Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Published by Random House
Publication date: April 24th 2012
Genres: Book Clubs, Memoir, Non-fiction


It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again.

I have been a huge fan of Anna Quindlen’s fiction for decades, but had never read any of her nonfiction until this month, for Nonfiction November 2017. What was I thinking?!  Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a memoir, but reads more like a fantastic, engaging series of essays, each following the trajectory of her life and all its various stages. It was published in 2012 when she was 60 years old, a point (based on the quote above) she seems to feel has brought her back to who she was. In the interim, she was hired in the 70s by the New York Times, thanks to a group of women who sued the paper for its lack of female reporters, got married, had three children, and became a writer of NYT bestsellers (most of which I’ve read and highly recommend you do as well). An accomplished and action-packed life and yet, Quindlen shares her thoughts on it in a way that leaves women of all ages thinking, ‘She gets me. She is me.’

Reviewing a memoir is hard because it can turn into a bland recitation of facts—which I already achieved in the previous paragraph. Try as I might to use my own words, the best way to get a feel for Quindlen as seer into the minds and hearts of everywoman is to share some of my favorite snippets from the book. Her writing, her words are the best endorsement for Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

True friendship assumes a level playing field—no one is up, no one is down, no one is the queen bee or the drone. But young women often try to establish themselves as individuals by defining themselves in opposition to other women, which lends itself to exactly that kind of hierarchy and competition.

There is an apt quote from Virginia Woolf: “I have lost friends, some by death, others through sheer inability to cross the street.”

For me, one of the greatest glories of growing older is the willingness to ask why and, getting no good answer, deciding to follow my own inclinations and desires. Asking why is the way to wisdom.

The illusion of control is the besetting addiction, and delusion, of the modern age.

…the satisfaction of solitude…

Instead there is the over-scheduled mom who bounces from soccer field to school fair to music lessons until she falls into bed at the end of the day, exhausted, her life somewhere between the Stations of the Cross and a decathlon.

It is these moments, the bits and pieces on the page, where Quindlen achieves a delicate, almost unheard-of balance. That of best friend/mother/mentor; a trifecta I’ve never seen achieved in life, much less in writing.  It means that in reading Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, she provides moments of learning, laughing, and feeling truly seen. I don’t know what more can be asked of an author.


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  1. I loved Anna Quindlen’s nonfiction before I ever read any of her fiction. In fact, I still like it more than her fiction. As you say, “she gets me.” Even though the essays may be dated, I hope you’ll go back and read some other of her nonfiction books.

  2. Oh man – gorgeous and you made me want to re-read it. Actually, I listened to it the first time. And then bought the hardcover for my shelves…and now want to read that very slowly and savor every line.

  3. I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve never finished anything by Anna Quindlen. Not anything. (I quit on one and never went back to her.) Based on your review and everything I’ve seen from Sarah, this has been a huge mistake in my reading world. I need to fix this!

    • If an author’s book doesn’t work for me I generally don’t give them another chance so it’s not too surprising. I wonder which one it was? I haven’t read everything by her so it’s very possible there’s a clunker in there somewhere. This one is just great for women. She puts into words what we all already know and have experienced.

  4. Catherine, I am SO glad that you and Sarah recommended this book; I am about halfway through and I think I’ve highlighted most of it – ha! It is so great; her words resonate with me on so many levels and I wish I’d read this about two decades ago.

    • Isn’t it wonderful?! And she’s older than all of us! Which just goes to show how even though things have changed they haven’t changed enough.

  5. I had my book club read this a couple of years ago. Most of us were in our late 40’s or 50’s and could really relate to Quindlen. But we did have one lady in her early 30’s and she didn’t care as much for it. And here I thought Quindlen spoke to every woman because I love her so much!

  6. I’d be interested in her life memoir, especially her journalism career and how she switched to fiction. I read her novel Miller’s Valley in March and she has poignancy about her stories.

    • You don’t get that so much from this book. It’s mostly about life as a woman. There is stuff in there about her journalism career, but nothing really about the switch.