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review 2018-07-12 19:32
Living and Dying
The Bright Hour - Nina Riggs Jones
When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi,Abraham Verghese
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
Blue Nights by Didion, Joan 1st (first) Edition [Hardcover(2011)] - Joan Didion
A Widow's Story - Joyce Carol Oates
Missing Mom - Joyce Carol Oates
About Alice - Calvin Trillin
How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter - Sherwin B. Nuland

So, I've been off BL for a long, long time. A lot has happened, I got pregnant and had a daughter. My mom got sick and passed away. I had to clear out and sell my childhood home and all the contents while trying to balance all of that and my full time job. It's been...something.


For a while, not long after my mom died (3 days before Christmas 2016 when my daughter was only 5 months old) I started searching out and reading books that dealt with death and grief. I read a lot of Joan Didion The Year of Magical ThinkingBlue Nights. I read When Breath Becomes Air and About Alice and A Widow's Story. I started Missing Mom and couldn't go any further because it was too hard and How We Die.


The Bright Hour is one of the most beautiful books I've read, ever. I can't possibly describe it except to use it's full title--The Bright Hour: a memoir of living and dying. It is so full of life, all the messiness and happiness and tragedy and humor and it faces death and mortality head on, unflinching. 


I recently reread it, now a year and a half since my mother passed, it still has such power and peace. I can't recommend it enough.

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review 2018-02-19 05:15
The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year's Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma. This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."





In the year 2003, Joan Didion and husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, receive word that their daughter, Quintana, has been rushed to the ICU (on Christmas Day, no less). Quitana had been battling a severe case of pneumonia when her condition had suddenly turned septic. Just a few days later, December 30th, Dunne and Didion are settling into their dinner meal when Dunne suffers a massive, fatal coronary right at the dinner table. 


By October 2004, Joan Didion decides to start journaling some of her thoughts since experiencing all this pain and loss, this journal being the seed that would eventually become this book, The Year Of Magical Thinking. Here, Didion thinks on moments over the course of her forty year marriage to Dunne. Moments where she now, in retrospect, believes there were warning signs of the grief that was to come. As far back as 1987, she recalls, Dunne had expressed fears of premature death. By 2003, what would end up being the year of his death, Dunne had developed a long history of heart trouble, even having a pacemaker installed. Numerous times that year he had said he felt sure he was dying, but Didion admits she dismissed these moments as him just having momentary bouts of depression. 


Like most people trying to cope with the sudden loss of a loved one, Didion struggles to navigate through feelings of guilt, that sense that you could have done something more to save them. She even toys with the idea that she can still reverse the outcome of the events. But hey, don't judge. It's wild what grief can do to an otherwise seemingly sane mind. 


Didion also shares her feelings on being a mother having to witness her child suffering in illness and feeling helpless to fix it. While Didion's passages regarding her husband read strangely distanced in tone to me, it was these moments where she talks on Quintana that touched me much more. How awful that must have been for her to witness her daughter pull through brutal pneumonia and septic shock only to improve a bit before suffering a hematoma, pretty much putting the poor girl's health struggle back at square one! 


This book didn't land quite as perfectly for me as it did for a lot of other readers. That could be, in part at least, to the fact that I often don't do well with books -- either fiction or non -- that are written in a stream of consciousness style. As I mentioned earlier with some of the passages that speak on Didion's husband, the writing, at times, had a distanced feel to me. I acknowledge that grief can often bring on a certain sense of numbness and detachment from the world, but from time to time, this just read a little too arm's length to me, alternately reminding me of either a police report snapshot of events or perhaps a college paper being written on the theme of melancholy. 


But that's not to say I got nothing from this book. There were definitely passages that resonated with me, maybe moreso in that I read this the same year I lost my mother. That said, I am a little confused as to where the "magical thinking" comes in? Well written, no doubt, but it struck me as just a general sort of grief memoir rather than the life-changing work so many have touted it to be. 







* Author Joan Didion has worked as a writer for both VOGUE and LIFE magazines


* There are a few spoilers for other books to be aware of in this book: namely her husband's novels DUTCH SHEA, JR. and NOTHING LOST, but also the play ALCESTIS and the film ROBIN & MARIAN starring Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery.

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text 2016-04-12 14:41
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

I was listening to Radiolab on the drive home from New Jersey, the episode, "23 weeks 6 days," in fact, one that has received much attention and praise but after a long day on the road and seeing extended family, it just exhausted me. I knew where it was going and as much as I wanted to be glad things ended well for the people themselves I could not bear the form any more.


Here is the dirty little secret, for all the crime and horror that comes through in the news, features like "23 weeks 6 days" and specifically podcasts, seem to be almost exclusively positive. In the particular, of course you hope for the best, but at the same time the shows are addressing issues of major consequence nationally and situations that frequently turn for the worse but do we really understand the weight of a situation when we only get one side of the story?


Of course, Joan Didion did not have a story scouted for her, she was writing from her own life and she did not get to choose the ending. Her husband John Gregory Dunne died December 30, 2003. This simple fact dominates The Year of Magical Thinking. Didion writes about grief in a way that is heartbreaking, but also familiar and, somehow, refreshing.



The book is a frank and uneasy look at grief as we experience it. She makes efforts to put her grief in a larger context, to understand her husband's death and her daughter's near-death in medical terms, but she connects most strongly in the details. Little, inconsequential thoughts, fantasy, magical thinking, that we all do. Something we don't throw away, or move or erase. We don't tell ourselves the story, if I take down that note it means she is really dead, but we can't quite give away the last of his clothes even though John Gregory Dunne is dead and will not be needing his shoes. 


If podcasts choose to feature hopeful stories, it is only in the grief of established authors like Didion that we learn what the other half experience, what we all experience eventually. The life expectancy of all lifeforms hits zero at some point. John Gregory Dunne died on December 30, 2003. Joan Didion will die too, and so will my parents and siblings, friends, lovers, and myself. Didion's account of grief, is as cutting as any of her essays. Writers like to intellectualize, but Didion's strength lies in how she resists that temptation. The way she finds the universal in the specific. Grief arrives in memories, not of the great moments but of misadventures, funny anecdotes, actions that reveal something of a larger character. Moments that have ended.


So I do find relief in The Year of Magical Thinking, not in Didion's grief, but in the connection, however one-sided, that I can find in her account of it. Good teachers and apologists for youth sports will emphasize the importance of learning how to lose. The Year of Magical Thinking asks us to consider what it is to really lose and what comes next. Didion offers no answers, doesn't suggest she even has any to offer, except that we are not alone in our loneliness. Not those who lost parents, nor those who have lost children, not those we've seen claimed by cancer, nor those whose babies were not viable at 23 weeks. Sometimes the worst happens.

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review 2014-10-25 00:00
The Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion My first Didion, which I gave a four-star rating - partly out of fear (and I've read it trying to deal with fear, hopefully irrational), partly because of Didion's intellectual jet-setter attitude (but this book is, among others, a parting letter to the life she led with her late husband, and it could hardly be avoided), and partly because of her mannerisms. Still, a great book, if you are ready for it; and great writing.
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review 2014-07-31 00:00
The Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion [Non-fiction] This book was mentioned in Will Schwalbe's 'The End of Your Life Book Club' and it is also about loss -- about life in the face of the loss of a significant other. A poignantly honest and raw account of a hurting heart laid bare. The author's husband collapses suddenly and dies from heart failure. The details in her account of this change in her life are 'excruciating': I use this word because through the intricate and intimate flow of her words, one sees the transmutation of her pain being fashioned into a new and different self -- forged from the amalgamation of what was, and what will be from henceforth.
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