Book Cover
Rate this book
5 stars
75,887 (33%)
4 stars
81,442 (36%)
3 stars
47,914 (21%)
2 stars
14,454 (6%)
1 star
5,006 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 18,783 reviews
Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews792 followers
February 7, 2010
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 Why I Write and On Keeping a Notebook. 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 Up Close and Personal 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 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 TYOMT again, I’m struck at how similar the process is:

“ 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 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.”

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?

In the midst of life we are in death. Don’t fucking forget that.
Profile Image for noisy penguin.
300 reviews56 followers
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 "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.
Profile Image for Books Ring Mah Bell.
357 reviews262 followers
December 2, 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 might 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): In each of those cases the phrase, "after a long illness" would have seemed to apply, trailing its misleading suggestion of release, relief, resolution. Yet having seen the picture (impending death) in no way deflected, when it came, the swift empty loss of the actual event.

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:
Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be.
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.

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: I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead., let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table. Let go of them in the water.

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

Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
June 15, 2023
Nobody needs to be told, but it's true what everyone says about this book. It's stunningly beautiful and real. It's the best rendition of what it is to grieve I've ever read.

And nobody needs to be told, either, what a loss it is to not have Joan and her writing and her voice with us anymore.

But we all keep trying to say it anyway.

Bottom line: Pure excellence.


only joan.

review to come / 4.5 stars

currently-reading updates

ready to self destruct on a weekday

tbr review

“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”

rip joan didion.
Profile Image for Dawn.
6 reviews8 followers
June 14, 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. And Didion's pervasive name-dropping and repeated descriptions of her wealth and fame just made me hate the book even more.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
September 21, 2020
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started reading this, I had just known it was Didion's most well known work, but I was kind of caught off guard to find out it was about her husband's death and the simultaneous acute illness of her daughter. I'm not completely sure I know how I felt about this. Parts of it I really liked and found moving. I really like the stream of consciousness way it was written and the repetition through out. It really felt like it captured the certain monotonous and obsessive way grief feels. The last line of it confused me and I had to look it up and see what it meant, and I think there's probably no way I would've known what it meant because I don't know much about Christian theology. It felt sort of unsatisfactory the way it ended up and how it plays out but I also think that's very in line with the way the loss of someone essential feels, there isn't clear resolution, just a slow moving forward, of things fading away. I think mostly I liked this one, not sure though if it's enjoyable reading per se and if I would recommend it to people unless they were dealing with grief.

Profile Image for Julie G.
897 reviews2,931 followers
July 14, 2019
I have a grubby Post-it note by the side of my bed on which I've written in pencil: loss is not always death.

I don't remember anymore if these are my words, a line I wrote down from a book, or something that I took home from therapy, but the wisdom remains: loss is not always death.

I have two friends right now who have been nearly decimated by recent divorces, and they will assure you, quickly, that a significant, life-altering loss does not need to involve death. In fact, both women will let you know, matter-of-factly, that the deaths of their spouses would have resulted in a financial security that the abandonment by their spouses has obliterated.

Loss is not always death.

But here, in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, loss is absolutely, irrevocably about death.

More specifically, the death of her husband, John.

This is not, as I once suspected, a self-help book, and there aren't, as I once thought, tips here on how to embrace magical thinking.

There is no magical thinking here. . . just a lot of recalled memories, questions about what she could have done differently to prevent her husband's death (nothing) and grieving, grieving, grieving.

This is my first exposure to Joan Didion's writing and I can tell you with great confidence: she can write. The lady can write, no doubt about it.

I highlighted several passages and was often in awe of the way she views life events, in a highly educated, classical sort of way.

However, I had two main issues with this book. Big issues that were almost deal-breakers for me.

My first complaint: the incessant name-dropping. Boy howdy, do I hate name-dropping, and I'm encountering it more and more in memoirs lately. Ms. Didion, for whatever reason, wants you to know that she hangs out with famous people, stays at fancy hotels, and she didn't drive a car, she drove a Corvette.

She is also extremely out of touch with how other people live, and I couldn't honestly tell if this was just a personal limitation or if she wanted us to know that it was the very nature of how special her particular life was with her husband that made her fall so much harder than the rest of us would, if we lost our spouses.

This paragraph of hers is the perfect example of what I'm trying to convey:

Later, after I married and had a child, I learned to find equal meaning in the repeated rituals of domestic life. Setting the table. Lighting the candles. Building the fire. Cooking. All those soufflés, all that crème caramel, all those daubes and albóndigas and gumbos. . . These fragments I have shored against my ruins. . .

Do you see the problem?

It's partly poetic, and partly revolting.

Ms. Didion never drives back to the hotel, she always drives back to the Beverly Wilshire.

The second complaint: her memoir is so very specific to the loss of John versus the loss of spouse, I honestly found that her story lacked general appeal. I understand it is HER story, but I believe that a reader must find themselves somewhere in the pages, in order to remain engaged.

Occasionally, she dug deep and tapped into some more approachable, generalized suffering and this, to me, is when her writing truly hit its mark: my heart.

I would imagine that the hardest part about being separated, divorced or widowed after so many years with a partner would be the living alone, and she captures this feeling ever so poignantly here:

There came a time in the summer when I began feeling fragile, unstable. A sandal would catch on a sidewalk and I would need to run a few steps to avoid a fall. What if I didn't? What if I fell? What would break, who would see the blood streaming down my leg, who would get the taxi, who would be with me in the emergency room? Who would be with me once I got home?

Now that is a fear that most of us would find relatable.

