Book Reviews of The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
ISBN-13: 9781400078431
ISBN-10: 1400078431
Publication Date: 2/13/2007
Pages: 240
Rating:
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 264

3.3 stars, based on 264 ratings
Publisher: Vintage
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

86 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 130 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 22
In the weeks and months following the death of a loved one, I experienced emotions and disorientation that seemed so foreign to me. I would walk through the grocery store -- not exactly in a daze, but it was as if the light were different, or perhaps it was the quality of the sound. I was not connected. Looking at the people around me as they hefted a melon or checked the expiration date on a gallon of Clover milk, it struck me that perhaps half the people there had experienced what I was experiencing right then, and I had never known. I'd never really even suspected.

Early on in my grieving process, an old friend got in touch and told me that after his parents had died (within two weeks of each other) it had taken him two years to fully recover. As I stumbled forward, letting bills go past due just because I couldn't face anything with a deadline, missing appointments, his few words became my lifeline, the kindest thing anyone could have said to me. Partly, I suppose, it was the promise that this, too, would pass. But mostly it was the permission to grieve. I needed permission to grieve.

Back on track now some years later, reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, I think, "She is offering not so much an explanation, but a clear description that I had not found anywhere else, and she is offering permission."
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 239 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 14
I don't really know if I liked this book or not. Here's my problem - I liked the story and the uplifting nature of it. I liked what she had to say. I liked that she was honest about herself. I didn't like HOW she wrote. Very flowery, strewn with lines of poetry and clips from other books. But... it made me think. I've only ever lost grandparents. I've never lost a parent, a child, or a partner. What would my life be like, how would I feel, would I feel "mudgy" for that first year? What is her life like now? Did the fog lift for her? Would it lift for me. Everyone that knows me knows that I'm a very independent person. "I don't need no man". But. My husband means the world to me. I've been married to him for 14 years, we've worked together for the past 2 years. I genuinely like to be around him. As she opens her book, "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant." How very true, and sad at the same time. I don't think about it often, but I did leave this book wondering how I would cope if something were to happen to my own husband. I don't know that I would have the ability to write about it. For that, my hat goes off to the author. She did a good job of bringing me into her world. Worth a read.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 95 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 13
I really enjoyed this heartfelt novel about the author's coming to terms with her husband's untimely death. At first I thought she was repeating herself a bit but once you get to the end you realize she is taking you on her journey of mourning and her dealings with each stage of grief. (Wording is not quite right, but i hope you get the gist). I recommend this book definitely.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 9
This is one of my books I will never swap! It is so amazing - tragically written. You actually feel her confusion during her year of grief. Didion is an amazing writer. I highly recommend this book!
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 74 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 8
My Rating: D+

The inside flap of this book describes it as passionate. I would like to begin this review by saying that I felt, 90% of the time, very little passion. Towards the end of the book, when it seems that she's actually dealing with the subject matter, instead of just telling us stories of their previous life, yes, there is passion. In the last 20 pages the book brought me to tears multiple times. But up until then I spent most of my reading time confused, and frustrated.

She often goes back in time with out a clear transition. At least once there was a sentence in the middle of a paragraph that had nothing to do with anything in the 3 pages before and after it.

