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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

You Have the Power, Part 2

Getting comfy at Dakota Blues book signing: left, Jo Anne Gill

After the book signing on August 25, a half-dozen of us sat around, drinking wine and BS-ing, the best kind of sisterly gathering. The topic was looks. Specifically, what we do at our age to look good, and what constitutes “good.” The gathering happened in Indio, in the looks- and wealth-obsessed Coachella Valley, home of Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, and La Quinta; those monied resort towns.

Astrid Bender, Author

We agreed we should try to feel good about how we look. But we’re trained to try to look younger. It seems every other billboard in the Valley is for body work.

Tammy Coia and Pia Rose

We all want to update our thinking, so we can feel satisfied with our looks even if we’re older, and not automatically equate looking good with looking young. My wise friend Dorys said the reason we do this is we’re in competition. I asked for what? One woman laughingly said for men but that wasn’t really true anymore  - we’re beyond that now. If the men are smart enough to see how cool we are, far out. If not, hell with it.

Joanne Hardy, left, and Dorys Forray, our hostess, right

In some cases we are competing with younger people in the business world, whether as employees or purveyors of a service or product. In that case, you want to look younger because employers equate that with a better employee. It’s a mindless prejudice , but it’s out there, and like my shrink used to say, if you’re in the game, play to win.

Melitas Forster, at 94 our blogger emeritus

But my friends and I kicked this around: if we’re not trying to get a job or something (i.e. manhunt) that benefits from looking younger, why do we hold that up as our goal? Why don’t we just try to look good for our age?

Dorys said it’s because we have a metro mindset. In the Coachella Valley, we’re competing with Los Angeles and New York. We all agreed we need to change our thinking. That’s where the strength of age comes in – we ‘re strong enough to say, “I don’t need to look young. I’m not competing.”

Kathryn Jordan, Author

One of us, Kathryn, lives on an acre of land, in a house built in 1948. She has horses and chickens, and the property borders one of these wealthy, cosmopolitan cities. Although she’s very stylish, she doesn’t try to look like she’s twenty. She said, “I don’t live in that place. I may physically live right next to it, but mentally, I don’t live there.” Kathryn lives wherever she wants, because that place is in her head. She creates that place, that world. She defines that world to her own satisfaction.

I thought that was an enlightened point of view. We can move away from that place in our head. We can live anywhere we want: the land of hyper-competition or the land of mental peace.

***

Thanks to Tammy Coia, the Memoir Coach, for sponsoring this gathering. Your community of women writers is a loyal and supportive group, and I am honored to be part of it. I’m also excited to be speaking at the Women Inspiring Women Conference on January 26, 2013.

***

Here’s a bonus for you from Debra Ollivier, who blogs for HuffPost 50: Five Big Misconceptions About Growing Older.

***

Also, I’m rededicating myself to a passion of mine: I’m going to find good midlife (age forty and up) fiction and publicize it. I want to create a gathering place for books and readers who want to read about the experience of the second half of our lives. If you read or write one, let me know. I’ll add it to my Midlife Fiction – Book Recommendations page. I hope you’ll help me build this into a fun, lively, and awesome resource for all of us.

Leave a comment

11 Comments

  1. Lynne, it’s so important to have a group of women friends and your recap made me long to be there with you all! I feel so fortunate to have many women friends- writerly and non-writerly- who make me laugh, nurture my soul and my dreams and help me to revel in my own aging process.I love your idea of focusing on stories of midlife and beyond and I will keep my eye out for books to add to your list. Carry on my friend in Lynne-fashion!

    Reply
  2. Reblogged this on SSpjut | Writer's Blog | Stardate and commented:
    Lynne helps woman remember that the second half is meant to be as glorious, if not more, than the first half of our lives.

    Reply
  3. Pennie

     /  September 7, 2012

    Love, love, LOVE this thought process. You are so right that we are trained to think that looking good is hand in hand with looking younger! I have been guilty of this and I am going to stop thinking that way. Instead I will train myself to be happy to see the wrinkles, saging skin and age spots that I see in the mirror. I can’t change them – or won’t – and they represent the woman I truly am and the life I have lived. It will take training, but I am determined to equate looking good with feeling good and looking this age and not one gone by! Wow – just typing this has been uplifting! Thanks so much, Lynne for helping me relearn a nasty habit!

    Reply
    • Pennie, this is the thing that seems magical to me: a certain degree of freedom and happiness is within our grasp if we can just recognize it! Thanks for your enthusiasm – the women in the discussion I mentioned were all looking at each other like, “do you think…?” “Maybe we could…?” It was great.

      Reply
  4. I so agree that looking good shouldn’t mean looking young. I think I look good but, definitely, not young. One reason is that I take charge of my health by diet, exercise, and regular medical screenings. The benefits are that I manage Type 2 diabetes without meds, keep my weight where it should be, and reduce my risk of a heart attack or stroke.

    Reply
  5. What a fun book signing, Lynne! Fun and interesting and eye-opening, all rolled into one! In my opinion, we all need to focus on doing the right things so we’ll stay healthy and have a “young” mindset well into old age — the kind of mindset that makes us interesting to be around, productive in our communities, and a treasure to our family and friends. The “sin” isn’t in looking young; it’s in acting old. Demanding. Critical. Boring. That, I think, is a real tragedy.

    Reply
    • “Interesting to be around, productive in our communities, and a treasure…” isn’t by default young, and “demanding, critical, and boring” isn’t automatically old, but we’re trained to see it that way. That’s what I’m asking people to think about.

      Reply
  6. Lynne, so on target yet again. My newest publisher wanted me to make the 50+ protagonist in Drop Dead on Recall, my new mystery, younger because, according to “the committee,” she “doesn’t act that old.” After I stopped laughing, I pointed out that my protag is a lot like me only a few years younger than I am! And no, I couldn’t make her younger – she’s the age she’s supposed to be! Sharing your post on my FB author page. Here’s to maturity!

    Reply
    • Sheila, It’s like when you say your age to a new bud, and s/he says, “Wow! You don’t LOOK 58!” Because 58 CANNOT = GOOD, right? Only young can look good. Oh, your anecdote frosts me. I self-published Dakota Blues partly because I feared the story would be rejected because “nobody wants to read about old people” and my protag is 50. And I am getting a super response! Plus our monster demographic won’t always be silent, if we can just get them to speak. Won’t that be awesome, when that day arrives?

      Reply
  7. Wow, this is better than any book signing I ever did! (Then again, I was still in my forties at the time…I always semi-suspected the 50+ women were having more exciting gatherings.)
    Thanks for raising the “looking young/looking good for one’s age” conundrum–I think it’s one we all struggle with, consciously or not. I do think women tend to compete amongst ourselves, but I also believe that we have the capacity to opt out of that mindset.
    My sister wrote a brilliant piece on our blog earlier this week, titled “I’m not old–No, wait, I am,” about coming to terms with what aging means for women in our culture. I think it’s important to resist the stereotypes, to create our own community, and to stare down those who’d like to pigeonhole us because of our age. This can be a challenge in our youth-obsessed culture, but if we don’t try, I feel like we’re giving up on ourselves.
    Thanks again for an inspiring post!
    Karen

    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.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

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

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

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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
    4. Waiting for the Karma Truck
    5. Live & Learn
    6. Platinum Boomer
    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
    15. Writing Out Loud
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    17. Memoir Writer's Journey
    18. www.rockthesilver.com
    19. The Woman Doctor's Guide
    20. Life in the Boomer Lane
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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

Celebrating Some of the Best Years of Our Lives

Waiting for the Karma Truck

Thoughts on work and life and everything in between

Live & Learn

David Kanigan

Platinum Boomer

fabulous @ any age

How the Cookie Crumbles

An irreverant view of life after SIXTY-FIVE

Grandma Got STEM

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

MIDDLE-AGED MAN BLAH'G

Let's Win it in the 2nd Half! Middle-agedman.com

The Parking Lot Confessional

Write until your fingers bleed.

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

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time

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The Woman Doctor's Guide

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

Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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