Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 9: The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

Prior to reading this book, I was familiar with Joan Didion as the intelligent novelist/essay writer who smoked a lot and wore big sunglasses. I had been interested in reading some of her work, and I when I saw The Year of Magical Thinking at the used bookstore, I paused to pick it up. I knew that Didion had received much media attention for this memoir, which chronicles the year after her husband died suddenly of a massive heart attack while their daughter was in the hospital suffering from pneumonia and near death. (Didion’s daughter died at the time of the book’s release.) This double-whammy of tragedy was enough to interest me after an initial few moments of pondering whether or not I could handle such a horribly sad story. I decided that I could, and I left the store with the book. After finishing it, I reflected on how glad I was that I had read this. I would recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one, or if you care about someone who is grieving. Or, if you simply want to read a story of a remarkably loving and undeniably cool marriage. Didion is not sentimental or flowery in the least. In fact, the book is rather minimalist in its accounts. It is journalistic at times, even quoting textbooks on death. What it does is serve up a perfect rendering of grief that is so realistic, it allows the nature of Didion’s beautiful marriage to emerge at the forefront. The title stems from the author’s self-recognized tendency to think in “magical” ways after her husband died; an example of this might be Didion’s reluctance to dispose of her husband’s shoes so that when he “came back” he would have shoes to wear outside. Didion’s descriptions of what it’s like to mourn were so spot-on that I felt that this book understood my own personal experiences with death. When I say this, I mean that this book captured exact thoughts that I have had myself, but have never shared with anyone. And therefore the book became not just a book, but almost like a friend of sorts. Which I realize sounds strange, but it’s the simple truth. It was not just a wonderful memoir. I can matter-of-factly say this book enriched my life.


  1. Hi- my husband (Greg Hart- Blackbaud) shared this with me. I loved this book too... It took me a long time to be ready to read it, but when I did, it felt so comfortable and vivid. I think your book a week project is awesome- good luck!

  2. Hi Janet! It's so nice to meet you (online, that is)! I'm glad you enjoyed this book too. Thanks for taking the time to read my post about it. Take care!