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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

4.0 82
by Anna Quindlen

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“[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
In this irresistible



“[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
In this irresistible memoir, Anna Quindlen writes about a woman’s life, from childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, using the events of her life to illuminate ours. Considering—and celebrating—everything from marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, parenting, faith, loss, to all the stuff in our closets, and more, Quindlen says for us here what we may wish we could have said ourselves. As she did in her beloved New York Times columns, and in A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Quindlen uses 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. ”
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.”
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.”
Candid, funny, and 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.
“Classic Quindlen, at times witty, at times wise, and always of her time.”—The Miami Herald
“[A] pithy, get-real memoir.”—Booklist
Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

Editorial Reviews

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.

Edward Ash-Milby

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.
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
“[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

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


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.


Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
July 8, 1952
Place of Birth:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
B.A., Barnard College, 1974

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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
SincerelyStacie More than 1 year ago
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.
RowenaHS More than 1 year ago
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.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
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.
LWNILY More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
beyondseniorhood More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Usually read fiction, but this book makes me want to read Quemdlen's other books. Am 70 and it really hit home!
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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".
nolagras More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
KimRBurdick More than 1 year ago
. "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
pat72 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ronay55 More than 1 year ago
What more do I need to say? It's Anna Quindlen at her most insightful, about life and how we use our time in it. Not funny, but full of good humor, it is a share-fest and affirmation of our common experiences--even as we trip and bounce over our individual cobblestones along the way.
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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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago