The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking

From one of America's iconic writers, this is 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. This is a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill.At first they thought...

Title:The Year of Magical Thinking
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1400078431
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:227 pages

The Year of Magical Thinking Reviews

  • noisy penguin
    May 21, 2007

    I hated this book. It is the reason I instituted my "100 pages" policy (if it's not promising 100 pages in, I will no longer waste my time on it). So within the 100 pages I did read, all I got from Didion was that she and her husband used to live a fabulous life and they know a lot of famous people. She spoke of the '60s as a time when "everyone" was flying from LA to San Francisco for dinner. Um, no, actually, "everyone" wasn't doing that then and they're not doing it now. Instead of saying "ou

    I hated this book. It is the reason I instituted my "100 pages" policy (if it's not promising 100 pages in, I will no longer waste my time on it). So within the 100 pages I did read, all I got from Didion was that she and her husband used to live a fabulous life and they know a lot of famous people. She spoke of the '60s as a time when "everyone" was flying from LA to San Francisco for dinner. Um, no, actually, "everyone" wasn't doing that then and they're not doing it now. Instead of saying "our friend so and so gave the eulogy at my husband's funeral," she said, "The great essayist David Halberstam." What does that add to the story? I found only brief spots of actual grief for Didion's husband and daughter, but they weren't enough to overpower my loathing for the author and her self-importance.

  • Dawn
    May 30, 2007

    Hated it, hated it, hated it- but kept reading with the hope that all my pain and suffering would somehow be worth it in the end. It wasn't. The same self-pitying, whiney, depressing, self-important sentiments are basically repeated over and over again only with different words. Joan Didion can obviously write well, but she should have left this cathartic piece in her closet. And I'm not averse to reading novels that deal with grief. This one was just way too self-indulgent and redundant for me.

    Hated it, hated it, hated it- but kept reading with the hope that all my pain and suffering would somehow be worth it in the end. It wasn't. The same self-pitying, whiney, depressing, self-important sentiments are basically repeated over and over again only with different words. Joan Didion can obviously write well, but she should have left this cathartic piece in her closet. And I'm not averse to reading novels that deal with grief. This one was just way too self-indulgent and redundant for me. And Didion's pervasive name-dropping and repeated descriptions of her wealth and fame just made me hate the book even more.

  • Kim
    Oct 24, 2007

    You might think of me as a cynic.

    If you’re being kind, that is. I’m the one that says ’Seriously?’ when being told of some tragic event--like someone would actually make up the horrific thing. I’m the one that views the whole process of death--the telling, the grieving, the service of any kind, the ’after’-- as playing out like I’m in a soap opera bubble. Which camera should I look into when I break down again? Strike one against me.

    Strike Two: I've never been much of a fan of Joan Didion... I

    You might think of me as a cynic.

    If you’re being kind, that is. I’m the one that says ’Seriously?’ when being told of some tragic event--like someone would actually make up the horrific thing. I’m the one that views the whole process of death--the telling, the grieving, the service of any kind, the ’after’-- as playing out like I’m in a soap opera bubble. Which camera should I look into when I break down again? Strike one against me.

    Strike Two: I've never been much of a fan of Joan Didion... I think it began in college…being forced to read

    and

    . I didn’t enjoy being told, essay-like, how I should go about writing. It’s not my thing. That didn’t help that urge to rebel that goes along with college either. My Didion backlash was further proven when

    came out. Wait, you want to add Jessica Savitch to the list? Awww. Hell no. It just wasn’t happening.

    Strike Three (??): Maurice bought this for me a few Christmases ago. I winced, like I usually did when receiving a book from him. Must I relive the college debacle? I can’t just NOT read it, because he WILL grill me on it. Buck up, Kim… read the damn thing already. This was 5 years ago and I just recently found it in the back of the bookshelf. I did end up reading it then… and I thanked Maurice time and again for giving me such a gift. Because, that’s what it truly was. Words can hold such extraordinary power..

