The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan DidionThe Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didionsticker-burst

The Year Of Magical Thinking

byJoan Didion

Paperback | February 13, 2007

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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.

Heather's Review

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 w...

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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.
Title:The Year Of Magical ThinkingFormat:PaperbackDimensions:240 pages, 8 × 5.21 × 0.65 inPublished:February 13, 2007Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400078431

ISBN - 13:9781400078431

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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not my favourite I really thought this book would make me... I don’t know... FEEL something? Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A special, very powerful book Let me first say that I love Joan Didion's writing. While I'm quite surprised that some reviewers find her dry, I think she's an extraordinarily accomplished writer. Perhaps this is another calamity of our times as her writing is deep and rich and so requires time to experience it. The book describes artfully and in a heartfelt way Didion's reaction to the entirely unexpected death of her husband, award-winning writer John Dunne. The year after he dies is full of a roller coaster of emotion as anyone who's experience death will attest to. However, one of her gifts is the ability to make linkages in her thinking and in her emotions in order to emerge as intact as possible on the other side. I've read and reread this book and think it is a classic.
Date published: 2018-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Read For Anyone Dealing With Grief Joan Didion is an iconic writer. In “A Year of Magical Thinking” she explores the personal experience of life after the sudden death of her husband: Writer, John Dunne. It seems morbid that a book about death might lift my spirit – but it’s the connection felt in loss that helps us move forward.
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was an okay read This book was an alright read, it was very dry at times.
Date published: 2018-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Treatise on Grief In her memoir, Didion describes what it means to grieve. Her handling the topic of her husband's death is nuanced, honest, profound. She does more than document her experience with John's death: she also gives us a treatise - personal, researched, and applicable.
Date published: 2017-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Poignant and Powerful Essential reading for anyone grappling with grief and loss. It hauntingly captures the surreal and upending shock of sudden loss that leaves those left behind in a state of disbelief and questioning. Deeply moving and healing.
Date published: 2017-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heartbreaking and haunting A painfully beautiful book about heartbreak, loss, and processing grief. Officially in love with Didion's writing. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-10-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from ok Found it somewhat dry at times.
Date published: 2017-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heartbreaking and enlightening This book was a very powerful and honest look at dealing with grief. It was a challenge to read at times. This book felt both very universal and yet personal. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Year of Magical Thinking.... Grief is universal, but personal and painful. Everyone grieves in their own way. In this book Joan Didion recounts her marriage, and her life, through good times and bad. After the sudden death of her husband she understandably loses herself. Going through the motions of her grief she begins rethinking everything! Every little detail leading up to her husbands death. All the "what if's". While also heavily displaying the gravity of love between herself and her late husband and the love they shared for their daughter who was very sick in the hospital while all of this happened. I wasn't grieving while reading this book but I can see how it would be helpful. Especially if it was a sudden death. Knowing you are not traveling along in your grief. Didion's honesty really captures how it feels to lose the love of your life. Loved her writing. This was a quick read but one that will stick with me. Looking forward to reading more of her work.
Date published: 2017-05-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beautiful memoir Beautiful memoir by Joan Didion. Would love to see the play.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Angsty I did not expect to like this because I had to read it for class, but I was shocked to find it enjoyable. It was very angsty and full of the details of human suffering. I would not recommend this to everyone, but if you like a melancholy and apathetic narrative this one's for you.
Date published: 2017-02-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from i recommend this to your mother she's going to love it because I know your mom
Date published: 2017-01-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unfortunately not for me... I find it hard to write as I usually love to nice, positive reviews but this book was totally not for me. I found it depressing and not as well written as I had heard. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-12-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but hype ruined it a bit There was so much hype for this book I expected it to be mind-blowingly profound. It was good and I definitely recommend it, but I didn't connect with it the way I was anticipating. I think all the reviews I saw in advance were what ruined the experience.
Date published: 2016-12-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Yes! This book really makes you think. Can't put it down!
