In this irresistible memoir, the New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Anna Quindlen writes about looking back and ahead—and celebrating it all—as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all the stuff in our closets, and more.
As she did in her beloved New York Times columns, and in A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Quindlen says for us here what we may wish we could have said ourselves. Using her past, present, and future to explore what matters most to women at different ages, Quindlen talks about
Marriage: “A safety net of small white lies can be the bedrock of a successful marriage. You wouldn’t believe how cheaply I can do a kitchen renovation.”
Girlfriends: “Ask any woman how she makes it through the day, and she may mention her calendar, her to-do lists, her babysitter. But if you push her on how she really makes it through her day, she will mention her girlfriends. Sometimes I will see a photo of an actress in an unflattering dress or a blouse too young for her or with a heavy-handed makeup job, and I mutter, ‘She must not have any girlfriends.’ ”
Stuff: “Here’s what it comes down to, really: there is now so much stuff in my head, so many years, so many memories, that it’s taken the place of primacy away from the things in the bedrooms, on the porch. My doctor says that, contrary to conventional wisdom, she doesn’t believe our memories flag because of a drop in estrogen but because of how crowded it is in the drawers of our minds. Between the stuff at work and the stuff at home, the appointments and the news and the gossip and the rest, the past and the present and the plans for the future, the filing cabinets in our heads are not only full, they’re overflowing.”
Our bodies: “I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come. It’s like a car, and while I like a red convertible or even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine.”
Parenting: “Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor: We are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”
From childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, Quindlen uses the events of her own life to illuminate our own. Along with the downsides of age, she says, can come wisdom, a perspective on life that makes it satisfying and even joyful. Candid, funny, moving, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is filled with the sharp insights and revealing observations that have long confirmed Quindlen’s status as America’s laureate of real life.
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:July 8, 1952
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., Barnard College, 1974
Read an Excerpt
Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.
colonial member of Congress
I have a lot of stuff. I bet you do, too. Sofas, settees, bureaus, bookshelves. Dishes, bowls, pottery, glass, candlesticks, serving trays, paperweights. Beds, chests, trunks, tables. Windsor chairs, club chairs, ladder- back chairs, folding chairs, wicker chairs. Lots and lots of chairs.
I have needlepoint pillows everywhere: camels, chickens, cats, houses, barns, libraries, roses, daisies, pansies. I needlepoint while I watch television. I have a vision of my children, after I’m gone, looking around and saying, “What are we going to do with all these pillows?” I don’t mind. My best friend, Janet, has more pillows than I do, and more platters, too. Once I bought some plates and knew instantly that she would love them. “Where did you get those?” she asked, and I lied to her and then bought some for her birthday.
“Did she need more plates?” asked my husband, whose idea of need is different from my own.
In the city I have lots of stuff on the walls. Modern art, traditional art, landscapes, photographic prints. Eclectic. In the country I have samplers. THE BLESSING OF THE HOME IS CONTENTMENT. THIS IS OUR HOUSE / THE DOOR OPENS WIDE / AND WELCOMES YOU / TO ALL INSIDE. I have a large piece of framed embroidery that shows a woman with bobbed hair and an apron holding a tray with a tea service. A GOOD HOUSEWIFE MAKES A GOOD HOME, this one says. Lots of people who come to our house, knowing my politics, think it’s ironic.
It’s not ironic.
I didn’t have all this stuff when I was young and single. None of us did. It was a big deal to have blinds and coffee mugs. Many of the guys I knew didn’t; they’d tack a sheet over the bedroom window, drink from Styrofoam. My first apartment was pretty typical; I had a small uncomfortable sleeper sofa, a bentwood rocker, a coffee table that was actually a trunk—didn’t everyone in 1976?—and a set of bookshelves. I was proud of those bookshelves. Many of my friends still used plastic egg crates, or plywood and cinder blocks.
In the bedroom I had a chest of drawers and a desk that was too low for an adult, at which I would hunch over my old manual Smith Corona typewriter, my knees contorted beneath. I had swapped the twin bed of my girlhood for a double bed, which children nowadays, raised on queen-size beds from seventh grade, the first generation of middle-class kids who trade down when they arrive in college dorms, can scarcely imagine. I was proud of that double bed. Many of my friends had futons.
That was more or less it. My stuff then would all fit in the back of one U-Haul, and not the big one, either. None of us used movers when we changed apartments, just called around and got a group together for pizza and beer and haulage. A lot of stuff wound up on the sidewalk for the sanitation truck.
But then we got married and we got carafes, chafing dishes, and china. We bought matching love seats for the living room in the row house that had once been a rooming house. (“Your grandfather worked hard all his life so his grandchildren wouldn’t have to live in a place like this,” my father said, sitting on the stoop, but he still lent us money for the renovation.) I trawled junk shops for oak furniture too old to be new but too young to be antique. I had a brief flirtation with Fiesta ware and Roseville pottery, never met a big old bowl or platter I couldn’t love. When we were in Sicily for his sister’s twentieth birthday and I halted, transfixed, before a window display of Italian pottery, our older son said, deadpan, “Mom, why don’t you get one of those so you can put it on a little stand on a shelf somewhere?” I’d never really thought they’d noticed, much less passed judgment.
And that’s not even counting the stuff in my closet. One day I peered inside and realized it looked like it belonged to someone with multiple personality disorder. The bohemian look, the sharp suits, the frilly dresses. Those days are behind me, and I finally know who and how I’m dressing. I’m dressing a person who has eighteen pairs of black pants and eleven pairs of black pumps. Of course, that number is illusory, since it includes the black pants I never felt looked great but purchased on sale, the pair that never seem to be the right length, and the two pairs that fit funny. Not too big or too small, just funny. Naturally there are two pairs of the shoes that I wear all the time, because they’re comfortable, and one pair that I wear on occasion because they are great-looking and my toes don’t go entirely numb for at least three hours.
