The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

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From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage—and a life, in good times and bad—that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781598955361
Publisher: Findaway World Llc
Publication date: 10/30/2006
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 1
Product dimensions: 4.86(w) x 7.78(h) x 1.15(d)

About the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction.

Joan Didion's Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River are available in Vintage paperback.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 5, 1934

Place of Birth:

Sacramento, California


B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956

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The Year of Magical Thinking

By Joan Didion


Copyright © 2005 Joan Didion
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Chapter One


Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file ("Notes on change.doc") reads "May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.," but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact.

For a long time I wrote nothing else.

Life changes in the instant.

The ordinary instant.

At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, "the ordinary instant." I saw immediately that there would be no need to add the word "ordinary," because there would be no forgetting it: the word never left my mind. It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy. "He was on his way home from work-happy, successful, healthy-and then, gone," I read in the account of a psychiatric nurse whose husband was killed in a highway accident. In 1966 I happened to interview many people who had been living in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, 1941; without exception, these people began their accounts of Pearl Harbor by telling me what an "ordinary Sunday morning" it had been. "It was just an ordinary beautiful September day," people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade towers. Even the report of the 9/11 Commission opened on this insistently premonitory and yet still dumbstruck narrative note: "Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States."

"And then-gone." In the midst of life we are in death, Episcopalians say at the graveside. Later I realized that I must have repeated the details of what happened to everyone who came to the house in those first weeks, all those friends and relatives who brought food and made drinks and laid out plates on the dining room table for however many people were around at lunch or dinner time, all those who picked up the plates and froze the leftovers and ran the dishwasher and filled our (I could not yet think my) otherwise empty house even after I had gone into the bedroom (our bedroom, the one in which there still lay on a sofa a faded terrycloth XL robe bought in the 1970s at Richard Carroll in Beverly Hills) and shut the door. Those moments when I was abruptly overtaken by exhaustion are what I remember most clearly about the first days and weeks. I have no memory of telling anyone the details, but I must have done so, because everyone seemed to know them. At one point I considered the possibility that they had picked up the details of the story from one another, but immediately rejected it: the story they had was in each instance too accurate to have been passed from hand to hand. It had come from me.

Another reason I knew that the story had come from me was that no version I heard included the details I could not yet face, for example the blood on the living room floor that stayed there until Jose came in the next morning and cleaned it up.

Jose. Who was part of our household. Who was supposed to be flying to Las Vegas later that day, December 31, but never went. Jose was crying that morning as he cleaned up the blood. When I first told him what had happened he had not understood. Clearly I was not the ideal teller of this story, something about my version had been at once too offhand and too elliptical, something in my tone had failed to convey the central fact in the situation (I would encounter the same failure later when I had to tell Quintana), but by the time Jose saw the blood he understood.

I had picked up the abandoned syringes and ECG electrodes before he came in that morning but I could not face the blood.

In outline.

It is now, as I begin to write this, the afternoon of October 4, 2004.

Nine months and five days ago, at approximately nine o'clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death. Our only child, Quintana, had been for the previous five nights unconscious in an intensive care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center's Singer Division, at that time a hospital on East End Avenue (it closed in August 2004) more commonly known as "Beth Israel North" or "the old Doctors' Hospital," where what had seemed a case of December flu sufficiently severe to take her to an emergency room on Christmas morning had exploded into pneumonia and septic shock. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself. I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.


December 30, 2003, a Tuesday.

We had seen Quintana in the sixth-floor ICU at Beth Israel North.

We had come home.

We had discussed whether to go out for dinner or eat in.

I said I would build a fire, we could eat in.

I built the fire, I started dinner, I asked John if he wanted a drink.

I got him a Scotch and gave it to him in the living room, where he was reading in the chair by the fire where he habitually sat.

The book he was reading was by David Fromkin, a bound galley of Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?

I finished getting dinner, I set the table in the living room where, when we were home alone, we could eat within sight of the fire. I find myself stressing the fire because fires were important to us. I grew up in California, John and I lived there together for twenty-four years, in California we heated our houses by building fires. We built fires even on summer evenings, because the fog came in. Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night. I lit the candles. John asked for a second drink before sitting down. I gave it to him. We sat down. My attention was on mixing the salad.

