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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.

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  • 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

She Prefers Men Friends

I need your help with something. When a woman says, “I don’t care for women friends. I prefer men,” it gets my back up, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m insecure (yeah, probably) or overly sensitive (yup) or if there’s even more to it. Nevertheless,

I feel so rejected.

Here are the possibilities that run through my mind:

  1. She’s been burned by women friends.
  2. She doesn’t dig the estrogen thing and feels more comfortable with men.
  3. She perceives women to be on the losing team and wants to hang with the perceived winners.

I’m embarrassed, because by guessing at the above I’m revealing more of my inner workings than I want you to know. But come on – how can you dismiss half the human race that way? And your own gender! It seems like an admission of self-hatred.

I’m not saying generalities aren’t based, at times, to some extent, in truth. For example, here’s one:

“I hate working with all-women.”

Don’t ding me for grammar. That’s how we say it, the old complaint about women working together being a real pain, more so than a mostly-male workplace. I used to object to it, but now as an old broad I think there’s some truth to it, because women tend to fall harder and faster for each other, and then when the initial glow fades, they feel more rejected. Maybe this is because our ways of womanly warfare, being more suited for brain rather than brawn, are more sneaky, snarky, verbal, and cutting.

Hey, you work with whatcha got.

But back to my point. Are you a woman who subscribes to this preference for guy friends, and if so, does it spring from an alternative meaning than what I’m getting?

How do you feel when a woman tells you she prefers men friends over women?

PS The tests came back fine. I have to go back in six months for another ultrasound to confirm it. Thanks for all the love, dear friends.

Kindle readers can email me at LMSpreen@yahoo.com.

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15 Comments

  1. When I was younger, much younger, I always claimed I preferred working with men. I could list a host of reasons, but the bottom line is I wasn’t owning up to the feminine aspects of myself. I couldn’t own them, hence couldn’t tolerate them in other women. As I’ve aged, and softened, I appreciate both sexes both – men for the heavy lifting, women for the cookies!

    Reply
    • Amen, sister! And as we get older I think the two genders become more like each other; the men soften and the women get harder, IMO.

      Reply
  2. Ramona

     /  July 22, 2011

    In my personal experience — and that is, after all, the only realm within which I can make any observation — the women who have vastly preferred male friends to female are those who thrive on the sexual undercurrent that flows within every male/female relationship — no matter how platonic. This is not to say that this undercurrent ever need be acted upon or, for that matter, even recognized or acknowledged. Yet, the mere fact that it is there — seen or unseen, nurtured or left untouched and untended — provides “that extra something,” that “special spark” that a same-sex platonic friendship cannot.

    Reply
    • Hi Ramona, that’s an interesting take. But if a girl thought that way, could she really relax and spill her guts, look for comfort, etc., like she does with girlfriends, when there is this undercurrent? I would think there’d always be a need to guard yourself against your “buddy” coming on to you, and such a friendship wouldn’t be that rewarding.

      Reply
  3. Vonnie

     /  July 22, 2011

    Hey Lynne,

    First of all – YAAAAAYYYYYY about your tests coming back negative!!! So happy.

    As far as hanging with men vs woman – i have a niece who has mostly male friends and works with all men. In her case, I would give two reasons: 1) I think she’s insecure with women and doesn’t feel comfortable talking about womanly things such as shopping, kids, etc. This is probably because she works with men and doesn’t wear too many girly clothes, and she has no kids. 2) Because she’s a very cute girl, she gets a lot of attention from the guys and let’s face it, what woman doesn’t like attention.

    I prefer hanging with women with the exception of those that exude negativity. ‘Did you see how short her dress was?’ ‘Can you believe how much weight she’s gained? How could she let herself go like that?’ From my experience, men don’t dwell on that stuff.

    I, personally, couldn’t work with all men. I hate to say it, but even at my age, unless they were gay men, I’d probably be flirting and getting into some kind of trouble. ; p

    Reply
  4. As a former journalist, most of my early colleagues were men. Working around men is different from working around women. Men tend to be more upfront and funny, whereas too many women tend to be sneaky and snarky (just sayin’). Now that I’m older, I can appreciate both genders for the differences they bring to the table; however, I align myself more with the women who say they prefer to hang around men because men don’t play all those nasty games, gossip in mean-spirited ways, and try to undermine each other the way too many women do. Interesting points!

    Reply
  5. Wow. So interesting, Lynne! Is the woman speaker really that egalitarian? Does she know any women she considers her equal? How many friends we talking about? 2? 30? I didn’t have women friends, or even colleagues, until I was over 40. But I wasn’t friends with the men either. And yes, her age would make a difference. A young woman who says she prefers men friends has some or all of the stuff going on mentioned by your lovely, savvy readers. An older woman who still says she prefers men friends has even more of the stuff, and needs a second therapy opinion. And I want to meet her mother.

    Reply
  6. Forgot to holler HURRAY! for the test results. And I checked SUM out of the library on your recommendation and am already laughing. Joy squared shared by you, Lynne.

    Reply
    • Isn’t it great, Linda? I love the one about God crying. So many other laughs, and the bottom line for me was, enjoy what you have, people!! Don’t you think it would be fun to know David Eagleman? He definitely sees life through a different lens. One with more lightness, and humor.

      Reply
  7. Vonnie, Linda and Debbie, I love all of your comments. Boy, I am finding out that the reactions are 50/50, and as much as I’d like to think women who say they prefer men are somehow deficient, I guess that would be wrong!

    Here’s a comment from a friend who sent me an email so she could be anonymous, and she’s totally normal and well-balanced. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go that far ;) I’ve cut some things out of her comment to preserve her anonymity:

    “I hate to tell you this, but I can identify with that … and I don’t feel shunned. I’m sorry you feel that way…You’ve seen what women are like … men aren’t like that. There is no hidden agenda…In a group, the women are all competing with each other, you can’t get a word in edgewise, and basically, it’s not worth the trouble, especially with one woman, who lives alone so when she is with others, tends to monopolize the conversation. I’m sorry for her, but that’s not my problem …. I don’t have time to sit and listen to “it’s all about me” … life is just too short. Men on the other hand, are easier to get along with and you don’t feel like you fought the last war when the meeting is over. That’s not to say I don’t bother with women … it’s just in a group, there are too many egos flying around. Hope I explained it without sounding like a class A bitch!”

    Reply
  8. Nanci

     /  July 22, 2011

    Wow, someone must have just said this to you…. it hit a nerve. Truly I haven’t heard any woman say this since about Jr. High. I love women friends. As they get older, men don’t seem to want friends so much (talk about generalities). I love the connections, opinions, companionship and generosity of women friends…. if other’s prefer men….. so be it. Just one folk’s opinion…

    Reply
    • Nanci, somebody did. Somebody close. I don’t know if Blogging While Emotional is the smartest thing to do. It’s real, but is it a valid basis from which to draw my topics? (LOVE the Jr. High reference.)

      Reply
  9. I’m a gal’s gal who loves my women friends–they’ve gotten me through the tough times and celebrated my successes with enthusiasm. Although I enjoy the company of men, I can count my close male friends on one hand with fingers left over. So I’m with you all the way. And, saying that, I’m thrilled to learn about your test results!!!!!

    Reply
  10. Great debate going on here. I agree with Lynne Spreen’s viewpoint but the back and forth on this issue is fascinating

    Reply
    • Lynne, it is, isn’t it. Because some of the commenters agree with the title of the post, and they are 100% normal peeps. So it is fascinating, and also I’m delighted that we can have a forum here where both sides are discussed. I’m always learning something! Hope to see you again soon.

      Reply

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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.

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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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