This memoir was not a slam-dunk for me, but I do have great compassion for Ms. Didion's terrible loss and I have found myself kissing my family members more often on the cheeks this week. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that we could lose our loved ones at any time.

I think Ms. Didion's fiction might be a more appropriate undertaking for me, and I will tackle some of it soon, but I do hope her characters dine on something other than daubes and albóndigas.

Whatever the hell those are.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,195 reviews1,816 followers
December 7, 2022

Quando terminò la cerimonia ci recammo nella villetta di Pebble Beach. C’erano degli stuzzichini, dello champagne, una terrazza aperta sul Pacifico, una cosa molto semplice. Per la luna di miele passammo qualche notte in bungalow del ranch San Ysidro di Montecito e poi, annoiati, fuggimmo al Beverly Hills Hotel.

Ce la farà una persona che scrive queste cose, con questo tono, ce la farà a trasmettere il suo dolore, il senso della sua perdita, a risultare empatica…?

Joan Didion e il marito John Gregory Dunne, nato a Hartford; Connecticut, il 25 maggio 1932, morto a New York il 30 dicembre 2003.

Oh, se ce la farà!
Ce la fa, senza alcun dubbio, ce l’ha fatta: il suo libro è un colpo alla parte più sensibile del lettore, senza trascurare quella più cognitiva. Joan Didion è probabilmente snob, forse anche insopportabilmente snob: ma ha rara intelligenza e sensibilità e scrive da dio.

Quaranta anni insieme, 24 ore al giorno: perché moglie e marito sono scrittori e sceneggiatori e giornalisti – a volte lavorano insieme allo stesso film, per lo più ciascuno porta avanti la sua scrittura – ma lui è il primo lettore di lei, e viceversa – il primo lettore di una nuova opera, ma anche semplicemente di un articolo di giornale, di un pensiero, un’annotazione. Tra John e Joan lo scambio è continuo, quotidiano, insistito, profondo. Lei non ha conservato lettere di lui: semplicemente perché non si sono mai scritti - stavano sempre insieme, non ce n’era motivo – durante le rare separazioni, le salate bollette del telefono sostituivano la corrispondenza.
Per quaranta anni, 24 ore al giorno.

Didion e Dunne, moglie e marito, insieme scrissero la sceneggiatura di ‘Panico a Needle Park’, ‘È nata una stella’, ‘L’assoluzione’.

Poi, una sera, in un attimo, patatrac, lui se ne va: improvvisamente smette di parlare, non risponde a una domanda di lei, cade per terra ed è già morto.
[La figlia da qualche giorno è ricoverata in terapia intensiva, inizio di una lunga malattia che la vedrà in ospedale per mesi, morire un anno e mezzo dopo].

Joan inizia a leggere qualsiasi cosa che riesca a trovare sulla morte: medicina, psicanalisi, psichiatria, scienze naturali, storia delle culture, letteratura, mitologia…
Questo libro è ovviamente il tentativo di Didion di elaborare il suo lutto, di affrontare assenza e perdita del marito.
Ma, prima di tutto, è una dichiarazione d’amore, perché racconta una magnifica storia d’amore.


Didion racconta i fatti nei dettagli, attenta alla cronologia, ripercorrendola più e più volte; esamina il suo sentire come un anatomopatologo; cita opere sue e altrui; ma anche letteratura medica della quale diventa esperta; e referti, anamnesi, terapie; fa ricerche su Google, prende in mano poesie, ricorda canzoni, ripercorre la sua vita, rivive ricordi, ripassa la memoria…
La razionalità del suo raccontare, dell’uso dei dettagli, e della cronologia dei fatti, delle cose che bene o male compie, si conserva: questa razionalità si sovrappone all’irrazionalità dell’ostinato desiderio di chi non c’è più, di abolire la morte, cancellare la perdita, annullare l’assenza, fermare il tempo, riavvolgerlo, riviverlo, duplicarlo…

Joan Didion e Vanessa Redgrave che ha portato sul palcoscenico la versione teatrale di questo memoir.

Questo è il pensiero magico (in realtà, il pensiero ipnotico) che dura un anno più un giorno, dal 30 dicembre 2003 fino al 31 dicembre 2004, quando Joan si accorge che un anno è già passato, per specchiare l’oggi nello ieri insieme a John deve usare un’agenda di più: e questo piccolo sforzo in più è già il segno dell’inizio dell’accettazione del cambiamento.

Quando Didion inizia a scrivere questo libro, John è morto da nove mesi.
Quando lo pubblica, nell’agosto del 2005, sua figlia è morta da due mesi.
Joan non cambia il racconto, l’anno del pensiero magico è finito, alla figlia dedica un libro che scriverà anni dopo, “Blue Nights”.

È stata descritta come una personalità raffinata, sofisticata, tagliente: qui, Joan Didion sa mettersi a nudo con raro coraggio e sincerità, sa mostrare i tormenti della sua anima restando intelligente profonda elegante, dotata di una scrittura che spacca.

Di quest’opera esiste un adattamento teatrale a opera della stessa Didion, portato in scena da Vanessa Redgrave.

Ti amerò anche più che un giorno di più, dice Audrey Hepburn-Marian a Sean Connery-Robin Hood in una delle scene più struggenti della mia personale storia del cinema. E così dice il padre, che di cinema si era sempre nutrito nel senso più letterale, alla figlia stesa sul letto della rianimazione lasciandola per tornare a casa. Poche ore prima di morire.