To be honest. I really only recommend the last 20 pages of this book..
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Helpful Score: 8
Now I understand how I got through the year of teaching that began the day after my younger son's memorial service. It is indeed magical thinking, magically written.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 17 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 7
Joan Didion, acclaimed American author, manages to write an autobiographical account of the her first year after the abrupt death of her husband of many years. For anyone who has dealt with the loss of a loved one, this is a must read. She is honest about the effects of grief without being maudlin.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on
Helpful Score: 6
Absolutely fantastic. Her spare prose is so effective, and because you can tell her word choice is painstakingly deliberate, the message is so much more powerful.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 52 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
Ms. Didion writes honestly and beautifully about grief and memory. I could not put this book down.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 64 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
I wish I knew why this was a best seller. The subject is depressing enough without Didion's very disjointed, rambling thoughts and she is a first class name dropper to boot. I've been in her shoes - I'm also a widow - and if you read only one book on widowhood, let it be the one by Dr. Joyce Brothers. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 27 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
One of the best books I have read in the past 5 years. Her story remained with me for a long time afterwards.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I know this won multiple awards, but I didn't care much at all for the writing. While I can understand the loss, it just wasn't that moving. However, I hope someone out there enjoys it more than I did.
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Helpful Score: 4
This is a book that describes the hallucinatory pain that erupts from such an absurd and painful loss. I am glad she wrote it. In this situation it is difficult for friends and family to commiserate. My own beloved spouse died in the midst of a long and joyously happy marriage, and feeling completely bereft, I re-read this book. When it came out I read it as an interesting memoir, but now I read it as an accurate reflection of the fantastical disbelief that I still experience. I appreciate and understand this book. And appreciating and understanding is a good thing, as I don't find that much in life. This book gave me much comfort because it gave me a companion to share my grief.
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Helpful Score: 4
Heartrending account of the first year of widowhood.
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Helpful Score: 4
A wonderful memoir of a wrenching time in the life of the author. In a short span of time she lost her only daughter and her husband. Terrific writing style.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I liked this book as it talked about her struggle dealing with her husbands death. She's a terrific writer.
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Helpful Score: 3
Going through your own grief upon the death of a loved one is bad enough; voyeuristically watching someone else proceed - even a writer as eloquent as Joan Didion - not so much. A sad memoir about the year following her husband's sudden fatal heart attack just as the couple was sitting down to supper at home, days after their only daughter's equally sudden illness and induced coma, it felt more like reading a scattered personal diary that kind of went nowhere. My heart went out to her (whose wouldn't), but the only reason I can think it got such glowing reviews and continues to remain popular is the best part of the book: the really great title.
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Helpful Score: 3
A slow, lyrical, book... like poetry.
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Helpful Score: 3
I suppose Didion's target audience must be other celebs, and those who're awed by them. The interesting parts about her feelings during that time were overshadowed by the name-dropping and grandiose flashbacks.
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Helpful Score: 2
I guess I didn't know what to expect from this book. I liked it, but I can't say why. For every wife who has ever thought, "I don't think I could survive if he goes before me" Joan has lived it, and recorded that horrible time in heart-wrenching clarity. A testament to the love of a family.
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Helpful Score: 2
Beautifully written, but utterly depressing. I felt like it was a great book for someone in their twilight years to read...not early thirties.
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Helpful Score: 2
Excellent writing style. Interesting asides added to a heart-breaking description of mourning and grief. Appreciation of the fullness of life and each of its moments.
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Helpful Score: 2
This is a poignant story of grieving the death of your spouse. I have recommended it so many times because I think that I would provide some sense of validation to the feelings that a surviving spouse experiences,and others would not understand. Joan Didion writes about her husband's sudden passing on New Year's Eve upon returning from the hospital where they had visited their comatose only child (a newly married young woman). So they are already experiencing a heartbreaking matter in their lives (they adopted her and so it has just been the three of them). When John Dunne (also an acclaimed writer) passes, Joan has to come to terms -- over time, the year) with so many routine and "normal" things that fill our lives. It is touching and sad, but it is relevant to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. If that is you, do your self a favor and read this. You will feel understood and no longer alone in your experience. I don't buy/acquire a book until I love it so I was excited to get this book in hardback after I read it when it first came out. It is a keeper.
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Helpful Score: 2
For those who are grieving, this book is excellent reading. I found it helpful. Didion's writing is sometimes difficult but this book is worth it.
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Helpful Score: 2
Very well written.
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Helpful Score: 2
Not at all what I thought...thought it would be heart-wrenching and sappy. Well, I think there are a few heart-wrenching moments of how the author dealt with the year following her husband's very sudden death, but mostly it is a thought-provoking look at the author's soul-searching journey. Interesting.
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Helpful Score: 2
WOW. Puts words to the depth that all must face.
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Helpful Score: 2
For what it was it was great. However, there was no fluid story line and sometimes it was hard to follow her train of thought. I read it with a book club and they agreed that it was just so hard to get into the book, depsite the short length.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 23 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I loved this book. Beautifully written and truly heartbreaking. It was a real glimpse inside one of the more private public marriages.
reviewed The Year of Magical Thinking on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Almost 3 years out from the loss of my infant son, I finally read this book and it was so comforting because she expressed what no one else, not even grief counselors had. It was wonderful to read this book and think "Yes that is EXACTLY what I felt like. I'm not crazy or weird. I was grieving." Highly recommended for anyone going through the loss of a loved one.
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Helpful Score: 1
Kind of wandering and still very interesting story of Joan Didion's year of grief/grieving/mourning for death of husband and (separate incident) serious illness of her daughter. I don't have plans to repost it, which says something.
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Helpful Score: 1
Beautifully written. Very moving.
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Helpful Score: 1
Well written, tragic loss of John Gregory Dunne, husband of the author. During this sudden loss, their only daughter is facing life threatening problems. Beautifully expressed, good read.
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Helpful Score: 1
Extremely depressing book. I assume it was theraputic for Ms. Didion to write this about her horrible experiences and perhaps others going through the same traumas can relate.Well written, but very sad.
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Helpful Score: 1
wonderfully written with great honesty and passion
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Helpful Score: 1
Joan Didion is an amazing writer, I think this is the first book of hers I've read but I've loved her work in the New Yorker and Harpers. I also love the cover of this book, the letters that make up her dead husband's name stand out in blue from the stark black font of the rest of the letters in the author's name and title, as proper a tribute as it is creative.