    So, here’s an enigma: Can cynics really believe in magical thinking? What is magical thinking anyway? I mean… yeah, I’ve read the Psychology Today articles, I’ve gone to freedictionary.com. Is it something that can actually be described or do you need to experience to fully get it? Talk to me.

    See, because now I’m either going crazy or I’m seeing the signs. I’m remembering in distorted ways… did that really happen or is my head just trying to make me believe… am I replaying the events because I’m looking for clues?

    Maurice is dead. I can type that. I can be matter-of-fact about it via keyboard. Hell, I can put it in a damn book review. But, you get me to actually SAY the words and I’m using the ol’ ‘Maurice has passed’, ‘Maurice is gone’, anything but the ‘D’ word. Like it may make it less real.

    “In the midst of life we are in death.” Not just some awesome Smiths lyrics… but a common graveside prayer--and the rest? “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Still looking for clues. As I’m reading the first few pages of

    again, I’m struck at how similar the process is:

    This book is full of this type of sameness. Two peas in a pod, Joan and I. I may not be keeping his shoes because when he comes home he might need them (like Joan) but I’m still hanging on to that bottle of Moxie in the fridge…I’m still wondering if him telling me that morning that he wanted to hear my voice because it soothed him was really him telling me that I should have… what? What could I have done?

    Joan has other tragedies… memories that stretch out to before I was born. She is insightful in such creative, tenacious, concise ways that sometimes I just want to curse her for bringing me there… for making me believe and start to question every action/memory/event of the last 20 years looking for the damn signs… because they were there, right?

    Don’t fucking forget that.

  • Greg
    Aug 05, 2008

    Like Johnny Rotten said during their last (in the universe where they never would re-form again in the mid-90's) show, "Do you ever feel like you've been cheated?"

    I do Johnny, I do.

    I feel cheated by this book. I bought it because it cost me a dollar. I wasn't interested in it that much. I finally picked it up to read because I wanted to write a review about how pathetic and whiny it was. I thought I'd say something about how now that baby-boomers are starting to kick the bucket they want a fuc

    Like Johnny Rotten said during their last (in the universe where they never would re-form again in the mid-90's) show, "Do you ever feel like you've been cheated?"

    I do Johnny, I do.

    I feel cheated by this book. I bought it because it cost me a dollar. I wasn't interested in it that much. I finally picked it up to read because I wanted to write a review about how pathetic and whiny it was. I thought I'd say something about how now that baby-boomers are starting to kick the bucket they want a fucking monopoly on death too, as if they invented grieving and no one before them could have possibly grieved like they do. Or maybe point out that we really don't need another memoir about someone dying and the way that the surviving family member found some shallow platitude to be true and now feels the need to share it. (i.e., "Everyone said life goes on, but I had to cry for awhile and then write a three hundred page book making it seem like I was the first person in the history of the whole world to have a parent die before realizing that 'hey it's true', and life does go on especially with the nice advance I got from the book deal. Thank you Random House!!")

    But no, I don't get to attack Joan Didion. And part of me so wanted to. Instead of finding her whiny, or annoying, or exploitive or whatever I find that I have quite a bit of respect for her.

    Other's apparently have had trouble with some of the name dropping that Didion does. Yes she does a lot of name dropping, her and her late husbands friends happen to be house-hold names (if you're household is bookish, maybe

    isn't, and there is nothing wrong with that). And maybe she does name drop the names of expensive hotels and restaurants she normally at in with her John Gregory Dunne, and maybe some people would rather have elaborate descriptions of the decor of these places then her just saying she ate there, or details about what so-and-so said at her husbands funeral, and not just that he or she spoke at it. But that's missing the point and if she had done that I would have been or so happy because I'd be writing a review right now about the banality of memoirs and their narcissistic egoism that only serves to make the author and publisher some dollars.

    Instead Didion is really investigating and putting to paper the way that memory and perception work under the duress of grief. The snapshots of memory of a loved one don't necessarily contain any details about the table clothes of a favorite restaurant, but the place itself, it's name where it was located is a memory land mine of the deceased, waiting to go off and spiral out to other memories at it's mere mention.

