Saturday, May 26, 2012

Anna Quindlen at Sixty

Serendipity. That magical moment when life puts you in the right place at the right time. For me it was yesterday, knowing full well that I'd have to spend pretty much the entire day waiting around airports, waiting in planes for takeoff or waiting in  lines to get into planes for takeoff. I never mind these kinds of days. Why? Because I read!

I had just downloaded a new book from NetGalley to my Nook and couldn't wait to jump in. I've been following Anna Quindlen since she was writing about her babies and the everyday life of a working mom. Those babies are adults now and I still love Ms. Quindlen more than ever. Imagine how thrilled I was to receive an email from my alma mater, Russell Sage College, apprising me that graduation would be webcast for everyone to see whenever they got around to it. Guest speaker and Doctor of Humanities recipient? You know it. Anna Quindlen.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, came to me at a most propitious time. I was leaving Massachusetts where I'd just come up against my own mortality. My annual trip to visit with my Aunt Jackie, my dad's sister and a second mother to me all my life, had me in a reflective mood. At 87 Jackie is still beautiful, pink, unwrinkled skin (how in hell did she do that?), with a quick, a little bit snarky, mind. She's a reader and a sports nut, but she can't get around very well. The inevitable day when she'll no longer be able to do everything for herself is fast approaching. It's hard not to fast forward 20-some years and see myself.

Which brings me back to Ms. Quindlen and her fantastic book about her life so far, about aging, about staying strong, about faith or the loss thereof, about friendships, the ones that come and go and the ones that last forever, about marriage, divorce, widowhood, illness, and all of the other things that life throws at you. In other words, about life in all its glory. She can be laugh-out-loud funny one minute and deadly serious that next. I love her politics so I guess you know how far left of center she is. I love her spunk, her brains, and her intimate knowledge of herself. I love her fearlessness.

I know that many of you have read or are familiar with most of Anna Quindlen's novels but are you aware that she's also a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, that she broke a glass ceiling somewhere in the newspaper world around 1978? Do you remember Black and Blue or the movie fashioned from the pain of One True Thing? It wasn't until yesterday that I came to understand that the Renee Zelwegger character was actually our author and that she had to put her college life on hold to nurse her mother through the final days of a deadly cancer.

I'm not sure how Lots of Candles will resonate with younger women but I hope that it does. There are so many life lessons here but even better, Quindlen posits questions that leave those lessons open for discussion. There's a heartfelt appreciation for the young and the realization that maybe they have learned and understood what our generation of women has fought for, just as we understand now how much our mothers sacrificed for us. Before Anna's mother had baby after baby, she was a draftsman. How about that? Mine taught Latin. Yikes! Imagine what kind of a brain that takes!

I could go on and on raving about this book which I read in one day between Hartford and Fort Myers but that would be stealing its thunder. I want you to go out and delve into it for yourselves. Then you can go to this website  (fast forward to her part if you can) to hear Anna Quindlen tell the Russell Sage graduates to throw out all the advice they get from those like us and make their own way. Courage and fearlessness, into the brink. It took me a heck of a long time to embrace those words but at 63, by george I think I've got it!

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