John was talking, then he wasn't.

At one point in the seconds or minute before he stopped talking he had asked me if I had used single-malt Scotch for his second drink. I had said no, I used the same Scotch I had used for his first drink. "Good," he had said. "I don't know why but I don't think you should mix them." At another point in those seconds or that minute he had been talking about why World War One was the critical event from which the entire rest of the twentieth century flowed.

I have no idea which subject we were on, the Scotch or World War One, at the instant he stopped talking.

I only remember looking up. His left hand was raised and he was slumped motionless. At first I thought he was making a failed joke, an attempt to make the difficulty of the day seem manageable.

I remember saying Don't do that.

When he did not respond my first thought was that he had started to eat and choked. I remember trying to lift him far enough from the back of the chair to give him the Heimlich. I remember the sense of his weight as he fell forward, first against the table, then to the floor. In the kitchen by the telephone I had taped a card with the New York-Presbyterian ambulance numbers. I had not taped the numbers by the telephone because I anticipated a moment like this. I had taped the numbers by the telephone in case someone in the building needed an ambulance.

Someone else.

I called one of the numbers. A dispatcher asked if he was breathing. I said Just come. When the paramedics came I tried to tell them what had happened but before I could finish they had transformed the part of the living room where John lay into an emergency department. One of them (there were three, maybe four, even an hour later I could not have said) was talking to the hospital about the electrocardiogram they seemed already to be transmitting. Another was opening the first or second of what would be many syringes for injection. (Epinephrine? Lidocaine? Procainamide? The names came to mind but I had no idea from where.) I remember saying that he might have choked. This was dismissed with a finger swipe: the airway was clear. They seemed now to be using defibrillating paddles, an attempt to restore a rhythm. They got something that could have been a normal heartbeat (or I thought they did, we had all been silent, there was a sharp jump), then lost it, and started again.

"He's still fibbing," I remember the one on the telephone saying.

"V-fibbing," John's cardiologist said the next morning when he called from Nantucket. "They would have said 'V-fibbing.' V for ventricular."

Maybe they said "V-fibbing" and maybe they did not. Atrial fibrillation did not immediately or necessarily cause cardiac arrest. Ventricular did. Maybe ventricular was the given.

I remember trying to straighten out in my mind what would happen next. Since there was an ambulance crew in the living room, the next logical step would be going to the hospital. It occurred to me that the crew could decide very suddenly to go to the hospital and I would not be ready. I would not have in hand what I needed to take. I would waste time, get left behind. I found my handbag and a set of keys and a summary John's doctor had made of his medical history. When I got back to the living room the paramedics were watching the computer monitor they had set up on the floor. I could not see the monitor so I watched their faces. I remember one glancing at the others. When the decision was made to move it happened very fast. I followed them to the elevator and asked if I could go with them. They said they were taking the gurney down first, I could go in the second ambulance. One of them waited with me for the elevator to come back up. By the time he and I got into the second ambulance the ambulance carrying the gurney was pulling away from the front of the building. The distance from our building to the part of New York-Presbyterian that used to be New York Hospital is six crosstown blocks. I have no memory of sirens. I have no memory of traffic. When we arrived at the emergency entrance to the hospital the gurney was already disappearing into the building. A man was waiting in the driveway. Everyone else in sight was wearing scrubs. He was not. "Is this the wife," he said to the driver, then turned to me. "I'm your social worker," he said, and I guess that is when I must have known.

I opened the door and I seen the man in the dress greens and I knew. I immediately knew." This was what the mother of a nineteen-year-old killed by a bomb in Kirkuk said on an HBO documentary quoted by Bob Herbert in The New York Times on the morning of November 12, 2004. "But I thought that if, as long as I didn't let him in, he couldn't tell me. And then it-none of that would've happened. So he kept saying, 'Ma'am, I need to come in.' And I kept telling him, 'I'm sorry, but you can't come in.' "

When I read this at breakfast almost eleven months after the night with the ambulance and the social worker I recognized the thinking as my own.

