Review: The Year of Magical Thinking — Joan Didion

Read: 10
To Go: 90

Book List:
1. Best Friends Forever — Jennifer Weiner
2. The Very Picture of You — Isabel Wolff
3. First Impressions — Nora Roberts
4. Blithe Images — Nora Roberts
5. Beauty Plus Pity — Kevin Chong
6. The Drop — Michael Connelly
7. The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. Sense and Sensibility — Jane Austen
9. Jane Eyre — Charlotte Bronte
10. The Year of Magical Thinking — Joan Didion

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.

First, a relevant and quick note: I love the cover of this book. Until just now I hadn’t realized that the name JOHN was singled out in blue; when I did, it broke my heart.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to read Joan Didion’s work since I read the National Post’s interview with her in late last year. I could scarcely believe the turmoil she’d gone through — the loss of her husband and adopted daughter, which were separated by less than two years — and I’d expected to, excuse the cliche, read it and weep.

I’m one hundred per cent sure that I’m going to hell for what I’m about to say.

I have had a really difficult time reading and reviewing autobiographical texts because I think it’s unfair to critique someone’s account of their own life. Fiction, as it pertains to personal taste, is incredibly subjective and you can hardly blame someone for disliking your particular brand of fantasy. An autobiography, on the other hand, is usually looked at as a place to deal with your losses and trauma, and find a way to heal. And if I as the reader can’t relate, or at least be moved by, another writer’s story, what kind of asshole am I?

For me, I found The Year of Magical Thinking to be almost entirely devoid of the passion it had promised, and that I had expected. Everyone has a different method of grieving, and I understand, but Didion’s analysis of her husband’s passing, and everything that led up to it or followed after, was so clinical and almost detached.

Not to say that the writing wasn’t phenomenal. It was just too removed for my tastes. I think the best way to sum up my feelings is to say that while I almost cried, it was the situation, and not the writing, that brought me to that point.

(And that’s why I feel like an utter asshole.)

Next book: maybe one of the books Carolyn loaned me? I don’t know.

In other news, I’m one tenth of the way through my challenge in one twelfth of the year. If I keep reading at this speed, I’m going to finish two months early. I’ve been debating extending the number of books I have to read to 110. We’ll see.

– Kelsey


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