I prefer not to dwell on the purses and the white T-shirts. You know, fashion magazines always say you can never have too many white T-shirts.
Yes, you can.
It wasn’t always like this, was it? At some point in America, desire and need became untethered in our lives, and shopping became a competitive sport. I can’t recall my mother spending much time spending, although of course she predated that black hole of consumption, the shopping website. It was generally agreed in our family that my grandmother Quindlen was a world-class shopper, and there was a much-repeated, often-embellished story about one of my aunts arriving early enough at a big sale to score a spot at the front of the line and still finding my grandmother already inside the store when she’d breached the doors. But there was always an object to the hunt: a Hitchcock chair, a pair of Naturalizer pumps. Sometimes I feel as though credit cards have helped us concentrate on quantity, not quality; the other day a financial adviser on TV said that if people were using cash for purchases, they tended to be much more abstemious. Plastic is magical, as though the bill will never come due.
I have too much plastic, too, in my wallet.
What do we notice when we drive down the highways of our adolescence and measure what’s changed? We now have the big-box stores, the home emporiums, the fast-food places, certainly, but the weirdest addition is the thousands of storage facilities that loom, bunkerlike, windowless. When we were kids, storage was the basement and attic, a broken chair, an army trunk. Today we rent facilities for the stuff we’re not currently using, probably will never use again.
Statisticians say our houses are almost twice as large, on average, as they were forty years ago. So much stuff, rotating rooms of it: cribs, big-boy beds, changing tables, desks, new linens, new window treatments, new rugs. When my kids got their own places, they went shopping in the junk shops in the top and bottom stories of our own homes. My husband says that when you go to their apartments it’s like a walk down Memory Lane, that little table we never really found a place for, the coffee mugs that take both of us right back to the era when there was scarcely time for coffee because someone always needed a glass of milk or a story read. “Take more!” I kept saying, but they demurred, not wanting to seem greedy. The odd frying pan, the chipped bowls. Quin cleans, Christopher cooks. Chris called one night and asked how to drain spaghetti if you don’t have one of those things with the holes in it. Next time he came over I gave him one of my four colanders. Or maybe it’s five. I like the old enameled ones.
The nicest thing you can say to me about my home is that it’s homey, and people say it all the time. I like it. And at a certain point, I can’t say when, I realized I didn’t really give a damn about any of it. If there were a fire, what would I save? We all used to say it was the photo albums, but with digital photography we all have our photographs on our computers, on Facebook, in emails to our families and friends. My cookbooks are well thumbed, but I know the best recipes by heart now, and the bad recipes I’ve either discarded or adapted.
I can’t even say I would reach for the wedding album; it seems so long ago, and so many of our friends didn’t come into our lives until afterward. There’s a porcelain bird I gave my mother the Christmas before she died, which she owned for less than a month, that I’ve wrapped carefully in tissue and taken with me from the small apartment to the bigger apartment to the brownstone to the nicer brownstone. There are the letters my kids write each year to Santa Claus, even now that they no longer watch me seal them in envelopes and address them to S. Claus, North Pole, 99705 (which is really the zip code of North Pole, Alaska, not the real North Pole), even now that my daughter has learned to write to Santa online and to insert a web link so you can click on the letter to Santa and go directly to the dress she wants from Saks in the correct size and color. There’s the mink coat my husband gave me when our first child was born, which I haven’t worn for years because our kids are bothered by fur but which I treasure because it made me feel prosperous, elegant, and wifelike for perhaps the first time.
If there were a fire I’d probably just grab a few old pictures and the Labradors. I’d be wearing the watch and the rings my husband gave me for the big birthdays. I haven’t removed my wedding ring since the day he put it on me and the priest blessed it. I’d miss the rest, but I wouldn’t mourn it. Except for the Christmas ornaments, I guess. My entire family is pretty attached to the Christmas ornaments.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Life in the Fifties ix
Part I The Laboratory of Life 1
Next of Kin 16
Part II The Wisdom of Why 39
Near Miss 56
Mirror, Mirror 65
Part III The Element of Surprise 85
The Little Stories We Tell Ourselves 89
Part IV The Be-All and End-All 137
Step Aside 151
To Be Continued 172
Reading Group Guide
1. In the opening lines of the book, Anna Quindlen says about the arc of her life: “First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone, and became her.” Looking back over your own life, do you identify with Quindlen’s experience? Do you think you’ve “invented” yourself as you’ve grown older, or become who you always were? And how would you differentiate between the two?
2. Anna Quindlen loves everything about books—from the musty smell of old bookstores, to the excuse reading provides to be alone. Books, she writes, “make us feel as though we’re connected, as though the thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and sometimes nutty are shared by others, that we are all more alike than different.” What do you most love about books? Be specific: Is it the entertainment, the escape, the sense of connection? Something else entirely?
3. Anna writes hilariously about the small white lies—the cost of a kitchen renovation, for example—that can keep a marriage healthy. Do you agree? If so, fess up: Which of your innocent fibs do you think has spared your relationship the most grief?
4. Anna tells her children that “the single most important decision they will make…[is] who they will marry.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
5. Anna calls girlfriends “the joists that hold up the house of our existence,” and believes that they become more and more important to us as we grow older. Have you found this to be true? If so, why do you think that’s the case? What do you think close girlfriends offer that a spouse cannot?
6. The difference between male friendships and female friendships, Anna writes, is that “all male phone conversations were designed to make plans,” while phone calls between girlfriends “were intended to deconstruct the world.” What other differences between male and female friendships does Anna illuminate in the chapter “Girlfriends”? What other differences and/or similarities do you think exist between male friendships and female friendships?
7. In the chapter “Older”, Anna writes: “Perhaps if we think of life as a job, most of us finally feel that after fifty we’ve gotten good at it.” Do you think you’ve gotten good at life? What aspects do you think you could improve? And better yet, which have you nailed?
