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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.

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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

The Power of Maturity – Bring It Home, Baby

The late Benazir Bhutto

There’s something about turning 50 or being close to it that allows you to benefit from your hard-won experience. This is a time when our life lessons come home.

Jane Fonda

I remember when I was in my 20s and 30s thinking I had everything figured out. But now at almost 60? No comparison. In our younger years, we’re just gathering data. Then at some point our vision clears, and we’re able to assimilate it. Dr. Christiane Northrup would say that it’s because of our changing levels of hormones.

Olympia Snowe

She believes that these hormones were responsible for keeping us complacent and placid during the years that we’re fertile. Otherwise, we might go crazy and do something bad to our babies or our mate. Then at a certain point your reproductive ability diminishes and the fog clears (again, this is according to her hypothesis).

Hillary Clinton

The woman now has new perspective, and along with it, a new impatience. I selected the pictures of these famous women because they have that face – they know what I’m talking about. I’m sure you or your friends have looked around at the world, even if only your little slice of it, and suddenly felt unable to tolerate the same old, same old. Did you know the divorce rate is highest among women around age 50 – and it’s the women who are instigating them? According to one study, a primary reason for breaking up a long time union is a desire to move to a new city, state, or country, but the husband is unwilling to go.

Sonia Sotomayor

At this time of life, women are freer, no longer responsible for dependent children (at least, theoretically.) At this point we have the strength to handle reality. I recently heard of a middle-aged woman finally giving up and accepting that her birth mother still didn’t want her. This heartbreaking truth was probably evident all along, but it took some time for the adoptive daughter to realize and accept it. I suspect she would not have been able to handle it had she been younger and this is why the realization is now hitting her. And life will go on.

Whoopi Goldberg

I’ve mentioned a million times that I live in a 55+ community. I frequently hear people saying “I’m not going to put up with that anymore.” Or, “I’m too old to take that nonsense.” As much as I think there’s a danger that we might use our age as an excuse to disengage, I really think you do reach a point in life where you are able to gather all of the data that you’ve collected, look at it with a mature eye, draw conclusions, and then act.

This is empowerment.

This is the time for cutting loose, and letting go, and standing up for ourselves, regardless of the price we might have to pay. The strength and power of this demographic – of us – has never been measured, but you know I’m right. You feel it, don’t you? The question is, how are you going to use it?

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24 Comments

  1. Wow! Well said and so true! I wouldn’t go back to my 20′s for a darn thing! Now is my time and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it! Great post!

    Reply
  2. Lynne, I couldn’t agree more. I think it takes the second half of our lives to appreciate and utilize the first half. So much of our earlier years were defined by our families, our children>spouce>significant other>jobs that it isn’t until we reach our late forties early fifties that we’re able to finially take stock of ourselves and realize that we are an accumulation of all that but so much more. The first fifty years are the ingredients that mold who we are, the next fifty are about how we choose to use it to change the world.

    Reply
  3. Hi, Lynne
    I’m not so sure about the hormone theory, but there is definitely a confidence and self-assurance that seems to come to many of us as we turn 50 or 60. Part of that is a sense that many of us have that we’re good enough the way we are. We don’t need to dye our hair or “have work done.”

    Unfortunately, this feeling is not universal, and there’s still lots of negativity about women who go around actually Looking Their Age. I recently wrote a blog post about the way Hillary Clinton was criticized because she was wearing a srunchie and looking tired. What was she thinking? To her great credit, she blew it off.

    Reply
    • Yes, Madeleine, I saw various blogs about that issue and the response was amazing. Voluminous, for one thing. Sharp, for another. Commenters arguing with one another. We’ve all got a dog in the fight, so it’s more heartfelt. I vote for “real” (see Amanda, above).

      Reply
  4. Pennie

     /  June 8, 2012

    Most important thing I have learned is that life is too short to fold fitted sheets. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff! Didn’t kow my hormones (or lack of) were responsible for this insight! Thank God!

    Reply
    • I buy it. It makes total sense to me, even if it’s just Dr. N’s hypothesis. And believing it makes me happy. God knows, we deserve some compensations.

      Reply
  5. Hmm, lots to think about here, Lynne. Somehow, I can’t imagine women in our parents’ generation spending a lot of time contemplating their empowerment. I think it took the boomers’ generation to try to make sense of things that were status quo for decades. We’re the beneficiaries of that, and we should be grateful. Whether it’s hormones or not is beside the point. There’s something to be said for learning from your own (and others’) mistakes, isn’t there?!

    Reply
  6. The older I get (61), the more real I want to be, come what may. I guess if you’ve been around long enough, you finally begin to see what matters and what doesn’t. Whatever the case, I love being this age. It’s the best age yet!

    Reply
    • I think being “realer” is one of the delights of maturity. Come to think of it, that’s not age-specific.

      Reply
  7. peggy

     /  June 9, 2012

    Good one, Lynne. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Corinne

     /  June 10, 2012

    Great post! As someone who is anticipating turning 60 this year, and re-evaluating my career, my choices in life, and how I want to spend however many years I have left in this life, it was great food for thought!! As someone who has been divorced for many years, parents are deceased, children finally getting established on their own, it’s my time….if only I could figure out what that means!

    Reply
    • Having no limits IS scary! After several false starts I am finally married to a guy who doesn’t limit me, so now the only one holding the gate shut is me, and it can be terrifying. Happy 60th in advance, C.

      Reply
  9. Amen!!

    Reply
  10. Susan Thompson Underdahl

     /  June 12, 2012

    Nicely said, Lynne.

    Reply
  11. Love the idea of getting “realer”, Lynne. Kind of makes all the trauma of getting there worth it! I’m a lot calmer without all those hormones :-)

    Reply
  12. Reblogged this on Project Reinvention and commented:
    Lynne Spreen is on point with this post. Empowerment; how are YOU going to use it?

    Reply
  13. Your take on the vision that comes with age is so true! I think, for many women, life truly begins at 50. We finally have the clarity to know what we want, the strength to go after it, and the wisdom to realize that setbacks are the universe’s way of testing our resolve.

    Reply
  14. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

     /  June 25, 2012

    I am so in tune with this. I LOVE being older. I’m finally strong enough to be me.

    Reply
  15. MJ

     /  July 17, 2012

    Maybe this is just something our generation is feeling. I hope we are doing better with today’s girls so that they feel the empowerment much earlier in their lives. However, the experience and feelings you describe in this article completely fit with me, and I am glad to discover I am not the only one going through it. I did not dare talking openly about it. I was afraid (once more) of criticisms. Now I am just 50 so, I will start my new TRUE life!!! Thanks again

    Reply

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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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    3. Fifty 2 Ninety
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    7. My Mother is Losing Her Memory and I am Losing My Mind
    8. How the Cookie Crumbles
    9. Grandma Got STEM
    10. MIDDLE-AGED MAN BLAH'G
    11. The Parking Lot Confessional
    12. beyondthea64's Blog
    13. Not quite at my wits' end...yet
    14. All the small things
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Feed the Beauty

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How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for indie authors

Fifty 2 Ninety

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Live & Learn

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Platinum Boomer

fabulous @ any age

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Grandma Got STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (+more!).

MIDDLE-AGED MAN BLAH'G

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The Parking Lot Confessional

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beyondthea64's Blog

The daily musings of a fiftysomething adventurer who has left the rat race to explore the world.

All the small things

A mother-daughter diablog

Writing Out Loud

A Place of Observation

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Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time

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A guide to good health, women's wellness and getting it all done

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