AOT #19: Joan Didion Podcasts The Year of Magical Thinking

April 16, 2006 by  
Filed under Book Store Events

Joan Didion discusses her National Book Award-nominated book The Year of Magical Thinking, with author, friend and radio host, Sara Davidson. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved and lost a husband, wife, child, relative or friend. From one of America’s iconic writers, comes a stunning book of electric honesty and passion.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma (she later dies).

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

Joan Didion is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction including Play It As It Lays, Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River.

(The audio for this podcast was furnished courtesy of KGNU radio in Boulder which also broadcast the event.)

($23.95) Knopf ISBN # 140004314X.

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17 Responses to “AOT #19: Joan Didion Podcasts The Year of Magical Thinking”
  1. I read the book but also heard that Quintana died from acute pancreatitis. I wish Joan could be in contact with me because I lost my husband of 30 years from the same disease on August 1, 2005. It was so horrible to watch him with this horrific illness for 2 1/2 months! My daughter, 25 years old has been suffering tremendously, and my son and myself as well. Stephen was 59 years old.
    I have decided to put together a foundation for pancreatitis so maybe I can help someone else have a better outcome. All the doctors here in Florida agree that they need help with this disease, for research, testing, diagnosing, and treatment. There are pancreatic specialists here at Jackson Memorial Hospital that I have been speaking to and would love it if you have any input on this. Please get back to me via email.
    Thank you so much,
    Janet Goldstein

  2. melanie miller says:


    Not sure it’s the same disease, however, I know of a person in Denver who survived a disease of the pancreas (spelling?)…she’s a well know singer around town, and has been thriving.

    Feel free to email me a phone number and a good time to call you.

    Perhaps by now you have the foundation established and/or a web site. If so, please include that as well.

    Blessings to you and your family,


  3. Peter Burger says:

    I want to say how much Year of Magical Thinking means to me. I have just read it a second time. My wife Sandy, bought it as a present for me, when we were in Victoria, Vancouver Island, nearly a year ago. We lost our son, Joe in in a violent way over 8 years ago. We bought Slouching towards Bethlehem, 35 years ago, so Joan’s writing has been a part of all of our married life.

    I love the Year of Magical Thinking for three reasons. Firstly it is a love story, about Joan and her husband John. Secondly Joan in the way she describes the simple everyday rituals of her life she shared with John and Quintana, gives her life a sacred, and in my eyes sacramental quality. Thirdly the clarity of Joan’s writing.

    Reading this book has added a new dimension to the love I have for my own family, and the love I have for Joe. So to Joan, thank you for that. Keep on writing.


    Peter Burger
    52 Marlborough Rd
    Westbourne Park
    South Australia

  4. I wonder if Ms. Didiopn is ever in the Washington, DC area and would be interested in discussing her book with a small group of politically-progressive church folk. I thought The Year of Megical Thinking was the most scrupulously honest and intuitive reflection on grief and loss that I have ever read. And I think anyone dealing with loss issues would benefit from meeting and talking with Ms. Didion.

    Please let me know if there is a way to be in contact.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Whit Hutchison

  5. Tamara says:

    Hi Joan,

    I had never heard of you until I had a dream about you (and your daughter — amazingly enough) this morning, while taking a nap on an ambulance stretcher (I am an EMT).

    The dream: My partner and I were due to pick you up in our ambulance for a ride/appointment somewhere, but prior to our arrival, my partner had “accidentally” placed information about you (books — and again, as I mentioned, I had no idea you were an author) around the truck so that I would become familiar with you ahead of time. I had discovered that you had built quite a reputation for criticizing 60’s era hippies!

    Once we arrived at your place of residence, I was delighted to discover that you could walk! (Many of our patients cannot.) Upon entering your quarters, I was amazed at the size — a tiny box… and your bed, the size of a crib practically. And somehow, you had recently managed to take in your daughter as well, fitting her into this miniature-like space…. The lighting was wonderful — very cozy. (And again, amazingly, I had a sense that your daughter was not doing well….)

