Monthly Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking — Joan Didion

Yes, that’s right; I’m introducing a monthly book review. This came out of the idea that as a future historian I’ll have to write my fair share of scholarly book reviews. I’m not a complete newbie at writing book reviews, but I definitely need practice at it.

A warning, though: I will not be blogging about scholarly books – unless it’s a popular history book that everyone and their brother is reading. Instead, I’ll be writing about the novels and non-fiction that I’ll be reading in my spare time.

So, without further ado, we’ll start the first book review:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)

I’ve wanted to read a book by Joan Didion for a couple of years now, but with school and the multitudes of other books that I had on my to-be-read list, it didn’t happen until this summer. Didion started out as a journalist in the 1960s, which is what made me interested in her writing. I doubled majored in history and journalism for my undergrad and I worked for two-and-a-half years at the school newspaper. I find the writing of these mid-century journalists to be  insightful and helpful.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005).

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005).

The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir about the year following the death of Didion’s husband, John Dunne, on New Year’s Eve 2003, and the serious illnesses of Didion’s and Dunne’s daughter Quintana in early 2004. I’m not sure that the “memoir” descriptor accurately fits this book. What struck me the most is that Didion seemed very disjointed, and seemed to have forgotten much of the year (as I’m sure anyone going through those circumstances would). The Year of Magical Thinking seems much more like Didion trying to put together a solid narrative of what had happened to her in the past year.

I’m not entirely sure why I chose this to be the first book by Didion that I read. A book that is essentially about grief isn’t something that I normally find interesting to read. Despite this, by the second half of the book I could not put The Year of Magical Thinking down.

The only negative thing that I can say about this book is that Didion often repeats the same lines. When I first started it I thought that it was somewhat annoying, but I gradually saw how this repetition showed Didion’s midset during that year.

There were quite a few quotes in The Year of Magical Thinking that I thought were profound. I was unable to go back and find the quotes because the book was overdue (and I really didn’t need any more fines at the library!) But this will not happen for future book reviews.

Overall I thought this was an engrossing book. If you’re looking to expand your reading range and have never picked up anything by Didion before, I suggest giving The Year of Magical Thinking a read. If you have read it, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Next month’s book review will be Euphoria by Lily King.

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