I became addicted to Anna Quindlen decades ago. She was my main reason for subscribing to Newsweek and, later, what I looked forward to most in The New York Times. As a fledgling journalist, wife and mother, I admired her crisp, pointed, touching, information-packed columns and commentary. And, unlike childhood idol Brenda Starr, she was a real person. With a family. And a Pulitzer Prize.
So I jumped at the chance when our wonderful local, independent Northshire Bookstore announced that Quindlen would be coming June 7 to Saratoga Springs. Good thing I did; they sold out Skidmore College’s Palamountain Hall.
In a very sweet introduction, Rachel Person, Northshire’s event manager, talked about how her mother would share Quindlen’s columns with the directive: “You MUST read this!” Rachel seemed as excited to be in the same room as Anna Quindlen as I was.
The format was a conversation between Quindlen and Isaac Pulver, director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library. His thoughtful observations and questions elicited frank responses about a variety of subjects, many of them tied to her latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” which just came out in paperback.
Asked about the research she does for her novels, Quindlen surprised me by saying she doesn’t do any. For her characters, she draws on her experience and basic understanding about how people behave. Everything else, she makes up. That’s OK, she assured us. We’re talking novels, not news stories.
The author’s bio in the back of “Miller’s Valley” begins “Anna Quindlen is a novelist and journalist” — and at Skidmore she said if she had to describe what she was, she’d say “reporter.” I loved that because, despite leaving the newspaper business almost two years ago, I will always think of myself as a journalist. And, like Quindlen, I cherish, defend and applaud the excellent work of reporters who protect democracy by keeping the public informed.
I was thrilled when Quindlen described how she reads her words aloud and rewrites until every sentence rings true to her ear. I’ve (almost) always done the same thing, striving for a conversational tone. Next semester I’ll tell my journalism students, “Hey, don’t take my word. Anna Quindlen does it, too.”
Quindlen brushed off an audience member’s entreaty that she return to journalism, saying Baby Boomers don’t know when it’s time to make way. How do you know it’s time? She offered this clue: While making money at college as a “Barnard Babysitter,” one of her charges was Maggie Haberman.