Date published: 2016-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I had to read it all in the same night I felt like I was there. I felt everything as I was reading it. one of my favourites.
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from a rather remote memoir Joan Didion’s well-regarded memoir The Year of Magical Thinking recalls the year following the death of her husband and writing partner John Gregory Dunne. Didion and Dunne were married for 40 years and were literary royalty. They counted many other famous writers and celebrities among their friends. It would seem that theirs was a charmed life. John Gregory’s famous brother, Dominick, writes about his brother’s death here. “Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant,” Didion writes. And while we certainly all know this is true, Didion experiences it first hand at a particularly trying point in her life. She and her husband have just returned from the hospital where their only daughter Quintana is recovering from a particularly virulent flu. They’ve just sat down to dinner when Didion looks up from her salad and sees him slumped over the table. " I have no idea what subject we were on, the Scotch or World War One, at the instant he stopped talking. I only remember looking up. His left hand was raised and he was slumped motionless. At first I thought he was making a failed joke, an attempt to make the difficulty of the day seem manageable. I remember saying Don’t do that." As it turns out, Dunne had a bad heart and was living on borrowed time. None of that lessens the shock of his sudden passing for Didion. Although her prodigious skill with the written word is apparent in this memoir, her grief over the loss of her husband is as raw for her as for any of us. Death is the great equalizer. Didion is forced to come to terms with Dunne’s death even as she continues to deal with her daughter’s illness. (In a sad post script, Quintana died just a couple years later from the complications of her illness. There has also been some speculation that Quintanta died, ultimately, of acute pancreatitis caused by alcoholism. She was just 39.) In the early days after Dunne’s death, Didion tries to keep it together. She keeps expecting Dunne to walk through the door; she continues to store information to share with her husband at a later date. She says: “Of course I knew John was dead…Yet I was myself was in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible. That was why I needed to be alone…I needed to be alone so he could come back.” The Year of Magical Thinking is not a romantic memoir. Didion, despite her sorrow, turns a clear, at times even dispassionate, eye on the nature of grief. She’s been trained to do that, of course. Does it lessen the impact of the story she has to tell? Not really. But was I as emotionally engaged as I thought I would be. Not really.
Date published: 2012-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from love it Great book. Simply heartbreaking and thought provoking
Date published: 2010-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking is an uncommon book. It is an important book. With tremendous poignancy and breathtaking reflection Didion brings us into a work of mourning. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died 30 December 2003. At the time, her only child Quintana lay unconscious in an intensive care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center. She writes, “This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself” (7). In 227 pages Didion shares with the reader the contradictory and irrevocable feelings that engulf the bereaved. In my experience, death is not often written about with such candor, grace and insight. It is no doubt her tremendous focus and discipline as a writer that allows her to put into prose the rupture and inconsistencies that surround so many of our “fixed ideas” about death. Moments after John’s death she recalls “thinking that I needed to discuss this with John” (16). She talks about the questions and hopes and the fantasies that we entertain about a lover walking back through the door after having died. She writes about memory and how we reconstruct our identities through the process of mourning. In addition to providing an account of her life with John and Quintana, Didion also reflects on the state of death today . . . especially its invisibility. Given how common death is, she is somewhat shocked to find how out of touch we are with it. What to do when someone dies? What should you say to the bereaved? When should you visit and what should you talk about? What kind of food do you put into their hands? Death is not something we are used to thinking realistically about. Ironically, Didion’s reflections on her gravitation toward magical thoughts are probably as realistic as one will find anywhere. This coming term I will be using Didion’s book in a first year class I teach on the subject. * * * “I tell you that I shall not live two days.” – Gawain (Aries, The Hour of Our Death) “The one more day I love you more than. As you used to say to me” (207)
Date published: 2008-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful writing This is a raw and real book. After finishing it, I feel connected to the author. Joan Didion writes a very candid account of her grief. This novel could be the gateway to discussing grief with a loved one and/or helping you through the death of a loved one.
Date published: 2008-02-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Had its moments Given all the hype I had heard about this book, I don't know what I expected - but I expected to initially feel more than I did. However, what I did like about this book was how well Joan conveyed her disjointed, grief-stricken thinking. There were so many moments where her phrasing would reveal that this book was about love as much as it was about her experience of grief. I am glad I read it - those moments where I realized the depth of her love were stunning and for that, I do think this was a meaningful read.
Date published: 2007-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well written So well sad.
Date published: 2007-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Powerful Memoir from a Novelist of Extraordinary Talent 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.
