BY GRACE MCQUADE
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen has written 20 books that have spanned the genres of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, and covered topics that have ranged from life and love, to parenthood and perfectionism, to work and women’s rights.
Her warm and witty perspectives on marriage, motherhood and middle age in bestsellers, including “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” and “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” have resonated with countless readers, and her semi-autobiographical novel, “One True Thing,” was adapted into a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger.
Quindlen now delves into another subject near and dear to many hearts in “Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting” (Random House; April 23).
She will kick off the book’s launch with a Long Island LitFest event on Monday, April 22, 7:30 p.m., at Port Washington’s Landmark on Main Street, where she will be in conversation with fellow bestselling author Judy Blundell.
Quindlen took some time to answer a few questions for us in advance of her appearance, namely what inspired her new book.
“I keep thinking I should give an intelligent and thoughtful answer to this question, discuss how there are more grandparents in America today than at any time in our history and how the entire terrain has changed,” Quindlen said. “That’s true, and it’s worth exploring, but it’s not why I wrote the book. I had a grandson. It was aces. I knew a lot of other women felt the same.”
While Quindlen’s book focuses on her first-time grandparenting experiences, as of its publication, she is now a grandmother of two, 3-year-old Arthur and 2-month-old Ivy, giving her further insights into what is different about being a nana, a designation that happens to be an anagram of her first name.
“Someone told me that grandparenting is what is called a mediated relationship,” Quindlen said. “In other words, you have to go through someone else to get to it. One of the ways in which being a nana is different from being a mother is that Arthur and Ivy’s parents are the ones who are actually in charge. I play by their rules, but boy, do I play.”
The times have also changed. Quindlen went on to say that there’s “a big difference from my own grandparents’ day, which was more of the seen-and-not-heard era. There wasn’t a whole lot of playing with us. The grown-ups sat in the living room and drank Manhattans and talked. The kids went out back and chased each other around.”
These days, children now have the center seats at the table, so to speak, and grandparents are involved more than ever when there are two working parents, which led Quindlen to create a special zone called “Nanaville,” the title of her book.
“Originally, it was the Nanaville Correctional Institution, and Arthur was inmate 000000001,” Quindlen admitted. “That was when he was handed off and carried away by me and I tried to get him to sleep at night. I was the warden. But very quickly Nanaville simply became where Arthur and I hung out together. Now it’s a state of mind, when I am full Nana.”
For someone who has made writing books her life’s work, this shared universe of course includes story time.
“Bedtime has as much to do with my work as a mother as with my work as a writer,” Quindlen said. “A lot of the books Arthur has read to him are books I read to my kids. Some of them are the actual handed-down copies. ‘Babar.’ ‘Frog and Toad.’ Iterations of Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak.”
Grandparenting has led the prolific author to discover the wonders in even more children’s books.
“‘Llama Llama’ wasn’t on the scene when my kids were small,” she said. “Arthur has a book called ‘You Were the First,’ which is about a first child who has a sibling. I was afraid he was going to think Nana was a little crazy because I got halfway through it and started to cry, perhaps in part because I’m a first child. But Arthur’s father said he lost it, too, when he read it, and that made me feel better.”
Arthur’s father is Quindlen’s son Quin. In her book, she shares a poignant moment when she asks Quin what surprised him most about being a parent for the first time.
“He could have talked about how overwhelming it was, how little sleep he was getting, the inexorability of the responsibility,” Quindlen said. “Instead, he talked about the depth of love he felt. That’s what you hope will happen.”
“One of the best parts of being a nana for me has been watching my son be such an excellent parent and partner,” she added. “His wife just told me that she is moving in with me for 24 hours next week because Quin wants to see how handling two on his own feels.”
Quindlen predicted it would be “wild and crazy.”
“He’s full-on father,” she said, “and I find it absolutely thrilling. There are few moments in your life as a mother when you think, yes, I did a good job. This is one of them.”
As for advice for other first-time grandparents, Quindlen said that an exchange with a friend remains clear and the basis for many of the “lessons learned” in her book.
“The light bulb moment in this book is clearly when my friend Susan poses the question, ‘Did they ask you?’ I think all grandparents should keep that top of mind,” she said. “If your grandchildren’s parents ask for your advice or insight, offer it in a non-judgmental fashion. If they don’t, keep your mouth shut. And, by the way, how did all of us, who were so at sixes and sevens raising our own kids, suddenly become authorities on everything from bedtime to breastfeeding? It’s one of life’s great mysteries.”
It is Quindlen’s everywoman experiences and understanding of the mutual roles and unwritten rules in relationships that have endeared her to so many readers over the years.
“I actually think my ace in the hole as a writer has been that I’m not a bit unique,” she said. “I’m really typical in most ways that count. It’s pretty commonplace for some nice women to come up to me at an event and say, ‘I feel as though you are writing about my life.’ I’m confident that a lot of women will see themselves in this book.”
For tickets to Quindlen’s upcoming event, go to www.landmarkonmainstreet.com. All seats are $35 and include a copy of “Nanaville,” provided by the Dolphin Bookshop.