8. “One of the amazing, and frightening things about growing older,” Anna writes, is that you become aware of “how many times it could have gone a different way, the mistakes that you averted, not because you were wise, perhaps, but because you were lucky.” Can you think of an example in your own life, of when you might have gone another way? How might things have been different? Are you grateful you ended up on the path you’re on?
9. Anna writes about our attitude toward aging and our looks: “Women were once permitted a mourning period for their youthful faces; it was called middle age. Now we don’t even have that. Instead we have the science of embalming disguised as grooming.” How does she think that our society’s love of youth, and youthful looks, affect the way women lead their lives? Do you agree?
10. At her age, Anna writes, she’s stopped trying to figure out why she does what she does. “I fear heights, love liver and onions, prefer big dogs over small ones, work best between the hours of ten and two. Who knows why? Who cares?” What are some of the quirks you’ve stopped fighting, the eccentricities you’ve come to embrace in yourself? In your friends, your family?
11. “Those little stories we tell ourselves,” Anna writes, “make us what we are, and, too often, what we’re not. … I can’t cook. I’m not smart. I’m a bad driver. I’m no jock.” Anna recounts her own story of overcoming one of these “little stories,” and doing something she once thought impossible: a headstand. Do you have “little stories you tell yourself” about who you are, and what you can do? Are there times when you, or a friend or family member, have overcome one of these “mythic” obstacles and done something you thought impossible?
12. Anna calls her body a “personality-delivery system.” She doesn’t require a “hood ornament”—what she really needs “are four tires and an engine.” Do you find this notion comforting? Or do you feel appearance is more important than that? Discuss.
13. Anna draws some meaningful distinctions between parenting young children and parenting young adults. As she puts it, “It is one thing to tell a ten-year-old she cannot watch an R-rated movie; it is another to watch her, at age 30, preparing to marry a man you are not convinced will make her happy.” What do you think are some of the biggest challenges in parenting young and older children? Some of the greatest joys? What has parenting taught you about yourself?
14. The “alchemy of parenthood” is watching “so much scut work”—dinners, sports, school, doctors’ offices—manifest itself in “unique and remarkable human beings.” Why do you think it’s so difficult to see the end product on the horizon—the “Sistine Chapel,” as Anna writes—during the day-to-day routines? Or, do you think there are moments within the daily routines when parents can catch glimpses of the larger thing they are helping to build?
15. In the beginning of Part I, Anna’s daughter asks her what message she would give to her 22-year-old self. Anna has two answers: first, that her younger self should “stop listening to anyone who wanted to smack her down,” and second, that the bad news was that “she knew nothing, really, about anything that mattered. Nothing at all.” Did this advice ring true to you, too? If you were to give a message to your younger self, what would you say?
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Anna Quindlen
Anna Quindlen whose memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was published by Random House last week is a woman of many accomplishments. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. Beloved novelist. Sought-after public speaker. The only author to ever have books on The New York Times fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists.
She's also my mother, which she'd tell you is her greatest accomplishment (along with being the mother of my younger siblings, Chris and Maria). I thought, since her new book is filled with reflections on motherhood and family, who better to ask the right questions than someone who's been around for much of the journey her memoir describes?
So I asked if I could interview her about the book and the stories behind it, and she said yes (of course). But as we sat down to talk, she was the one with the first question: "Isn't this so weird for you? I mean, did you ever imagine that someday we'd be sitting here at the dining room table, talking about my life?" In truth, the experience was a little surreal and nerve- wracking. We've had plenty of conversations about her work before, but this was different; I felt the pressure any interviewer feels, to ask the right questions to get the interviewee talking. But it turned out to be so much fun that we both quickly forgot about the unusual occasion and the tape recorder between us. Quindlen Krovatin
The Barnes & Noble Review: I thought we'd start with the title because I know you had a lot of difficulty arriving at a title for this book. I was hoping you could talk about the different titles you went through prior to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.
Anna Quindlen: I'm not sure that any one title had traction for more than an hour when I first started writing this memoir. The problem is that the book is about so many different things. About motherhood, about friendship, about how we grow older, about how we care for ourselves and our families while we grow older. There wasn't one title that covered the waterfront. And what I realized at a certain point was that I wanted a title that communicated, for lack of a better word, the joyfulness of the book. The exuberance. I was walking across town to have dinner with my friend, the mystery writer Linda Fairstein, and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake just popped into my head. Full bore. I immediately e-mailed it to my agent. She loved it. She forwarded it to my editor. She loved it. We all felt that it really captured something about the book. It captured the age aspect, but also the joyfulness. And that was the duality that we really wanted to get front and center.
BNR: But I know at one point you'd been thinking of calling it Later. Something that communicated the period of time in your life that you'd arrived at.
AQ: Right. And at one point there was some sense that we would call it Gray because of what was going on with my hair. But none of those titles seemed to cover all of the book. I mean, the book isn't just about the later years of my life. It's about how the earlier years have informed those later years. I remember at a certain point my agent seized on something in the book and said, "Why don't we call it Is 9:30 Too Early to Go to Bed?" [Laughs]
AQ: The answer, of course, being "No!" [Laughs] But that was just before I came up with Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, and we were set.
BNR: Hadn't there been talk about using another line from the book, I'm Too Old to Die Young Now?
AQ: Actually, when I first wrote the proposal for the book, I called it Too Old to Die Young Now, which is what I said to your sister when she was worried about something happening to me. And I really do think that in some ways it's the quote that set me working on this. A tangible, spoken sense that I've crossed a line on the continuum of life. But, while I still think that's a pretty good title, there was a sense that having the word "die" in the title didn't necessarily work.
BNR: But even earlier, when you were first imagining the book, I remember you talking about it as Mistakes Were Made: A Memoir of Motherhood. When did?or how did you decide to move beyond motherhood to a more multi-faceted view of your life?
