The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is by far one of my favorite memoirs. Didion explores her own grief after the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, all while her daughter is battling severe, life threatening illness.
This book can be depressing.
But, it is one of the best books I have ever read. Didion shares her pain, her grief, her questioning with the reader in a way that allows us to examine our own relationships and inner beliefs about grief and loss.
Didion's memoir ranges from Manhattan to Los Angeles and Santa Monica to Honolulu and back. She builds a relationship with us, her readers, through examining her relationship with her husband. She pushes us to examine mortality as well.
Didion is much like myself in that in the face of a problem she does research (not to imply that the death of her husband or illness of her daughter are less serious than other issues). She seeks out poetry, medical literature and research, memoirs of others, etiquette guides, and more. As one that loves to read books in which other books are discussed, this aspect of The Year of Magical Thinking alone adds to this being one of my favorite books.
The memoir also made me think of my own loved ones -- in particular those loved ones I am closest to and would be lost without. I can't imagine losing my parents or my son. My sister, my brother, my best friend. Losing any of them would be devastating and there is no way to predict how I will or would react in the face of any of their deaths. And, that's the thing, right? So often we are cavalier and think or say, "Well, when the time comes I will do x and y and z." We think we already know the experience, but we don't. Until it happens we don't know. Years after the deaths of my grandparents and great grandparents, I still grieve them all. The nature of the grief when it strikes is unpredictable. The way it changes over time is also unpredictable.
I'm sure that Didion left out quite a bit of her grief from her memoir, but what she did include is moving and thought provoking.
I highly urge you to pick up The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion or Blue Nights, another memoir by Didion, this one about the death of her daughter, Quintana Roo.
Didion reading from The Year of Magical Thinking:
Vanessa Redgrave discussing portraying Joan Didion in a theater production of the memoir (the first half of the video):
Interview between Joan Didion and Katie Couric discussing the memoir, dealing with the grief of her husband's death, and also her daughter's illness and eventual death as well (terrible quality though):
Did you enjoy this post? Or, have you read this book? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Some of my other favorite reading blog posts:
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
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