Date published: 2007-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from required reading Not a "help me deal with grief", but a "how I dealt with grief". Those of us who have not lost a spouse cannot understand what someone must have to go through in the process of grieving. Ms. Didion gives us some understanding of the process, the introspection and perhaps allows us to more easily understand grief and accept that there is no "normal". Let us hope that we become better listeners to our friends who are travelling through this because we have read Ms. Didion's book.
Date published: 2007-02-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from very disappointing With all of the publicity and being one of Heather's Picks, I thought it would be better. I have experienced a fair amount of grief and major losses in my life, and I wouldn't say this book helped me. I hope it helped Didion to write it, but it would have probably been better kept as her own diary - not to be shared.
Date published: 2006-09-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Incoherent Writing This book is about one woman’s grief following the death of her husband, and the illness of her child. I was expecting more from this book due to its popularity, but found it to be quite jumbled and incoherent at times. Since Joan Didion has been a writer for years I would have hoped that her book would have been structured for an easier read. There were sections that had me in tears as I could feel her pain and loss, yet other sections were filled with random thoughts and memories. While this book might have been cathartic for her to write, I didn’t find it that enjoyable to read.
Date published: 2006-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Week of Magical Reading Although I haven't lost somebody like Joan Didion I found this book fascinating. She captured what it is like to go through a death, and truly have thoughts that I would have. Having faced breast cancer myself and the aging and sickness of my own elderly parents in the past year, this book spoke to me. I think about my own mortality and imagine what it will be like when I lose my parents. I felt like the death of Joan's husband and the year that came after was like the death of my own innocence having faced cancer, before the diagnosis, when life was carefree, and everything after. I asked my neighbour who lost her husband last summer if she'd read it. She groaned. She didn't like the book and couldn't get through it. I will read it again, when somone close to me dies and see if it speaks to me in the same way.
Date published: 2006-07-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fantastic A beautifully written book. I learned quite a bit from reading it. Truly a deep and unforgettable love story and an opportunity to really realize what is important in life. Didion is a gifted and rare writer and the reader can feel her pain. I loved this work and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2006-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intellectual Healing Joan Didion is very insightful in her healing memoir. I was trying to understand grief as I have seen it and felt it on a lower scale, but hers is so profound, I could certainly feel hers. She doesn't give any easy answers or advise. She does however, help the observer and friend of a grieving person understand how complicated grief is and that there are no easy answers. Her book also would be very helpful to someone who is personally experiencing grief as it would help them understand that others have been there and can touch on that painful spot. I think this helps when you can know that you are not alone. I recommended this book to a dear friend who lost his wife three years ago and still finds it difficult to cope with at times.
Date published: 2006-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from makes you think! This book is an indepth look at the greiving process and enables the reader to reflect on their own experiences.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from pulsating There was not a calm moment in this book and I think that JD speaks for many who have lost loved ones and are suffering with grief. There is so much in this book. JD and John's close relationship, as best friends and writers in residence. Their 40 year old marriage alone is a miracle. She mentions many times how life can change in a day, over dinner. She witnessed John's last hour and then in the coming year, reflects back, looking for signs that would help her understand his last year. To complicate this grieving is the daughter's precarious health. In fact, the day John died, they had just returned from the ICU visiting their daughter. who had flu>pneumonia>sepsis..Returning home, starting a fire and sitting down to an ordinary dinner was all they could do to keep some stability - some normality in this uncertainty. Grief counselling is part of my work as a pallative nurse. I think that this book would be a good resource for widows, but not for all readers. It is academic in many ways and JD and her husband are existentialists. I'll read it again.
Date published: 2006-04-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from did not hold my interest very boring, too much jumping around. I, too, experienced a tragic accident and instant death of my husband, I know that the mind does relive the past in segments, however, in writing about it, one would assume the thoughts and words would be more organized. I found it to be depressing and not helpful.
Date published: 2005-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Emotional, Through the terrible losses she had to deal with as well as the coma her daughter was in, this author takes you through a journey of a lifetime. You will feel the emotions she felt, and they will ring true within your own world. A must read, especially for those that are reeling from a loss. Also recommending: Song Of Cy by Katlyn Stewart- I bought the E-Book (bought through Whiskey Creek)
Date published: 2005-12-16