5 reviews11 followers
November 20, 2009
'I hadn’t been able to think of food for days, so I had sent Higgins out for an hors d’oeuvres platter from Café Provencal. I was nibbling brie and beluga caviar on the deck, watching the sun set over the New York skyline and wondering how things could get any worse when Higgins brought me the phone. It was Gary.
My stomach lurched. Sequoia had collapsed at the bus terminal and been rushed to the emergency room, but there was no word as to what was wrong with her. I had to get to Los Angeles as quickly as possible, but first I had to find suitable accommodations. I called my close friend, Academy Award nominated film director Gérard Lupin.
“Gérard,” I said, overemphasizing the accent mark as he prefers, “Sequoia has fallen ill! I need to borrow your chateau for a few weeks while she’s in the hospital.”
“But of course, Jane,” he said. “You’ve already lost so much. You know, I once said to Jim, may he rest in peace, ‘Jim, you’re inarguably one of the most masterful writers of the 20th Century.’ And he said to me, ‘Yes, Gérard. I am. Second only to Jane, perhaps. I am truly blessed to have found someone as wonderful as her.’”
He paused, reminiscing. Then he spoke again, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m shooting with Sir Anthony Hopkins in Luxembourg (he says hello), but I will do anything I can to help.” He cleared his throat. “But what is Sequoia doing in France?”
“The California chateau, at the vineyard,” I said.
“Ah, of course,” he said sadly.'
That’s an excerpt from my upcoming Joan Didion parody, working title: “The Year of Entitled Thinking”. You may have correctly inferred from the tone that I didn’t much enjoy The Year of Magical Thinking. According to a friend who was able to generate a surprising amount of outrage in response to my disdain, this is because I am “not an adult”, but in speaking with her and reflecting on it for a few days, I think I’ve come to a somewhat more nuanced understanding of my viewpoint.
To begin with, this book is the very definition (by my standard, anyway) of creative non-fiction. Didion tells a very personal story entirely from her own perspective. In fact, the story is really about her perspective, her grief and corresponding inability to rationally accept that John is gone and won’t ever be coming back. She even goes so far as to underscore the extreme subjectivity of the narrative by pointing out a few times where her recollection of events explicitly differs from that of some of the other players. She does, on the other hand, also try to universalize it by citing experts/psychological studies on the grieving process and juxtaposing the information with her own experience, almost as if to say, “This happens to everyone, even Joan Fucking Didion .” It’s certainly interesting to think that this state of grief-stricken irrationality is so commonplace as to be almost scientifically quantifiable, although I’m taking her word for it. The narrative itself seems somewhat disjointed at parts, with Didion repeating herself or not making herself entirely clear, but I think that’s intentional, to better bring the reader into line with her state of mind at the time.
Thereupon sitteth, on an ostentatious, jewel-encrusted throne, my problem with the book, I think. Didion’s a great writer. She almost compels the reader to empathize with her, not just her emotions, but the state of temporary, borderline insanity she finds herself in. I really feel like I have a good idea of who Joan Didion is as a person, or at least who Joan Didion wants me to think she is, and that would seem to be a guiding purpose of autobiographical creative non-fiction. I have sympathy for her, especially having discovered that Quintana also passed away right before the book was published. But I don’t think I like her very much.
This is subjective, obviously. I got the impression that Didion is something of a literary star, inasmuch as such a thing exists any more. From whom did I get that impression? From Joan Fucking Didion, that’s who. I don’t know how to explain it better. I think if she had referred to herself entirely in the third person throughout: “Important Author Joan Didion didn’t have an appetite,” it would have fit my interpretation of her general tone. She name-drops in a way that I find fairly inappropriate given the context. She creates an image of a person who’s certainly living far more comfortably than anyone I know, and I find it difficult to muster that much sympathy. I’m sure there are at least three-billion people on the planet who’d trade places with Joan Didion in a heartbeat, even given these tragic circumstances, because it would mean that they weren’t going to starve or die of malaria or have their arms cut off by a roving gang of soldiers. Is that an unfair standard to hold this story to? Of course it is. But I found it to be fairly self-indulgent and self-reverential. And the fact that she seems to have anticipated that I might react this way and told me that she would have felt the same way at my age, but that her younger self and I are both wrong only strengthens my conviction. Who knows, maybe I’ll understand better when I’m an Old.
I don’t deny that Didion is a talented writer, but she seems to know it too and take herself way too seriously as a result. That is my perspective.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
September 16, 2017
“It occurs to me that we allow ourselves to imagine only such messages as we need to survive.”
― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking


In four days it will be one year since my father-in-law 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 older brother died suddenly in a Back Hawk crash in Germany. He was closing in on his 40th birthday. He was preparing to land.

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 Falconer. When my brother died I was reading This Is Water. 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.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
August 24, 2015
I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to write about this book. This is, without a doubt, the perfect book about having your husband die suddenly of a massive heart attack while your daughter is in the hospital in a coma, about to begin her own death-defying medical struggle (one she eventually loses, although that’s outside the scope of this particular book). I thought this memoir was so perfect that it’s hard for me to understand any of the criticisms of it. Are the critics saying there’s only one way to grieve, and Joan Didion is doing it wrong? Or that there’s only one way to write about grieving, and Joan Didion is doing that wrong?

