes disqualify anyone from participating/contributing.


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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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