Monday, May 7, 2012

"Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake"

I was fortunate to be in the audience for the Chicago Tribune’s sold out Printers Row Live event on Friday evening, a conversation with author Anna Quindlen.  

Her new book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, is a thoroughly enjoyable reflection as she reaches a milestone birthday this summer: sixty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a fan of Quindlen’s for many years, and not just because we share a birthday. Her writings have spoken to a generation of women whose lives were defined by choices our mothers never enjoyed: choices that complicated as well as simplified our lives.

In her latest book, Quindlen takes time to pause, to look at where she’s come from and where she’s going. Her conversational tone – reminiscent of those times with friends when we dissect our lives and solve the problems of the world – makes this a quick, but thoughtful read.

She addresses many of her trademark topics: women in the workplace, parenting, growing up Catholic, marriage. But, cognizant of moving from what one author called ‘moving from middle age to Renaissance’, she considers her future, and what aging means to a generation of women who are living decades longer than their parents.

The parts of her book that resonated the most with me right now were those that addressed aging and friendships.

“One of the most important parts of tending our friendships is working our way, 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 funeral homes…On the one side are the difficult and demanding events to come, the losses, the illnesses, the deaths. You can see them out on the horizon like a great wave, its whitecaps approaching. But on the other hand is a levee that protects us, that of the women we can call anytime, day or night, to say, ‘I’m drowning here.’”

Her observations on aging – not just the physical changes – will probably resonate with you, no matter your age:

            “The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you.”

You know how it is: friends from the old neighborhood, from high school, from college or your first job. They remember things…they remember you, and who you were at a particular time in your life. The longer the friendship, the more “you’s” they remember.

            “And then one of them is gone, and you’ve lost a chunk of yourself.”

Deep into her book, Quindlen quotes memoirist Carolyn Heilbrun.

“Since we do not wish to die, surely we must have wished to grow old.” – The Last Gift of Time

I thought that was a great way to describe a lot of us Baby Boomers. We have believed most of our lives that we are the first generation to experience…almost everything. Now unable to deny that we are no longer young, we are forced – kicking and screaming, it seems – to admit we are getting older. In spite of our best efforts, we are not immortal.

There’s no doubt that we Boomers are unwilling to accept a traditional, sedentary old age. We are determined, as always, to reinvent every stage of our lives.

We can’t put off the inevitable, at least not forever. But we can enrich our lives now – no matter how old we are – by treasuring and nurturing and enjoying our friendships.

If you’re a woman of a certain age – or even if you just want to understand women of a certain age – you’ll enjoy Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

And be sure to share your cake with friends.

Check out Anna Quindlen to order this or any of her other books, and learn more about upcoming appearance.


injaynesworld said...

Visiting from She Writes. What an interesting review. I've downloaded a sample of this book to my Nook, but hadn't decided whether to purchase it or not, but now I think I will. Never have I valued my friendships more than as I get older. Thanks for writing this. You make some very good points about we boomer gals. I want to be Betty White when I "grow up." ;)

Friend Grief said...

Thanks for the lovely comments! I really identified with a lot of the book; not all, of course, but the themes I mentioned definitely resonated. I met her at the reception before her talk, and she's just as gracious and funny as her writing. And she has great taste in shoes. ;)

Francis said...

Thanks for the great review. I am glad that someone can write about growing old instead of just ignoring it the way I do. I too will probably have to grow up when I am Betty White's age. I see that the audio version of the book is being reviewed by Elaine Charles on her radio show "The Book Report" on mothers day. I will then decide if I want to listen to or read the book. You can check the show out at