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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake [NOOK Book]

Overview

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. ...

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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

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Overview

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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  • Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
    Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen has the rare ability to deliver life wisdom without being preachy or pedantic. Her bestselling books like Being Perfect, Loud and Clear, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life possess the qualities that she ascribes to real friends: They offer both hard truths and soft landings. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake acknowledges the unavoidable realities of aging and the complexities of parenting and other relationships, but it doesn't wallow; in fact, Quindlen seems to have achieved a mellowness exemplified by her book's apt title. A Barnes & Noble Bestseller, now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

Yvonne Zipp
Where Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake succeeds is in Quindlen's warm yet pithy discussions about feminism, aging, the uselessness of stuff and the importance of girlfriends—"the joists that hold up the house of our existence."
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
Praise for Anna Quindlen
 
“A reporter by training, a storyteller at heart, [Quindlen’s] writing is personal, humorous, and thought-provoking.”—The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 
“Quindlen is an astonishingly graceful writer.”—San Francisco Examiner
 
“Thank goodness for Anna Quindlen. [She] is smart. And compassionate. And witty. And wise.”—Detroit Free-Press
 
“[Quindlen is] America’s resident sane person.”—The New York Times
Library Journal
Before she published six best-selling novels (e.g., Every Last One); wrote her million-copy best seller, A Short Guide to the Happy Life; and won a Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times column "Public and Private," Quindlen attracted eager readers with her Times column "Life in the 30s." Now she's in her fifties and ready to talk about women's lives as a whole. With an eight-city tour and lots of promotion.
Kirkus Reviews
A humorous, sage memoir from the Pulitzer winner and acclaimed novelist. Like having an older, wiser sister or favorite aunt over for a cup of tea, Quindlen's (Every Last One, 2010, etc.) latest book is full of the counsel and ruminations many of us wish we could learn young. The death of her mother from cancer when she was 19 had a profound effect on the author, instilling in her the certainty that "life was short, and therefore it made [her] both driven and joyful" and happy to have "the privilege of aging." In her sincere and amusing style, the author reflects on feminism, raising her children, marriage and menopause. She muses on the perception of youth and her own changing body image--one of the "greatest gifts [for women] of growing older is trusting your own sense of yourself." Having women friends, writes Quindlen, is important for women of all ages, for they are "what we have in addition to, or in lieu of, therapists. And when we reach a certain age, they may be who is left." More threads on which the author meditates in this purposeful book: childbirth, gender issues, the joy of solitude, the difference between being alone and being lonely, retirement and religion. For her, "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." A graceful look at growing older from a wise and accomplished writer--sure to appeal to her many fans, women over 50 and readers of Nora Ephron and similar authors.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679604006
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 20,046
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Anna Quindlen
Anna Quindlen is 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 and published two collections, Living Out Loud and Thinking Out Loud. Her Newsweek columns were collected in Loud and Clear. She is the author of six novels: Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings, Rise and Shine, and Every Last One.

Biography

Anna Quindlen could have settled onto a nice, lofty career plateau in the early 1990s, when she had won a Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times column; but she took an unconventional turn, and achieved a richer result.

Quindlen, the third woman to hold a place among the Times' Op-Ed columnists, had already published two successful collections of her work when she decided to leave the paper in 1995. But it was the two novels she had produced that led her to seek a future beyond her column.

Quindlen had a warm, if not entirely uncritical, reception as a novelist. Her first book, Object Lessons, focused on an Irish American family in suburban New York in the 1960s. It was a bestseller and a Times Notable Book of 1991, but was also criticized for not being as engaging as it could have been. One True Thing, Quindlen's exploration of an ambitious daughter's journey home to take care of her terminally ill mother, was stronger still—a heartbreaker that was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. But Quindlen's fiction clearly benefited from her decision to leave the Times. Three years after that controversial departure, she earned her best reviews yet with Black and Blue, a chronicle of escape from domestic abuse.

Quindlen's novels are thoughtful explorations centering on women who may not start out strong, but who ultimately find some core within themselves as a result of what happens in the story. Her nonfiction meditations—particularly A Short Guide to a Happy Life and her collection of "Life in the 30s" columns, Living Out Loud—often encourage this same transition, urging others to look within themselves and not get caught up in what society would plan for them. It's an approach Quindlen herself has obviously had success with.

Good To Know

To those who expressed surprise at Quindlen's apparent switch from columnist to novelist, the author points out that her first love was always fiction. She told fans in a Barnes & Noble.com chat, "I really only went into the newspaper business to support my fiction habit, but then discovered, first of all, that I loved reporting for its own sake and, second, that journalism would be invaluable experience for writing novels."

Quindlen joined Newsweek as a columnist in 1999. She began her career at the New York Post in 1974, jumping to the New York Times in 1977.

Quindlen's prowess as a columnist and prescriber of advice has made her a popular pick for commencement addresses, a sideline that ultimately inspired her 2000 title A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Quindlen's message tends to be a combination of stopping to smell the flowers and being true to yourself. Quindlen told students at Mount Holyoke in 1999, "Begin to say no to the Greek chorus that thinks it knows the parameters of a happy life when all it knows is the homogenization of human experience. Listen to that small voice from inside you, that tells you to go another way. George Eliot wrote, 'It is never too late to be what you might have been.' It is never too early, either. And it will make all the difference in the world."