    This book deals with the irrational element of grief so well. It captures the mundane little things that can emotionally paralyze a person, and it's written from that place which our society would rather not acknowledge and that people should 'just get over', and there is no happy ending to the book, there is no climatic cathartic moment.

    I've lost where I was going I think. Oh well.

  • Books Ring Mah Bell
    Nov 29, 2010

    Disclaimer: Being fresh into the grieving process myself, you may want to skip this review and head onto others. Undoubtedly I'll purge my grief in a review about a book on grief. You've been warned.

    Right off the top I will say this for the book: raw, powerful, honest, amazing.

    If you have any interest in the grief process, READ THIS BOOK.

    The only criticism that I

    have is that there's a lot of name dropping. Insert famous names and some fancy locations (Beverly Hills, Malibu), talk about u

    Disclaimer: Being fresh into the grieving process myself, you may want to skip this review and head onto others. Undoubtedly I'll purge my grief in a review about a book on grief. You've been warned.

    Right off the top I will say this for the book: raw, powerful, honest, amazing.

    If you have any interest in the grief process, READ THIS BOOK.

    The only criticism that I

    have is that there's a lot of name dropping. Insert famous names and some fancy locations (Beverly Hills, Malibu), talk about using fine china, fancy bathrobes from some store I'll never set foot in... Normally, that would drive me mad. (rich or poor, like that one book says, everybody poops!) However, I never felt with her that the name dropping was pretentious, or snobbish. The people and places she named were simply a part of her life, so who am I to hold that against her?

    Wealth, while it may provide many a luxury, cannot insulate you from death, from grief. Who said death was the great equalizer? It is, truly.

    Didion's husband died very suddenly of a heart attack. My mother died (weeks ago) slowly of cancer. Very different circumstances. The link is the loss. Didion writes this about death after a long illness (experienced with others in her life):

    I mostly agree with her. But in full disclosure, there was relief for me. I would not have to watch my mom waste away for weeks (MONTHS!) in a nursing home. Release? Yes and no. Resolution? No way.

    After my mom died, I heard multiple times how very strong I was. What I was supposed to be doing, what should I be saying? Did they think I was callous for not weeping at the funeral? Did they think I was putting on a front? Truth be told, my grieving began 18 months prior, the minute the surgeon came out and told me she had small cell lung cancer. I knew what that meant for her - death. My grief began then, at that moment. It continued each time we'd go to chemo or when she needed a blood transfusion. It continued when she lost her hair. It continued when tumors spread onto the nerves of her arm and she could no longer use it; not to put on earrings, not to hold a cup, not to pick up her grandson. One night, after having dinner at her house, I wept the entire way home, realizing that the number of meals she'd make for me were limited. I knew what was coming. When she died, even though I saw it coming, it was there, just as Didion says, the swift empty loss.

    She writes about her own personal grieving process, her struggles to resolve his death in her mind. She writes of how very unique it is to each situation, loss of a parent versus the loss of a spouse. These sentences ring very true:

    Didion writes about the concept of grief crashing or rolling in like waves. Lots of psychologists speak of it. The coping information Hospice sent me also mentioned "waves" of grief. For me, waves isn't quite right. I'll call them grief grenades. Waves you can see, you can hear, you feel them building and you can tell when they'll break. My grief grenades have hit at moments when I least expect it. Examples: walking in the store and seeing my mom's favorite brand of cookies prominently displayed on the endcap. Hearing on the news that 58 year old so and so died after a battle with cancer. Deciding to purge out e-mail contacts, I see her name. Hospice calling on my birthday to see how I am holding up, instead of a call from her, singing "Happy Birthday" off key.

    Swift empty loss.

    In one part of the book Didion writes of getting rid of clothing that belonged to her husband. She cannot bring herself to part with his shoes, in case he needs them when he comes back. (magical thinking, indeed!)

