Anna Quindlen on What She’s Reading (and What Drives Her Nuts on Downton Abbey)

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You might call Ann Quindlen a trendsetter.

Before countless bloggers started chronicling their lives online, she was keeping up a steady stream of writing about life, home, and family – blended with opinions on cultural and political trends – in “Public and Private,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning column in The New York Times. Long before Buzzfeed began feeding us daily listicles on every subject imaginable, Quindlen was publishing her own top-10s (such as “10 Mystery Novels I’d Most Like to Find in a Summer Rental”) in How Reading Changed My Life. And since before social media ever existed, she has made a habit of noticing how people stay connected (and don’t) in relationships.

Quindlen has packed her new novel – her 7th, Still Life With Bread Crumbs, published last week – with the generational observations for which she has become known. As in her last book, the essay collection Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, her latest addresses the theme of aging, this time in fiction. Its protagonist is Rebecca Winter, a onetime famous photographer now low on funds and confidence, who leaves Manhattan and takes a rental home in the middle of mountainous nowhere in order to figure out the next chapter in her life.

In anticipation of her visit to Nashville as part of the Salon615 series on Wednesday, February 5, Quindlen sat down for a dozen-question lightning round with our editor, Mary Laura Philpott.

1. Last book you read on your iPad:
Saints of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin

2. Two books that are on your nightstand:
Someone, by Alice McDermott, and Andrew’s Brain, by E.L.Doctorow

3. Books you’d recommend most to someone at various decades of adulthood:  
20s – The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
30s – The Cazalet Chronicles, Elizabeth Jane Howard
40s – Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
50s – The Camomile Lawn, Mary Wesley
Any age – Bleak House, by a guy named Chuck

Photo by Maria Krovatin4. Oh, I loved Life After Life! What in life are you happiest to have behind you?
Oh my God, adolescence, when I thought the diameter of my thighs was an actual real-life problem. And, by the way, the diameter of my thighs at the time was excellent.

5. What are you most looking forward to?
Grandchildren. Easy answer.

6. First section you gravitate to in a bookstore:
Literary fiction, new releases. So predictable. Then mysteries.

 

7. Best reason you’d give someone who doesn’t read poetry to start:
Yeats

8. To touch on a question Rebecca struggles with in Still Life With Bread Crumbs: What do you think is the greatest challenge to those in creative fields – art, writing, music – to staying professionally relevant?
If you can put the question of money aside – a stretch, I admit – being professionally relevant is seriously overrated. Being professionally relevant seems to consist largely of being written about by people who don’t understand what you’re doing, or want to be doing it themselves so are shirty about you. I think if you can look at your own work and say to yourself, self, that is good work, you’re on the right track.

9. Rebecca’s most famous photo was an image of her kitchen counter after a party. If someone took a photo of your kitchen counter today, what would be in the picture?
The empty takeout containers from the Thai food Quin and I had at lunch. Three different bottles of olive oil. A Lavazza espresso maker. A bowl of apples. A bowl of onions. A ceramic container shaped like an eggplant filled with chopsticks. “Still Life With Coffee Machine.”

10. What topic is most overplayed in the media right now?
The Kardashian family.

11. Let’s say you have an hour to kill, and there are no books available – just a TV, but with only four channels to choose from. Which do you watch?
a) Downtown Abbey
b) CNN
c) The first hour of Bridesmaids
d) Discovery Channel documentary about porpoises
I put on Downton Abbey, but when Lady Mary starts one of her patented tight-lipped bitch fests or Lord Grantham begins to discuss how much money the estate is losing, I switch to Bridesmaids for a few minutes, then head back to see if Edith can make this cockamamie marriage deal work.

12. True or false: Anna Quindlen gets her 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
True if we consider salsa and the raspberries in Graeter’s Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream under the heading. (Bonus points for the caffeine in the chocolate chips, which studies have linked to enhanced cognition!)

MLP: Thank you for your time!
AQ: Thanks so much – this was fun. And I don’t say that lightly.

Anna Quindlen is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of such books as Rise and Shine, Blessings, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. She speaks Wednesday, February 5, at Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University as part of the Salon@615 series, partnership among the Nashville Public LibraryParnassus BooksNashville Public Library Foundation, and Humanities Tennessee

The author talk begins at 6:15 p.m., with a book signing to follow. This is a ticketed event. A limited number of advance tickets are available online for a $2.50 service fee per ticket. Advance tickets guarantee your seat up to 10 minutes prior to show time, at which time empty auditorium seats will be filled with stand-by guests. (A limited number of extra tickets will be available onsite. We recommend you arrive early for the onsite ticket line.) 

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A version of this article also ran in the February 3, 2014, edition of The Tennessean.

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