The Year Of Magical Thinking

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The Year Of Magical Thinking

by Joan Didion

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | February 13, 2007 | Trade Paperback

3.8235 out of 5 rating. 17 Reviews
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From one of America's iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. 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.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 240 pages, 3.13 × 2.04 × 0.25 in

Published: February 13, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400078431

ISBN - 13: 9781400078431

When a novelist of extraordinary talent turns this talent toward telling her own very personal story, the result can be magic. Such is the case with this memoir by Joan Didion. In A Year of Magical Thinking, Didion shares with us what life felt like in the year following the unexpected and sudden death of her husband, award-winning writer John Dunne. In simple, elegant, prose we experience the shock, sadness, pain, and emptiness that are essential emotions in a grieving process. But we also experience the eventual healing - if healing means the strength to go on. John Dunne has a sudden heart attack while his wife was preparing dinner. The day Dunne died had already been a very difficult one for they had just left their 33-year-old daughter, their only child, in intensive care struggling for her life. In an instant, an ordinary instant, Didion's life changed forever. In this story which is at once universal and unique, Didion shares what she felt as she faced the days and weeks following Dunne's death. Anyone who has lost some close to them, and everyone who knows that sooner or later this experience will be a part of one's own life, will treasure and be moved by this story. At its very core it reminds us that every day is a gift. You will remember the messages of this book long after you put it down.

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– More About This Product –

The Year Of Magical Thinking

by Joan Didion

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 240 pages, 3.13 × 2.04 × 0.25 in

Published: February 13, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400078431

ISBN - 13: 9781400078431

About the Book

Didion chronicles the experience of losing her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, to a massive coronary, just weeks after the two of them watched as their only daughter was put into an induced coma to save her life. With honesty and passion, Didion explores this intensely personal yet universal experience.

Read from the Book

Chapter 1 1. Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity. Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact. For a long time I wrote nothing else. Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, “the ordinary instant.” I saw immediately that there would be no need to add the word “ordinary,” because there would be no forgetting it: the word never left my mind. It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were
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From the Publisher

From one of America's iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. 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.

From the Jacket

"Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, memorable book. . . . An exact, candid, and penetrating account of
personal terror and bereavement. . . . Sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth."
-Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Joan Didion's powerful, National Book Award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

About the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction.

Joan Didion''s Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River are available in Vintage paperback.

Editorial Reviews

"Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, and memorable book. . . . An exact, candid, and penetrating account of personal terror and bereavement . . . sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth."
-Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

"Stunning candor and piercing details. . . . An indelible portrait of loss and grief."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"I can't think of a book we need more than hers. . . . I can't imagine dying without this book."
-John Leonard, New York Review of Books

"Achingly beautiful. . . . We have come to admire and love Didion for her preternatural poise, unrivaled eye for absurdity, and Orwellian distaste for cant. It is thus a difficult, moving, and extraordinarily poignant experience to watch her direct such scrutiny inward."
-Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Los Angeles Times

"An act of consummate literary bravery, a writer known for her clarity allowing us to watch her mind as it becomes clouded with grief. . . . It also skips backward in time [to] call up a shimmering portrait of her unique marriage. . . . To make her grief real, Didion shows us what she has lost."
-Lev Grossman, Time

Bookclub Guide

US

1. Consider the four sentences in italics that begin chapter one. What did you think when you read them for the first time? What do you think now?

2. In particular, address "The question of self-pity." [p. 3]. Does Didion pity herself? In what ways does she indulge that impulse, and in what ways does she deny it?

3. Read the Judges' Citation for the National Book Award, below. Why do you suppose they deemed the book a masterpiece of investigative journalism?

"The Year of Magical Thinking is a masterpiece in two genres: memoir and investigative journalism. The subject of the memoir is the year after the sudden death of the writer's husband. The target of the investigation, though, is the nature of folly and time. The writer attends to details, assembles a chronology, and asks hard questions of the
witnesses, most notably herself. But she imagines that the story she tells can be revised, the world righted, her husband returned, alive. What she offers is an unflinching journey into intimacy and grief."
-The Judges Citation for the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction

4. Discuss the notion of "magical thinking." Have you ever experienced anything like this, after a loss or some other life-changing occurrence? How did it help, or hinder, your healing?

5. Do you think Didion's "year of magical thinking" ended after one year, or did it likely continue?

6. Consider the tone Didion uses throughout the book, one of relatively cool detachment. Clearly she is in mourning, and yet her anguish is quite muted. How did this detached tone affect your reading experience?

7. How does Didion use humor? To express her grief, to deflect it, or for another purpose entirely?

8. Over the course of the book, Didion excerpts a variety of poems. Which resonated for you most deeply, and why?

9. To Didion, there is a clear distinction between grief and mourning. What differences do you see between the two?

10. One word critics have used again and again in describing this book is "exhilarating." Did you find it to be so? Why, or why not?

11. Discuss Didion's repetition of sentences like "For once in your life just let it go" [pp. 141,174]; "We call it the widowmaker" [pp. 157, 203, 207]; "I tell you that I shall not live two days" [pp. 26, 80, 112, 153, 207]; and "Life changes in the instant." [pp. 3, 77, 89]. What purpose does the repetition serve? How did your understanding of her grief change each time you reread one of these sentences?

12. The lifestyle described in this book is quite different from the way most people live, with glamorous friends, expensive homes, and trips to Hawaii, Paris, South America, etc., and yet none of that spared Didion from experiencing profound grief. Did her seemingly privileged life color your feelings about the book at all? Did that change after reading it?

13. At several points in the book Didion describes her need for knowledge, whether it's from reading medical journals or grilling the doctors at her daughter's bedside. How do you think this helped her to cope?

14. Reread the "gilded-boy story" on pages 105-6. How would you answer the questions it raised for Didion?

15. Is there a turning point in this book? If so, where would you place it and why?

16. The last sentence of the book is "No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that." What does this mean?

17. Didion has adapted The Year of Magical Thinking into a Broadway play. How do you imagine its transition from page to stage? Would you want to see the play?

18. Before The Year of Magical Thinking, had you ever read any of Joan Didion's work? Do you see any similar themes or motifs?

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