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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

Should You Quit Blogging?

If you came of age when I did, in the time of carbon paper and WhiteOut, you’re probably as enthralled as I am about all the possibilities available to us now through technology. One is the ability to start a blog, and a lot of my friends have done that. But lately, some of them are discouraged.

It’s time to rethink blogging – what it is, and isn’t. What it can give you, and what it can take away.

Let me start with a story.

I happened to notice that a popular blogger stopped posting. After a month I emailed her. I mean, sure, it’s cyberspace, but how would we, her subscribers, know if she were lying dead in a ditch or something? Turns out, she was fine, but since I was the only person who checked on her, my inquiry started a discussion about why we blog, and whether it’s really worth it. She said:

When my business was way down last year and I had time on my hands, I began to expand my blogging network.  I spent hours each day reading other people’s blogs, commenting, etc.  After awhile, I felt like I was a member of a fun club…I got so caught up in it all, I lost sight of the fact that, for me, most of the posts weren’t even worth the time it took to read them…When all was said and done, there were maybe five bloggers who I felt had something to say (you are one), beyond just being clever.

I kept asking myself what the point of it was, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer.  Tossing off blog posts is fun, and getting comments is fun as well.  But, honestly, I’ve never felt as though what I was doing was important in the big picture. It all seemed like simply a more respectable and creative version of Facebook.

I love to speak to women and to conduct workshops. That is what juices me and allows me to believe that I’m having an impact on women’s lives. And in some perfect world, I would love to write regularly for a publication, which would do the same thing for me. But I know that won’t happen.”

In response, I said:

Blogging is a mixed bag. I love it and I don’t love it. It’s an awesome way to create a community, and some of the comments really lift me up. But it’s probably not contributing to sales, and even if it is, the ROI isn’t enough to justify it.

She and I agreed we were on to something, and after our conversation, I wanted to think about it. Here’s what I decided: there are only three reasons to have a blog:

  1.  It’s an enjoyable hobby. You blog when you feel like it, and if nobody responds, big deal. Seeing your work in print is its own reward. Maybe you’ll do more with it someday, but until then, you count it as experience.
  2. You’re trying to sell something, whether it’s paid speaking engagements, book sales, advertising on your site, or a widget of some kind. You work your ass off blogging because you desire success. (Note to authors: if this is your plan, stop now. Convert your blog to a static website and apply all your resulting free time to networking on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc.)
  3. You’re passionate about an idea or theme, and you need to talk about it constantly. You get a charge from the sense of community arising from your visitors and their comments and emotions. You don’t care if you go hungry.

I’m number 3. I need to figure out the second half of life. I love the community that blooms when we all ponder this together. That’s why I blog, and write books, and interact on social networks. Everything I produce is about one thing: the second half of life, and living it mindfully and powerfully.

I love my Any Shiny Thing website, because it’s like being a media mogul. With a website/blog, you’re the head of a TV station, deciding what videos to post or link to. You’re the radio station owner, deciding which podcasts to produce. And you’re the newspaper owner, publishing your own little paper every week. You’re the boss, but like most self-employed people, you work for a hard-driving bitch. It takes time, energy and creativity, and you don’t get time off.

Except for the bitch part, I’d tell my friend that she actually does work for a publication that can impact women’s lives, but unfortunately, the work is unpaid (in terms of dollars. In terms of oxytocin, the chemical women experience as a result of bonding, there’s a pretty big payout! But you can’t write a check with it.)

So here’s my bottom line: as a boomer, I’m thrilled with technology, and I hope to use it to build on my topic for everybody’s benefit. But frankly, blogging can take a lot of your time and not increase your sales by one book. So it’s really important to be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and how much you’re willing to put into it. Because life is short, and you don’t want to burn time or energy on the wrong thing. Isn’t that one of the tenets of our discussions? One of the most important rules we all agree on, now that we’re old enough to know better?

What about you? Why are you blogging? What do you get from it?

Elana Johnson Weighs In on Social Netting

Elana Johnson, writer and teacher, has figured out her own way of allocating social networking time here. She says we have to make up our minds, because time is finite. Have a goal, and then decide how much time you’re going to spend on which SN sites to reach that goal. Her system is too simple for me, but she’s way more accomplished than I am, so what the hey.