If you’ve ever grieved the loss of anyone, I don’t see how you can hold either of these opinions. Grief does not follow some straight line, where you’re devastated and then day by day you’re less devastated, until one day you’re fine. As this book makes clear, grief is sporadic and unpredictable. It ebbs and flows. There’s nothing logical about it, and trying to impose logic isn't going to help you at all. And so, Joan Didion takes a cab home from the hospital after the death of her husband John, and her first thought is that she really needs to discuss the situation with John. She initially doesn’t want people to know about his death, because it might ruin his chances of coming back. With both her daughter and her husband, she goes over situations again and again, as if by doing so she could somehow change what has already happened. She moves back to Los Angeles to be with her daughter during her latest hospital stay, but finds the streets so full of memories that she must devise careful routes that don’t lead her past any troubling locations that might leave her useless for the rest of the day. She cries to her doctor that she “just can’t see the upside” to the situation. If all of this sounds grim, it is. Of course it is. But perfect.

There seem to be two main criticisms of this book. One is that Joan Didion is ice-cold, standoffish, and unfeeling. She certainly seems this way sometimes: At the time of her husband’s death, the social worker assigned to her calls her “a pretty cool customer.” Significantly, though, Joan wonders what an “uncool customer” would be allowed to do: “Break down? Require sedation? Scream?” Joan wonders this not with judgment, but clearly with a kind of envy: Just because she doesn’t do these things doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to.

Fittingly, then, the other criticism I’ve seen is that Joan is too self-pitying. Joan addresses this in the book as well. We abhor self-pity in our culture, but, as she points out, if you’ve been through a traumatic experience over which you have no control, self-pity is a perfectly normal response. And it is! So I guess the truth is, in this book, Joan Didion is both self-pitying and a “cool customer.” In this book you see quite clearly the struggle of someone who’s kept things under control for years and now finds, late in life, that nothing at all is under her control. How it could be written any other way is beyond me.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
434 reviews4,256 followers
September 25, 2023
The Year of Magical Thinking is a transparent, heartrending memoir on grief.

This book first came on my radar in James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read, but it caught my eye again when I watched the Netflix documentary: Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold.

In the documentary, Didion was so articulate that I wanted to hear more. She spent her youth typing out Hemingway’s works to learn more about how to compose great writing. This is someone that I had to know more about.

Joan Didion won the same contest as Sylvia Plath, winning a free trip to New York and a spot as a guest editor for Mademoiselle. Oh how this reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

In 1964, Joan marries fellow author, John Gregory Dunne. Two years later, the couple adopt a baby girl named Quintana, bringing her home from the hospital when she was three days old.

Joan and John spend 40 years in marital bliss, finishing each other’s sentences, traveling the world together, supporting each other personally and professionally. Their now adult daughter Quintana is recently married but has fallen ill, fighting for her life in the ICU.

After spending the day visiting their daughter in the hospital, Joan and John return home for a peaceful, quiet night. Joan starts a fire, fixes John a drink, and prepares dinner. As she sits down to the table, John stops speaking, slumps over, and dies.

The Year of Magical Thinking is about Joan’s grief, her loss of her partner and love. She is fixated on that last day. How did he die? When did he die? Could she have done something differently to change the outcome?

She talks about mourning and how the United States doesn’t embrace public grief. In this regard, I wholeheartedly agree. People at my company receive three days of bereavement leave. Three days.

There are a handful of people that I trust in my life. These are the people that I can call at any time day or night. They are the people that if I fall, they are going to be there, right beside me cheering me on and lifting me up, carrying me if I can’t walk. These are people that can’t be replaced or “gotten over” in three days.

Didion mentions how she doesn’t want time to go by. She wants to remember John exactly as he was. This I understand. You don’t want the memories to fade. You don’t want anything to slip. You have to be hypervigilant because that person won’t be there to remind you of the time that you shared together. Someone has to keep the memories alive.

The Year of Magical Thinking felt real, not watered down. If you like feeling things deeply, this is your book.

Connect With Me!
Blog Twitter BookTube Facebook Insta
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
April 12, 2023
“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”

The 100 best nonfiction books: No 2 – The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005) | Joan Didion | The Guardian

There was a lot to think about in Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinkingespecially about grief and identity. I just felt that the way grief was intellectualized made this grief seem less immediate and less personal. Despite a moving account in The Year of Magical Thinking, it did not work for me. In my view,Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains Didion's seminal work and the one I'll go back to when I think about how good a writer Joan Didion is.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews35 followers
May 23, 2022
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), by Joan Didion (b. 1934), is an account of the year following the death of the author's husband John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003).

The Year of Magical Thinking was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning. 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.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «سال اندیشه جادویی»؛ «سال تفکر جادویی»؛ نویسنده: جون دیدیون؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هفتم ماه ژانویه سال2019میلادی

عنوان: سال اندیشه جادویی؛ نویسنده: جون دیدیون؛ مترجم: نیلوفر داد؛ ویراستار مهدی افشار؛ تهران نشر قاصدک صبا، سال‏‫1397؛ در215ص؛ شابک9786005675351؛‬ چاپ دوم سال1397؛ موضوع سرگذشتنامه نویسندگان ایالا متحده آمریکا - سده21م

عنوان: سال تفکر جادویی؛ نویسنده: جوآن دیدیون؛ مترجم: نیوشا افخمی‌عقدا؛ تهران، نشر کتاب کوله‌ پشتی، سال‏‫1397؛ در240ص؛ شابک9786004611572؛‬

