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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)

by Joan Didion

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,294176622 (3.82)235
2006 (38) 2007 (29) American (39) American literature (27) autobiography (151) bereavement (34) biography (168) death (343) Death and Dying (30) Didion (25) family (65) fiction (47) grief (341) grieving (37) illness (23) Joan Didion (35) literature (29) loss (73) marriage (84) memoir (895) mourning (52) National Book Award (59) non-fiction (531) own (31) read (91) read in 2006 (24) to-read (100) unread (39) widow (35) writers (25)
  1. 20
    A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both are autobiographical accounts of the writer's first year of widowhood.
  2. 10
    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (Jesse_wiedinmyer)
  3. 00
    When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are beautiful explorations of magical thinking during grief -- Didion's in reaction to the death of her husband in older age; Wood's in reaction to the death of her father in childhood.
  4. 00
    The Long Goodbye: A memoir by Meghan O'Rourke (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Although these books certainly have differences, both are beautifully written, and both are about a year of grieving, each in their own way.
  5. 00
    Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield (sanddancer)

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» See also 235 mentions

English (169)  Norwegian (2)  Spanish (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (173)
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
  TerriB | Apr 19, 2014 |
Another memoir I had to read for a university class and though it was a highly depressing piece of work, I enjoyed it. There is a sort of detached/clinical perspective that Joan takes when writing this novel which to me was understandable given the way she reacts to events in her life. She is very organized and likes to know all the facts, so she wrote this book to try and explain to herself or realize why her husband so suddenly died, in the end kind of concluding that this question is unanswerable. ( )
  littleton_pace | Mar 20, 2014 |
I wrote one of these once, hoping the writing would make the pain go away. So I really didn't want to read Didion's, because her loss seemed to be so much more than mine. But, in fact, you can't measure loss. All I can say is that everything she wrote happens, in greater or lesser degree, as part of the mourning (and hopefully, healing) time.

Pretty nearly all the grief memoirs, from "Widow" on down, are in the first person. Didion's sentences... well, of course they're short; one basic thought at a time is how the brain works during this time, if you're lucky. Her delivery, her internal monologue, mirrored her contemporaneous thoughts and feelings. These types of books are generally for one's self. Sometimes, if you are grieving, reading about someone else's experience can assuage some of the pain and alone-ness, through the sharing. You can't really get in, but the better writers express it better. See, for example, also Julian Barnes' recent "Levels of Life" and C.S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed." Although, I must say, the better writers also seem to be at one remove from their pain & sorrow. It's written, rather than sobbed.

Glad I finally finished this one. Took me forever. Wonder why. ( )
  ReneeGKC | Mar 11, 2014 |
Thank you, Joan Didion. It has been a peaceful, emotional, candid trip into your life, your memories, your grief and your thoughts.
This memoir was so honest that I felt like a voyeur at times. It is a beautiful account of a marriage that ended when her husband of almost 40 years, John, died. She is struggling with letting go of her grief. She navigates among memories of their writings, get-togethers, houses, trips, of thoughts that they exchanged. These memories aren't illuminating. They're not coherent, most of the time. They're just human, honest, natural, and serve the purpose of her year of grief.
She also mentions their daughter Quintana. She gives insights into their relationship with her. But the book is mainly about her and John, and their routines and memories together.
For some reason, i couldn't put it down. I was travelling with her, and seeing how her grief was being transformed from December 2003 until December 2004. The ordinary memories of places they went to and people they've met sucked me into the atmosphere of the book. I felt I was seeing through her eyes, skimming through the pages of her mind, and it blew me away.
I am not sure if I would read her other books. I am interested, of course, but I feel that it might take me a while to leave the realm of this book which isn't really a book, it's more like a diary, a piece of mind.
I love the photograph at the back of the book, so here it is:

I am also moved by how she used literature as a mean to heal. Writing about her loss, grieving through words, and written memories; this is what literature is about: healing oneself. Her approach was more direct, through a memoir, not through a novel.

She tells of how her daughter fell ill, which made it worse for her to go on. Her daughter, too, dies later. It happened before this book was published, but after it was done. So, there is no mention of Quintana's death in this book. She dedicated, later, another memoir for her, 'Blue Nights'. I shall read that one next, before I go on exploring her earlier books. ( )
  pathogenik | Mar 2, 2014 |
This is the second book I've read lately by a famous author that came highly recommended (the other was Ian McEwen's "Saturday") where I've had the distinct feeling that people (readers) can sometimes be sheep. What I mean by this is, an author gets famous, perhaps for writing a good book or two, then the masses are blinded and everything that person writes subsequently is deemed to be good. The author's works are no longer read with an open mind.

I came to "The Year of Magical Thinking" without having read Ms. Didion's earlier works, and this book leaves me certain I'll read no more. It's not that it's a bad book. It's just that, while writing about her grief, she's name-dropping and jet-setting the entire time. I picture her with a delicate hand to her forehead, whispering, "oh dahling, it was awful. I could barely make it to my manicure." For those of us who don't eat in the finest restaurants every day or go to Paris, damn it, whether we feel like it or not, it's a little hard to sympathize.

Plus, enough with the repeated short sentences and italics. Dan Brown already overdid that. Does she really want to be in his league?

Petrea Burchard
Camelot & Vine ( )
  PetreaBurchard | Feb 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
Essayistic and concise, seeking external points of comparison, trying to set her case in some wider context.
added by KayCliff | editNew York Review of Books, Julian Barnes (Apr 7, 2011)
Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative: a forced expedition into those "cliffs of fall" identified by Hopkins.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joan Didionprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jonkheer, ChristienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is for John and for Quintana
First words
Life changes fast.
I remember thinking that I needed to discuss this with John.
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.
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Didion's journalistic skills are displayed as never before in this story of a year in her life that began with her daughter in a medically induced coma and her husband unexpectedly dead due to a heart attack.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140004314X, Hardcover)

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.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:45 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

An autobiographical portrait of the author's efforts to deal with the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, shortly after their daughter Quintana was placed into an induced coma to help her survive complications after pneumonia.

» see all 7 descriptions

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