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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2005

"Life changes fast....You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." These were among the first words Joan Didion wrote in January 2004. Her daughter was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit, a victim of pneumonia and septic shock. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, was dead. The night before New Year's Eve, while they were sitting down to dinner, he suffered a massive and fatal coronary. The two had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years.

The weeks and months that followed "cut loose any fixed idea I had about death, about illness, about probability and luck...about marriage and children and memory...about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores with electric honesty and passion a private yet universal experience. Her portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad, will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, a wife, or a child.

Listen to Joan Didion's full-hour interview with Charlie Rose.
©2005 Joan Didion; (P)2005 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

  • 2005 Audie Award Nominee, Biography/Memoir
  • National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee, Autobiography, 2005

"Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays....This is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature." (Publishers Weekly)
"The Year of Magical Thinking is not a downer. On the contrary. Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative." (The New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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Very helpful and realistic

As a event widow this book made a lot of sense
No one expects the fear and bewilderment that follows a death of your husband but knowing that what you are feeling is to be expected helps
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Ditch the music

Every sections last couple of minutes are over-dubbed with cheesy music that make it hard to hear the actual text. Boo.

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  • Juli
  • glendale, CA, United States
  • 12-20-14

soothing through my divorce.

highly recommend. Barbara Caruso does and excellent job narrating. doesn't miss a beat. Joan Didion did an amazing job in writing the story despite the fact she didn't have her husband to assist her with the editing process. just... an amazing book. one of my favorites.

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Great writing and narration.

Would you listen to The Year of Magical Thinking again? Why?

I have listened several times and love this book more each time I listen.

What did you like best about this story?

The writing is so lovely, almost lyrical.

What about Barbara Caruso’s performance did you like?

Barbara Caruso's performance is wonderful, I can listen to her while driving, walking, or while trying to fall asleep. She has a lovely voice which is ideally matched for this book.

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DEATH AND BEING LEFT BEHIND

The Year of Magical Thinking is an intimate memoir of death and being left behind. In life, Joan Didion and John Dunn were married, successful, professional writers. John Dunn dies of a heart attack in 2003. Didion beautifully describes her experience. Though Didion’s story is personal, it enlightens those left behind.

Didion infers life is a moment to moment existence. Everything can change in an instant. Can one prepare for change that occurs in an instant? Didion suggests not. Just do the best you can. Didion deals with this change in her life by ignoring death, coping with today’s crises, and remembering the details of her partner’s life. The details keep his existence alive. Memories of his better judgments help Didion make her own decisions about living.

Didion seems to conclude-what you believe is what is. Magical thinking or not, belief gets one through the trials of life. Belief makes those loved and lost an immortal part of you.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Debbie
  • United States
  • 06-19-14

Brilliant! Compelling ... Riveting Journey 8*s

Would you consider the audio edition of The Year of Magical Thinking to be better than the print version?

In a way. The book lends well to hearing vs. seeing.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Joan Didion of course! This is a memoir of her year. The year after her husband & partner 24/7 of 40 years suddenly died. It is intimate, transparent and very "her." Amazing writing. It is beyond humbling to even consider I could write a review of a book by the author who is largely considered to be the best essayist of a generation.

What does Barbara Caruso bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

She does an excellent job with pacing and phrasing. Her tone is true to the content. Impressive. The wrong narrator would create a very poor experience with this book. Caruso was clear and so easy on the ears.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Please no!!! Do not let anyone make a movie of this book!!

Any additional comments?

A quote nearing the end of Joan's year of "magical thinking" - grief, passion, strength...


".... [the string of lights] burned out - went dead. This served as a symbol. I bought new strings of colored lights. This served as a profession of faith in the future. I take the opportunity for such professing's, where and when, I can invent them, since I do not yet actually feel this faith in the future.I notice I have lost the skills for ordinary social encounters, however undeveloped those skills may have been a year ago."


--Joan Didion

"The Year of Magical Thinking"

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  • Jami
  • VICTOR, NY, United States
  • 06-04-14

Interesting Book about a Difficult Topic

I wasn't sure what to expect based on the reviews, but I enjoyed this book. I didn't enjoy the circumstances that led to the writing of this book as they were incredibly sad, but I appreciate the author's openness and ability to write so honestly about her feelings during this difficult time of her life.

I saw many reviews that rated this book low because they didn't like the author, felt she was a snob, etc. I am not sure what led to this, because many people who are well off have written memoirs and I didn't see these types of reviews. In her case, does she have more money than me? Yes. Does she live a different lifestyle than I do? Yes. (I don't have a "kitchen notebook" to track dinners I served, but then again, maybe I should start one to document the times I actually cook something edible!). Anyway, my point is that her life is completely different than mine, but that is why I want to read about it. I don't want to read about someone who has my life, as I am experiencing that myself. I didn't get the feeling she was snobbish or had the I-am-so-great attitude that I have encountered in some people I have met.