Inside the emergency room I could see the gurney being pushed into a cubicle, propelled by more people in scrubs. Someone told me to wait in the reception area. I did. There was a line for admittance paperwork. Waiting in the line seemed the constructive thing to do. Waiting in the line said that there was still time to deal with this, I had copies of the insurance cards in my handbag, this was not a hospital I had ever negotiated-New York Hospital was the Cornell part of New York-Presbyterian, the part I knew was the Columbia part, Columbia-Presbyterian, at 168th and Broadway, twenty minutes away at best, too far in this kind of emergency-but I could make this unfamiliar hospital work, I could be useful, I could arrange the transfer to Columbia-Presbyterian once he was stabilized. I was fixed on the details of this imminent transfer to Columbia (he would need a bed with telemetry, eventually I could also get Quintana transferred to Columbia, the night she was admitted to Beth Israel North I had written on a card the beeper numbers of several Columbia doctors, one or another of them could make all this happen) when the social worker reappeared and guided me from the paperwork line into an empty room off the reception area. "You can wait here," he said. I waited. The room was cold, or I was. I wondered how much time had passed between the time I called the ambulance and the arrival of the paramedics. It had seemed no time at all (a mote in the eye of God was the phrase that came to me in the room off the reception area) but it must have been at the minimum several minutes.


Excerpted from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Copyright © 2005 by Joan Didion. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

“Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, memorable book. . . . An exact, candid, and penetrating account of personal terror and bereavement. . . . Sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth.”
—Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Joan Didion’s powerful, National Book Award–winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

1. Consider the four sentences in italics that begin chapter one. What did you think when you read them for the first time? What do you think now?

2. In particular, address “The question of self-pity.” [p. 3]. Does Didion pity herself? In what ways does she indulge that impulse, and in what ways does she deny it?

3. Read the Judges’ Citation for the National Book Award, below. Why do you suppose they deemed the book a masterpiece of investigative journalism?

The Year of Magical Thinking is a masterpiece in two genres: memoir and investigative journalism. The subject of the memoir is the year after the sudden death of the writer’s husband. The target of the investigation, though, is the nature of folly and time. The writer attends to details, assembles a chronology, and asks hard questions of the witnesses, most notably herself. But she imagines that the story she tells can be revised, the world righted, her husband returned, alive. What she offers is an unflinching journey into intimacy and grief.”
—The Judges Citation for the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction

4. Discuss the notion of “magical thinking.” Have you ever experienced anything like this, after a loss or some other life-changing occurrence? How did it help, or hinder, your healing?

5. Do you think Didion’s “year of magical thinking” ended after one year, or did it likely continue?

6. Consider the tone Didion uses throughout the book, one of relatively cool detachment. Clearly she is in mourning, and yet her anguish is quite muted. How did this detached tone affect your reading experience?

7. How does Didion use humor? To express her grief, to deflect it, or for another purpose entirely?

8. Over the course of the book, Didion excerpts a variety of poems. Which resonated for you most deeply, and why?

9. To Didion, there is a clear distinction between grief and mourning. What differences do you see between the two?

10. One word critics have used again and again in describing this book is “exhilarating.” Did you find it to be so? Why, or why not?

11. Discuss Didion’s repetition of sentences like “For once in your life just let it go” [pp. 141,174]; “We call it the widowmaker” [pp. 157, 203, 207]; “I tell you that I shall not live two days” [pp. 26, 80, 112, 153, 207]; and “Life changes in the instant.” [pp. 3, 77, 89]. What purpose does the repetition serve? How did your understanding of her grief change each time you reread one of these sentences?

12. The lifestyle described in this book is quite different from the way most people live, with glamorous friends, expensive homes, and trips to Hawaii, Paris, South America, etc., and yet none of that spared Didion from experiencing profound grief. Did her seemingly privileged life color your feelings about the book at all? Did that change after reading it?

