This is a Book Everyone Needs to Read

It’s The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.

I know, I know. She IS just as ‘Progressive’ and kneejerk as it comes. She’s associated with every cause, activist, and anti-Trump mania as is possible.

But she is a terrific writer. Long before I knew who she was, I read an excerpt of her work in Cosmopolitan during its Helen Gurley Brown years (Hey, I was 20-something. I went along with the crowd). Many years later, I read Play It As It Lays, and remembered that excerpt. It was still as impossible to put down as before.

Her essays on growing up in California, long before the mid-60s invasion of people, are mesmerizing.

So, finally, I noticed some reference to it, and decided to check it out of the e-library.

The book takes the reader through a dreadful year – her husband dies suddenly, then, less than a week after their daughter is taken to the hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. Her daughter’s recovery is complicated and lengthy; when she is out of the hospital, on a trip to LA, she suffers a collapse and spends much of the next two years recovering from a brain hematoma. She eventually dies of acute pancreatitis at 39 years old.

Didion, in her usual detailed style, mines her experiences, memories, and poetry to create an amazing book. The universality of the grief journey, and the sometimes foolish responses we make to overwhelming personal chaos, make this a book well worth reading.

Now, is Didion a deep thinker? A timeless writer?

Hell, no!

What she managed to do, through her fiction and non-fiction, is to capture a slice of American life at a particular time, better than anyone else. At least for the experiences of upper middle class women of the educated class. BTW, she was NOT a feminist, and as an adult, voted for Barry Goldwater. Later, she took on the political colorations and convictions of her literary associates.

She was a woman of many contradictions – career woman who worked alongside her spouse, politically Left, married for 40 years to the same man (a Catholic), mother, gadfly, and lifelong writer.

For an example of refusal to go along with the crowd, here is an essay from the NY Times on feminism. No paywall, it’s archived – just scroll down.


  1. For a hilarious send-up of Didion’s later affectations and excesses, read Florence King’s disquisition on”Camp Jejune.” You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll fall down. It will change your life.

  2. Eh. When you think about it, many novels are meandering and about people you wouldn’t like to spend time with.

    Still like some of them.

Comments have been disabled.