I appreciate the glimpse of Didion's marriage with John Dunne, their adoption of daughter Quintana, and the awful holiday season of 2003 when her husband died while their only child was in a coma. Now I'm wanting to read more about all three of their lives.

..."given that grief remained the most general of afflictions its literature seemed remarkably spare." Even so, Didion gives an excellent overview of the literature relating to grief; encompassing the physical, emotional, psychological, rational and irrational aspects of the process. I found it fascinating that Didion praises Emily Post's 1922 etiquette guide for the best advice and information out there today.
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Helpful Score: 1
I have a lot of difficulty with Joan's writing. We just don't meld somehow. This book was heartbreaking ... and I feel for her.
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Helpful Score: 1
One of the best books ever written about Loss of a loved one. Joan Didion writes beautifully, and this is a captivating book about the loss of her husband and her daughter in a close period of time.
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Helpful Score: 1
This book was an excellent book for a book club discussion. Everyone has a different opinion about how to approach death and this book sparks many opinions.
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Helpful Score: 1
Good writing and certainly an honest account of the author's grief over losing her husband. I just couldn't get past all the name-dropping and every other paragraph reminding me of their wealth and position in society. One message that I'm not sure was intended by all that garbage but which I received was that no matter how much money and fame you have, it doesn't protect you from grief or make those feelings any easier. And to a large extent the grieving process is universally similar for all of us. This book struck me as extremely self-indulgent and overall I didn't care for it much.
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Helpful Score: 1
I enjoyed this book a lot. It is depressing subject matter, but she writes very well and shared a terribly difficult year in her life.
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Helpful Score: 1
I just loved this book. Could not put it down.
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Helpful Score: 1
Anyone who has lived through the death of a loved one will find this account of Didion's grief moving and memorable. Her writing style is spare and this is not a long book. You will read it in a few sittings...but her voice will make a deep and lasting impression.
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Helpful Score: 1
I loved this book. We had to choose books from a nonfiction genre for a grad class last summer. I chose this one and I thought it was amazing. A lot of the chapters were from a journal she kept the year after John had passed away. I really loved it and felt like I learned from her experience that you never really know what will happen to you when you lose someone so close. I was sad to read not long after that their daughter, Quintana, had passed away as well.
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Helpful Score: 1
I thought this was a great book and a heart-breaking story. It was just too sad for me ot finish.
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Helpful Score: 1
The author invites us to share in her most intimate thoughts and the historic events of her daily life after the sudden death of her husband.
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Helpful Score: 1
I requested a copy of this book from PBS because the "Five Best Books" series in the Wall Street Journal included it as one of the five best of a particular category -- personal stories, or something of that sort. After reading it, I understand their high opinion. It is a compelling story of loss and grief.

Joan Didion's grown daughter went to the hospital on December 25 (2003 I think) with a life-threatening illness, and remained there for quite some time. Then on December 30, Joan was eating dinner with her husband of many years, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the dinner table. The story continues in that vein as the daughter continues her life and death struggle with illness.

In this book, Joan, a professional writer of some stature, relates her innermost self as she struggles with the certainty of her husband's death and the uncertainty of her daughter's survival.

