Discussion note – The year of magical thinking

This Wednesday, the reading group has discussed the book The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion. The group has followed 18 questions and handed me a brief notes.

General overview:

Why did she write the book?

 – Personal narrative or way of coping with problem.

It is well written, courageous and engrossing. The loss of her husband is magnified by daughter’s illness. Some people were related to story, from personal circumstances. Some took some time to relate to story in some instances, grief was clinical and removed initially. Later in the book she became more personal. Some though that the author will never overcome the problem of grief.  Some thought she probably commenced writing six months after the death of her husband. The later part of book  was much better than earlier reflective period. The author ignored her husband’s own warnings, he was obviously aware of his own mortally, but she would not accept this.

Q1. Consider the four sentences in italics that begin chapter one. What did you think when you read them for the first time? What do you think now?

Some commented – Self-pity initially, but after book feel more realistic

Q2.  In particular, addree ‘the question of self pity.’ Does Didion pity herself? In what ways does she indulge that impulse, and in what ways does she deny it?

Yes, she indulges, for examples there are a lot quotes from other writers, she denies it in many ways.

Q3. Read the judges’ citation for the National Book Award. Why do you suppose they deemed the book a masterpiece of investigative journalism?

Not regarded as a masterpiece, always searching for answers

Q4.  Discuss the notion of ‘Magical thinking’. Have you ever experienced anything like this, after a loss or some other life-changing occurrence? How did it help, or hinder, your healing?

Some members commented it should be called “Wishful” other than “Magical thinking” in this instance. Most readers have had this experience. It did not help.

Q5. do you think Didion’s ‘year of magical thinking’ ended after one year, or did it likely continue?

Most members said – Yes.

Q6.  Consider the tone Didion uses throughout the book, one of relatively cool detachment. Clearly she is in mourning, and yet her anguish is quite muted. How did this detached tone affect your reading experience?

It, somehow, made it difficult to relate to her experience, some members commented.

Q7.  How does Didion use humor? To express her grief, to deflect it, or for another purpose entirely?

Most members thought it was very little humour in it.

Q8. over the course of the book, Didion excerpts a variety of poems. Which resonated for you most deeply, and why?

Some said, it was too many to relate, all over the place, didn’t like it that much.

Q9.  To Didion, there is a clear distinction between grief and mourning. What differences do you see between the two?

Some members said – Grief was from time to time. Mourning was constant.

Q10.  One word critics have used again and again in describing this book is ‘exhilarating’.  did you find it to be so? why, or why not?

Some members didn’t feel it can relate to “exhilarating” as a term to describe this book.  In comparing with a lot grief and sadness seen from daily life, her experience isn’t unique nor extraordinary.

Q11. Discuss Didion’s repetition of sentences like ‘for once in your life just let it go’; ‘we call it the widowmaker’; ‘I tell you that I shall not live two days’; and ‘ life changes in the instant.’ what purpose does the repetition serve? how did you understanding of her grief change each time you reread one of these sentences

It appeared those repetition is part of her non-acceptance of death.

Q12.  The lifestyle described in this book is quite different from the way most people live, with glamorous friends, expensive homes, and trips toHawaii,Paris,South America, etc., and yet none of that spared Didion from experiencing profound grief. did her seemingly privileged life color your feelings about the book at all? did that change after reading it?

Most members said – Grief affects everyone, irrespective of standing.

Q13. At several points in the book Didion describes her need for knowledge, whether it’s from reading medical journals or grilling the doctors at her daughter’s bedside. how do you think this helped her to cope?

It might be her way of controlling situation, looking for persons to blame, some even had this feeling.

Q14.  Reread the ‘gilded-boy story’ on pages 105 -6. How would you answer the questions it raised for Didion?

Some said – not dealt with – impracticable.

Q15.  Is there a turning point in this book? if so, where would you place it and why?

Yes, there was a turning point in later chapters, where she dealt with her personal grief.

Q16.  The last sentence of the book is ‘no eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.’ what does this mean?

One member mentioned it was a quote from Bible, “God knows what happens to every creature”.

Q17.  How do you imagine its transition from page to a play on stage? Would you want to see the play?

Most members said they missed play, would not want to see play. Only very few said they didn’t mind to see the play.



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