AQ: It was a combination of speaking that sentence to Maria I'm too old to die young now and then once I'd done the research that showed that in the year I was born, 1952, average life expectancy was 68. Every time I say that, even to people who pride themselves on being well informed, there's an audible gasp. Are you sure about that? Did you double-check that? The answer is, I am absolutely sure. I triple-checked. But the idea that that was how long you got to live then, and that you get to live twelve years on average longer now, made me think about the differences in the lives of people my age from those of the generations that came before. And that seemed to me to be broader and deeper than motherhood, although clearly that's a pivotal part of this book. It seemed to me to cry out for an explanation and an exploration of what we're doing with this time and how our lives are defined by the fact that we're going to live longer than any generation previously in history.
BNR: You may even live forever.
AQ: Not forever. Please, no.
BNR: Back to the title Mistakes Were Made. If you reflect on your time as a mother, what mistakes were you thinking of when you conceived of that title?
AQ: I can't even begin to count all of the stupid, ham-handed things that I did. I mean, there was the time when your first Easter came around, and I put soaps and washcloths folded in the shape of bunnies in a basket because I didn't want you to have chocolate.
BNR: Were you worried about my teeth?
AQ: It was a purist kind of thing. There you go. Purism often got in my way. I banned you all from watching The Simpsons for a number of years, which was clearly an error in judgment. There was the time your sister came running up to me and said she'd gotten a 98 on her test, and my response was, "Which one did you get wrong?" There was the time I ordered the food at the McDonald's drive-thru window and then drove through without it. And there were serious times when you all got older when I responded in stereotypical ways to situations. I think that's the biggest danger in being a mother: The impulse to massage your kids into some kind of homogenized, universally accepted form, which, if you're smart, you know intuitively will result in nothing much down the road. But in the moment it somehow seems easier than individuating, than giving them their head, than getting out of their way.
BNR: I forget which author we were talking about, but it was an author who said that all of the books she writes are really about one theme.
AQ: Amy Bloom.
BNR: Right. Of course. I actually forget what the theme was.
AQ: I think she said love.
BNR: And you said that yours was motherhood. I think that's absolutely true. I was going back through that box you assembled for each of us of the first editions of all of your books, and I was struck by how it's always motherhood troubled by violence, or illness, or even just circumstance like in Blessings.
AQ: I actually think my theme is a combination of motherhood and loss, and clearly anybody who knows anything about my personal history knows where that comes from. My mother died when I was 19. In novel after novel, that emerges as a theme, most dramatically in Every Last One. It's actually not a theme of the novel I'm working on now.
BNR: Is the protagonist a mother?
AQ: She is. But it's not as important a part of her character as it is for most of the women I've written about in the past.
BNR: Because I was thinking about how even in Rise and Shine, which is one of your more lighthearted novels, Meghan Fitzmaurice's relationship with her son, Leo, is fraught.
AQ: It's not so true in my first novel, Object Lessons, which is more of a young person's novel. But then once you get to One True Thing, it clearly takes hold, this dual theme of motherhood and loss. I think it was something I had to explore until I felt like I'd explored it to its fullest. And if you look at my novels, Every Last One, the most recent one, is about as far as I could go in exploring that, which is why the new one doesn't need to be about motherhood as much.
BNR: That makes a lot of sense. How do you think having your Mom die when you were as young as you were affected how you approached being a mother?
AQ: I think it made me bound and determined to be there as much as possible. It had a lot to do with why I quit my job at The New York Times when I did, when you and Christopher were small. Which turned out to be an opportunity in disguise because that's when I started to write my column "Life in the 30s." And it's why I quit that column when Maria was born and took a year off with the three of you before I started the Op-Ed page column ["Public and Private"]. I just felt like life was short and I needed to be there. And I was haunted by the fact that my sister, your Aunt Theresa, was nine when our mother died, and she literally remembers nothing about her. And so I would look at you three, who were so central to my life, and think, I'm not even written on their DNA yet. I've got to be there as much as possible. I think it made me a very engaged and attentive mother.
BNR: Did your Mom's style of being a mother, her approach to motherhood, inform how you raised us? Did you try to emulate her?
AQ: I did, but that was an interesting challenge. In terms of our characters and what was going on in our lives, my Mother and I were vastly different. Which was something that I struggled with because I loved her so much, and the idea of being different from her made me feel a little less in her eyes when I was younger. She was not a particularly educated woman. She wasn't intellectual. She was just really good at making all five of us feel like we'd hung the moon. And that was the thing that I tried to emulate. That sense of each of your kids at various times thinking that they're the favorite.
AQ: Not that there was no favorite. But that they were the favorite. I think I tried to be as patient as I could. On sort of a cursory level, there were things I clearly tried to emulate. Having what, for my time, is considered a large family. Cooking constantly. The laughter. As I've written before, making my mother laugh was the be-all and end-all of my existence. You guys have cracked me up so much over the years that I feel like that's a pay-it-forward kind of thing.
BNR: When we were growing up, she was an almost beatific figure, smiling out of black-and-white photos. Obviously, I never knew her, but she felt like a powerful force in our lives.
AQ: But that's actually an unfortunate thing that we do to the dead. We turn them into plaster saint versions of themselves. We almost take away their individuality in our quest to make them perfect. So instead you get Saint Prudence of Spaghetti and Meatballs. [Laughs]
BNR: [Laughs] That's so funny because the other day you had those old pictures out, and I don't think I'd ever seen a picture of Grandma Prudence old before. With glasses. Because the pictures around the house are of her at her wedding. Or her holding you when you're an infant. So seeing her as an older woman was very strange.
AQ: Well, that's one of the interesting things about our attitudes towards aging because my mother was 41 when she died. And at the time I was both hugely bereaved but also conscious of the fact that she had lived a rich, full life. And only when I got older did I realize that she had died incredibly young. Now that I'm almost 60, I just feel like it's tragic. I say in the book that ever since I was 19 I felt, at some level, like I was living for two. That I had to embrace every day of life because I knew that my mother would have killed to have it. And so I think my attitude about aging has been different from some of my friends because I knew the alternative.