کتاب «سال اندیشه جادو��ی»، اثری نوشته ی «جون دیدیون» است، که نخستین بار در سال2005میلادی منتشر شد؛ در داستان چند روز پیش از کریسمس سال2003میلادی، «جان گرگوری دون» و «جون دیدیون» دریافتند، که تنها دخترشان، «کویینتانا»، دچار بیماری شده است؛ دلیل بیماری نخست آنفولانزا به دیده میرسید، سپس علائم ذات الریه هویدا شدند، و پس از آن، «شوک سپتیک (نوعی بیماری عفونی)» خود را بروز داد؛ «کویینتانا» به کمای مصنوعی برده شد، و زیر مراقبتهای شدید پزشکی قرار گرفت؛ چند روز بعد، «جان گرگوری دون» دچار نوعی حاد و کشنده از بیماری عروق کرونری قلب شد؛ در یک ثانیه، رابطه ی نزدیک، عاشقانه و چهل ساله ی «جون دیدیون» و همسرش به پایان رسید؛ چهار هفته بعد، وضعیت سلامتی «کویینتانا» رو به بهبود گذاشت، اما دو ماه بعد، ناگهان از حال رفت و تحت یک جراحی مغز دشوار و شش ساعته قرار گرفت؛ «دیدیون»» در این شرح حال زیبا، و تأثیرگذار تلاش میکند، چند ماه و هفته ای را توضیح دهد، که تمامی عقایدش نسبت به زندگی، مرگ، بیماری، ازدواج، خانواده و خاطرات را برای همیشه تغییر داد؛ کتاب «سال اندیشه جادویی»، اثری درباره ی خود زندگی است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 01/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 01/03/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Kate.
175 reviews16 followers
January 2, 2008
Joan Didion's daughter Quintana fell gravely ill and was hospitalized with a serious infection. She was placed in a medical coma and put on life support. Only weeks later, Joan's husband, John Dunne, was speaking with her from their living room after visiting their daughter in the hospital, stopped mid-sentence and keeled over dead on the floor of a massive coronary. Four weeks later, Quintana pulled through and revived, but only two months after that, she collapsed from a massive brain hematoma.

Joan Didion documented this year in this book, which I think I heard about on NPR or somewhere, I'm not entirely sure. I know you're all going to hate me for kicking the widow when she's down, but this book was a lot less than I expected. I got through it, but I really thought it would be more about her feelings. Instead, Didion did a lot of research on grief and puts many of her findings in the book. She spends a lot of time analyzing the way things are and trying to figure out if she's behaving in a way that seems "normal" for your "average widow."

I read a review on that calls Joan Didion's writing as "cool" and perhaps lacking emotion, and I felt that way about this book. The most moving passage in the whole book was one in which she states that she realized she was in denial when she cleaned out her husband's closets, but couldn't get rid of his shoes because he would need them when he got back. I thought to myself, "well, now we're getting somewhere", but perhaps she didn't want to share where those painful thoughts led, because there was no indication that she picked the shoes up and flung them at the walls while sobbing in rage. And I wanted her to. I wanted her to be angry at God and everyone for putting her in this terrible situation with her husband's death and her daughter's serious illnesses. But instead, she seemed rather detached. Maybe she didn't want to share those feelings, but if that were so, she shouldn't have written a book purporting to be about that very topic. I found this book to be tremendously disappointing.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,633 followers
July 26, 2017
I have only experienced the death of a few friends and my grandparents, so I cannot say that the grief that Joan Didion describes has ever been my own. However, her loss of her husband John from a sudden heart attack while simultaneously her daughter Quintana was fighting for her life talked to me very deeply. This is not a feel good, self-help book. It is a heartbreaking and yet cathartic reliving of her first year as a widow. I admit to wetting the pages with a few tears as I read the entire book in one sitting today. The loss of some of my friends hit me hard because I could still remember them when we had spent time together and I regretted that there had been so precisely little of that time. This, in a far more intimate and poignant manner is what Ms Didion describes as she picks up the pieces and moves on. The prose is splendid as many of the themes and images recur again and again as she processes and moves from grief to mourning. I think what moved me the most was the phrase her husband had said to his daughter, "I love you more than even one more say" that Audrey Hepburn says to Sean Connery in Robin and Marian.
For anyone dealing with loss and bereavement, this is a very cleansing read. For anyone coming out of physical or psychological trauma, I also thinking that this book hold valuable insight.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews403 followers
August 29, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Talkincloud.
172 reviews3,361 followers
January 29, 2022
Przeczytałem o stracie, o chorobie, o bólu, o cierpieniu, o śmierci, o niemocy przyznania przed sobą, że osoba, którą kochało się czterdzieści lat nie żyje. Nie ma jej. Nie wróci. Obudziło się we mnie współczucie do Didion i jako jednostka, która sama doświadczyła straty i patrzyła na czyjąś smierć byłem w stanie mentalnie objąć ją i powiedzieć, że może płakać, że może przeżywać i nie musi zamykać się w klatce. Wszystko kiedyś minie.

To książka autobiograficzna, dlatego ocenienie jej trochę mija się z celem, aczkolwiek mogę zaznaczyć, że pod względem literackim jest to dzieło nad wyraz dobre. Didion jest ze słowem pisanym za pan brat i nie musi się wysilać (choć sama pisze, że jest inaczej), żeby opowiedzieć o tym co przeżyła w klarowny, przejmujący sposób.

