In Didion Land

I first read THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING in 2006.  I read it in two days.  I think I read it in two days.  I don’t know if this is true, but that’s the way I remember it.  Two days.

Since then I’ve listened to it on audio no less than 5 times.  If you follow this blog, you know this is not unusual and you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m listening to it yet again.  Every time I hear it, I appreciate something new.  Last time around it was the circular motion of the narrative, how she makes you feel like you’re spinning around in the memory vortex with her, and how the constant repetition of these lines keeps you in her grasp:

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

You’re safe.  I’m here.

I tell you that I shall not live two days, Gawain said.

Why do you always have to be right.  Why do you always have to have the last word.  For once in your life just let it go.

This time I’m focused on the simplicity — the seeming simplicity — of her sentences.  In her 2006 interview for The Paris Review, Ms. Didion talked about how she admired Hemingway from an early age (11 or 12):  “There was just something magical to me in the arrangement of those sentences.  Because they were so simple — or rather they appeared to be so simple, but they weren’t.”

Amen.  I’m off to walk my dogs around the neighborhood and listen (learn) some more.

12 thoughts on “In Didion Land

  1. amyg

    i think that this book to me is a lot like saying the rosary was for my grandma. not so much in it’s redemptive powers but the ease and comfort of putting myself in the hands (words) of someone that can do magic with them. i will never be able to get enough of this book (this is mostly how it’s like a string of hail marys for me).

    have you read christopher buckley’s mum and pup? it’s good in that way too. (just not as good…)

    currently reading The Widow’s Story by JCO. i’ll let you know how it is. i’m pretty sure i’ve got a weird thing for widow memoirs that started with my year of magical thinking.

    1. Teri Post author

      Dear god, AmyG, it is like the rosary, this book. Exactly. I’m anxious to hear what you think of the JCO book. I read the review in the NYT yesterday but I’m not yet inclined. I’ll wait for your thoughts.

  2. macdougal street baby

    Would you believe I have never listened to a book on tape? As Per your recommendation some weeks back, I took out Mark Doty’s Dog Years on CD and love it! This process opens a whole new world to me. Thank you.

  3. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    I have not yet read this, and it’s lingered in the middle of my TBR pile for a long while now. Guess it’s time for it to jump the line.

    Sadly, I cannot do audiobooks. I think it’s the lack of control over the process: not being able to reread a sentence or able to simply skim a paragraph. I know I could FF or rewind, but it seems a pain. Is this an issue for you?

    1. Teri Post author

      I never FF or rewind, I just let it keep going. One of the reasons I started listening to audio books is that I was trying to figure out how certain books worked rhythm-wise. It’s funny — this Joan Didion book seems like 2 completely different stories between the Paper Version and the Audio.

      I like to listen to books that I’ve already read. A few of my favorites (read by the authors themselves) are: Mary Karr’s LIT, Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES, Michael Cunninham’s THE HOURS, and Toni Morrison’s BELOVED. Hearing them read their own work is like magic. Just thinking about Toni Morrison’s voice gives me goosebumps.

  4. erikamarks

    Teri, I have wanted to read this book many, many times. I’ve picked it up, in bookstores and libraries, and felt an ache because I’ve obviously known how powerful it is and how hard it must be to walk away from after putting down. I remember after Natasha Richardson passed away, one of my first thoughts was that Vanessa had performed this on stage–and how terribly cruel a twist of life.

    These testimonials may give me the needed cahones to finally read it.

    (And thank you for the link. I’ve got yours on mine now too.)

  5. Downith

    It’s been on my list for awhile too. Will get to it. I stopped listening to audiobooks a few years back but you mentioned them awhile ago and I picked up Brideshead Revisited in the library. Narrated by Jeremy Irons – swoon! I find myself looking forward to long car journeys.

  6. Lyra

    I’ve been wanting to read this and yet I can’t do it. It feels superstitious somehow, like by reading it something would happen…nope can’t even finish the comment.
    Separately, I’ve tried audiobooks maybe twice, but somehow it loses the magic for me. Could be though that I haven’t picked the right ones.

  7. Bill Hayes

    I have only read one Joan Didion book: it was a factual work simply called “Miami” (I was researching some stories on the place at the time) I was blown away by her simple and clear voice. I took one sentence away from that book – that will always stay with me – “behind every fortune – there’s a crime” How true. I must try some of her fiction.

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