Lots of Candles

One of the books I brought home from the Biblioteca here in San Miguel de Allende recently to tide me over the holidays (as I mentioned in my previous WOW, “Frugal Chariots,” posted Dec. 22) was Anna Quindlen’s memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. I chose it, not because I planned to review it, but because I remembered reading Quindlen’s regular column in The New York Times when I lived in New York twenty-plus years ago and loving it. I loved her take on things then, her wit, her smarts, her voice. I wanted to spend time with her over Christmas and hear her voice again.

I wasn’t disappointed. She was great company.

For those who might need a refresher, here is just a short summation of Anna Quindlen’s impressive accomplishments: She’s a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. Her book A Short Guide to a Happy Life has sold more than a million copies. While a columnist at The New York Times, she won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and published two collections of her columns: Living Out Loud and Thinking Out Loud. Her Newsweek columns were collected in the book Loud and Clear. She is the author of nine novels, two of which have been adapted into movies.

Despite all this remarkableness, she comes across in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake as astoundingly down to earth and approachable, like a genuinely friendly neighbor. I felt as I read it that she enjoyed coming over to my apartment for coffee, so we could chat across the kitchen table, mature woman to mature woman, whiling away the afternoon.

It’s that VOICE that came through the pages to me, as if I were listening to an audiobook in which she herself had made the recording.

The cover of the Random House large print edition, which I got from the Biblioteca in SMA

In this book, Quindlen writes about looking back – and forward – from the perspective of her early sixties, considering all the things that matter, especially to women: friends, family, faith, loss, mothers and motherhood, wisdom (and much more). Although I couldn’t relate to every aspect of her life (I’m not, for example, Italian-Irish American, Catholic, happily married to the same college sweetheart for forty-plus years, the mother of three grown children, the owner of an apartment in NYC and a house in the country, and so on, and so on), there was plenty in what she shared that resonated with me.

For example, in Part II, “The Wisdom of Why,” she writes:

“For me, one of the greatest glories of growing older is the willingness to ask why and, getting no good answer, deciding to follow my own inclinations and desires. Asking why is the way to wisdom. Why are we supposed to want possessions we don’t need and work that seems besides the point and tight shoes and a fake tan? Why are we supposed to think new is better than old, youth and vigor better than long life and experience? …”

Ah, I could see myself slapping the kitchen table and making her jump as I responded, “Yes, Anna! My sentiments exactly!”

And, again, in her chapter, “Older,” I wanted to cheer when I read:

“So much of our knee-jerk negative response to aging is a societal construct. It’s yet another version of the conflict that shapes, sometimes deforms, our lives, the conflict between what we really want and what we’re told we ought to desire. We are supposed to think that young is better. But we know deep inside, in the ways that count, that better is now.”

Anna Quindlen, Wikipedia informed me, was born on July 8, 1953, which makes her eight years younger than I. Still young, I think. Only in her mid-sixties. Which may, in part at least, account for the rosy glow she tends to put on aging. I wonder, though, if she were to write a sequel to this memoir in about ten years, how different would it be? Would she admit to slow physical decline, more heart-rending losses, greater unforeseen challenges, all the new adjustments and realignments?

Well, I’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, maybe I could suggest a title for that sequel: Even More Candles, Hold the Cake.

14 thoughts on “Lots of Candles”

  1. My mother in Law once quipped to us “That 90! Nobody told ma about that!” Soooo I guess each decade has it’s ups and downs!
    I so love your column each week! Thank you and blessed New Year!

  2. I went to a book signing of LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. Anna Quindlen was so approachable. She took her time greeting and visiting with each one of us. This is one of my favorite books, ever! You’ve inspired me to reread it. Looking forward to your reaction to Michelle Obama ‘s BECOMING. Wishing you a healthy and joyful 2019! Sending love your way, Arti

    1. Thank you, Arti dear, for sharing this. I’m so glad to know she’s the same in “real life” as she is on the page. I’m looking forward to reading some of her other books, especially her novels. Happy 2019 to you and yours. — xx

  3. I just finished reading BEING MORTAL, another book on aging. Really useful information for finding meaning in what I’ve come to call “the narrows.” I have always liked Anna Quindlen for the same reasons you do. A great writer who makes it look effortless.

    1. Thanks so much for the recommendation, Barb. And, yes indeed, Quindlen makes her wonderful writing seem “effortless.” I think every student of writing should read her to learn what “voice” in writing looks and sounds like. Easier said than done! — xx

  4. Dear Bon,

    Again, your reflection hit home with me. We have a text by Quindlen that ninth-graders read called “A Quilt of a Country” that is wonderful. It’s one of my favorite things. She wrote it immediately after 9/11, and the sentiment is even more relevant in 2018 than it was then, which says a lot.

    The other thing I connected with was the idea that when you grow older and begin to question “why?”; only to be given responses that are irrelevant, inappropriate, -or worse- mere platitudes. Like you, I now follow what I believe is the best path for me.

    I wish you a very Happy New Year!


  5. Happy 2019, dear Bonnie! Like you, I value Anna Quindlen’s writing, and yours! Thank you for your always interesting blogs, and may this year be a good one for you. Love, Marge

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