on March 11, 2012
At age 60, Anna Quindlen has already had plenty of candles and birthday cake, but she wants more. A lot more. Her own mother died in her early 40s, when Anna was just nineteen. That early loss has made her grateful for every additional year she gets that her mother was denied.
Anna's gratitude is the common ingredient that ties together these ruminations of an aging feminist baby boomer. She seems amazed, even somewhat astonished, at how fortunate she has been. She has reached an age where she can look back and recognize the combination of ambition and serendipity that allowed her to "have it all" in terms of marriage, motherhood, career, and friendship.
These essays will of course have the most appeal for those in Quindlen's age range whose life paths have somewhat paralleled hers. But if you've read her work before, you know she always shares observations and wisdom that are universally relevant. I like her spunk. I like her honesty. Most of all, I like the way she always manages to say the things I feel but cannot put into words. I recommend the book for all connoisseurs of life.
Anna Quindlen has always seemed like a friend to me. She doesn't know me, but I know her, and we are very much alike. She was born one day before me, July 8, we both married young and maintained our profession. We each had three children. We have grown older together, and I have followed her through her New York Times articles, her novels and her Newsweek blogs. I have missed her writing, and now, here she is, writing about the times of her life.
Anna talks about her times of life from a child to young woman to aging adult. And, as she says, she realized that when one of her children told her 68 was elderly, and she tried to refute that and make her own definition of elderly, that 'Old is whatever you haven't gotten to yet'. Oh, I agree with that phrase. I am in my sixties, but I don't feel much older than forty, except that some parts of my body are lower than they used to be.
This is a book for all of us. A guidebook of sorts, of where we have been, where we are now and where we might be going. Anna tells us her story, but if you are of her age, it is all of our stories. With our time from early adult to an aging one. We have all collected 'stuff', and like Anna I could do without most of it. They are things that meant a lot and still do, but are only things. My computer holds most of the pictures I value. My children have the important things from their childhood. We raised our children the best we could. I was not a helicopter mother, I was too busy and that came years after. Like Anna, we were trying to raise our children, keep our marriage intact and work at the job we loved. This was after the women's revolution, we were the lucky recipients, but at an early age we felt the sexism inherent in our jobs. Pinched bottoms and all, the bosses were usually all men, and we had to work very hard to get to a level that was satisfactory.
Anna writes in chapters, and they are all significant and meaningful. She begins with "Life in the Fifties'. We were the most liberated of American women, and we knew it. The early years, through our first job and then marriage and children. Then to the era of our 'Solitude', knowing that we can get through one more terrible day. She says:
"We women spend our whole lives going up and down hormonally, being one thing on Wednesday and another on Sunday, feeling bloated and then svelte, juicy and then played out. And our bodies have changed so often during our lifetimes- puberty, pregnancy, menopause, premenstrual, post menstrual, post hysterectomy, sometimes post mastectomy- that having a different body than we had at thirty, comes as less of a surprise to us than it does to many men."
Anna talks about Faith, she was brought up a Catholic, but as time has gone by religion per say has not played as important a part in her life. She began to question why women were not allowed to be Priests, and the topper was the sexual abuse of children by Priests. This resonates with me, it is not that we don't have Faith, we just don't practice it in a church. We give the fundamentals to our children and let them choose what is next.
Retirement was a natural progression of one generation to another says, Anna. But nowadays we are living longer and working longer, and the young are waiting for their chance, for us to leave. Some have to work longer and some want to. And, then we think of our death, and what we want. Most of us want to live longer. It is inevitable, but not quite yet.
Anna Quindlen has written an honest, thoughtful book about life, her life and experiences, but it also mirrors many of our lives. The writing is superb, and I was sorry to see the last sentence, but as Anna says, To Be Continued.
Highly Recommended. prisrob 02-23-12
A Short Guide to a Happy Life
Every Last One: A Novel
on May 6, 2012
Several other reviewers nailed something bothersome or annoying that I couldn't quite pinpoint until I got halfway through this essay collection. Anna Quindlen wants all of us to relate to her -- and there was a time when she was the voice of women of her generation. Yet there's no escaping the obvious fact that she enjoys a life of privilege and accomplishment (not to mention a country house). Her viewpoints are clearly colored and shaped by this fact. I don't have a problem with her well-deserved achievements or privileges; I admire her very much. But she loses me when she tries to make it seem as if her readers are equally privileged buddies chatting in her living room. She left me baffled, too, after the odd Botox discussion.
