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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

This Is What Sixty Looks Like

Renee Fisher

This is a delicate subject.

When people say I look good for my age I feel like I’ve been given an illicit prize. It’s a race I’m not running. I don’t deserve acclaim. Besides, don’t they see my turkey neck? How low are their standards?

But I digress. What I meant to say is, why do we care?

It’s not a competition, or it shouldn’t be.

I feel awkward when age comes up. If a person says I don’t look fifty-seven, I don’t want to say “thanks!” because that reinforces the premium we put on youth. And if a person proudly announces to me, “I’m seventy-five!” I don’t know what to say. “Congratulations”? I admit I have sometimes coughed up what was expected: “You look great!” or “You look so much younger!” But I always feel stupid, because the comment feels wrong.

Ditto if someone says, “You’re my daughter’s age,” or “I could be your mother.” I say nothing. It’s so fraught. What would you recommend? “I’d love to have you as a mother?” If a person says, “I’m so old and tired today, I feel plum worn out,” you would say, “I’m sorry.” But if a person says, “I’m old enough to be your mother,” I just clam up.

Yes, I know this won’t be a problem much longer. Anybody old enough to be my mother will be dead. But still, I swear I am not going to make comments like this to any younger women, ever. Age is going to have to become irrelevant unless I’m going to the doctor.

I saw the same sentiment in a book I mentioned recently, Saving the Best for Last. The authors apparently felt it was important enough to put it in chapter one. When her friend died, Renee Fisher decided that she would view every year as a gift, and she would own her age, whatever it was. If anyone tells her now that she doesn’t look her age, she looks them in the eye like, what did you expect? and says, “This is what sixty looks like.”

Her co-author, Joyce Kramer says,

“As I turned fifty, I experienced myself as the most beautiful woman I had ever been in my life because at fifty I liked myself.”

Isn’t that something to aspire to? At our age, we’re tough enough to achieve that kind of equanimity. If enough of us do it, it could become the cultural norm. Wouldn’t that be a great gift to leave our kids?

Merry Christmas to all my readers. I wish you long life and happiness, and I love you all for sharing this little space in, well, space. Best wishes for a beautiful 2012. I’ll see you in two weeks.

Leave a comment

25 Comments

  1. As someone who is turning 61 in a few days, I SO GET THIS. We live in such a youth oriented and age obsessed world. I am me, no matter what age I am. I don’t want to be judged by, explain, or make excuses for my age no matter what it is. I have friends in their 30′s and friends in their 80′s. I don’t treat any of them differently. I just like them for the people they are. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.
    Laura

    Reply
  2. When I saw the title of your post, I thought “Hurray!,” then I saw my photo and got confused (I get confused a lot). Then I started reading, and I smiled. Thank you for the shout out, dear Lynn. Have a glorious holiday, befitting a powerful, beautiful, loving fifty-seven year old woman.

    Reply
    • Hey Renee, you just have to bear the burden of having inspired this post. I was first struck by the thought when you mentioned it at your reading in Hemet. But I understand. I’ll find you inspiration from a sister. In the meantime, happy holidays, my friend.

      Reply
  3. My sister (and I’m sad to report, Marianne Williamson) said that 50 is the new 30. I had a tshirt made for me in sparkly rivets that reads “60 is the new 60.” My mother used to say “consider the alternative” when someone was vocally displeased with any age. One day in the not-too-distant future we will be in line in the grocery store, and see age-appropriate faces on the covers of magazines. And the whole world will relax and enjoy the entirety of a life. I hope soon.

    Reply
    • “And the whole world will relax and enjoy the entirety of a life.” Wow. I feel like making a sign for my office, or my front yard! A new Christmas greeting: And the tee shirt is a fab idea too, one I plan to steal. Thanks, Linda.

      Reply
  4. Lynne,
    The other night, I was out with a couple of friends around my age (58) and I started in about how this country doesn’t respect the elders like other countries. One friend (who has an upcoming juvederm appt) speaks up and says, “Yes they do, we’re the baby boomers!” I said, you think that younger people respect us because we’re baby boomers?” She said of course and that she’s never had a problem. Fortunately for her, I suppose, she’s forgotten the day we were out shopping and she asked a guy in the parking lot to move his cart out from behind her car. He said, “Wow, what a bitch, no wonder you have so many wrinkles!” She went home and cried the rest of the day. Oh yeah, that’s respect for ya.

    Reply
    • Vonnie I can’t believe your friend thinks people respect us cuz we’re boomers. Kind of the opposite, I would think, since with the purity of youth and an as-yet-unlived life, they can look at us (as we did our parents’ generation) and think, wow, what a bunch of self-serving, materialistic bastards! But more to the point, I am hoping that one benefit of our age is we don’t care what people think of us…no more Juvederm, no getting rattled by rude people of any age. That’s my Christmas wish anyway. Thanks for the comment, my friend.

