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Joan Didion (1934–2021)

Author of The Year of Magical Thinking

43+ Works 29,331 Members 648 Reviews 137 Favorited

About the Author

Born in Sacramento, California, on December 5, 1934, Joan Didion received a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1956. She wrote for Vogue from 1956 to 1963, and was visiting regent's lecturer in English at the University of California, Berkeley in 1976. Didion also published novels, show more short stories, social commentary, and essays. Her work often comments on social disorder. Didion wrote for years on her native California; from there her perspective broadened and turned to the countries of Central America and Southeast Asia. Her novels include Democracy (1984) and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996). Well known nonfiction titles include Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), The White Album (1979), The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) and Blue Nights (2011). In 1971 Joan Didion was nominated for the National Book Award in fiction for Play It As It Lays. In 1981 she received the American Book Award in nonfiction, and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Prize in nonfiction for The White Album. Didion has received a great deal of recognition for The Year of Magical Thinking, which was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005. In 2007, Didion received the National Book Foundation's annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 2009, Didion was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Harvard University. On July 3, 2013 the White House announced Didion was one of the recipients of the National Medals of Arts and Humanities presented by President Barack Obama. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Photo © 2003 Colleen Guaitolini

Works by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) 10,193 copies
Play It As It Lays (1970) 2,848 copies
The White Album (1979) 2,362 copies
Blue Nights (2011) 1,531 copies
A Book of Common Prayer (1977) 1,042 copies
Where I Was From (2003) 806 copies
Democracy (1984) 712 copies
Salvador (1983) 681 copies
The Last Thing He Wanted (1996) 618 copies
Miami (1987) 522 copies
After Henry: Essays (1992) 521 copies
South and West (2017) 512 copies
Political Fictions (2001) 436 copies
Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021) — Author — 428 copies
Run River (1963) 412 copies
Vintage Didion (2004) 160 copies
Joan Didion: The 1960s & 70s (2019) 135 copies
A Star Is Born [1976 film] (1976) — Screenwriter — 52 copies
Live and Learn (2005) 52 copies
Up Close & Personal [1996 film] (1996) — Writer — 29 copies
Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire (2005) 19 copies
Joan Didion: What She Means (2022) 14 copies
True Confessions [1981 film] (1981) — Screenwriter — 13 copies
The Panic in Needle Park [1971 film] (2014) — Screenwriter — 10 copies
On Self-Respect 2 copies

Associated Works

The Art of the Personal Essay (1994) — Contributor — 1,342 copies
The Best American Essays of the Century (2000) — Contributor — 758 copies
The Norton Book of Women's Lives (1993) — Contributor — 405 copies
The New Journalism (1973) — Contributor — 331 copies
Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (1998) — Contributor — 274 copies
Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology (2002) — Contributor — 224 copies
Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers (1993) — Contributor — 187 copies
The Best American Essays 1999 (1999) — Contributor — 183 copies
The Best American Travel Writing 2004 (2004) — Contributor — 182 copies
Eight Modern Essayists (1980) — some editions — 177 copies
Some Women (1989) — Introduction — 150 copies
The Norton Book of Personal Essays (1997) — Contributor — 142 copies
The Best American Essays 1992 (1992) — Contributor — 137 copies
The Best American Essays 1989 (1989) — Contributor — 98 copies
American Christmas Stories (2021) — Contributor — 57 copies
The Seasons of Women: An Anthology (1995) — Contributor — 46 copies
California Uncovered: Stories For The 21st Century (2005) — Contributor — 32 copies
On the Contrary: Essays by Men and Women (1984) — Contributor — 15 copies
Open Secrets (1972) — Contributor — 7 copies
The Analog Sea Review: Number Four (2022) — Contributor — 2 copies
Perfectly Candid (1994) — Photographed Subject — 1 copy