I related to her more when she and I were busy young mothers ("Living Out Loud" is still my favorite). When I first read about her own mother's early death, I was deeply moved. Of course, this is one of Quindlen's defining stories, but we've all read it several times in her other non-fiction books.
The most interesting essay in this collection was the one about losing her religion. This piece took courage to write, and I imagine she is already taking the heat from devout Catholics. The book is worth a read, especially if you're a Quindlen fan, but it's not her best yet.
on March 19, 2012
I really enjoy this author's work, and have read previous essays and books and left with a somewhat hopeful feeling. I didn't get that one so much with this one. In fact, I found this book a bit melodramatic. The tone was like listening to a friend who you know has it better than you and yet who focuses on what she doesn't have. She might have wealth and a husband that loves her, but she'll focus on one or two things in life she thinks she missing. This book gave me that same feeling, that you want to embrace her and love her and tell her it's going to be all right, but at the same time you can't understand what she is grousing about.
Quindlen is such a talented author, and I have enjoyed many previous works. I actually made a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy this book with excitement, but something in it really lacked. It's hard to pinpoint something other than the "tone" or the lack of an emotional pull, but that's what it comes down to for me.
on July 2, 2012
Quindlen writes a memoir geared to a very limited audience: White, Affluent, Privileged and Successful. She has three children and has been happily married to her first and only husband for many years. She enjoys a home in Manhattan and a spacious country home in Pennsyvlania, where her grown children can bond while walking around the pond on the property. She tells us that on a particular family sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands, she has a glorious insight after a near-drowining incident: She does not want her children burdened with having to care for her. I have had the same insight while I was doing laundry and cleaning toilet bowls - not as romantic and not memoir-worthy, but who among us has not felt that? One Christmas - and by the way - one of the Quindlen traditions is for the while family to take turns reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol - just a little bit too perfect a picture for me - Anna was sad because her son was in Beijing and it would have been the first Christmas she spent without him. You guessed it - her husband flew their son home from Beijing to surprise Anna. Wowee - most of us would be lucky to be able to fly our children from one state to another, no less from one continent to another.
I am not suggesting that one has to have had a hardscrabble life to have anything valuable to offer in terms of insights, but I feel I am being offered pablum here. Anna wants to die either in her bed in New York City or in her bed in Pennsylvania as she looks out the window at the bucolic country scene. That sounds quite lovely - but it has very little relevance to the lives most of us lead. I found nothing to grab onto in this memoir - very little substance - just a lot of perfect cake with perfect frosting to which I could not relate.
I will stick to memoirs like A Glass Castle or The Liars Club - about lives which have very little to do with mine - but lives from which I can be inspired and from which I can learn. The only thing I got out of Quindlen's memoir was that she can now do a handstand after having a personal trainer for over a decade. Most of us are lucky if we can afford a gym membership at Planet Fitness, but goshdarnit - maybe we can all learn to do headstands too and who knows where that will lead us. I think I will spend my time on other pursuits and this is one memoir I will not be rereading to mine for gold. There is only pyrite here.
"I want to be able to walk through the house of my own life until my life is done."
In the concluding chapter of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Quindlen shares this kernel of her truth, her wish, as she wraps up this wonderful memoir about living in these historic times.
Moving from stories of childhood to growing older, the reader can find something that resonates, especially if the reader is someone past a certain age. But even younger individuals can find moments to identify with.
I really enjoyed this excerpt: "My memory, too, has become a strange shape shifter, playing hide and seek with the obvious. I lose a number or a name for fifteen or twenty minutes and then it returns, so indelible that I can't quite understand how it was ever gone. Word retrieval is a bit of a challenge, which would be less important if I didn't have to build a house of sentences almost every day."