Jednak ja do „Roku…” nie wrócę. Ta książka nie była dla mnie. Może to kwestia tego, że nastawiłem się na dzieło uniwersalne. „Rok magicznego myślenia” nie jest uniwersalny. To książka napisana dla literatów i krytyków, a może dla kogoś, kto już tę autorkę dobrze zna (takie odniosłem wrażenie podczas lektury). Jakiekolwiek utożsamienie się z Didion, poza emocjonalnym elementem samej straty bliskiej osoby, wychodziło poza granicę moich możliwości. Przeczytałem o roku życia uprzywilejowanej pisarki, obracającej się w świecie artystów, dziennikarzy i polityków. Nie uroniłem łzy, nie czułem się poruszony, a czasem nawet byłem mało zainteresowany tym, co ma jeszcze do opowiedzenia. Nie odbiorę Didion kunsztu, wrażliwości i wyczucia słowa, ale jest mi przykro, że jednak do mnie nie trafia.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,876 followers
August 8, 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 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 yours 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.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,490 followers
December 23, 2021
This is the second book my wife has recommended to me about people whose spouses die. If I'm found dead please deliver this review to the police.

There's a clinical feel about it. Not accidentally: Didion goes out of her way to cite research on the effects of grief. She analyzes it. You can feel her standing back from it, trying desperately to understand it. It doesn't engage in the despair of About Alice. This is how Didion, not our mushiest writer but one of our best, approaches the world: she tries to dig in and understand. She's "a cool customer," as a hospital worker describes her at the moment of her husband's death. "What," she wonders, "would an uncool customer be allowed to do?"

So people complain that there isn't enough passion here. At times I felt like the tragedy here wasn't the loss of love, but the loss of habit.

But habit is life, and what Didion is trying to describe is the loss of her life as she knew it. My wife said it well: About Alice is about love, she said; Year of Magical Thinking is about loss. Didion refuses to go through the motions; she doesn't engage in the histrionics we expect. This is not the trappings of grief but grief itself: deep and black and quiet. It's personal and without artifice. None of this mass-produced conformist dreck: this is artisanal grief, produced by hand.
Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
250 reviews1,004 followers
March 15, 2023
Joan and I, we didn’t really connect.

The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion’s personal account of her marriage to and the death of her husband, John Dunne. John suffered a major heart attack just days after their daughter, Quintana, was placed into an induced coma in order to heal from septic shock. Quintana recovered, amazingly, only to then collapse two months later from a brain hematoma.

So here we have Ms. Didion as she faces the insurmountable task of grieving for her husband while caring for her daughter in the ICU. It’s unimaginable.

Yet I have such conflictive feelings about this memoir.

It’s at times poignant … but then it’s not. It’s relatable … for example, when Joan would whisper to Quintana while she’s lying in the hospital bed, “You’re safe. I’m here” … but then it’s not. And it’s insightful … up until she slips into lengthy passages filled with research about grief and quotes from outside sources.

I listened to the audiobook, and one moment I would find myself fully engrossed in Didion’s grieving process only to later be tuning out segments that felt overly clinical. And even when Didion is at her most vulnerable and her writing is the most gripping, she maintains an aloof distance to the subject matter in an attempt to keep her emotions in check. My emotions, then, were kept in check, too.

The Year of Magical Thinking is my first outing with Ms. Didion, and regardless of my lukewarm feelings towards it, I will read her again. She is an extraordinary writer; I see her brilliance. But next time, I’ll go a different route and try her fiction instead.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,256 followers
May 29, 2013
To call Joan Didion cold or even heartless - true as it may be in the light of The Year of Magical Thinking, 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.
Profile Image for leah.
311 reviews2,013 followers
July 1, 2022
the only work of didion’s that i had read before this was the white album, a book of essays exploring the history and politics of california in the 60s - but my favourite essays within it were the more personal ones, the essays where didion moves the curtain to give us a peek into her own life. in the year of magical thinking, didion completely rips down the curtain, sharing the intimate details of her grieving process after the sudden death of her husband, at the same time as her daughter quintana is seriously ill in hospital.

didion’s writing is a master class in the art of brevity, her exploration of grief cutting to the bone with its honesty and frankness, while her vulnerability allows the reader to follow along on her journey to try and make sense of such a sudden, debilitating loss. as she has been taught to do since childhood, didion takes refuge in literature, analysing grief and citing research on its effects. she desperately seeks the answers for the question of self-pity and to understand grief itself, and in so doing, allows the reader to understand it a little better too.

although the book is specific to didion’s own life and loss, it’s still possible to find relatability within its pages, which i think just speaks to the universality of the human experience. while i personally haven’t experienced the kind of grief that didion explores, i know that the course of life renders it inevitable, but i find some comfort in knowing that i can always revisit this book over the coming years.
Profile Image for Lynne King.
494 reviews676 followers
January 10, 2022
I read this incredible book five years ago but with the death of Joan Didion on 23 December 2021 from complications with Parkinson's Disease, I felt that I had to acknowledge how helpful she was with this book in the grief that I was suffering from at the death of my husband. She made everything right from what I thought of my own unusual behaviour at the time.

Such a slight, rather frail looking woman but within was a determined spirit.

The sentence that has remained with me always is:

…You have to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He [John] told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.

Yes indeed. God is looking on this small bird, the sparrow. A fitting end for 2021 ...

RIP Joan Didion - 31 December 2021

Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of “waves”.

I cannot remember when I was last so moved by a book. It covers a sad subject, that of death with the subsequent grief and mourning periods but it amazed me with its lucidity of a woman who wrote this book a year after her husband’s death. In fact I was not going to bother writing a review but then my mind took over unfortunately.

