Published by Random House
Publication date: April 24th 2012
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.