And then there is the conversation about motherhood: "We live in a perfection society now, and nowhere has that become more powerful--and more pernicious--than in the phenomenon of manic motherhood. What the child-care guru D. W. Winnicott once called `the ordinary devoted mother' is no longer enough. 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."
And finally, this sums up a good deal of the lifetime of women known as "baby boomers."
"The great hallmark of my life, my generation, my time, has been choice. We've been a wandering breed, we Americans straddling the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, changing jobs, changing homes, changing spouses, religions, political parties. We've had more options than any generation before us, to marry those of different races or religions, to marry those of our own sex, to not marry at all but live together without legal obligation or live without a lifelong partner."
Quindlen's thought-provoking tale definitely pierced my consciousness and reminded me of many of the issues with which I've struggled over the years. And also made me smile as I recognized myself and those I've known in the scenarios described. Recommended reading for women who want to feel the validation that comes from enjoying the words of a kindred spirit. Five stars.
on April 25, 2012
I read this book in two days. Anna Quindlen covers a lot of ground in a mere 182 pages. It could be said that she is still for all intents and purposes a journalist. The writing is honest, straightforward, and dry. There are no secrets. Although she has been described as funny, I didn't see any humor here. But I didn't shed any tears, either. Rather than tell us about her life she, like a good journalist, summarizes the last few decades, showing us how feminism evolved and women's lives changed. She includes her life in the mix but only in a superficial manner. Her three grown children are probably happy with the book--she doesn't provide us with a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of raising three children while pursuing a writing career. If anything, she makes her children sound almost ideal.
In fact, she writes as though she has led a charmed life--good marriage, happy children, and successful career. She admits that perhaps her religious faith has failed to develop as much as the other aspects of her life and she blames this to some degree on the authoritarian Catholic Church in which she was raised. Although she still believes in God, she has ceased believing in life after death. This, to me, is the saddest part of the whole book. Her mother died in her early forties, and she doesn't believe that her mom is enjoying eternal life. In fact, she became quite angry when a guest at her mom's funeral told her that her mom was in a better place. She even writes that perhaps it was more important in days past for people to believe in an afterlife because their lives on earth were often so fraught with "plagues, starvation, and slavery." Where has Anna Quindlen been all these years? Doesn't she know that there are still people who are suffering from malnutrition, who are in pain, who are in slavery? What about natural disasters? And even if one's life has been relatively free of terrible trauma, why wouldn't a person long for communion with a supreme being and complete happiness after life on a very imperfect earth?
I noted that one of the book reviewers wrote that Quindlen made her feel "inadequate" because of Quindlen's extremely busy life--balancing motherhood and career. She asked if volunteering counts. I say that there are countless women whose lives don't resemble Quindlen's. Some have been volunteers. Some have been reluctant members of the work force who'd rather be at home.
There is an upper-class feel to the book. It didn't make me laugh but there was one line that made me smile. She was writing about health and fitness. She stated that she wanted to continue to be capable of taking a case of wine from the deliveryman and carrying it to the kitchen without undue exertion. This, my friends, is not quite the type of memoir for every woman. It is very well-written, but will there be that many women who identify?
There are so many take away quotes from "lots of candles, plenty of cake" that it's hard to choose which ones I connected with the most. Anna Quindlen has such a reassuring, knowing voice that reading these essays is a bit like getting advice from your most level-headed friend. You know she's been where you are, and probably had the same problems you had - but she made it through and is wiser for the journey.
"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 its in a different language, a language we learn over time, the language of experience cut with failure, triumph and tedium."
These essays are filled with wisdom and humor and self reflection - they sound the way I hope to someday. Quindlen still admires and appreciates the amazing time that is youth, but she now looks at it through the eyes of one who has been there, and is seeing it for a second time through the eyes of her children.
"Every once in a while we meet our long-ago selves across a dining table or a desk, when younger women come to ask for advice or interview for a job." "It's so hard to tell them the truth, that there is no formula, there is no plan." "It often seems, looking back, that so many of our plans are honored mainly in the breach, that it is the surprises that define us, the paths we didn't see coming and may have wandered down by mistake."
