Book Discussion – February 2018

Date/Time: Monday, February 5, 7:00 pm
Reading Selection: Still Life With Breadcrumbs (2014)
by Anna Quindlen

A superb love story from Anna Quindlen, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Rise and Shine, Blessings, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined. [Source:  Amazon Books.  Accessed 01-16-2018.]

An excerpt from Still Life with Bread Crumbs:

A few minutes after two in the morning Rebecca Winter woke to the sound of a gunshot and sat up in bed.

Well, to be completely accurate, she had no idea what time it was. When she had moved into the ramshackle cottage in a hollow halfway up the mountain, it had taken her two days to realize that there was a worrisome soft spot in the kitchen floor, a loose step out to the backyard, and not one electrical outlet in the entire bedroom. She stood, turning in a circle, her old alarm clock in her hand trailing its useless tail of a cord, as though, like some magic spell, a few rotations and some muttered curses would lead to a place to plug it in. Like much of what constituted Rebecca’s life at that moment, the clock had been with her far past the time when it was current or useful.

Later she would wonder why she had never owned one of those glow-in-the-dark battery-operated digital clocks, the ones available so cheaply at the Walmart squatting aggressively just off the highway a half hour north of town. But that was later.

As for the gunshot: Rebecca Winter had no idea what a gunshot actually sounded like. She had grown up almost entirely in New York City, on the west side of Manhattan, with vacations on the shores of Long Island and the occasional foray to Provence or Tuscany. These were the usual vacations of the people she knew. Everyone always talked about how marvelous those places were, how beautiful the beaches, how splendid the vineyards. Marvelous, they said, rolling the word around in their mouths the way her husband, Peter, did with that first tasting of wine, pretending he knew more about it than he did, occasionally sending a bottle back to make a point.

But for her family, which she had felt when she was a child hardly deserved the name, being composed of only … (Continue)

Editorial Reviews:

“There comes a moment in every novelist’s career when she . . . ventures into new territory, breaking free into a marriage of tone and style, of plot and characterization, that’s utterly her own. Anna Quindlen’s marvelous romantic comedy of manners is just such a book. . . . Taken as a whole, Quindlen’s writings represent a generous and moving interrogation of women’s experience across the lines of class and race. [Still Life with Bread Crumbs] proves all the more moving because of its light, sophisticated humor. Quindlen’s least overtly political novel, it packs perhaps the most serious punch. . . . Quindlen has delivered a novel that will have staying power all its own.”The New York Times Book Review (Read more …)

“A photographer retreats to a rustic cottage, where she confronts aging and flagging career prospects.

Rebecca Winter is known for her Kitchen Counter series, black-and-white photographs capturing domestic minutia, taken as her marriage to a philandering Englishman is foundering on the shoals of mistaken assumptions. But, as her laconic and un-nurturing agent, TG, never fails to remind her, what has she done lately? Her photo royalties are in precipitous decline. Divorced, living in a high-priced Manhattan apartment, Rebecca, 60, finds herself unmoored. Her filmmaker son, Ben, still requires checks from Mom. Her mother, Bebe, is in the Jewish Home for the Aged and Infirm, where she spends her days playing piano pieces on any available surface, except an actual piano. Since the collapse of the family business, Rebecca has supported both her parents and now pays Bebe’s nursing home bills. She figures that it will be cheaper to sublet her apartment and rent a ramshackle woodland cabin upstate than to continue to ape the NYC lifestyle of her formerly successful self. She meets the usual eccentrics who people so many fictional small towns, although in Quindlen’s hands, these archetypes are convincingly corporeal. Sarah runs the English-themed Tea for Two cafe, not exactly to the taste of most locals. Until Rebecca came to town, Sarah’s only regular was Tad, ex–boy soprano, now working clown. Sarah’s ne’er-do-well husband, Kevin, sells Rebecca subpar firewood and is admonished by Jim, an upstanding local hero. After helping Rebecca remove a marauding raccoon, Jim helps her find work photographing wild birds. Like Rebecca, Jim is divorced and has onerous family responsibilities, in his case, his bipolar sister who requires constant surveillance. As Rebecca interacts with these townsfolk—and embarks on a new photo series—she begins to understand how provisional her former life—and self—really was.

Occasionally profound, always engaging, but marred by a formulaic resolution in which rewards and punishments are meted out according to who ranks highest on the niceness scale.”Kirkus Reviews

“[Anna] Quindlen’s seventh novel offers the literary equivalent of comfort food. . . . She still has her finger firmly planted on the pulse of her generation.”—National Public Radio (Read more)

“Quindlen has made a home at the top of the bestsellers lists with novels that capture the grace and frailty of everyday life, and her latest work is sure to take her there again. With spare, elegant prose, she crafts a poignant glimpse into the inner life of an aging woman who discovers that reality contains much more color than her own celebrated black-and-white images.

