Books by Joan Didion.

star Alphabetic list of Didion books read, with reviews and quotations.
star Biographical notes and timeline of Joan Didion.

Alphabetic list of Didion books read, with comments and quotations

Scary in its busy-ness. Full of names of the famous and near-famous, quotations, dates, and juxtapositions. A wandering set of essays (dated 1988 to 2000) with so much data that my head spins. To enjoy this book, I would need to know more and/or care more about the significance of political innuendo, including entrail examination of much that may or may not actually be significant.

Her first novel. Weak. But what do I know - a friend on background wrote: "It left me stunned in its chilly brilliance."

Buy 'The Year of Magical Thinking'

The book is:

  1. An autobiography (i.e. about the author, Joan Didion).
  2. Primarily about Joan Didion, whose name is the primary categorization recommended by the book.
  3. A grieving for the loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, the third most important categorization recommended by the book. He died of a sudden and massive heart attack at their dinner table the day before New Year's Eve and a month before their 40th wedding anniversary.
  4. A remembrance of the hazards (quarrels and criticisms and disagreements) as well as the glories of a long marriage. Though if there were so many mentions of quarrels, can the following really be accurate?
    (p.16) "There was no separation between our investments or interests in any given situation."

  5. A display of entitlement.
  6. Self-pitying. The 4th line of the book is:
    "The question of self-pity,"
    which she presents as some of the first words that she wrote within three days of her husband's death.
  7. One way for an intellectual writer to cope with loss: by documenting the facts and the emotions, approaching as close as one can to the painful emotional core, and protecting oneself with data. The book is full of facts, the intellectual's protection when the emotions become too powerful.
  8. A prose elegy of repetition and echo, probing and reopening of the death wound. By dipping non-linearly into her husband's death and her first year without him, Didion explores and clarifies for herself what the loss means, somewhat as a good writer that lacks Didion's wealth of agent, book contract, or book advance might write in a self-edited blog.
  9. Winner of National Book Award for Nonfiction (November 2005).

Examples of entitlement and name-dropping

  1. p.6: José "who was part of our household" is ignored apart from being the one asked to clean up John's blood. Apparently a servant.
  2. p.27: "But I would still get up in the morning and send out the laundry." The rest of us do our own, and sometimes hers.
  3. p.42: "I had arranged for his ashes to be picked up and taken to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where ... they would be placed in the chapel off the main altar where my brother and I had placed our mother's ashes. I had arranged for the marble plate on which her name was cut to be removed and recut to include John's name."
  4. p.106: In "the UCLA Medical Center bookstore ... I bought, since the afternoon highs in Los Angeles were by then in the eighties ... several sets of blue cotton scrubs. ... it did not immediately occur to me that for the mother of a patient to show up at the hospital wearing blue cotton scrubs could only be viewed as a suspicious violation of boundaries."
  5. p.176: "... all I remembered of that was having lunch at the Ritz and walking with John to Brooks Brothers to pick up a shirt."
  6. p.178-9: "... between my junior and senior year at [U.C.] Berkeley. I had been in New York for a college promotion Mademoiselle then ran (the 'Guest Editor' program, memorialized by Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar) ..."
  7. p.179. And what horrible hardships she has suffered: "In the summer of 1955 ... I stayed in a room at the Château Frontenac that did not have its own bathtub."
  8. She mentions John asking her: "Do you always have to be right?" and painstakingly tells how she once didn't demand to be right.
  9. p.209. With regard to responsibility for planning anything (such as fiscal responsibility or service to others, perhaps?): "John and I were improvising, flying blind. ... The very fact that we made files labeled 'Planning' suggests how little of it we did. We also had 'Planning meetings,' which consisted of sitting down with legal pads, stating the day's problem out loud, and then, with no further attempt to solve it, going out to lunch. "
  10. p.211: When they were out of money to invest further in a second house, they jetted to a resort in Hawaii. "What had encouraged us to think that a resort hotel in Honolulu was the place to solve a cash shortfall?" But it seems to be the way they lived.
  11. The way she 'managed' the doctors of her daughter. Her confidence that she could and would have her way with them.
  12. Off-hand remarks about Paris, Malibu, Singapore, working at Vogue, famous friends.

Examples of her writing techniques and skills

  1. "As a writer, ... I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish ... I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now. ... This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself."

  2. Avoids using commas in many of the place where most people expect one to show a breathing pause.

  3. The trademark pull-back to the safety of stark and emotionless facts.

  4. The trademark reportage, using quotations from numerous writers to amplify and extend her musings, and give the appearance of a discussion as she agrees or disagrees with the quotations.

Biographical notes and timeline of Joan Didion