I empathised with the author because my husband John died nearly two years ago. I kept a diary after his death and reading it now I realize that I was acting in a very strange way. I became very critical of couples who stayed together because they didn’t love their spouse but they were terrified of a future on their own. I also found that I became more sensitive to people who were pained and probably in a way, John’s death which was dreadful for me, was even more dreadful for him. He had gone. He could not return. And this is where Joan Didion magnificently displays her thoughts on how she felt when her husband John of nearly forty years died of a massive heart attack whilst they were having dinner in New York. Her writing is similar to a dream sequence. How could this have happened? Could she have prevented it? And then he was, as she believed, going to return to her. She refused to give her husband’s shoes away. He would need them for the return. She could accept his going with the funeral but then she was asked whether she could donate his organs. She reflected on this but believed that as he was not hooked up to a life support system when he arrived at the hospital that was not possible; obviously they wanted John’s eyes; the beautiful eyes of her husband.

In parallel with this dreadful situation, her daughter Quintana had fallen ill with what was initially believed to be flu, then pneumonia and then she went into complete septic shock. This happened a week or so before the unexpected death of Joan’s husband. But then we gradually learn that he had continual cardiac problems and he appeared to be aware that his own death was imminent.

Nevertheless, with the aftermath of grief, one wonders, what is grief and I can only assume that it is the initial part of mourning. Joan, a year later, realises that her behaviour had been odd and I believe is coming to terms with her loss. This book was published in 2005, a year after her husband’s death and I hope that she has come to terms with this and is fine. Memories will always be there but life continues. What other choice is there? Suicide. So easy to do but it can nevertheless be brutal. I was always so fascinated with Seneca’s suicide.

After a brief interrogation, Seneca was told to end his own life, which he did only with great difficulty. He severed his arteries, but he was so old and emaciated that the blood hardly escaped; so he asked for the hemlock that he had stashed away for just that purpose, but that had little effect either. He died only when his slaves carried him into a hot bath and he suffocated in the steam.

Joan’s daughter Quintana recovered but then became seriously ill a few months afterwards and so life continued with its anguish. Joan was left with the thought that she was there during her daughter’s illness but she would soon have to let go as Quintana had recently married. And what was Joan going to do with her life. I still have the same problem.

And the book ends beautifully:

…You have to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He [John] told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.

I had to look this up about the sparrow. I had no idea that it was a hymn and that God continues to watch over us. I like that. It was an appropriate ending to an absolutely mesmerising and wonderful book, not read once but three times. Am I religious? Not in the past but my thoughts are indeed changing.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,447 followers
April 28, 2023
Pe cînd stau la masă, într-o seară, după ce și-au vizitat fiica, Quintana Roo, la spital, soțul lui Joan Didion se prăbușește fără suflare. O moarte subită, vor declara medicii.

Oare în ce constă „gîndirea magică”, menționată de Joan Didion în titlul acestui volum?

Am impresia că se referă la două lucruri. Cel dintîi este convingerea că seria întîmplărilor care se închide cu moartea subită a unui om e reversibilă. Dacă există moarte, există și posibilitatea de a o anula. Moartea nu poate fi ceva definitiv. Firește, cei care nu au fost afectați (deocamdată) de sfîrșitul unei persoane apropiate nu cred asta. Ideea e irațională.

Întreaga istorie a omenirii atestă definitivul morții. Nu putem cere, totuși, celor care au suferit o pierdere să gîndească exact ca noi. Pentru a depăși suferința, e nevoie, probabil, tocmai de această gîndire „magică”. Joan Didion notează: „Cu toate astea, eu nu eram deloc pregătită să accept vestea asta ca definitivă: la un anumit nivel credeam că ceea ce s-a întîmplat rămăsese reversibil: there was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible”.

Al doilea lucru care ține de această gîndire „alterată, magică” este credința „supraviețuitorului” că faptul morții cuiva ar fi putut fi evitat. Nimeni nu moare din senin. Moartea poate fi subită (ca în cazul de față), dar ea este anunțată de niște semne premonitorii. Totul e să le sesizezi și să le citești corect. Privind retroactiv, lui Joan Didion i se pare că, în multe împrejurări, a fost „oarbă” sau, cel puțin, neglijentă. Ar fi trebuit să-și dea seama că niște fulgere de culoare roșie (pe care le-a zărit într-o seară) îi anunțau, de fapt, un eveniment funest. Dacă ar fi priceput sensul lor, soțul ei, John Gregory Dunne, ar mai fi în viață.

Cînd moare un om, spune gîndirea magică, singurul vinovat e cel care rămîne...
Profile Image for Sara.
152 reviews52 followers
December 4, 2013
"you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. the question of self-pity."

i picked up this book and read it knowing nothing more than those two short lines. those two lines which become the refrain of the memoir.

i think i must have been drawn to it intuitively, i needed to read this book when i did. didion's memoir records her thoughts, feelings and actions during the year following her husband's death and her daughter's near-death hospitalizations (i learned later that after the book was published her daughter did die, a fact which is incorporated into the broadway play adaptation).

there is nothing sentimental about this memoir, though it easily could be. instead, the memoir feels like a combination of reading didion's diary and also following her every action. she tells us of every thing she does to try to understand her husband's death and daughter's illness, relying primarily on science for her answers, which she does not find.

this is not a self-help book. it did not teach me how to properly grieve. instead, it showed me how one woman, in her own particular circumstances, handled her grieving, which sometimes included not really handling it at all.

