Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen has the gift of delivering 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.
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.
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.
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
“[Quindlen] serves up generous portions of her wise, commonsensical, irresistibly quotable take on life. . . . What Nora Ephron does for body image and Anne Lamott for spiritual neuroses, Quindlen achieves on the home front.”—NPR
“Classic Quindlen, at times witty, at times wise, and always of her time.”—The Miami Herald
“[A] pithy, get-real memoir.”—Booklist
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
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 learnabout 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 momentsthe 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.