13. At several points in the book Didion describes her need for knowledge, whether it’s from reading medical journals or grilling the doctors at her daughter’s bedside. How do you think this helped her to cope?

14. Reread the “gilded-boy story” on pages 105–6. How would you answer the questions it raised for Didion?

15. Is there a turning point in this book? If so, where would you place it and why?

16. The last sentence of the book is “No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.” What does this mean?

17. Didion has adapted The Year of Magical Thinking into a Broadway play. How do you imagine its transition from page to stage? Would you want to see the play?

18. Before The Year of Magical Thinking, had you ever read any of Joan Didion’s work? Do you see any similar themes or motifs?

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The Year of Magical Thinking 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 228 reviews.
Cherie-Renfrow-Starry More than 1 year ago
For clients who have lost a spouse, a child, a beloved family member, or a close friend, I recommend this book as a starting point in investigating the disbelief and numbness that accompanies a sudden death. However, I also recognize that this is not an easy book to read because it exposes raw emotions and forces the reader to consider his/her own views about death and dying as well as grief and grieving. Joan Didion is an award-winning writer. However, Didion did not become a well-known name outside of Manhattan publishing circles until 2005 when her 13th novel, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published. It subsequently won the National Book award for nonfiction. With the publication of this work, Didion found a new following of readers, namely, widows and widowers who had lost a spouse or partner unexpectedly. Her public pain, lack of focus, and search for direction at the sudden loss of her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, was complicated by the serious illness of their only daughter, 39-year-old Quintana Roo, who died just a few months before the publication of her mother's ground-breaking novel. Didion had just turned 69 years old on December 5, 2003. On December 30th, John Gregory Dunne, her husband and co-writer, died instantly from a heart attack. They had just returned to their apartment after visiting their gravely-ill daughter, Quintana, at Beth Israel North (hospital) in New York City where she had fallen into a coma after being diagnosed on December 25th with pneumonia and septic shock. Ms. Didion's rendition of what happened in the apartment is sparse, terse, impassive, and detached depicting what most literature describe as "the moment of stunned disbelief that the impossible has become real" ( p. 113). Losing a spouse after 40 years of marriage is beyond traumatic. The fact that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were collaborators on numerous screenplays and articles as well as collaborators in a longstanding marriage marks the loss as inconceivable, as if one person was not only an extension, but the embodiment of the other. In an interview, Didion confessed that she had difficulty in finishing this book because it was the first writing she had done which John had not read. The popularity of Didion's memoir revolves around her candidness about the process of grieving the loss of a loved one and the process of rebuilding some semblance of life after that loss. Her loss is made more salient due to its suddenness and the concurrent stress of her daughter's illness. Moreover, Didion was the person to tell her daughter about her father's sudden death, only to subsequently witness her daughter's death as Quintana was rushed to the hospital with a brain hematoma while returning from her father's funeral. Because the book was in publication at the time of her daughter's death, Didion does not broach the subject of her daughter's death in this book. Rather, she focuses on her own grieving and mourning processes or lack thereof and outlines one of the most difficult developmental tasks of aging: rebuilding a meaningful life after the loss of a spouse. Cherie Renfrow Starry Private Practice Counselor/Therapist
vickytren More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of self-help, psychological and true stories books to expand my understanding of this world. I was interested to give Joan Didion's book a try and was not disappointed.Great moving read!
AKABookSnob More than 1 year ago
Joan Didion's pain and suffering are profound and her loss overwhelming. I found this piece comforting from the point of view of having lost both my parents in the last year. It is intelligent, crisp and compelling. I am impressed with her bravery to write so intimately. Taking this journey with Joan is not easy. I think this book has to come into your life at the right time for you to love it or even appreciate it. Unfortunately, I think that requires having suffered the loss of a loved one yourself. This was my first exposure to Didion's work but I have already picked up two other books I hope are just as smart.
HeidiDew More than 1 year ago
"Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." This is how Joan Didion starts her description of surviving the unexpected death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne and the mysterious and ultimately-fatal illness of her daughter, Quintanna, within a single horrible year. Only Joan Didion could bring such heart-wrenching tragedy down to the readable level. It inspires the reader to appreciate every day with family and friends. You never know when "life as you know it ends."
MargieHG More than 1 year ago
I have recommended this book over and over, especially to people who have lost a spouse. Didion finds the words for the unspeakably difficult time one has when your lover dies and you must find your way through life without them. Her words are like a healing balm that confirm that you are not crazy- someone else in the same boat has gone through this horrific time just as you are. This book helped me find the strength to go on and bring to the surface some feelings that were too confused and random to look at. By doing so, I was able to start to heal. The author also lost her daughter after the book was written, and it stuns me to know she had to go through it all over again...Beautifully written by a woman who lived through the pain. Highly, highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting book and it had been recommended to me because I have just lost my husband. It was not what I hoping for as far as her experience after her husbands death. The book was too much of their life before his death. It was a good book but just not what I was looking for at the time
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is undeniable that Joan Didion knows how to write. She brings us in with her prose and shares with us her life as it suddenly 'changes in an instant'. The book is sad and depressing and unfulfilling. The story is not unique thus for people who have had the experience, I could understand the hook. Her words tell how one must feel but her anticdotes are to particular to her.I don't know her friends and she doesn't tell me enough about anyone to really get to know them, even her husband who she misses so much. The book is just about her views on what happens after someone tries to go on when losing someone close and that is interesting but not enough. The story goes no where. Also, she name drops so often it is boring. These people might be famous in their venue, but I didn't know half of them,nor did I care. The book doesn't build on itself and nothing really happens except her radom memories and the end how she feels that over a year has passed and last year at this time, she didn't share it with her husband because he was already gone by then. I didn't really appreciate this book and wonder why it was such a best seller. Although it wasn't a waste because of her wonderful writing style,and in some ways it was a page turner, I can't say I liked it.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Very boring book that takes forever to LISTEN TO not even read and it is all about dying people who wants to read that
Love2ReadST More than 1 year ago
149 pages of agony....I am sorry to say. I feel really bad for Ms. Didion's personal tragedy that she chronicled for a year. I usually am a fan of the memoir but this left me uninspired. It had glimmers of wisdom and meaning but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
jb70 More than 1 year ago
I first read a review of this book when it was released two years ago and remember thinking I wanted to read it, but put off actually getting a copy until this summer. When I went to the beach I took it with me and both my husband and best friend asked why I would want to read a book about death at the beach. My usually reading style is to go straight through quickly but with this bookI read it a little at a time and actually spent some time reflecting on it and thinking about it. I really appreaciated how Didion revealed her thoughts and memories and how she got through a very difficult year in her own life. We all face challenges on a daily basis, perhaps not as large or as catastrophic as hers, but it is easy to get bogged down but you must keep going if you are going to live your own life and adapt to what is thrown at you. I especially enjoyed a part about giving away her husbands clothes and shoes, and how she kept thinking that when he came back he was going to need shoes even though she knew he wasn't coming back. The way she grappled with her new reality by remembering the past and considering the future was very inspiring.
mikemoore More than 1 year ago
Didion's portrait of her husband's death, and her response to his death, sweeps aside decades of psycho-babble in favor of honest emotions, honest grief. A great book.
Shahana More than 1 year ago
Joan Didion's story about her life in the year after the death of her husband is gut-wrenchingly tragic, but increadibly healing to read. So many grief books tell you that you have to just "get over it" and "move on" when you lose someone you love, often treating mourning like it's some sort of disease. Didion, on the other hand, takes you with her as she heals. Instead of saying "this is how you get better" she says "this is how it was for me," and in doing so manages to connect with the reader in a way that no other grief book can.