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 playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy. “He was on his way home from work—happy, successful, healthy—and then, gone,” I read in the account of a psychiatric nurse whose husband was killed in a highway accident. In 1966 I happened to interview many people who had been living in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, 1941; without exception, these people began their accounts of Pearl Harbor by telling me what an “ordinary Sunday morning” it had been. “It was just an ordinary beautiful September day,” people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade towers. Even the report of the 9/11 Commission opened on this insistently premonitory and yet still dumbstruck narrative note: “Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States.”“And then—gone.” In the midst of life we are in death, Episcopalians say at the graveside. 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 there 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. At one point I considered the possibility that they had picked up the details of the story from one another, but immediately rejected it: the story they had was in each instance too accurate to have been passed from hand to hand. It had come from me.Another reason I knew that the story had come from me was that no version I heard included the details I could not yet face, for example the blood on the living room floor that stayed there until José came in the next morning and cleaned it up.José. Who was part of our household. Who was supposed to be flying to Las Vegas later that day, December 31, but never went. José was crying that morning as he cleaned up the blood. When I first told him what had happened he had not understood. Clearly I was not the ideal teller of this story, something about my version had been at once too offhand and too elliptical, something in my tone had failed to convey the central fact in the situation (I would encounter the same failure later when I had to tell Quintana), but by the time José saw the blood he understood.I had picked up the abandoned syringes and ECG electrodes before he came in that morning but I could not face the blood.In outline.It is now, as I begin to write this, the afternoon of October 4, 2004.Nine months and five days ago, at approximately nine o’clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death. Our only child, Quintana, had been for the previous five nights unconscious in an intensive care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Singer Division, at that time a hospital on East End Avenue (it closed in August 2004) more commonly known as “Beth Israel North” or “the old Doctors’ Hospital,” where what had seemed a case of December flu sufficiently severe to take her to an emergency room on Christmas morning had exploded into pneumonia and septic shock. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself. I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself. 2.December 30, 2003, a Tuesday.We had seen Quintana in the sixth-floor ICU at Beth Israel North.We had come home.We had discussed whether to go out for dinner or eat in.I said I would build a fire, we could eat in.I built the fire, I started dinner, I asked John if he wanted a drink.I got him a Scotch and gave it to him in the living room, where he was reading in the chair by the fire where he habitually sat.The book he was reading was by David Fromkin, a bound galley of Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?I finished getting dinner, I set the table in the living room where, when we were home alone, we could eat within sight of the fire. I find myself stressing the fire because fires were important to us. I grew up in California, John and I lived there together for twenty-four years, in California we heated our houses by building fires. We built fires even on summer evenings, because the fog came in. Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night. I lit the candles. John asked for a second drink before sitting down. I gave it to him. We sat down. My attention was on mixing the salad.John was talking, then he wasn’t.At one point in the seconds or minute before he stopped talking he had asked me if I had used single-malt Scotch for his second drink. I had said no, I used the same Scotch I had used for his first drink. “Good,” he had said. “I don’t know why but I don’t think you should mix them.” At another point in those seconds or that minute he had been talking about why World War One was the critical event from which the entire rest of the twentieth century flowed.I have no idea which subject we were on, the Scotch or World War One, at the instant he stopped talking.I only remember looking up. His left hand was raised and he was slumped motionless. At first I thought he was making a failed joke, an attempt to make the difficulty of the day seem manageable.I remember saying Don’t do that.When he did not respond my first thought was that he had started to eat and choked. I remember trying to lift him far enough from the back of the chair to give him the Heimlich. I remember the sense of his weight as he fell forward, first against the table, then to the floor. In the kitchen by the telephone I had taped a card with the New York–Presbyterian ambulance numbers. I had not taped the numbers by the telephone because I anticipated a moment like this. I had taped the numbers by the telephone in case someone in the building needed an