Photographer Rebecca Winter was once famed worldwide for images like Still Life with Bread Crumbs, for which she is best known. But now her success has faded, as has her income, and she’s sublet her big-city apartment and moved to a cabin in the woods. A need for home repairs leads her to roofer Jim Bates, and by the novel’s closing pages she has love, a new view of the world, and a shiny tin roof. Upbeat romance from the socially astute Quindlen; with an eight-city tour to New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Miami, Kansas City (MO), Minneapolis, Seattle, and San Francisco.”Library Journal

Rebecca Winter was once a famous photographer, and, with any luck, she will be again. Having achieved surprising early success with her feminist “Kitchen Counter” collection, Rebecca, now 60, finds herself on fame and fortune’s flip side. With her former torrent of royalties dwindling to a trickle, Rebecca has been forced to give up her perfect Manhattan apartment for a paltry upstate cabin, and with marauding raccoons, stray dogs, and trigger-happy hunters, life in the country is proving to be no walk in Central Park. Luckily, Rebecca still has her camera, and she soon finds inspiration for new work in unexpected places, often in the company of a bird-watching roofer named Jim, whose quiet companionship proves to be just the balm she needs to fully embrace her unfamiliar surroundings. A Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist and star in the pantheon of domestic fiction (Every Last One, 2010), Quindlen presents instantly recognizable characters who may be appealingly warm and nonthreatening, but that only serves to drive home her potent message that it’s never too late to embrace life’s second chances.  … HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Quindlen will hit the road with her latest novel, backed by a mammoth media promotional campaign. –Carol Haggas –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.  — Booklist

Criticism

Writing in The New Republic, critic Lee Siegel cited Quindlen as an example of the “monsters of empathy” who “self subjugate and domesticate and assimilate every distant tragedy.” He coined the term “The Quindlen Effect” to describe this phenomenon and suggested that it began with her Times column of December 13, 1992, in which Quindlen assailed the four alleged perpetrators of the Glen Ridge rape. “True to her niche,” Siegel wrote, “Quindlen attacked with scathing indignation actions that no sane Times reader would ever defend.”

Biography

Anna Marie Quindlen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 8, 1952. She is an American author, journalist, and opinion columnist. She graduated from Barnard College in 1974, lives in New York, and is married to prominent New Jersey attorney Gerald Krovatin. Their sons Quindlen Krovatin and Christopher Krovatin are both published authors, and daughter Maria is an actress, comedian and writer.

Journalism Career

Quindlen began her journalism career in 1974 as a reporter for the New York Post where she spent three years. She went to The New York Times in 1977 as a general assignment reporter. She went on to write the “About New York” column, serve as deputy metropolitan editor, and create the weekly column “Life in the 30’s.” Between 1977 and 1994 she held several posts at The New York Times. In 1990, Quindlen became only the third woman in The New York Times’ history to write for its influential op-ed page when she began the nationally syndicated column “Public and Private.” In 1992, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for the column.

A collection of those columns, “Thinking Out Loud,” was published by Random House in 1993 and was on The New York Times best-seller list for more than three months. Her New York Times column, “Public and Private”, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992. Quindlen left The New York Times in 1995 to become a full-time novelist.

Keeping a foot in journalism, however, she joined Newsweek in 1999, writing the bi-weekly column, “Last Word,” from 2000 to 2009 for Newsweek Magazine. Those columns were collected in her book, “Loud and Clear” (2004). Quindlen announced her semi-retirement in the May 18, 2009 issue of the magazine. Her Newsweek articles are available in her book, “Thinking Out Loud,” or they can be read online at the Web Archive,  WayBack Machine or at the Newsweek Archives.

Quindlen is known as a critic of what she perceives to be the fast-paced and increasingly materialistic nature of modern American life. Quindlen served on Barnard College’s Board of Trustees for more than two decades, including seven years as chair from 2003 to 2010. Now chair emerita, she received the college’s Distinguished Alumna Award in 1994. In 2014, Barnard established the Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence position in her honor.

[Biographical material drawn from multiple sources:  theSOURCE, Washington University in St. Louis, April 4, 2017; Wikipedia; and AnnaQuindlen.]

Bibliography

Nonfiction

Selected Commentaries

  • “A Quilt of a Country: Out of Many, One? for the Most Pluralistic Nation on Earth, It’s the Ideal-And the Reality”
    Essay written on September 27, 2001, for Newsweek Magazine following the 9-11 disaster.
    [Source: Highbeam Research. Accessed: January 22, 2018.]
  • “Public & Private; The Unworthy”
    Essay on the homeless written for the New York Times Opinion Section on December 16, 1993.
    [Source: The New York Times Archives. Accessed January 22, 2018.]

Books

  • Living Out Loud (1988)
  • Thinking Out Loud (1994)
  • How Reading Changed My Life (1998)
  • A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000)
  • Loud and Clear (2004)
  • Imagined London (2004)
  • Being Perfect (2005)
  • Good Dog. Stay. (2007)
  • Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (2012)

Novels

  • Object Lessons (1991)
  • One True Thing (1994)
  • Black and Blue (1998)
  • Blessings (2002)
  • Rise and Shine (2006)
  • Every Last One: A Novel (2010)
  • Still Life with Bread Crumbs (2013)
  • Miller’s Valley (2016)
  • Alternate Side: A Novel (2018)

Children’s Boooks

  • The Tree That Came To Stay (Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter) (1992)
  • Happily Ever After (Illustrated by James Stevenson) (1997)

Industry Awards

1992 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary
2001 Mothers At Home Media Award
2001 Clarion Award for Best Regular Opinion Column in a magazine
2002 Clarion Award for Best Opinion Column from the Association for Women in Communications

Other Resources

Anna Quindlen has her own website at: AnnaQuindlen

Visit Amazon’s Anna Quindlen Page.

Visit Goodreads Anna Quindlen Page. [NOTE: Anna Quindlen is not a Goodreads Author at this time. However, Goodreads does import recent posts from her blog feed.]

 


 

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