      Reply
  5. Lynne, I always enjoy reading your posts! My sister died of breast cancer at age 45. I was 41 then, and I decided I would never complain about my age if I lived longer than her. I am now 50, and I no longer apologize for my age. Each new year is a gift! She would have given anything to see 50.

    Reply
  6. Lynne, I couldn’t agree more, and I appreciate your sharing my quote from Saving the Best for Last. That was at 50. Next month I turn 70 and my sentiments are the same! I love aging, despite the challenges and my random memory. I am blessed. And yup, 70 is the new 70!

    Reply
  7. Lynne,When I was 50 ,I was diagnosed with Stage 4 NonHodgkins Lymphoma so each year after that when I have been graced with yet another birthday, I have rejoiced in being around for another year. Life is a gift and age a minor detail. I love your message of “saving the best for last.”I’ll take whatever I can get. My Mother just celebrated her 89th birthday and I’m lucky to catch her on the phone in between her going to the YMCA, visiting friends and volunteering at the local Foodbank :-) Love your posts,Lynne!

    Reply
  8. Merry Christmas, my sistah, and enjoy your brief respite! Once again, you’ve penned a truly meaty post. I experience the same thing when people tell me I don’t look my age. I’ve had this all my life (must be the blonde hair!). What does age say about someone, other than perhaps more experience? And why don’t men get this kind of comment? Hmmm…

    Reply
    • Oh, good point, Deb. On a not very related note, I once heard Willie on Morning Joe say to Katty Kay, “You look rested.” Katty blanched, because that’s code for facelift, and it was clear to anybody with eyes that she had just had a fabulous one…

      Reply
  9. Betsy

     /  December 24, 2011

    Thanks for this Lynne. As someone about to turn 60, I’m looking forward to using the ‘This is what 60 looks like’ if anyone makes a comment on my age. You’re right about the ‘rested’ comment as well. If people say ‘You look tired’ you know they mean ‘You look old!’ I must also say that I have the fabulous example of my 93 year-old mother-in-law who never used or uses any creams, potions, etc. , has had beautiful very white hair for years and was still driving herself to her volunteer job at age 91. Go Beryl!

    Reply
    • Betsy, I love your examples of your MIL. Thanks for the inspiration. In our culture, we’ve conflated the toll that the years take on your body with a decreasing value. NEW, NEW, NEW!!! is good. That’s the message we get across the media. So no surprise we look at a 60-yr-old and think “valueless”. Because her skin isn’t as pretty as an 11-yr-old’s. It’s us. Bravo for your MIL! We need to read more about women like her. Here is one. A 93-yr-old blogger on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rhoda-p-curtis/beginnings-endings-and-tr_b_1140548.html

      Reply
  10. My personal favorite is “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” …. age is simply a number … and who the heck cares anyway??? It’s all a state of mind … and this is what 61 looks like to me …

    Happiest of Holidays to all …. you are such a fabulous group of women … I learn from you all daily!

    Marie

    Reply
  11. Mary

     /  December 24, 2011

    Hi Lynne,
    I’m so happy that I found your site. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas. May you always have love to share, health to spare and friends that care.
    Warm regards,
    Mary

    Reply
  12. Ah, aging. How about turning 66 in 3 days? Ho! Ho! Ho! Actually, I am quite happy at this age–the most secure in myself than I have ever been. But I get the weird reactions, too. Like the pharmacy assistant who looked at my medicare card, then at me, then back at the card. I didn’t think her astounded look was a compliment.

    Reply
  13. This is the site I have been looking for….I like Facebook but no one is actually talking ……about feeling 61,being 61 or what might challenge you at 61.

    Reply
  14. Reading this post was a fabulous way to start my day! Sadly, I am in the same situation as Libbye (a commenter above). And, much like Libbye, I often think “Janice would have been happy to be [whatever age].”

    My husband and I once entertained a couple who were young enough to be our children. We were really hitting it off and I thought we were going to be friends. Until … something one of them said made my husband estimate their ages, and he said “Wow. I could have a kid your age.” You should have seen the look on their faces. They had thought we were much younger. And now that they knew we weren’t, forget about it! Never heard from them again.

    Reply
    • Jean, I am never going to say that to anybody! When I have heard it, it makes me feel a sense of filial responsibility toward the person, and even though that feeling passes, it’s still there, hanging over us. I think this is a failing of mine, and also of the kids you refer to, but my sense was that I had something my friends couldn’t have, youth, and it made me feel guilty and fidgety. I have a couple of buddies who ARE my parents’ age, and I deliberately avoid any references that would make them aware of that, so age isn’t a factor and we can just be friends. That probably makes me look wimpy but so be it.

      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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