Studying fiction at Barnard with the literary critic Elizabeth Hardwick, Quindlen's senior thesis was a collection of stories, one of which she sold to Seventeen magazine.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 8, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

ADVICE TO MY YOUNGER SELF by Anna Quindlen

RECENTLY MY TWENTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER ASKED ME what message I would give to my own twenty-two-year-old self of I could travel back in time. I instantly had two responses, one helpful, one not. On the one hand, I would tell my younger self that she should stop listening to anyone who wanted to smack her down, that she was smart enough, resourceful and hardworking enough, pretty terrific in general. On the other hand, I would have to break the bad news: that she knew nothing, really, about anything that mattered. Nothing at all. Not a clue.

You don't know what you don't know when you're young. How could you? People who are older nod sagely and say you'll learn—about love, about marriage, about failing and falling down and getting up and trying to stagger on toward success, about work and children and what really matters, in general and to you. It's not, they'll say, what's on your business card, at a moment when you don't even have a business card. I recall hearing this message constantly when I was younger, and thinking that I was getting older as fast as I could. In retrospect this seems a bit of a shame as well as a vainglorious task. You're like a cake when you're young. You can't rush it or it will fall, or just turn out wrong. Rising takes patience, and heat.

It's nothing short of astonishing, all that we learn between the time we are born and the time we die. Of course most of the learning takes place not in a classroom or a library, but in the laboratory of our own lives. We can look back and identify moments—the friend's betrayal, the work advancement or failure, the wrong turn or the romantic misstep, the careless comment. But it's all a continuum that is clear only in hindsight, frequently when some of its lessons may not even be useful anymore.

Maybe that's why we give advice, when we're older, mostly to people who don't want to hear it. They can't hear it because it's in a different language, a language we learn over time, the language of experience cut with failure, triumph, and tedium. We finally understand childrearing when our children are grown. We look back on our work and know now how we would have altered plans and strategies, realize that some of what seemed inevitable at the time could have been altered, different.

We understand ourselves, our lives, retrospectively.

There comes that moment when we finally know what matters and, perhaps more important, what doesn't, when we see that all the life lessons came not from what we had but from who we loved, and from the failures perhaps more than the successes.

I would tell my twenty-two-year-old self that what lasts are things so ordinary she may not even see them: family dinners, fair fights, phone calls, friends. But of course the young woman I once was cannot hear me, not just because of time and space but because of the language, and the lessons, she has yet to learn. It's a miracle: somehow over time she learned them all just the same, by trial and error.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Life in the Fifties ix

Part I The Laboratory of Life 1

Stuff 5

Next of Kin 16

Girlfriends 27

Part II The Wisdom of Why 39

Generations 43

Near Miss 56

Mirror, Mirror 65

Solitude 74

Part III The Element of Surprise 85

The Little Stories We Tell Ourselves 89

Older 100

Push 112

Expectations 125

Part IV The Be-All and End-All 137

Faith 141

Step Aside 151

Mortality 161

To Be Continued 172

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Interviews & Essays

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]

BNR: [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.

BNR: [Laughs]

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.

AQ: [Laughs]

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.

BNR: [Laughs]

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?

BNR: [Pause]

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.

AQ: Exactly.

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.

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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?
 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 80 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(44)

4 Star

(15)

3 Star

(10)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 80 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 29, 2012

    This is a delightful memoir that had me crying, laughing, reflec

    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.

    23 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    Becoming Ourselves Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plent


    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.




    13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    When I used to get my Newsweek magazine in the mail, I would imm

    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.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I’d classify this as “delightful”. I’d

    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.


    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2012

    Perfect Book at My Perfect Time

    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!!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2012

    As a woman of a certain age, I found that this book was so on-ta

    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!!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    An enjoyable read for those of the baby boomer set. The author i

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Have recommended it to friends & my book club!

    Usually read fiction, but this book makes me want to read Quemdlen's other books. Am 70 and it really hit home!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2012

    Captured what is in my head!

    I have been a long time fan of Anna Quindlen, but this memoir captured what is in my head on so many levels, from the effects of aging on our facial features to being "in control" and not letting others help us when what we really need is some help. This book resonnated with my book club, but what I really wish for is a column in Time Magazine!

    Thanks for the meomories!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    No matter how many candles, must read!

    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!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    My review is about the audiobook, which I borrowed from the libr

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

    Thank you again, Anna for nailing all the thoughts in my head as

    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".

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2012

    Recommended for women over 55

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2012

    She wrote about me!

    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!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2012

    . "Lots of Candles" is the autobiography of a woman wh

    .
    "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

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2012

    Highly Recommended!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012

    Harry Styles

    Srry go to candles result 2...

    1 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Loved the book

    I have been a fan of Anna Quindlen since her days of writing the Her column in the NYTimes. We grew up in the same time and her essays are very relatable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2013

    Jack.

    Well i thought u ditched me. So tell me bout urself

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

    Holly

    So i have straight brown hair witha diamond clip in the side. Tight neon pink tank top and very short shorts. Tell me about ur self... Jake

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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