BNR: And now that you're beyond the age that she died, who do you turn to as a model for motherhood.
AQ: Honestly, the people who teach you how to be a good mother are your children. And one of the biggest challenges of being a good mother is to listen to them. The trick is, you can't listen to their words. You have to read between the lines of how they're behaving, what they're saying, what they're doing.
BNR: One thing I remembered in my reading of the book was that when we were growing up you would bake these incredible cakes for our birthdays. And I wanted to talk a little about the most challenging of those cakes.
BNR: Was it from year one that it was important to you to make such a big deal out of our birthdays, or did that come about later.
AQ: Actually, the cakes were much more baroque when you were babies.
BNR: Like scalloped edges or?
AQ: Not the decoration. More the baking. Cakes with hazelnut mocha frosting. Very, very complex cakes. Totally unnecessary.
BNR: And lost on the individuals eating them.
AQ: Although there always was that moment, because you know I was never a junk food mother, there was always that moment when one of you would dig into your cake, put a fistful in your mouth, and give me a look like, you've been holding out on me.
AQ: It was kind of magical. But I think the birthday parties were emblematic of something else. My birthday is July 8th, which meant that I didn't have much of a birthday celebration. If you can't take a box of cupcakes to school, it's almost like your birthday doesn't exist. And the irony is, my birthday cakes were almost always presented at a restaurant down the Shore where we used to spend the summers, and they always had a sparkler in them because it was right after July 4th, which is why the sparkler on the cover of the book is really apropos. So at some point I decided that you guys would have wonderful birthdays. And as I say in the book, I took it to the limit, far past the point where the people involved were enjoying it. There were those parties with the hayrides and the clowns. There was the party I threw for Maria where I took her and her friends to the beauty salon. And the cakes only became cakes again, and not art projects, when you guys finally said, "That's enough."
BNR: Which was harder to decorate, the Jurassic Park cake or the Ghostbusters cake?
AQ: [Laughs] Definitely the Ghostbusters cake. Because I had to get Slimer in there in addition to the logo with that ghost in the red circle.
BNR: But who first asked not to have an elaborate cake?
AQ: You did. I remember one year I asked what you wanted on your cake. And I would always ask with trepidation because Maria would say something like, I want Belle dancing with the Beast in a ballroom with Lumiere holding a candelabra, and my heart would sink. But I asked you what you wanted on your cake, and you said you didn't want anything, and that felt like the beginning of maturity.
BNR: How tough is that as a mother, those kind of moments? Is it bittersweet or a feeling of relief or?
AQ: It's hard. Less hard when you have more than one child. Knowing that Christopher was still going to ask for vampires on his cake was some solace. Also, if you don't get mired in the moment, there's this incredible kick you get when you realize that your kid is becoming an adult. That they have really interesting opinions about books you've both read. That they have interesting insights into human behavior, even your own behavior, that hadn't occurred to you before. Unless you get too invested in power and control, that notion that your son or daughter is becoming an adult is thrilling.
BNR: Now Mother's Day is coming up soon...
AQ: What day is Mother's Day?
AQ: You have no idea!
BNR: No, no. I do. I think I do. May 12th?
AQ: May 13th. I actually have to fly to Traverse City, Michigan that day to do a gig for this book tour. And I'm trying to get them to change the travel itinerary so we can at least have brunch that morning.
BNR: Because it's one of the definitive "Public and Private" columns, right? "The Days of Gilded Rigatoni." When you were away for Mother's Day.
BNR: Now, just a little background, you were on book tour?
AQ: I was on book tour, and it didn't occur to me until the schedule was locked in that I would be spending Mother's Day in a hotel room in Seattle.
BNR: And it was upsetting for you.
AQ: Very upsetting. No mother should be eating a room service breakfast on Mother's Day.
BNR: Well, at least you got to eat all of the breakfast.
AQ: I got to eat all of the breakfast, and I got a column out of it. But I would have preferred to spend it with you guys. Even if that meant you ate all of the bacon before I even picked up my fork.
May 4, 2012
Quindlen Krovatin is an editor at The Barnes & Noble Review. He previously worked as a reporter in the Beijing Bureau of Newsweek Magazine.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a delightful memoir that had me crying, laughing, reflecting on my own life, and nodding my head along with Quindlen's experiences. I sadly have to admit, this is my first book I've read by Quindlen, but you can bet I will be reading more of her novels. If she can write so eloquently about her own life, I can't imagine how well she can create lives for others. I had so many pages marked up from this book; things I want to remember with my children, quotes I want to write down, perspectives I want to rethink. I usually pass on my books to the local library after I am done reading them, but this one I will be keeping. I think my favorite part of the book was the very beginning where Quindlen talks about the things she would tell her 22-year old self about life. I thought for a bit about that myself. What would I tell my 20 year old self as I am turning 40? What do I wish I had known then? That may be a post for later, but it would definitely include taking risks, savoring relationships, and having hope. My second favorite part of the book includes Quindlen's take on conquering a headstand. How she physically didn't think it was possible, but was determined to build up her strength and finally, flipping her body into a complete headstand. It made me wonder, what is my "headstand"? What am I afraid to accomplish, do, conquer? If you haven't figured out, I truly enjoyed this memoir, even not being familiar with the author. The book will encourage you to reflect on your own life, whether you are 22, 42, 62, 82, or somewhere in between. I guarantee you will leave with life lessons, wisdom and full-blown honesty. If you are looking for a quick, enjoyable read, check out this book.