    There were things of my mom's I could not part with. Silly things. For instance, I kept a pair of her earrings that I had longed to throw away for the last few years. They were cheap, old clip-ons, so worn that the color had been rubbed off half the surface. I'd get so pissed when she wore them! Did she not see that they were worn out and looked tacky as hell? However, those earrings I have saved in a small box of other things that will remind me of her. Mind you, I'm certain she's not coming back. I saw her die. I dressed her body. Her cremated remains sit 3 feet away from me on a shelf until we have a beautiful summer day and I can place her ashes into the water at the lake. But I cannot bring myself to get rid of these things: those damn earrings. her favorite coffee cup (bright yellow sunshine cup purchased on a trip she took to Florida.), a potato masher from 1972, the nightgown she wore often in the weeks before she died. a pair of her jeans, ironed, of course, with the crease down the front.

    Unlike Didion, who could live among the things that belonged to her husband, I had to empty my mom's apartment. After her death, I immersed myself in this task. Some of it was easy. Trash out. Food that I won't use to food bank. I set up boxes for her brothers, sisters and mom, things she wanted them to have, things I thought they'd like to have as mementos. Then it gets tricky. All the furniture, boxes of clothes, the toaster... I did not want to end up on an episode of Hoarders. I tried to be practical and donate what I could, but there is still a corner in my basement full of her things. (A friend of mine said her garage is still full of her mother's things 5 years later!)

    When the last item of her furniture was lugged out of the apartment, I watched them load it into a truck and I sat in her empty apartment and wept.

    I wept as I shut the door for the last time.

    Didion on the other hand, comes home, sleeps in the same bed, sees his chair, his stuff, always there. A year after she dies, she goes to the chair where he took his last breath, and looks at the pile of books and magazines he'd been thumbing through prior to his death.

    How does that mess with your grief process? Does it make it easier? Worse? In my mind as I moved things out I could say I was simply moving her into a new apartment. Magical thinking.

    Didion kept her husband's shoes. Magical thinking.

    For us, and for those we love who are grieving, it is so very important to recognize and appreciate the fact that we all grieve in a unique fashion. Didion points to literature on proper grieving etiquette, how our culture expects us to behave, even giving us time lines for the process. (be stoic! take a year and then get on with it, already!) Many "great" minds have discussed the process of grief leading to resolution, healing.

    It's not that simple.

    If I may quote another author, Anne Lamott: "You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."

    A year after she loses her husband, Didion has not found resolution. She worries about his memory fading in her mind, of not keeping him "alive". She writes:

    In other words, resolution may never come, but we must learn to dance with the limp.

  • Jason Koivu
    Sep 30, 2012

    To call Joan Didion cold or even heartless - true as it may be in the light of

    , this monument to the analytical dissection of grief - is itself a cold and heartless condemnation. We all grieve in our own way. This is hers.

    After losing numerous family members suddenly and too soon, Didion then lost her husband and daughter within the span of a year. This book is her cathartic contemplation of that loss.

    Heartrending, yes occasionally. Heartwarming, no never. Didion's

    To call Joan Didion cold or even heartless - true as it may be in the light of

    , this monument to the analytical dissection of grief - is itself a cold and heartless condemnation. We all grieve in our own way. This is hers.

    After losing numerous family members suddenly and too soon, Didion then lost her husband and daughter within the span of a year. This book is her cathartic contemplation of that loss.

    Heartrending, yes occasionally. Heartwarming, no never. Didion's demeanor is all too cerebral. It is as if she has educated herself above emotion. Certainly it can be said that some educate themselves beyond their own well-being. In this case, we see a mind so removed from the everyday reality of man as to answer "a motherless child" instead of "a nut" when asked to fill in the blank for "Sometimes you feel like ____." The result, when pushed to produce a book about grieving for loved ones, is an academic's deconstruction. No, it is not without feeling, she is still human after all, but stoicism is her strongest suit.

    Beyond the almost biting cynicism you get beautiful language, great observations and insights to, let's call it, a different kind of emotion.

    I assume, and sincerely hope, she never reads reviews like this. She shouldn't care what snarky assholes think of her work, not this work and not after the experiences she went through that brought it about. One who suffers so many visits from Death should not give two shits or even one single flying fuck what the rest of the world thinks.

