Quindlen's 'Thinking' resounds loudly

BOOK REVIEW

April 05, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

I first began to understand the power of Anna Quindlen when I saw naked women reading one of her columns.

It was October 1991, and the country was watching its favorite non-fiction soap opera, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. the women's locker room at a local gymnasium, someone posted a photocopy of Ms. Quindlen's latest column.

"Listen to us," the column began. "You will notice there is no 'please' in that sentence. It is difficult to feel polite, watching the white men of the United States Senate and realizing that their first response when confronted with a serious allegation of sexual harassment against a man nominated to the high court was to rush to judgment."

Women stopped on the way to the showers, transfixed by what was written there. A woman's voice is still a novelty; it has the power to shock. Ms. Quindlen, publishing twice weekly under the heading "Public & Private," is only the third female columnist on the New York Times op-ed page. Last year, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Her columns have been published in a book, "Thinking Out Loud." And the only fault I can find with the collection is that I tend to agree with everything Ms. Quindlen writes.

This is no cavil. Shaking one's head in smug assent for 287 pages can make a reader slightly numb. I began to think I should read 10 pages of Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought to Be" for every three columns I read in "Thinking Out Loud."

And as much as I admire Ms. Quindlen's deceptively breezy voice, few newspaper columns age well enough to live on between hard covers.

In the spring of 1993, I'm not much interested in Anna Quindlen's thoughts about the Persian Gulf war, breast implants or the abortion-clinic siege in Wichita.

I do want to know what she thinks about gays in the military, this year's waif-like models, and the killing of Dr. David Gunn.

The less-dated thoughts and observations fare better. I am automatically inclined to like a piece that begins: "Quick, who is Jo March?" After years of being force-fed men's reminiscences about their childhood idols, it's refreshing to read a celebration of the "Little Women" heroine that leads to a serious consideration of fallible role models.

Ms. Quindlen has an especially deft touch when writing about children and families. She won many of her fans with the home-front dispatches known as "Life in the 30s," sharing details of her own life. It's seems a good life, by almost anyone's standards, but it hasn't made Ms. Quindlen smug or maudlin.

"My daughter is two years old today," she writes in the book's final column. "She is something like me, only better. . . . [S]he has made me see fresh this two-tiered world, a world that, despite all our nonsense about post-feminism, continues to offer less respect and less opportunity for women than it does for men. My friends and I have learned to live with it, but my little girl deserves better. She has given me my anger back, and I intend to use it well."

Yet "Thinking Out Loud" is not an angry book. Ms. Quindlen has mastered -- mistressed? -- a thoughtful, argumentative style that neatly sidesteps the criticisms usually leveled at feminist writers. She is neither strident nor shrill. But she also knows that "please" is not always necessary.

Title: "Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public and the Private."

Author: Anna Quindlen.

Publisher: Random House.

.` Length, price: 287 pages, $22.

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