Still Life With Bread Crumbs

9781400065752_p0_v3_s260x420Anne Quindlen’s Still Life With Bread Crumbs is a fast read with a slow impact that lingers.  Her heroine is a sixty year old photographer with a stalled career who finds a new lease on life and love in a romantic comedy with a happy ending.

After renting a broken-down country house two hours away from the exclusive Manhattan apartment that she can no longer afford, Rebecca Winter inadvertently discovers new inspiration for her work in a dog, a roofer, and a series of roadside memorials mysteriously scattered throughout the woods around her cabin.  As Rebecca progresses through her self-actualization, the story includes romance and satisfaction in her new life and those around her – and the promise that life always has surprises no matter how old you are – some good, some not.  I always look forward to Quindlen’s witty tales, and this one did not disappoint.

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Imagined London by Anna Quindlen

9780792265610Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London – “A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City –  will vicariously lead you through familiar landmarks, and maybe introduce you to a few new sites from the pages of well-known authors.  Waiting patiently for Quindlen’s latest book from my library wait list (Still Life with Bread Crumbs), I found this nonfiction guide to London – actually Quindlen’s long essay on her own introduction to the city.

Of course, Quindlen dedicates a chapter to the narrow alleys of Dickens’ novels, as well as the author’s house; John Galsworthy also merits a chapter – motivating me to find The Forsythe Saga. Other famous authors appear – Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, mystery writer Martha Grimes.  Quindlen has repetitive references to some of her favorite books:  Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister as well as Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love (another book I plan to find).

Although she never mentioned books from two of my favorite authors – Jane Gardam and Fay Weldon – she did reference one I had not thought about in a long time – Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber.  Like Quindlen, I remember reading this banned book under a brown cover (we both went to Catholic school) that probably would not be as shocking today as it was then.  I will have to find an old copy to reread and decide.

With references to British history – kings, great fire, wars – and a chapter on the inconsistency of language and idiosyncratic phrasing, Quindlen’s book has her easy conversational style, and is an enjoyable foray into travel writing.  If you are a writer or a lover of British authors, as I am, you may find a special affinity in its pages.  I plan to reread it before I visit London again.

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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Memoirs are not my favorite genre and the last time I read Anna Quindlen, she scared me away with the desolation of her novel,  Every Last One, but a good friend suggested that I read Quindlen’s memoir – Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

Not willing to wait out the long library reserve list, I escaped to a Barnes and Noble to nurse a double espresso while reading the red covered book with a flap that boasted “You wouldn’t believe how cheaply I can do a kitchen renovation” – sounded promising.
So, Anna became my morning coffee companion.

As she chatted about friends, school, religion, and children, I realized we have a lot in common. I squirted coffee out my nose laughing at her wanting to lick the brownie bowl without sharing with her small children. (One of my first published pieces was about licking the cake batter bowl.) Although I admired her handstands and one-arm pushups, she did not inspire me to do the same, but her admonition to “drive out fear” is advice worth keeping. When was the last time you did not try something because you were afraid of the outcome?

After a while, I took Anna home with me and discovered her mother had made her pepper-onion-egg sandwiches just as mine had for me. I listened intently as her life changed when her mother became ill when Anna was 19, and suddenly realized the significance of her theme of loss in most of her novels.

Quindlen’s memories have a universality that will resonate with anyone who appreciates “the examined life,” but I made an unexpected connection – just as my friend suggested I would. As for that kitchen renovation, she took the words right out of my mouth…

A safety net of small white lies can be the bedrock of a successful marriage.

Book Review: Every Last One