  • Darwin8u
    Jan 15, 2014

    ― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

    In four days it will be one year since my

    died in an accidental shooting. He had recently turned 60 and recently celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary. In 18 days it will be four years since my

    died suddenly in a Back Hawk crash in Germany. He was closing in on his 40th birthday. He was preparing to

    .

    I had two father-figures i

    ― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

    In four days it will be one year since my

    died in an accidental shooting. He had recently turned 60 and recently celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary. In 18 days it will be four years since my

    died suddenly in a Back Hawk crash in Germany. He was closing in on his 40th birthday. He was preparing to

    .

    I had two father-figures in my life. I also had two brothers. I lost one of each pair suddenly - dramatically. I've watched my wife struggle with the loss of her father. I've watched my mother-in-law struggle with the sad death and absence of her husband. I've watched my sister-in-law and her kids struggle with the death of their husband and father. I've watched my parents, my siblings. I have grieved much myself for these two good men.

    I was reading when they died. I know this. When my father-in-law died I was reading

    . When my brother died I was reading

    . After their deaths I couldn't read for weeks, and struggled with reading for months. I was in prison. I was drowning in a water I could neither see nor understand.

    Reading Didion's sharp, sometimes funny, but always clear and precise take on her husband's death and her daughter's illness ... my experience is reflected. Not exactly. I'm no Joan Didion and my relationship with both my father-in-law and my brother are mine. However, Didion captures in the net of her prose the essence of grief, tragedy, loss, coping, remembering. Her memoir makes me wonder how it is even possible that someone could both feel a semblance of what I feel and capture all the sad glitters, glints and mudgyness of mourning at the same time. It takes a helluva writer.

  • Debbie
    Nov 28, 2014

    This is a hard book for me to review, as I know my own personal experience will be foremost. A big thank you to a wonderful friend who sent this to me after the loss of my own partner three weeks ago. So yes, this book is about grief and loss. It is Didion's own personal journey after the loss of her husband. The first lines in her memoir begin...

    "Life changes fast.

    Life changes in an instant.

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

    The question of self-pity."

    Those words resonated with

    This is a hard book for me to review, as I know my own personal experience will be foremost. A big thank you to a wonderful friend who sent this to me after the loss of my own partner three weeks ago. So yes, this book is about grief and loss. It is Didion's own personal journey after the loss of her husband. The first lines in her memoir begin...

    "Life changes fast.

    Life changes in an instant.

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

    The question of self-pity."

    Those words resonated with me profoundly. She goes on to describe that grief is very different than loss. Loss can be the death of someone very close which causes sadness, pain, loneliness, etc., but still there is a distance. Still there is an ability to plan and remember things. Grief however is different, as it has no distance. She describes grief as the feeling of waves of distress, shortness of breath, and loss of memory, to name a few. I cannot say enough about how comforting that was for me. Not only did her words help me understand what was happening to me now, but also what I may experience in the future. While everyone responds to grief differently, there are some general "truisms." One's that Didion has found not only from personal experience, but research as well. I was reminded of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and her book on the five stages of death. What may seem the normal progression of feelings are often felt in no particular order or time.

    I had never read Joan Didion before, so I did a little research on her writing. She was born way before social media, and the tell-all confessional types of writing seen today. When she wrote this in 2005, critics accused her of voyeurism. The experience of mourning was still believed to be private, and most thought it should remain that way. I find it interesting that this is the only piece I found missing from parts of her memoir.

    In much of this book she has written more of the facts of her experience than her feelings. To think, 10 years ago this was seen as voyeurism? And yet, in keeping my own journal, I notice much of it is a recording of facts. Maybe in some ways one's emotions shut down as the shock to the body is foremost. I can only wonder in Didion's case, this coupled with the times in which she wrote, how explosive such details must have been.

    I cannot help but feel Didion helped pave the way for many authors to reveal deeper emotions. For me, this sometimes factual account did not take away from the experience that is this book.

    I highly recommend this to anyone who is going through a grieving process, or is interested in the affects grieving produces.


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