ambulance.Someone else.I called one of the numbers. A dispatcher asked if he was breathing. I said Just come. When the paramedics came I tried to tell them what had happened but before I could finish they had transformed the part of the living room where John lay into an emergency department. One of them (there were three, maybe four, even an hour later I could not have said) was talking to the hospital about the electrocardiogram they seemed already to be transmitting. Another was opening the first or second of what would be many syringes for injection. (Epinephrine? Lidocaine? Procainamide? The names came to mind but I had no idea from where.) I remember saying that he might have choked. This was dismissed with a finger swipe: the airway was clear. They seemed now to be using defibrillating paddles, an attempt to restore a rhythm. They got something that could have been a normal heartbeat (or I thought they did, we had all been silent, there was a sharp jump), then lost it, and started again.“He’s still fibbing,” I remember the one on the telephone saying.“V-fibbing,” John’s cardiologist said the next morning when he called from Nantucket. “They would have said ‘V-fibbing.’ V for ventricular.”Maybe they said “V-fibbing” and maybe they did not. Atrial fibrillation did not immediately or necessarily cause cardiac arrest. Ventricular did. Maybe ventricular was the given.I remember trying to straighten out in my mind what would happen next. Since there was an ambulance crew in the living room, the next logical step would be going to the hospital. It occurred to me that the crew could decide very suddenly to go to the hospital and I would not be ready. I would not have in hand what I needed to take. I would waste time, get left behind. I found my handbag and a set of keys and a summary John’s doctor had made of his medical history. When I got back to the living room the paramedics were watching the computer monitor they had set up on the floor. I could not see the monitor so I watched their faces. I remember one glancing at the others. When the decision was made to move it happened very fast. I followed them to the elevator and asked if I could go with them. They said they were taking the gurney down first, I could go in the second ambulance. One of them waited with me for the elevator to come back up. By the time he and I got into the second ambulance the ambulance carrying the gurney was pulling away from the front of the building. The distance from our building to the part of New York–Presbyterian that used to be New York Hospital is six crosstown blocks. I have no memory of sirens. I have no memory of traffic. When we arrived at the emergency entrance to the hospital the gurney was already disappearing into the building. A man was waiting in the driveway. Everyone else in sight was wearing scrubs. He was not. “Is this the wife,” he said to the driver, then turned to me. “I’m your social worker,” he said, and I guess that is when I must have known.I opened the door and I seen the man in the dress greens and I knew. I immediately knew.” This was what the mother of a nineteen-year-old killed by a bomb in Kirkuk said on an HBO documentary quoted by Bob Herbert in The New York Times on the morning of November 12, 2004. “But I thought that if, as long as I didn’t let him in, he couldn’t tell me. And then it—none of that would’ve happened. So he kept saying, ‘Ma’am, I need to come in.’ And I kept telling him, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t come in.’ ”When I read this at breakfast almost eleven months after the night with the ambulance and the social worker I recognized the thinking as my own.Inside the emergency room I could see the gurney being pushed into a cubicle, propelled by more people in scrubs. Someone told me to wait in the reception area. I did. There was a line for admittance paperwork. Waiting in the line seemed the constructive thing to do. Waiting in the line said that there was still time to deal with this, I had copies of the insurance cards in my handbag, this was not a hospital I had ever negotiated—New York Hospital was the Cornell part of New York–Presbyterian, the part I knew was the Columbia part, Columbia-Presbyterian, at 168th and Broadway, twenty minutes away at best, too far in this kind of emergency—but I could make this unfamiliar hospital work, I could be useful, I could arrange the transfer to Columbia-Presbyterian once he was stabilized. I was fixed on the details of this imminent transfer to Columbia (he would need a bed with telemetry, eventually I could also get Quintana transferred to Columbia, the night she was admitted to Beth Israel North I had written on a card the beeper numbers of several Columbia doctors, one or another of them could make all this happen) when the social worker reappeared and guided me from the paperwork line into an empty room off the reception area. “You can wait here,” he said. I waited. The room was cold, or I was. I wondered how much time had passed between the time I called the ambulance and the arrival of the paramedics. It had seemed no time at all (a mote in the eye of God was the phrase that came to me in the room off the reception area) but it must have been at the minimum several minutes.

Bookclub Guide

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.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 Nonfiction4. 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?

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