Becoming Ourselves Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, reflections on the first six decades of her life, is especially appealing to me as an older woman. Like the author, I raised a family while working outside our home. Other older women can relate to her joys and struggles to fulfill the traditional roles of a woman (wife, mother, and daughter) while advancing in a career. Written with optimism and gratitude for all that life offers, the author’s positive perspective on aging is evident when she writes “The older we get, the better we get at being ourselves.” I highly recommend this book.
When I used to get my Newsweek magazine in the mail, I would immediately turn to the back page to see if this was the week for Anna Quindlen's column. She and her husband had children about the same age as our sons, and her politics were very similar to mine. It sometimes seemed that she was writing the same things I was feeling at that same moment. Her fiction books are very emotional, from Oprah Book Club selection Black and Blue to the heartbreaking Every Last One, her most recent one that tore me up. But I was thrilled to see that she had a new non-fiction book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, sharing what it's like to be a woman over 50. As I just hit that mark, I couldn't wait to read it. I read it on my Kindle while on the treadmill, and I knew that I would be adding many highlighted passages for review later, and I was right. Quindlen has been a big reader since she was child, just like me, and what she had to say about reading touched a chord with me. "That's what's so wonderful about reading, that books and poetry and essays make us feel as though we're connected, as though thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and nutty are sometimes shared by others, that we are all more alike than different." Qunidlen and her husband have three children, and I found her advice to them really hit the mark; she "believes the single most important decision they make is not where they live or what to do for a living, it's who they will marry." She says that "the span of their years will be so marked by the life they build, day by day, in tandem with each other." Twenty-five years of marriage to my wonderful husband bears out her wise words. She writes of her husband, "He is focused, diligent, and funny; I am distractible, perapatic, sometimes overly earnest. He is the first to criticize me privately and the first to defend me publicly. He has my back and he always has. That's not romantic, and it's not lyrical and it's not at all what I expected when I thought I would never want to spend a night without him." She talks about the importance of girlfriends, and the irony of the women's movement teaching us that we can be more than caregivers, and yet today many of us are now caring for not only young children but aging parents as well. Quindlen was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school (as I did), and I found her thoughts on religion intriguing and relevant in today's society. As we age, our health becomes a big topic of concern for us, and Quindlen addresses the changes we all go through. She lost her mother when she was barely out of her teens and that loss colored the rest of her life. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a book that I will return to again and again, just to remind myself that there are others out there who are thinking the same things and walking the same path, and thank goodness Anna Quindlen is there to take us through it.
I’d classify this as “delightful”. I’d classify this as “delightful”. Anna Quindlen, 60 yrs old, shares insights she’s developed over the many years of experience in marriage, motherhood, career, friendships and all of the surrounding paths. She, as in most of us “baby boomers”, feels gratitude and relief at the acquired wisdom in this most savored time in her life. The experience of age makes us kind of connoisseurs of life and as time continues to move on, seemingly much faster now, we women develop a special feeling of camaraderie because we did it together and succeeded. We’ve all made choices, not always the right ones but even the wrong ones were learning experiences. This book is great validation of the time and the sacrifices and all the work to get to this point in our lives. We should cherish it. I highly recommend to young and old alike.
I love this book. I can not believe Anna writes exactly what I am thinking but just can not put in words. I am a caregiver for my parents and have alot on my "plate". I love how forgetfulness is just that our file cabinets are too full. Why she married her husband is exactly how I felt about mine but she put it in words so that I could finally explain it to my daughter who had asked just like her daughter had. This book is not for the nineteen year old but any woman of that "certain" age who have older children, parents that act like children and look in the mirror and see themselves as 40 when that is how long they have been married. Completely enjoyed it!!
As a woman of a certain age, I found that this book was so on-target that it was almost as if the author had read my mind and then articulated my thoughts much more eloquently than I ever could have! Almost every sentence is a pearl of wisdom that could be stitched on a sampler, and yet it is not at all preachy, but more like a talk with your best friend. One of the best books I've ever read!!
An enjoyable read for those of the baby boomer set. The author is frank and honest in revealing the pain stemming from her mother's early passing. Her love for and devotion to her family comes through loud and clear as she recounts past days as a newly married young wife raising three children while also working in the journalism field, and later, as an author. For those with children and husband, this may be the common thread that would warrant rating the book 4 stars. For those without either, well, it may just turn you off or bore you. Later in the book, she acknowledges the divide between women in her mother's generation, her own and her daughter's generation, how women's opportunities for career, family, etc. have changed. We, as women don't typically think on our opportunities or lack thereof in either arena. The author allows us to do that which is a good thing. It makes one think, and be thankful. When it comes to her thoughts on aging, sadly always a hot topic for aging women, I think those of us middle-aged or older appreciated hearing her thoughts and connected with her feelings on the subject. Her views on religion, having been raised as a Catholic, were surprising, and I appreciated her straightforward, "like it or not, this is how I feel now", declaration. The last few chapters seemed to take on a much more serious, bordering on depressed cast. And, towards the end, I was trying to read as fast as I could; the melancholia and focus on death was difficult to read about, and the author, at only 60, seemed overly focused on it.
I found myself in this phenomenal well-written memoir several times and I've already reached seniorhood! Very relatable and a good read. I am recommending this to all my "women friends" and "girl friends." Loved it!
Usually read fiction, but this book makes me want to read Quemdlen's other books. Am 70 and it really hit home!
My review is about the audiobook, which I borrowed from the library and now intend to buy. I was a longtime fan of Ms. Quindlen's essays and fiction, BUT... I had never *listened* to her before. And at first, I found her voice so grating and New York-y that I wasn't sure I could finish listening to this work. Then I became self-conscious about how many words one of us (undoubtedly ME) is mispronouncing - dour doesn't rhyme with sour, but is more "do-er", really? But I listened on. She is so drily funny and self-deprecating and real, that this memoir became something I chose to replay over and over again. She doesn't pull any punches - she explains why she is still Catholic AND has major problems with the church. How she could take credit for much of what she did in raising her children, but some of it was plain sloth. How she enjoys her solitude, her marriage, depends upon her girlfriends, is choosing to rewrite the messages in her head that say "you can't do that," and shares honestly and poignantly about the many ways her mother's death has impacted her, something we have in common. She also takes a look at the changing roles of women over time, from the stay-at-home moms to those EXPECTED to work outside the home AND raise the kids. I think this work is relatable for most boomer women, but also for men, and for the generations that have followed.
