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October 12, 2017

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake



Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Memoir
2012 Random House
Finished on December 7, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

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.

I knew this memoir was going to be good when I reached for my Post-It flags before I finished the first page. Some of the chapters weren't as interesting to me and my interest waned, but then toward the end of the book, I regained enthusiasm and once again reached for my Post-It flags. This may be best to read a little here and there, rather than all at once. I think I'd like to live next door to Quindlen. I can see us walking around her pond, sipping tea or wine, solving the world's problems. :)

Some favorite passages:
"I feel like I'm not alone," some of those who wrote to me said, and that sentiment changed my life. That's what's so wonderful about reading, that books and poetry and essays 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. 
On Aging:
Many of us have come to a surprising conclusion about this moment in our lives. No, it's not that there are weird freckly spots on the back of our hands, although there are, or that construction guys don't make smutty comments as we pass, although they don't. It's that we've done a pretty good job of becoming ourselves, and that this is, in so many ways, the time of our lives. As Carly Simon once sang, "These are the good old days." Lots of candles, plenty of cake. I wouldn't be twenty-five again on a bet, or even forty. And when I say this to a group of women at lunch, everyone around the table nods. Many of us find ourselves exhilarated, galvanized, at the very least older and wiser.
On Friends:
And in the end we wind up with the friends who really stick. Being female, we pride ourselves on doing for them, on listening to them complain or cry, on showing up with a cake or a casserole and taking charge when disaster strikes. But the measure of our real friends, our closest friends, is that we let them do the same for us. We've been taking charge for decades; to let go, to take help instead of charge, is the break point of friendship. And it comes to us, finally, when we are older and wiser, when we've got bigger things to think about than where to buy a coffee table or whether the new guy at work will be collegial. One of the most important parts of tending our friendships is working our ways, over time, into the kind of friendships that can support cataclysm, friendships that are able to move from the office or the playground to hospital rooms and funerals. Some of my married friends are widows now, and some are single, and some have lost parents and had kids who were lost to them for a while. And even those of us who so far have been relatively unscathed know how important the bonds of love are, how they make a net so we don't hit the ground when we fall from the wire. 

I have just spent the last half hour re-reading all the passages I marked (choosing not to share all of them) and they all are worthy of reflection and contemplation. This book is a keeper and one that I hope to return to in the coming years.

10 comments:

  1. This is an all-time favorite... certainly a book to revisit again and again. I'd love to be Quindlen's neighbor, too! :)

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    1. JoAnn, I'll bet most of those who have read Quindlen would love to be her neighbor, don't you?

      P.S. Not sure why your comments aren't showing up in my notification emails, but I keep watching out for them in my "awaiting moderation" tab in Blogger so I don't miss any. Very odd!

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    2. Les - It's odd, but that happens to a couple of my commenters, too, and I have no idea what to do other than just keep checking...

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    3. Blogger. It's a love-hate relationship. It was never a problem until I switched my email information when we moved to OR. Sigh.

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  2. I read this a few years ago and really liked it as well. I would love to walk with you and Quindlen. ;)

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    1. Aww, wouldn't that be fun, Kathy?!

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  3. Loved this when I read it and might like a reread someday as well. I recall relating well to much of what she wrote.

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    1. Diane, it seems like most of us loved this memoir and are all eager to read it a second time. She's a great writer.

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  4. Thank you for marking so many strong passages and sharing them with us. Agree so much with the thoughts about aging. Don't miss twenty...well, maybe just the externals.

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    1. Deb, yeah twenty really isn't worth revisiting. :) Glad you enjoyed the passages.

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