Frances Flynn Thorsen, who I’ll quote in my next post, said something smart about it: pick a few SN sites in which to “go deep”. That’s a good idea, and I’m paying attention right now as I flit from SN flower to flower, as random as ever. Soon I hope to pick the SN sites where I’ll spend the most time, and the ones that I only check maybe every third day. Do you have an idea about this? Let us know.

10 Tips for Blogging by Darren Rouse

A lot of us just started blogs, and we’re all excited. I check out each and every one, because I want to be a good cyber-citizen, but I will be honest with you: when I see lots of paragraphs, I go away. Darren Rouse, who writes about blogging for actual $$$ (!!!) said that 250 words is long enough. He also said 9 other smart things about good blogging. Read it here.

Screw Marketing. I'm Just Going to Write.

In She Writes, a new community for writers created by Poets & Writers magazine, author Lauren B. Davis expressed what a lot of us are feeling about having to do all the marketing and selling of our books:

“… just about everything these days seems like advertising or marketing. So much LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!! Twitter. Facebook! It’s so… well…. gosh, dare I say desperate? Dare I say vulgar?

“For me, this is a question of how I wish to live my life. William Zinsser once said that he wanted to be a person first, and a writer second. I agree with him, but would add that I want to be a self-promotion-machine not at all.

“The publishing industry is in transition at the moment, trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up, and during this petulant adolescent phase it seems to be throwing authors up in the air (while not paying for their airfare) and telling us it is our responsibility to market/promote/sell our own books. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Just because they say that doesn’t mean we have to buy into it.

“I think we must, each of use, decide what we want to be, and what we’re capable of being. Do we want to be writers who use writing as a way to make meaning in our lives, as a way of connecting to some deeper center, or do we want to be Authors, more concerned with the sales figures and market share?

“…I have no training or expertise in marketing and/or sales. Didn’t people used to go to school and get degrees in such things? I have studied for years to be a writer. Not an author (which implies publication), but a writer. As it happens, I am an author, with four published books behind me, but they’re just that… behind me. Like all writers, I must accept the fact I may never publish again. There are no such guarantees for any of us, ever. We are not entitled to anything. So if I am going to find a way to sustain myself as a writer, it must come from something deeper than the public/publishing industry’s fickle affections.

“I’m happy to do readings, and love book groups, and if invited will happily show up. The same goes for radio shows and print interviews and anything else that comes my way. But I will not spend more time marketing my work than creating it. Not even close. I am a writer, not a rock star. I am a writer, not a publicist. I am a writer, not a public speaker. I write essays and novels and stories, not tweets. I put my essays up on a blog because, frankly, I can’t think of what else to do with them, and it’s a nice way of connecting with people and having occasional contact. (We do spend a lot of time alone, as writers!) But in the end, I’m a writer. I write. And that, when all is said and done, must be enough. When it stops being enough, when I become obsessed not with the words but with the sales then, for the sake of my sanity, I’ll quit. Simple as that.”

If You're Serious About Blogging, You Need to Focus Your Topic

My first blog was a tester. I wanted to get comfortable with the idea of blogging, so I started Any Shiny Thing and proposed to write about anything my hyperactive mind found attractive. I assumed that other people would find my topics attractive, too.

Brrrrrt! Wrong assumption. Let Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist tell you why it’s critical to make your blog about something specific.

Do you know that there are now more than FIFTY MILLION blogs on the Internet? With all those choices, why would anyone read yours (or mine)? I began to suspect Any Shiny Thing wasn’t a good idea when I’d explain what it was about, and my listener’s eyes would glaze over with polite boredom.  “Oh, just anything I find interesting” is not a compelling reason to go there. Denise Welch of Computerworks, Inc. has a related viewpoint. “You tell me, ‘Read my blog! read my blog! I don’t want to read your blog,” she says. Unless you are going to make it worth her while. In her view that means you have to GIVE something to the reader (beyond the pleasure of your company).

I hope I have given you a tool today for making your blog more effective.

  • 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.

    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."

    View all my reviews

  • Blogs I Follow

    1. Feed the Beauty
    2. How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks
    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
    16. Guerrilla Aging
    17. Memoir Writer's Journey
    18. www.rockthesilver.com
    19. The Woman Doctor's Guide
    20. Life in the Boomer Lane
  • This Blog Got Five Stars!

Feed the Beauty

Beauty is an inside job

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

MIDLIFE MAGIC

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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