I highly recommend this to anyone who has suffered through the loss of a loved one, whether it's recent or ancient. Sometimes all you need is to know that others feel the same way you do and this book will do just that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the saddest books I've read in awhile. Didion's loss is not highly unusual but her ruminations about how she handles the sudden loss of someone she cherishes are. Those who understand grief will find a connection. Grief is alot more than just the experience of is a roller coaster of emotions that take on a mind of their own.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book very much, but stopped short of giving it 5 stars because it was missing something: The 'zap' I like to get from a story. Otherwise it was very good and I suggest buying it. A few that have that 'zap' are Never Let Me Go and A Year Since Yesterday. Try those along with this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently read this book after reading an article about Joan Didion and the book in the New tork Times Magazine section in Oct.05. I could not get enough of the article and then could not get enough of the book. My Sister, age 43, died very suddenly 3 years ago and then a year ago my brother in law, age 46,(my husband's brother) was killed in a plane crash. 'The Year of Magical Thinking' did more for me then speaking to any therapist, clergy person, or friend. Didion put into words, and clarified thoughts that I have been dealing with for 3 years. She did so in a clear, non hysterical, organized manner, that might not make sense to anyone who has not gone through this grieving process.The unexplainable behavior(being a 'cool costumer') and thoughts that I have had , are so powerfully articulated here. Thank you, Joan Didion, for doing what no other person or book has done.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a tough and thoughtful book to read. The reader isn't going to get a self help guide through grief, but it does open the door to understanding Didion's process of living day to day after the death of her husband. It's a fascinating read, and honestly, I am still thinking about the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having put off reading Joan Didion's elegy too long, a moment of introspection about some very sad events of this past year finally brought 'The Year of Magical Thinking' to mind. And after reading this memoir over a couple of hours the messages within are universal and have contributed to a way of re-thinking losses through death. For those who have touched loss of friends, family, or extend those thoughts to include the victims of the too numerous tragedies of this past year, this little book offers an arm around the shoulder, a gesture that we do survive without forgetting, that death is an occurrence in the cycle of life, and that life is precious. Didion's relating the death of her husband, the equally well-known author John Gregory Dunne, and the concurrent near death experiences of her only child Quintana Roo Dunne, is intimate without being maudlin. Her style of writing is straight forward, offering her own manner in which she coped with the abrupt loss of her life mate, with ruminations about the manner in which death steps into our lives, gives warnings, creates vacuums, leaves memories. She separates grieving from mourning in a manner that offers quiet examples of how we as fellow humans can absorb the mystery of death's concluding a life and incorporate that end with the process of moving on. This is a tender, informative, highly personal and brave sharing of the experience of abrupt loss. And in addition to being a well-written book it is a little light for fellow travelers to follow along the path of coping with loss. Grady Harp
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently lost my father and bought this book for my mother with the intent of reading it just to make sure it would be OK for her to read during a very fragile time. I had no idea how this book would overwhelm me. Joan's experiences were eerily similar... sometimes I just had to gasp and set the book down in disbelief. I also had no idea how much this book would hit home with my own grieving process. Having already lost two brothers and now my father, this book took me to places I didn't think possible. Beautifully written -an unexpected page turner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was not as familiar with Didion's essays and other writings as I am UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL and A STAR IS BORN. (A STAR IS BORN...I know the soundtrack like I know Christmas songs.) I am moved by The Year of Magical Thinking. I'm having my own year of magical thinking having lost my father and my brother in 6 days, making a move to another town with a new job, and title, plus a loss that can only be described as 'dispirited and torn.' Didion's memoir comes as an accompanying comfort to the pangs of dealing with my own grief. I agree with the fact that all of us grieve differently, and time and memories flow in different waves. She was able to describe so much of what I have been going through. I say-bless you Joan. My heart breaks with yours, yet no one can feel another's pain. Losing a husband and a child is a pain that I marvel at your strength at writing so full, and with such giftedness, a book that IS a gift to readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is rare to find a masterpiece like The Year of Magical Thinking. Everyone has felt the grief, the longing, the desperation, the saddness, the joy, and the hope that Joan Didion expresses in this eloquent novel, but few author's can better describe it the way Didion does. You will feel your heart splitting and pouring out while you read this. It is a memoir about life, pieces of it that meant everything. Pieces that were eventually ripped away until almost nothing remained. This book will make you remember what you tried so hard to forget, but what truly must be remembered. Of course, that is love, even when it is gone, even when it dies, it must be remembered or else there really is nothing. The Year of Magical Thinking is a bestseller for a reason, and everyone should read this through at least once. It will make you a better, more thoughtful, more feeling person. Another book that delves into the human heart is Michele Geraldi's book Calling in the Night. If I had two books to reccommend this year they would be The Year of Magical Thinking and Calling in the Night.
