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Literary The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
#1  sun surfer 09-12-2019, 08:56 PM
'Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year's Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.'


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Discussion is split into two pliant phases.

The first phase begins immediately and lasts around a month until the next selection is chosen, so the 10th or so. This phase is generally meant for conversations about anything pre-completion, such as reading progress, thoughts on sections read, found info on the book, etc.

The second phase begins in about a month once the next selection is chosen. This phase is meant for post-completion conversations, and anything else anyone wants to discuss concerning the selection.

These phases are recommended but anyone can discuss any part or aspect at any time.


This is the MR Literary Club selection for September 2019, and is our 100th selection. Everyone is welcome so feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time; the more the merrier!


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#2  sun surfer 09-15-2019, 05:52 PM
I wonder if Didion was very specific about the covers used, as there was hardly any variety. Although, it does look nice seeing such similar covers in a row. Two of the covers (the first and third) have some differently coloured letters and I didn't think much of it at first, until I suddenly realised they spelled my name. While a pleasant surprise to someone with that name, it was bittersweet when I then realised it had to be as an homage to her husband.
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#3  astrangerhere 09-17-2019, 01:21 PM
Quote sun surfer
I wonder if Didion was very specific about the covers used, as there was hardly any variety. Although, it does look nice seeing such similar covers in a row. Two of the covers (the first and third) have some differently coloured letters and I didn't think much of it at first, until I suddenly realised they spelled my name. While a pleasant surprise to someone with that name, it was bittersweet when I then realised it had to be as an homage to her husband.
It's interesting because her second memoir of grief, Blue Nights, about the death of her daughter, did a similar play on color, but did not spell out her daughter's name. It just said "No." Having said that, it could still have been 100% intentional given the subject.

I have been doing a listen of this as I have read the physical copy many times. I am still just as floored by it on a re-read as I was the first time.
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#4  Bookworm_Girl 09-17-2019, 04:28 PM
I had not noticed the covers. Very interesting observation!

I’m halfway through the book and find it extremely thought-provoking. I think it’s a curious pairing that we happened to read a Brian Moore book followed by a Joan Didion book considering the friendship between their families. When she brings up their life in LA and visiting the Moore home, I can picture it from that article I posted last month.
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#5  Bookworm_Girl 09-17-2019, 04:35 PM
Here is a new article that I found about their LA Literary Society. It gave me some more insight into Brian, Joan and John as people and writers.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/1987/05/24/a-place-in-the-sun/e3f4014e-9036-4bc3-9658-ef03414e3ce9/
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#6  astrangerhere 09-17-2019, 07:11 PM
I finished my re-read today. I was just as heartbroken by it as I was the first time I read it. I will wait for the discussion to get rolling before I post any quotes. I will say, however, I think it instructive to read an early essay of Didion's, "Goodbye to All That," that is essentially an elegy for her time in New York as a young woman. She processes that loss in much the same way. I won't post any links here, as I suspect that most of them are not legal.

I also don't want to spoil what happens beyond what has been yet said, but I will say that she left to conduct the book tour for this book two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

It was turned into a one-woman play in 2007 starring Vanessa Redgrave and directed by David Hare. Cate Blanchett filled the role in Australia.
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#7  AnotherCat 09-18-2019, 12:25 AM
I better get started then else I will be left behind .
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#8  Bookworm_Girl 09-21-2019, 03:41 PM
I just read the last sentence at the end of Chapter 17. An internet search revealed that it is from the same poem which Didion quotes in Chapter 6, "Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day" by Delmore Schwartz.

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Time is the school in which we learn.
I found a copy of the poem on the Poetry Foundation's website. It struck me that the structure of the poem is also very similar to what I like about the book. There are repeating words/images/events/themes, but when they reappear they are sometimes varied slightly in the telling or phrasing. This technique to me builds an increasing emotional response in the reader. It's familiar enough to link the chapters/passages together but doesn't become too repetitious. It re-emphasizes the key themes of the narrative at the same time that your own thoughts about the subject of grief and mourning have been building while reading.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42633/calmly-we-walk-through-this-aprils-day
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#9  Bookworm_Girl 09-21-2019, 04:01 PM
Quote astrangerhere
I finished my re-read today. I was just as heartbroken by it as I was the first time I read it. I will wait for the discussion to get rolling before I post any quotes. I will say, however, I think it instructive to read an early essay of Didion's, "Goodbye to All That," that is essentially an elegy for her time in New York as a young woman. She processes that loss in much the same way. I won't post any links here, as I suspect that most of them are not legal.

I also don't want to spoil what happens beyond what has been yet said, but I will say that she left to conduct the book tour for this book two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

It was turned into a one-woman play in 2007 starring Vanessa Redgrave and directed by David Hare. Cate Blanchett filled the role in Australia.
Thank you for the additional information, astrangerhere! It appears that "Goodbye to All That" can be found in Slouching Towards Bethlehem and also We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is available in the Amazon Prime Lending Library for members for free and as a bonus the audiobook is only $1.99 and narrated by Diane Keaton.

It looks like a very interesting collection. From the Audible description:
Quote
Universally acclaimed from the time it was first published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for decades as a stylistic masterpiece. Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, The Family Stone) performs these classic essays, including the title piece, which will transport the listener back to a unique time and place: the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the neighborhood's heyday as a countercultural center.

This is Joan Didion's first work of nonfiction, offering an incisive look at the mood of 1960s America and providing an essential portrait of the Californian counterculture. She explores the influences of John Wayne and Howard Hughes, and offers ruminations on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room. Taking its title from W.B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming", the essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem all reflect, in one way or another, that "the center cannot hold."
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#10  astrangerhere 09-26-2019, 02:38 PM
Quote Bookworm_Girl
Thank you for the additional information, astrangerhere! It appears that "Goodbye to All That" can be found in Slouching Towards Bethlehem and also We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is available in the Amazon Prime Lending Library for members for free and as a bonus the audiobook is only $1.99 and narrated by Diane Keaton.

It looks like a very interesting collection. From the Audible description:
There is a used bookstore around the corner from my office that I like to wander in when I need a break. I bought myself the Picador Modern Classics version of Slouching Towards Bethlehem for a meager $6USD today. The book is just a bit smaller than a 4x6 notecard. I've read it twice already, but I love it enough to have it in paper.

I own the big hardbound collected nonfiction as above, but I do love a pocket sized book to carry about. I think I shall place it in my court bag for the interminable waits I have in the courtroom. Can't use my e-reader there as no devices are permitted.
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