i needed to read this book when i did and i would recommend it to anyone who has ever experienced a profound loss from which you may not have fully healed. this won't teach you how to heal but it may make you feel less alone and less crazy when life as you know it ends and you begin that insane plunge into the question of self-pity.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,425 reviews35.2k followers
November 14, 2014
3 Stars. I heard a lot of hype about this book prior to reading it and by the reviews I see that People either really liked it or disliked. I think I am in the middle. I find it very hard to rate someone's grief and story of their year since the loss of a loved one (her husband). Joan Didion's memoir opens with her daughter being ill with pneumonia and being in the hospital. After deciding to eat at home, she begins to make dinner and realizes that her husband is not longer talking to her. After calling an ambulance her husband is declared dead at the hospital. Didon goes into detail about her year following her husband's death. Her daughter continues to have health issues and several serious hospitalizations, brain surgery, etc. Didion goes back and forth telling us about her marriage, the ceremony, their vacations, events with friends, etc. I noticed that several reviews mention her wealth and social status. How much or how little money we have does not determine how deeply we feel or how much we grieve. Some also describe her as being cold in her descriptions. Perhaps if she went into detail about crying jags, screaming fits, etc. the book would be more dramatic...but perhaps that is too personal for Didion and everyone grieves in his/her own way. I am sure writing this book helped her grieving process. Did I feel connected with her? No, but I appreciate her telling her story. She is a gifted writer.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
December 28, 2018
Very interesting document which heavily dotes upon pain, grief, death. Basically, megapersonal, deep, sad stuff revealed to us... for what purpose? To observe, I guess. Bear witness. Some grief SHOULD be shared... Because....? In order to...? Diminish it? I guess it must this: to ultimately give it meaning: to cash in, when the light of life has gone out...

Let a prose powerhouse not go gently into the night. Much must be said and articulated masterfully (entwining ever so gracefully the clinical with the poetic), and so this is surely a rotund success. Except for the type of glamorous life shared by the married writers--it is shown off in every single page. I cannot relate, I can relate to the effort, not to the final product. We get such a shattering view of affluence! The green-eyed beast enters the stage... The last time I was affected this much by the mere privilege of another unfortunate soul was in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Fabulousness gets all spoiled & stuff, gets marred by the whims of fate, etc...

Affluenza truly is killer.
Profile Image for Tung.
630 reviews40 followers
January 10, 2008
A National Book Award-winner, this book is Didion’s personal memoir of the year following the death of her husband, writer John Dunne. Didion lays out her thought processes and emotions and struggle for normalcy after Dunne passes away suddenly one night at the dinner table from a heart problem. I didn’t find this book nearly as good as the hype would lead me to believe. The NY Times review called it an "indelible portrait of loss and grief." The NY Review of Books said "I can’t imagine dying without this book." For me, it earned none of the preceding words of praise. Books on grief have been done much better, including one referenced multiple times throughout Didion’s book (A Grief Observed by CS Lewis is far superior). I am absolutely convinced that the only reason Didion’s book received such notably positive press was because she and her husband were good friends with all these reviewers and the rest of the literary community, having bonded with these people at dinner parties on the Upper East Side in smoking jackets with martinis and cigars; Didion and Dunne were part of the NYC writing establishment Didion’s prose throughout is tight and reminiscent of early Vonnegut (his self-referencing style, not his humor), but there is an emotional distance in her writing. She quotes numerous studies on grief throughout the book, having spent the months following the tragedy not only grieving but studying grief. But the research studies don’t serve to illuminate her grief; they serve to distance us from her grief. Secondly, Didion lived a very upper-crust NY life, and the way she describes the events she will miss doing (dining at Morton’s with her husband, walking on the Jardin du Ranelagh in Paris with her husband, skipping the Monet exhibit to dine at Conti’s with her husband) further distances me from Didion’s grief. Personally, I don’t find rich people experiencing tragedy as tragic as I would find average people experiencing tragedy. I found this too emotionally detached to recommend it.
Profile Image for Kevin.
524 reviews108 followers
January 3, 2022
“grief has its place but also its limits.”

Didion chronicles her life in the aftermath of losing first her husband and then her adult daughter. She speaks courageously of the familiar, the inevitable pain and the not-so-inevitable perseverance.

Joan Didion’s story is my story.

September 20th, 2021 was my son’s 36th birthday. On September 21st, the very next day, he died in a hospital ICU of Covid.

The term ‘Magical Thinking’ is a somewhat outdated* anthropological designation. It refers to spiritual conceptions of cause and effect. “The rains will come if we appease Krull with a dance” - that sort of thing. (*Any beliefs that weren’t held sacred in western culture were labeled “magical thinking”)

In grief, our rituals are often subtle. Somehow I thought that if I kept Joshua’s number in my phone or if I kept saying “my kids” (plural) instead of “my kid” (singular) then Josh wasn’t really gone. That was my magical thinking. Of course I knew the truth in my head, it was my heart that desperately grasped for the magic.

Six months ago, when Joshua was still very much alive and texting me daily about Sooner football and/or Chinese food (his favorite), this would have been a sad book to read. Three months ago, when I was divvying up his urned ashes between myself, his mother, his best friend Tony, and his beloved Aunt Pam, this would have been an impossible book to read. But now, in the midst of my own year of magical thinking, I find Joan Didion cathartic, helpful even.

I know at some point I’ll be able to say the ‘d-word’ and ‘Joshua’ in the same sentence without wincing, but not yet. At some point Josh will be that picture on my desk and those old HotWheels in my library and thirty six years of memories in my head and nothing more, but not yet. For now I still drive by his house and collect his mail. I still say “my kids.” I still have his number in my phone.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 18,783 reviews