After I finished this book, I gave it to my wife. She stayed up into the wee hours reading it, because she literally could not put it down.
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Helpful Score: 1
I would recommend this book to someone dealing with grief and looking to identify - in this instance, it could bring comfort and understanding. I did find it tedious at times, though a short book.
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Helpful Score: 1
I actually picked this book up at Goodwill, and didn't really have high expectations but have since found myself rereading it after losing a very good friend very suddenly this year to a stroke. I thought this book was written extremely well, I wondered if it would be sappy but it wasn't at all. It was a very honest, touching account of what happens when you lose someone, from the very mundane tasks that must be completed, to the profound grief. This book definitely filled a need for me, to remind me that life goes on, that grief is different for everyone, yet very similar. I heartily recommend it.
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Helpful Score: 1
Exceptional narrative on the journey of grief. Didion is an introvert of the rarest kind - seeing the world all and only through her own eyes, veering in and out of compassion, and very aware of her own biases. I appreciate her willingness to share her most intimate experiences after the death of her husband of 40 years. Very cerebral book as compared to most books on grief.
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Helpful Score: 1
Looked forward to reading but was disappointed. Got good reviews but it missed the mark for me.
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Helpful Score: 1
Losing one's spouse has got to be one of the most gut-wrenching challenges life can throw at us. But in Didion's case, her husband was also her constant companion, and the person she shared everything with. This book is her written account of the first year of grieving his passing. It's filled with the thoughts of denial, and also her dealing with her only child's devastating illness, and threat of losing her as well. I couldn't call this a pleasant read, but it has it's value.
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Helpful Score: 1
Some reviewers criticized this book as being the whining of a pampered upper middle class woman. But I disagree in that Ms. Didion's book is very typical of her intelligent writing style - here her experience of her husband's death and the near death of her daughter at the same time are presented in thoughtful, meditative paragraphs that move back in forth in time. It is really meaningful for those who have had life-changing deaths in their lives. Long after I read it, I would remember her words and linger on them.
Jan G.
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Helpful Score: 1
This book may well be a 'must read' but only at the right time for some people. It rings so true in its account of the bereavement process that one finds oneself reliving it.
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Helpful Score: 1
A moving account of life's transitions. While giving her account of her husband's sudden death and daughter's prolong illness, Didion provokes us to thinking of many issues we often ignore in hopes they will go away....but they don't!
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Helpful Score: 1
Sincere and vulnerable. How Didion managed to craft a book this evocative of her raw emotions is a marvel.
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An honest, wrenching book by a writer who tries to deal with the critical illness of her daughter and the simultaneous sudden death of her husband (and soul-mate). The reader can actually feel her pain.
Her description of grief and its effects are very enlightening. In fact, her accounts of grief may be some of the best writing ever done on the subject.
I think this is a great book...
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I really enjoyed this book, especially the repetition of the lines, both that she had written and from other books she read. It had a very authentic voice for me. The scene with the gardenias is especially memorable, even if it is a tiny detail in the book.

I agree that the title is misleading, but I'm not sure that I would change it, given the opportunity.
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I've only read a few of Joan Didion's books, and, although she is obviously a talented author, she's not normally my cup of tea - a little too liberal and a little too feminist for my tastes. I decided to try this because it deals with the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, who is one of my favorite authors, and because my wife passed away four years ago. I thought I might get some valuable insights.

I could identify with some of her thoughts and feelings about the death of a loved one, although our experiences were somewhat different. My wife had a long history of health problems, and I had made peace with the fact that I'd probably outlive her years ago; I spent her remaining years trying to make her life as full and pleasant as I could. The last 19 months were particularly trying after she was diagnosed with acute leukemia, and when she finally passed it was a blessing because she suffered a lot towards the end.

The author's husband died suddenly of an acute myocardial infarction, which came as more of a shock to her than it should have since he had had heart trouble for years which involved several medical procedures including installation of a pacemaker.

She seems to have used writing down all her thoughts for a year as a form of grief therapy. I found myself bored after the first cd, but persevered to the end out of respect for the dead - both hers and mine. After a while, the name dropping about all the famous and near famous people she stayed with and had dinner with got a little tiresome, as did her references to all the glamorous and exotic places she and John had spent time in and jetted off to whenever they didn't want to face reality. She mentions their financial difficulties several times, bot it doesn't seem to have kept them from living pretty well all their lives - maybe there were monetary as well as therapeutic motives for the book.