Towards the end of the book, I found myself a bit weary - although I love her words and agree with pretty much all she has to say, as with any book of essays, there was a bit of repetition. Said in different ways and about different situations, the themes are pretty similar.
But in the end, I took a great deal from this book. It's so nice as a somewhat younger woman than Quindlen to hear from someone who has lived a life similar to mine and appreciates the richness of it at the same time she wholeheartedly acknowledges the crazy aspects of it.
"We live in a perfection society now, and nowhere has that become more powerful - and more pernicious - than in the phenomenon of manic motherhood...the overscheduled 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."
Maybe not QUITE that crazy? But a-men!
on May 6, 2012
My copy arrived last Wednesday and I dove right into it. In some ways it resonated with me. This is a woman about my age with whom I share a cultural history. We came of age when the second feminist movement was being born and we have lived with the confusions of that time. As she so nicely put it, "We were the heiresses to a woman's movement that had broken the world wide open. But we were completely making it up as we went along, at work, at home, in our own minds, trying to be both our mothers and our fathers simultaneously. That wasn't easy." From where I sit now in life, I know that struggle. I am happy, however, to have had the benefit of a changing culture and it all seems so normal now.
The book is really a collection of essays, each of which could stand on its own, about what it means to be in the second half of life. Quindlen tackles many of the expected issues: marriage, girlfriends, acquisition of stuff, bodies, parenting, changing perspectives, and more. Although I admire her writing style, I found the book somewhat disappointing. For one thing, it seemed repetitious. It dragged at places and it seemed as if she was putting words on the page just to add to the page number. The second criticism is my own bias but Quindlen is a woman of privilege. She was raised in a wealthy family and she is a woman of personal wealth now. I have a tough time relating to her life of relative ease. Additionally, Quindlen is a reporter and her book reads like a newspaper article. It lacks humanity and warmth and that actually surprised me.
One word review: Meh
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, is a wonderful memoir about the author, Anna Quindlen's life. Written as a series of short essays, it's just over 180 pages, but full of so much wisdom which comes from life experience.
The author reflects on her childhood, young adulthood, the middle years as a working parent of three, and her life now, as she approached her 60th birthday. Quindlen, claims to still feel like 40," even though the body might have shifted a bit." She covers such topics as marriage, advice for young people about the the things that really matter the most in life, raising children, careers, aging parents, being raised Catholic, and faith in general. Her observations about the lives of women in the 50-60 year-old age group, are dead-on-accurate.
Being born in the same year as Quindlen, so much of what she had to say about her life resonated with me as well.
"We were the first generation of women who are intimately involved in the lives of our children and in the lives of our parents while trying to hold down jobs outside the home at the same time. Someone even came up with a name for this: the sandwich generation...."
"When I was young I was loath to admit that I liked being alone, but not anymore. By the time you've lived for fifty or sixty years, you are better armored to embrace the things about yourself that are true, even if the you think the world sees them as odd, eccentric....."
"What a time we've live through so revolutionary that the list could go on and on: the Pill, the heart transplant, the moon landings, cell phones, cable television, computer communication,.....and as Quindlen's father said..."I'm glad I lived long enough to see the Phillies win a World Series and a black man elected President." [ for me, it's seeing the Boston Red Sox win 2 World Series]
"I am a liberal because......as I said often, much to the consternation of friends of other faiths who have come to see Catholicism as narrow, conservative, and antediluvian, I am a liberal because I was raised Catholic. In a typically thoughtful and searching speech he gave at Notre Dame, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, the most intellectual of non-clerical Catholics referred to practicing the work of Christ in our life, 'I practice it especially where the love is most needed, among the poor and weak and the dispossessed.' That's the lesson I took away from the New Testament, the requirement that if you had two cloaks you should give one to the person who had none that you love your neighbor as yourself. It's a lesson that never left me."
For such a short book, I spent an entire week reading, rereading and reflecting on what the author wrote. Her story made me appreciate, so much more, being born in a decade that was followed by so many positive changes and choices, especially for women.
This book would make a perfect birthday or Mother's Day gift for the "baby boomer" woman in your life. In my opinion, this is the targeted age group that will enjoy this book the most.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - LOVED IT!