1960s (215) 20th century (204) American (316) American literature (387) anthology (518) autobiography (286) biography (371) biography-memoir (78) California (397) death (459) Didion (121) ebook (96) essay (152) essays (2,320) family (101) fiction (1,150) grief (522) history (331) Joan Didion (158) journalism (348) Kindle (99) Library of America (92) literature (340) Los Angeles (88) loss (116) marriage (123) memoir (1,656) National Book Award (76) New York (100) non-fiction (2,307) novel (207) own (143) politics (239) read (278) to-read (1,843) travel (162) unread (177) USA (163) women (172) writing (196)

Common Knowledge



Joan Didion? in Legacy Libraries (November 2022)
Which Joan Didion book should I read first? in Book talk (November 2019)


Didion's writing always makes me think of a Faberge egg. At once so elegant, with every word placed with a jeweler's precision, and also so artificial. I've read a couple of her novels, some of her essays, and although I am in awe at her skill with structure, language, and subtext, and the control with which she arranges her words, I'm never left wanting to read more. In this memoir, her fierce intelligence, her rationalism all come out on the page. Her emotion, less so. I am left to assume what I would be feeling in a similar circumstance. It is only because I already know how rational and controlled she is that I can sense her distress as her rationality and control fail to (in her words), "manage the situation." When her rationality fails, period. If I did not already know these things about Joan Didion, I would define her as the social worker in the hospital defined her, as a "cool customer." But these are the only weapons she has to grapple with the terrible tsunami of grief. And when her daughter falls ill, it is these weapons that enable her to again, manage the situation.

I was also struck by her position and privilege. Her matter-of-factness when speaking of the people she knows who "have influence at State or Justice," her ability to fly to Paris or Honolulu at essentially a moment's notice, her coterie of friends and family who have houses in various places and where she can ask for permission to stay as she keeps a vigil over her daughter in the hospital. The silver. The china. The wine. The many restaurants where she and her husband have eaten. Her privilege is on the page more than her passion; and it isn't even that I mind so much -- it's that she seems so unconscious of it. And although none of that could prevent her husband from dying, or ease the pain of her loss, there is no question that it smoothed the path.

I read this right after I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and there couldn't be two books more different, although they have the common frame of grief. But each one served to illuminate the other. Joan Didion's loss caused her to have "cognitive deficiencies:" she misremembered dates and addresses and lost bits of the last days with her husband. Strayed's cognitive deficiencies took the form of drug use and infidelity. Didion picked up her pen, and Strayed picked up a backpack. But neither of them were in their right minds.
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TheGalaxyGirl | 286 other reviews | Nov 15, 2023 |
I'm really not sure whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars, and I think part of why I gave it 3 is because a lot of the other reviews on here mentioned that it does name and place drop frequently. So if you aren't into that I get it, I have felt the same way about many other memoirs I have read. The difference with this one is that this book was intended for Joan Didion; she is writing it to help her explain her grief and mourning process to herself, and this aspect of the book is just her recounting her every day life. She's a famous writer, her friends are famous people, and that's okay.

The other note I have is that unless you have experienced tremendous loss you probably will not enjoy (or at least get something out of) this book. The first time I started reading this book I had to put it down for a few months, because I understood far too well the irrational thoughts she had about her husband's passing, and my own loss was far too raw to explore. I do recommend it if you are looking for some solace in how others deal with grief and hardship, and am glad to have a fancy phrase of "magical thinking" to fall back on.
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kaitlin_jones | 286 other reviews | Oct 21, 2023 |
Duh. So freaking beautiful.
nogomu | 286 other reviews | Oct 19, 2023 |
Although I thought it was a stylistic masterpiece, the characters were opaque to me and their motivations incomprehensible. I still don't quite know what the story was either.
whbiii | 58 other reviews | Oct 4, 2023 |


1960s (1)


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Associated Authors

Hilton Als Editor, Foreword
John Gregory Dunne Writer, Screenwriter
Irwin Winkler Producer
John Leonard Introduction
Frank Rich Preface
Robert Carson Original screenplay
Paul Williams Composer
Jon Peters Producer


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