Anna Quindlen has her “Cake” and eats it too

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Credit: Joyce Ravid

Anna Quindlen is no stranger to sharing the details of her life with millions of followers — her New York Times column, “Life in the 30s,” was a hit with readers for its three-year run. Her memoir, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” provided Quindlen another opportunity to invite readers into her perfectly imperfect life. Not one to shy away from the industry’s new technologies, the author fielded questions from us via her iPad while in LA for her book tour.

When did you know the time was right to write a memoir?
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to write a memoir as that I wanted to write about how growing older has changed during my lifetime. It became clear to me that the best way to illuminate the ways we live now was to mine my own life for material.

Did you approach this the same way you did your other nonfiction works? Do you approach fiction differently?
I approach almost all my writing in the same basic fashion. I spend as much time as I can reading and reporting, and finally thinking deeply about the subject and the themes that interest me. I obviously don’t do the reporting when I’m writing a novel, but the months of constant mulling are certainly a big part of the process.

What surprised you about writing a memoir?
For three years I wrote a column in the New York Times that basically took place in my kitchen, so there’s very little about intensely personal and sometimes revelatory writing that I don’t already know. No surprises, except that telling stories about yourself is like riding a bicycle — the knack comes right back as soon as you’re sitting down and pedaling.

Were you ever nervous or apprehensive to reveal such private details about hard subjects, like when you gave up drinking, for example?
I’ve had to learn over the years what can go into print, and what is too much information, perhaps not for the reader but for friends and family. When I had a finished manuscript of “Candles” I gave it to my husband and three children, who had absolute veto rights. No one exercised them, I suspect because I had already been pretty sensitive about what not to include. Certainly discussing the fact that I stopped drinking 24 years ago was a bit of a leap for me. But I thought it might be helpful for other women who have had issues with alcohol.

What is the best compliment someone could give you as a writer?
There are two. Sometimes a conservative will say to me about my political columns, “I don’t agree with your politics, but you always make me think about things in a different way.” hat’s huge for me; preaching to the choir is one thing, but engaging with those who are not on the same page feels like a real accomplishment, especially in our divided and divisive society. The other thing is that women will sometimes tell me that they feel as though I’m telling the story of their lives.

If you go:

Anna Quindlen in conversation with Lauren Graham
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Union Square
33 E. 17th St., 212-253-0810


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