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My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »
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The Year of Magical Thinking

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The Year of Magical Thinking Cover

ISBN13: 9781400043149
ISBN10: 140004314x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

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.” 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, above. Why do you suppose they deemed the book a masterpiece of investigative journalism?

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 Didions “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 Didions repetition of sentences like “For once in your life just let it go”; “We call it the widowmaker”; “I tell you that I shall not live two days”; and “Life changes in the instant.” 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 its from reading medical journals or grilling the doctors at her daughters 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 is adapting The Year of Magical Thinking into a play bound for Broadway. 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 Didions work? Do you see any similar themes or motifs?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 11 comments:

Diane Massad, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Diane Massad)
The symbiosis that Joan details but are a guidebook for the woes of contemporary marriage. The agonies of her losses are augmented and assuaged by her strength of word, wit and wisdom.
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some, January 19, 2010 (view all comments by some)
Wonderful book, one of the most personal and touching Didion books I've read in a long time. This is how a great artist processes grief, and I feel we're lucky to be able to read it.
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(3 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
standalone58, January 10, 2009 (view all comments by standalone58)
If you love someone, be it a human or beloved pet, this book is must read. I have found new meaning in understanding loss and grief. As I look back over my 50 years, I can identify the times I grieved. My hope for the future is that I will allow myself the time to grieve, instead of feeling that I must show the world that I am fine. Thank you Mrs. Didion for writing this book and helping me and so many others to understand the process mourning.
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(17 of 28 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781400043149
Author:
Didion, Joan
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Journalists
Subject:
Grief
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Loss (psychology)
Subject:
Biography-Literary
Copyright:
Publication Date:
October 4, 2005
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
8.32x5.40x.90 in. .83 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Literary
Biography » Women
Featured Titles » National Book Award Winners
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Featured Titles
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Grief

The Year of Magical Thinking Used Hardcover
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Product details 240 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9781400043149 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Best book of 2005, favorite book of the year...Slice the question any number of ways, but the book published last year that I'm most grateful for having read is The Year of Magical Thinking, a devastating affirmation of love and commitment, hope and despair, life and death.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays. The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Dunne and Didion had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years, and Dunne's death propelled Didion into a state she calls 'magical thinking.' 'We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss,' she writes. 'We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.' Didion's mourning follows a traditional arc — she describes just how precisely it cleaves to the medical descriptions of grief — but her elegant rendition of its stages leads to hard-won insight, particularly into the aftereffects of marriage. 'Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age.' In a sense, all of Didion's fiction, with its themes of loss and bereavement, served as preparation for the writing of this memoir, and there is occasionally a curious hint of repetition, despite the immediacy and intimacy of the subject matter. Still, this is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. 60,000 first printing; 11-city author tour. (Oct. 19)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Readers of average and above sensitivity will not find The Year of Magical Thinking easy going; melancholy, loneliness and mortality are waiting with the turn of nearly every page. But it is also written in Didion's usual spare, dramatic prose, and it is also a love story, with its telling flashbacks from an unconventional forty year marriage that nonetheless revolved around children, meals, fireplaces and hotels in Honolulu. Didion ultimately offers a fiercely intelligent portrait of grief, at a time when that particular experience is so often treated gingerly, sappily, and then hidden away." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review A Day" by , "Didion's memoir of her year of mourning is largely a story of her growing self-awareness of the futility of attempting to control events that are beyond any mortal's control. Although there are moments when she tries to reckon with her feelings of powerlessness...her constant need to detect, and to expunge, all signs of self-pity...means that even her book's occasional inward moments have an emotionally detached feel." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "[A] master essayist, great American novelist, and astute political observer....[A] remarkably lucid and ennobling anatomy of grief, matched by a penetrating tribute to marriage, motherhood, and love."
"Review" by , "A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion's earlier writing."
"Review" by , "[T]he predominant atmosphere is one of authentic suspense that makes for a remarkable page-turner. As always, Didion's writing style is sheer and highly efficient."
"Review" by , "[A]n utterly shattering book that gives the reader an indelible portrait of loss and grief and sorrow, all chronicled in minute detail with the author's unwavering, reportorial eye....[P]rovides a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage, an extraordinarily close relationship between two writers."
"Review" by , "[A] spare and searing memoir....[T]he raw feeling [Didion] funnels into her taut sentences has all the more power because it is so tightly rationed. (Grade: A)"
"Review" by , "This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it's also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage."
"Review" by , "Didion's book is thrilling and engaging — sometimes quite funny....Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative."
"Review" by , "The Year of Magical Thinking, though it spares nothing in describing Didion's confusion, grief and derangement, is a work of surpassing clarity and honesty....It is also as close as Didion will be able to come to a final conversation with John Gregory Dunne."
"Review" by , "This is a sad and anguished book, told in some of the plainest, yet most eloquent prose you'll ever encounter. Everyone who has ever lost anyone, or will ever lose anyone, would do well to read it."
"Review" by , "The book is an exacting self-examination, but it is also a heartbreaking, though far from sentimentalized, love letter, engrossing in its candor."
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