bluesviola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I expected this to be something wonderful, or at least an unexpected ending. Didion drones on and on and on about her grief for her lost husband and daughter. Once I got to the middle I kept listening to the end to see if it went anywhere, it didn't. Interesting only if you're studying the psychology of death/grief.
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started out fairly engaged with this memoir, but then lost interest from that point on. While I'm sure writing this was necessary for Didion to allow herself to begin the healing process associated with grief, I found much of it very off-topic and going off in directions that just didn't make the book seem very connected. Perhaps someone going through a similar period of grief would appreciate this more than I did. I was also very unsatisfied with the ending, expecting more of a resolution with her daughter Quintana.
bethlea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joan Didion is a very intelligent person; she uses a lot of medical terminology that she got from her research into her husband's death and her daughter's illness. Barbara Caruso has a lovely voice, well suited to playing the part of a well-to-do and intelligent woman as she attempts to cope with being a widow and trying to resume her life.
TanyaTomato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A true account of the authors life as she goes through losing her husband, and dealing with her daughters sickness. It is hard for me to relate since I have never lost someone like the author has. The thing that I really didn't like about reading this book is the constant reminder that I will someday have to deal with that pain.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." That is precisely what happened to author Joan Didion. While this would make a memorable opening line for a novel, it is actually a sentence from the very beginning of Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking," her account of what she experienced during the immediate year following the sudden loss, on December 30, 2003, of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne. Didion's world was already in turmoil when she and her husband sat down to dinner that night. A short time earlier, they had been sitting at the bedside of their only daughter, Quintana, where she lay unconscious, suffering from a combination of septic shock and pneumonia. Fearful that their daughter might not survive what had begun as a relatively benign health problem, the couple returned that fateful evening for a quiet dinner alone. Then it happened. Suddenly, while in the midst of preparing their dinner, Didion sensed that something was terribly wrong with her husband. When Dunne did not respond to her efforts to revive him, she called for help - but it was too late. Her partner of 40 years had been snatched from her forever. What follows is Joan Didion's recollection of how she reacted to her husband's death over the next twelve months - while still having to cope with the increasing likelihood that her daughter might also be taken from her. Before the experience of losing a spouse or child, it is impossible for one to predict how she will react to a loss of that magnitude. Didion, an experienced researcher, turned to the literature of grieving so that she would better know what she should expect to experience in the first year without her husband. She might have been a bit surprised that her grieving so closely followed the pattern she read about in most medical books, memoirs, self-help books, and novels. But what most surprised her was that, at times, she was literally crazy, though she prefers to call her crazy behavior` "magical thinking." She expected to be "crazy with grief" but not to exhibit the kind of bizarre behavior that characterized her behavior in 2004. "The Year of Magical Thinking" is one woman's account of what it was like to be wrenched from her husband and writing partner of forty years. Dunne and Didion worked so closely together that she feared that she might never be able to write again, having lost the best editor and literary confidant she ever had. It might be one woman's story, but there is much here for those having experienced similar losses and for those who sense that such losses are approaching. It is a frank and honest description, if a bit rambling at times, and even a bit repetitive - two qualities that likely mimic Didion's 2004 state-of-mind. The four-disc audio version of "The Year of Magical Thinking" is read by stage actress Barbara Caruso. Caruso so perfectly captures the tone of voice in which the book is written that I often had to remind myself that I was not being read to by Joan Didion, herself. This is not an easy book to read, nor is it one that will please everyone who has experienced this level of grief. It should, however, be considered as a touchstone for those seeking insight into the grieving process.