Thank you again, Anna for nailing all the thoughts in my head as i ride the train home from NYC to Westchester County. Its every moms life out loud. Great read and rationalizes your "crazy".
Anna Quindlen tells funny stories and evokes many powerful memories for this reader--who we intend to be and who we become; the dreams we follow and the ones we leave behind. She and I are from different classes, so some choices have been different. Still, as she told stories about her parents, I felt an intense longing for my parents that stayed with me for days. Younger women and men could benefit from reading this book, but might not "get it." I flagged about half the pages in this book as I read (because I was reading a borrowed copy), AND I mailed a copy to a friend for her 60th birthday.
I read this book on my Nook but think I should purchase a hard copy to share. The author's perspective mirrors my own on so many points. The names and the faces have been changed, but the similarities...... Although I will turn 65 in January, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!
. "Lots of Candles" is the autobiography of a woman who has worked hard, done her best, and earned a few extra perks along the way. Anna Quindlen is turning sixty. "Lots of Candles" is a memoir composed of a series of reflective essays about Quindlen's life and family. She is taking stock of where she has been and where she is going. Most traditional middle-aged wives and mothers will intuitively understand where Anna Quindlen is coming from. Anna is a baby boomer jubilantly doing a head stand, accidently discovering dog hair and lost earrings under her dresser. Yes. Life is like that. Approaching old age is a strange adventure for us all. How did we get here? What does it mean? Surely, this phase of life is not the birthday present we expected. Before opening this final package, Quindlen is tying up personal loose ends, pondering retirement and eventual death, compiling her thoughts and memories at the request of her daughter. Quindlen's real gift is one of noticing nuances, finding comfort in the mundane, happiness in predictability. She has an appreciation for the strength of character needed to provide family stability and structure. In many ways, she is our generation's answer to Peg Bracken and Erma Bombeck. As I read "Lots of Candles," I thought of this book's importance to future historians, sociologists and museum professionals. It has an accuracy that is rare--capturing the details, the changing social and cultural norms, the memories and observations of an educated middle class wife and mother living in an era book-ended by the Eisenhower and Obama administrations. Readers who want spicier, more dramatic material should look elsewhere. There is no divorce, no abuse, no shocking revelation, no cry of anguish here. Those whose lives have taken different turns will have different tales to tell. If you are younger, you may not be ready for this book. Save it to read as you approach sixty. If you have had a traumatic, tumultuous life, read 'The Glass Castle" instead. This is not a how-to book. It is an autobiography, a memoir, a motherly book, an old-fashioned book. "Lots of Candles" is a refreshing book about family life, stability and personal growth in an age of constant change. Kim Burdick Stanton, Delaware
Anna Quindlen has used her years of writing experience to hone the subject of aging and change. Both changes from within and without, and she causes one to ponder on the goodness of life and the frailties of humans. Women will especially enjoy this book.
Whenever there is one those getting to know you type emails sent out over the internet there has sometimes been the question of who well known you would most like to have dinner with. I always answer Anna Quindlan. I have long been a fan of her novels,essays and columns. She always seems to be speaking to me as if we were friends which I am sure we would be if we met! She with her amazing talent for words,me with my quick wit and sarcasm.If I could I would give this book ten stars!!That is why I absolutely love and adore her new book,Lots Of Candles,Plenty of Cake. Now that Anna is a bit past the mid-point of life like me she has put together this wonderful memoir filled with razor like insight and also humor.For instance comparing three generations of underwear to the gradual loosening up of sexual mores over the last 50 years. From granny type high rise underwear her mother wore to her bikinis to her daughter's lacy things.! She imagines granddaughters "going commando" and her exasperated daughter using Granny as an excuse not to go that way!When she writes of not letting her kids spend every weekend on various sports fields because she would rather be home reading I say "Anna,I hear you and salute you!" I never did figure out how to listen to books on tape while I sat at tons of soccer and baseball games in all weather.My husband is perplexed to this day that none of our kids let him see college essays. Imagine how hard that was for a writer like her not to do some serious helicoptering but Anna resisted. This in the middle of her chapter on ubermomism,the plague for moms everywhere now........keeping up with other's perceived notions of what kind of mother you are.Here is what she says about being a Catholic although she no longer goes to church:"For me,being Catholic is like Irish or Italian or Caucasian,not faith but an immutable identifying characteristic with which I was born and with which I will die. Many of the faithful would not consider this so; But the church is in the schools I attended,the woman who taught me,the way I dressed and ate and spent my days as a child. The way I buried the older members of my family. It is woven into the fabric of myself."On a chapter on aging she tells her daughter"I'm to old to die young now"..yep! She does write that being old to most of us is wherever you haven't gotten to yet!This book is a keeper for me. I have at least 20 pages folded down to go back and underline.A wonderful book that would make the perfect Mother's Day gift or a gift to any thinking woman you know!
