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.
At age 60, Anna Quindlen has already had plenty of candles and birthday cake, but she wants more. A lot more. Her own mother died in her early 40s, when Anna was just nineteen. That early loss has made her grateful for every additional year she gets that her mother was denied.
Anna’s gratitude is the common ingredient that ties together these ruminations of an aging feminist baby boomer. She seems amazed, even somewhat astonished, at how fortunate she has been. She has reached an age where she can look back and recognize the combination of ambition and serendipity that allowed her to “have it all” in terms of marriage, motherhood, career, and friendship.
These essays will of course have the most appeal for those in Quindlen’s age range whose life paths have somewhat paralleled hers. But if you’ve read her work before, you know she always shares observations and wisdom that are universally relevant. I like her spunk. I like her honesty. Most of all, I like the way she always manages to say the things I feel but cannot put into words. I recommend the book for all connoisseurs of life.
I really enjoy this author’s work, and have read previous essays and books and left with a somewhat hopeful feeling. I didn’t get that one so much with this one. In fact, I found this book a bit melodramatic. The tone was like listening to a friend who you know has it better than you and yet who focuses on what she doesn’t have. She might have wealth and a husband that loves her, but she’ll focus on one or two things in life she thinks she missing. This book gave me that same feeling, that you want to embrace her and love her and tell her it’s going to be all right, but at the same time you can’t understand what she is grousing about.
Quindlen is such a talented author, and I have enjoyed many previous works. I actually made a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy this book with excitement, but something in it really lacked. It’s hard to pinpoint something other than the “tone” or the lack of an emotional pull, but that’s what it comes down to for me.