As far as the book content, I could empathize with much of what she went through. While I have not lost a spouse, I have experienced other losses of loved ones and can relate to many of her observations. I completely agree with her statement that when you mourn, you not only mourn the loved one but also the person you were at various stages of your relationship. I have experienced this many times, but this was the first time I heard someone else articulate this experience. I, too, have looked back and thought what changes had occurred in my life that I went through with a particular person who is no longer here. When she describes how she measured time that year after her husband died by comparing to what they were doing on that same day last year, I got it; it was especially moving when she came to December 31, the day that when she looked back one year she realized it was the first day that her husband was not there one year ago.

The author frequently references events that happened shortly before his death and ended with "and he had 48 hours to live" or however many days, months, etc. That is something I think about a lot when someone suddenly dies; I think of how they expected to do something that weekend, or go into work the next day and then suddenly were not there to follow through with those plans. When I saw my mother's glasses sitting on her bedside table after her death, no longer to be used, that really saddened me. It is things like this that really seem to get to me when someone passes away.

For me, the most poignant part of the book was when the author talks about her daughter's belief as a child that the broken man ["death"] was going to come and that she realized that she alone had to do something to stop him from coming for her. That became more important when she was in a hospital fighting for her life years later, at the time her father had died. As a child, Quintana told her mother that if the "broken man" came for her, she would hold onto the fence so that he could not take her away. As the author is going through the experience of losing her husband and seeing her daughter fight for her life, she observes that Quintana "held onto the fence" while her husband did not. I found that particular line particularly moving.

Overall, while the book dealt with sadness and death, I found the book to be enjoyable and moving at times. I listened to this on audio and I didn't have any issues with the narration. I felt that the narrator's voice perfectly suited how I pictured this author to be and I could easily imagine it was the author speaking

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  • JoAnn
  • Boston, MA, United States
  • 06-03-14

Essential for someone who is grieving

This work is a must-read for someone who is suffering from grief. It follows Joan Didion's (famous writer) year after her husband's (famous writer) sudden death which occurred in the midst of her daughter's sudden coma. Throughout her experiences we learn more about her life, which sounds simply glamorous and full of old Hollywood fun. The narrator was perfection and I can't imagine Ms. Didion herself having a more elegant voice or telling her own story with more emotion running through her intonation.

If you are not currently in the throws of grief, I might recommend just keeping this on your radar for when you, unfortunately and inevitably, are. Currently, I, thankfully, am not- but I am happy that I know this is out there for when I, unfortunately and inevitably, am. As someone who just wanted a good read from a good reader and a glimpse into an experience we all fear/anticipate/dread, I felt a bit disconnected from the text and imagine that it was intended for someone who can scream at their book (speaker): "This is EXACTLY how I feel!"

There were some gaps I wish had been further elaborated upon (e.g., casual reference to filing for divorce? current status of sick daughter?), but I need to remember that this is not a memoir of Ms. Didion's life; rather, this is a memoir of her grief over her lost husband. I understand she needed to mention some (or pieces of) of these life events to better explain the overall experience- still, I was shocked when the audible ended, feeling like I was still missing some pieces of the overall story. Which is, I'm sure, exactly as she feels!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Reading this book for the second time.

I originally read this book in the hard cover edition. I read it because Joan Didion was the author. I have always enjoyed her writings. It is an excellent book and beautifully written. In less than a year I too was widowed. I reread the book again and then gave my book to a friend who was also recently widowed. I asked her not to return the book but instead, to pass it along to another widowed person and ask them to do the same You don't "get over " the death of a mate of many years, in my case 52 years, you get used to being alone, at best. Today I decided to read it yet again after four years. By all means read this story for yourself and for others who are widowed or may be facing imminent widowhood.

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Excellent Writing; Barbara Caruso is awesome

Would you listen to The Year of Magical Thinking again? Why?

Yes. This is my first Joan Didion book, she has such a way with words, and sentences and phrasing - I have never read a writer that writes like she does; almost like listening to music. However, what really made this a treasure was Barbara Caruso's narration. Perfect voice and artistry for this book.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Year of Magical Thinking?

There was no one moment; as Joan tended to describe the same event over and over again, but with a different twist, different angle, and attitude and approach each time. So you saw the event in the different ways that she did.

Which scene was your favorite?

Where Joan is at UCLA medical center with her daughter - her questioning of the doctors, her detailed research and her thoughts about the same - and later when she wonders what John would have thought during that time.

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