In ¿Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Anna Quinlen gives her thoughts on a variety of subject connected to being a Baby Boomer, the sandwich generation, retirement, ageing and dying. I must stay that I haven¿t read any of her books yet but I do love memoirs. She mixes her life experiences with her insights and comments. I really think this book is only for Baby Boomers. If you are younger or older, I don¿t think you will ¿get it¿. The book is easy to read but did not go fast for me. I kept laying the book down in order to think what she said. She talks about how the Baby Boomer generation is so different from the preceding and the following generation. This is the generation that grew up with working mothers being the exception. We had mothers who stayed at home and took care of the children, did the cooking and cleaning and some played bridge with their friends. But then the ¿Feminine Mystique¿ was published and we thought about we should be denied a career. I can remember staying up all night with that book and crying and getting mad at the same time. Other women learned about the expectations in different ways but we all thought that we could do it all. But as Anna Quinlen says, we didn¿t think how we were going to do it. We didn¿t realize that we would be overcome with physical and emotional demands from work and family. Then without our noticing until it happened, time sped so fast and we were older!I did feel like Anna Quinlen was sitting on my couch discussing this, the writing is so conversational. What surprised me is that we had many common experiences even though we come from very different backgrounds. When she said something that I didn¿t quite agree, I was angry that she was not there in person so I could join the discussion. The above is only a small part that she covers in her well written book. It is amazing what she could pack in only 182 pages.I recommend this book for all baby boomer women.I received this book from the Amazon Vine program and that in no way influenced my review.
Anna Quindlen is a very talented writer. These essays are sharp and full of clever observations about life. Readers of Anne Fadiman's essays will find something they like in this book.I enjoyed her essays about home, family life, and human emotions (motherhood, solitude, our possessions, friendship) most of all. I loved the warmth and the good advice. For me, it felt like having a conversation with an older and wiser friend. I did not enjoy the essays regarding feminism and politics quite as much, but that was just a matter of personal taste, and they were still very well written.Recommended if you are an Anna Quindlen fan, or if you enjoy reading books of essays about life.
"After the middle ages comes the renaissance."Through 15 memoir-ish essays, Quindlen explores the shifts women make at contemporary midlife -- in relationships (long-term marriage, aging parents and adult children, girlfriends); in self (appearance, belongings, faith); and in perspective (as retirement, aging and loss loom).It¿s a very readable exploration with a very likeable guide, the observations about aging and feminism an homage to previous generations and reminiscent of Nora Ephron and Ayelet Waldman. I¿d characterize it much more as a place of shared recognition than new insight, although I found the following revelatory about men and women:"Sometimes I think women, freed from societal expectations and roles, age into confidence, while men, losing the power, status, and strength of youth, age out of it."A recommended comfort read.(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
I'm a huge fan of Anna Quindlen's work. This was, by far, my favorite of anything I've read by her thus far. That's saying a lot. I felt as though she was talking directly to me, saying things I'd love to say but could never say them this well. This is a book I'll buy for several friends, and recommend to many others.
Anna Quindlen captures real life experiences in a way that makes me feel like she is writing about my life, while articulating my thoughts so much more clearly than I could myself. In this colllection of essays, she invites us inside her life, sharing the joys and struggles of marriage and family, love and loss. Whether writing about details of everyday life or a pivotal moment like her mother's death, her insights had me alternately nodding in agreement and shedding a tear. Reading Anna Quindlen's essays is like sitting down for a visit with a wise friend. The combination of essays collected in this book fits nicely into a portrait of Quindlen's life. The final chapter is enticingly titled, "To Be Continued. . ." I can only hope so.
Anna Quindlen reflects on the arc of life through this series of 15 essays tinged with memoir. These are reflections of an upper middle class white female who is approaching 60 in the coming year. As a woman with those same characteristics I started out enjoying the shared generational experiences of being a woman born in the 50's, becoming an adult in the 70's, and merging career and family in the 80's. Social mores for women changed considerably in that time frame and it was to the advantage of many women.But as the book progressed, I became a bit disenchanted with Quindlen's narrative, mostly because it doesn't leave room for the narratives of other women of the same generation who are not as privileged. The author acknowledges that she benefited greatly from those who went before us, such as the women who brought the sex discrimination class action suit against the NYT in 1978. At the same time, there is a whiff of entitlement to her writing: the assumption that it is routine to keep more than one home, the travels with family to Florence and other exotic places. Those little bits felt a bit like "name dropping" to me and left just a touch of distaste in a book I otherwise enjoyed.
I have to start this review by saying that I am a 45 year old mother with a career outside the home. That's important here, because this book was written by a woman very much like me, about issues and experiences that I think about every day. So, for me, opening this book was like heading off to spend time with a slightly older, slightly wiser friend.And I really, really liked this book. Quindlen's voice is clear and thoughtful. This book feels less like a memoir than simply a really long note from a very good friend. She is optimistic, happy, but clear-eyed about the challenges that she (and all women) face and have faced. She is generous and open-hearted about accepting individuals but willing to question the belief systems and sexism of institutions. I feel a strong sense of being comforted and reassured by this book--and I didn't know I needed either of those things. I strongly recommend this book.
You will love this book from the very first paragraph. It is about every woman's concerns from Day One of their worrying years. You will laugh and say to yourself...."oh my, how true." Or...."wow...that happened to me."Each chapter had a topic that was very poignant and one that will make you reflect as you read through the incidents and facts. The chapter titled Generations and the chapter titled To Be Continued definitely brought tears to my eyes. Another chapter titled Older will make you laugh out loud. Your emotions will be taken on a fun, wild ride with every chapter. Be prepared for tears and laughter as well as sound advice along with points to ponder...especially in the last chapter.The book was factual but personal because it brought many private topics to light. Any woman over 50 should enjoy this book. Younger women may laugh, but may not get the full impact. It is a great, light read for the most part. Some comments especially about our children and the role they play in our lives really hit home and how we as women need each other to make it all happen for us. The author also comments that it certainly is a blessing that we were born when we were and not when our mothers had been born and that each generation most probably will look back on some of the strides made and think that event wasn't a big deal because that had been happening for a while. Take the time to read and enjoy the book and your life....that is what Anna Quindlen taught me.
It is amazing to me that so many child raising, family and attitudes in general are shared by so many. This book had me laughing at loud and thinking to myself "This is so true". Anyone raising children, or those who are already done (if such a thing is possible) will find much to like in this memoir. Very enjoyable read!