The Wonders of Friendship, Aging, and Headstands: Anna Quindlen's Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is an insightful, funny, and poignant memoir that you will most certainly re-read again and again. Much like she did with her popular column, “Life In the 30’s,” Quindlen writes invitingly about everyday life, though the focus is now on life in the 50s and 60s, and the aging baby-boomer generation of which she is a part. What’s wonderful about Quindlen’s writing is that she manages to be universally relatable, even when speaking of a very specific set of experiences. A major theme of these essays is, naturally, aging, as Quindlen is now in her late 50s, and I appreciated the different approaches she took throughout the book.
Chapters like “The Little Stories We Tell Ourselves” and “Older” are humorous, but also thoughtful. “Little Stories” recounts the joy Quindlen gets out of being able to stand on her head, or do a one-armed push up: things she always told herself she couldn’t do, especially at the age of 58. An amusing, lighthearted chapter, but also one that carried a striking message about pushing yourself to excel, no matter what the limitations. “Older” speaks of how relative the term “old” really is. What is old? Is it a creaky hip, or hot flashes? Or is it just a feeling, something that recedes into the future as you grow? Again, the chapter seems, on the surface, very directed toward Quindlen’s generation, but in spite of being part of a significantly younger generation, I found myself smiling in acknowledgment every few instances, and reflecting on the chapter later in the day.
Perhaps my favorite chapter was “Girlfriends,” which speaks of the importance of girlfriends in a woman’s life, especially as she grows older. Quindlen writes: “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, or, more important, her months and years … She will mention her girlfriends.”
Yes, woven into the chapter are mentions of babysitters, sons who bring home girlfriends, and household chores. But the sentiment is applicable to a woman in any stage of life. After all, what did I do after I read that chapter? I put down Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and called up a girlfriend. What did we talk about? As Quindlen says, “Who knows? Who cares … What would I do without her?”