I did get some nice insights into J G Dunne's life and his work, but on the whole I found the book more depressing than uplifting. Occasionally her obsessive ramblings made me think the title should have been "The Year Of Maniacal Thinking".
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When I read this book I actually felt how stunned she was and I am amazed that she was able to transmit to someone who has not lost a spouse or child how surreal life becomes. As each day she endured the reality of waking up without that person ever again.
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Invaluable resource for anyone who has recently lost a loved one.
Great book. Highly recommended.
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fabulous read
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Joan Didion is truly a magical writer that takes you on a journey in her use of language. For me, as a new widow, I can truly identify with some of the things that Joan describes in her book, her longing to see her husband again, her rationalization of her own self-pity, living over events that have happened in the past, she truly describes her grief in a palpable way. The book was hard to put down. She makes the written language an art.
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loved the book, loved the play even tho both are heart-breaking - vanessa redgrave is an excellent didion.
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Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
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I thought this book was heavy. It was Joan Didion sorting through her life in the year following her husband's death. I don't recommend it.
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Could not get into this one.
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Didion's personal account of the sudden death of her husband and serious illness of her daughter. Interesting to learn about her life with John Gregory Dunn and how her thoughts about death, the medical system, friends, etc. changed during the process of losing him so suddenly.
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Ms Didion writes "magically" about a difficult subject----the unexpected death of her husband.
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sad but accurate view of grief and mourning. Title is very misleading.
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This book was hard for me to get through. Joan Didion does tell the story of her year of grieving, but it pull on any of my emotions. I found it hard to get through and not nearly as interesting and insightful as I hoped for. I read it and upon the end was happy it was over. I would not recommend this to others.
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One woman's experience of the year following her husband's sudden death. Explores grief, mourning, and marriage.
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Joan Didion loses her husband and finds out her daughter is horrible ill in the same week - she write about surviving it all.
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Well, I've got opinions galore about this book, but I'm going to keep my mouth shut and am just much more interested in what YOU think after reading it. Hope you are made of the right stuff and can endure a dive into the emotional depths with Joan.
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To say I enjoyed this book would be wrong, because the subject matter is so shattering--the unexpected death of a spouse after 40 years together. But it was so moving and beautifully written, that I could not put it down.

This book chronicles only the first year following her widowhood. How she felt submerged and confused about the simplest things. How the details of what happen fade so quickly and cannot be recalled with certainty, no matter how many attempts you make to relive them. How her home is the same as it was, and yet so different. How she is alone now, now and forever, but yet he is always there, in her thoughts, her decisions, her grief. This book was sad, of course, but also uplifting, because Didion concludes, as we the survivors all must, thatlife will go on. The world will still turn. It's just different now.

Didion's husband died right exactly while they as parents were consumed with worry over their grown daughter, who was hospitalized and in a coma with a virulent infection. She had to then gather everything she had to get through that ordeal alone. A truly gifted writer, she portrayed honestly, sometimes angrily, always compassionately, about what life handed her that year. I

*** 1/2 Three and a half stars!
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I listened to this audio book while sewing. I greatly enjoy biographies, true crime, non-fiction, and any fictional novel that tells a great story. This book was maddening. The author is a snob. Perhaps it was just the narrator Barbara Caruso who sounds like a snob as she reads the book, but I don't think so. The book is written with such a nose in the air, high society feel, that the reader gets the feeling these people have no sincere concept of how life is lived by anyone who's net worth is less than 10 or 20 million dollars.

The author uses the phrase "It occurred to me..." so many times in the book that I literally could not believe she had ever authored any other book in the past. What a rookie mistake to use the same phrase over and over and over, not to mention boring listless writing. How could it even get past an editor? By the 5th time she said it, I felt I could write the rest of the book. Maddening. Completely maddening.

I wanted so badly to like this book. I want badly to like every book I begin to read. But, within the first or second chapter, I began to realize this was not a year of magical thinking at all. This is a very sad, sad tale of losing a spouse of about 40 years. The only magical thinking in the book is that she semi-occasionally believes she could bring him back somehow. I get that. I watched my mom reel with grief after the loss of my dad, her husband of almost 38 years. It was real and tangible. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind my mother could listen to this book and understand every sentence down to her very core, shaking her head while shouting a rousing "Yes!" to every single feeling Mrs. Didion describes. But, come on, that's not magical thinking. That's called grief. That's called sorrow. That's called sadness.

This book is perfect for someone still trying to make sense out of something totally senseless - untimely death. One minute the man is eating dinner, the next he has a fatal coronary..."The Widowmaker" as the doctor describes it. The wife's life is completely turned upside down, as one would expect. It doesn't help matters at all that their only daughter is very, very ill. This wife just can't catch a break it seems. That's what the book is about. It is NOT about magical thinking at all.
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I was not able to get through this book. My first experience with her writing.
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Excellent account of how your life can change in a minute. When her husband falls to the floor from the dinner table and dies, she has to come to terms with losing her best friend and how she will go on.
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Rather matter-of-fact writing, I suppose that's how she made sense of it all.
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See my review of the audio cd.
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I was very ambivalent about this book. I did not feel the authors grief nor did I learn anything from the book. I thought the author was very self indulgent and her incessant namedropping and boastful ways were a real turnoff.
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Not very engagaing to me - haven't recommended it to anyone.
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Everybody loved this book but me, so don't take my word for it.
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National Book Award winner.
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I don't know what all the hype was about but I found this book to be a very dull read.
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This is a paperback not hardcover.