    In the dream, I had a strong feeling of you being a painter; and being a painter myself, I was anxious to show/share with you some of my work.

    The overall feeling of the dream was that you were someone who had lost a great deal, and were now content to live minimally, immersed in a vast inner richness….

    I like the title of your latest book — The Year of Magical Thinking, and I plan to check it out. For many years now, I have been trying to come to terms with my own losses — of homeland (being from Iran/Persia); family ties; career (I was forced to leave medical school shortly before graduating); loved ones; and finally (and most painfully), I’m beginning to realize, my patience for much of life itself….

    So, dear Joan — perhaps through this rather serendipitous manner of crossing paths with you, I will at least begin to feel a more real sense that I am not so alone… in living with so many losses; that while many of life’s outward pleasures/reasons can shrink to so little, one may still continue to dream… to walk, and above all, to share wisdom.

    Good wishes,

  6. Jan Throckmorton says:

    Hello, Ms. Didion,
    I finished “The Year of Magical Thinking” tonight and just as you did not want to finish it, I didn’t want to stop reading. I understand the calendar you’d been keeping: my father died suddenly 11.17.2003 and like you, I kept the “this time last year when he was alive” calendar. Time slowed the week leading up to the first anniversary of his death. Each moment that he had been “here at this time last year” was a moment I didn’t have to start a new calendar without him. Thank you for sharing your journey, and your honest and beautifully sad, articulate rendering of grief. You touched my heart.

    Jan Throckmorton

  7. Lisa DiFiore says:

    I want to thank Joan for her book. My Year of Magical Thinking started on October 30, 2004, and continues. Although, it changes daily. I have learned to live in a different way, my life has been altered. You are actually forced into a path that you would never have taken. And you slowly take it. I do not know of any other book that has expressed the feelings I have had every day. I am glad that she expressed her grief so openly. I wanted to write my feelings down. I feel like I finally read my own thoughts in her pages. I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only person holding on to a pair of shoes that wouln’t be worn. The unusual thing is, we pretend to let go of grief to make everyone else comfortable.

  8. Deborah Troescher says:

    I want you to write about Quintana. Its time. I am reading Magical Thinking now, which was given to me from a professor who lost his father. My daughter, Charlsie, died April 4, 2007. She was 2 months from her 33rd birthday.
    I never heard of you, never knew you existed, and yet we have connected. You’ve probably heard it all before from thousands of people who have lost loved ones. Blah…blah….
    I live in New Orleans. Email me.

    p.s. I’m not much of a reader but I do like certain types of reading….history and facts mostly.I don’t believe that you have not yet written memories of your daughter and memories of her dying. I don’t have the skills or vocabulary to write on paper, but I write all the time in my head. Email me.

  9. Aaron Swavely says:

    Dear Ms. Didion,

    Your book spoke to me on a level of complete honesty and true grief. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis and A GRIEF OBSERVED. Thank you for sharing from deep inside your soul.
    Also, I send my deepest sympathies in regrds to the death of your daughter, Quintana. My daughter, Alisha, at the age of seven died eight years ago and I can attest to the anguish.

    Thank you again for your splendid work.

    Aaron Swavely

  10. Lauri Simon says:

    Dear Joan,

    Four years, four months for you. It has been only two months for me, and I find myself immersed in that fragile, vulnerable state, separated from life, roaming the universe in multi-dimensional space. I miss my wonderful companion and mate so very much that I felt strongly that I would like to crawl in his grave with him when we buried him this week. Self-pity aside, I can’t do that; my “suns” are still with me and they grow bewildered, still loving and supportive.

    Your book was given to me by a special long-time colleague and mentor, who thought it might reach me. Indeed, you reached me deeply. Still, I felt that vulnerability in you even as the book ended. I wonder now, has there been a renaissance in you? I implore you please, to share with me your feelings today.

    Thank you so much for your insights, then and now.

    With my best wishes, and love,


  11. Rosemary Preston says:

    Dear Joan,
    You wrote it perfectly. My husband died a year ago May 14th. Still hard to say that. Everything you wrote and experience is a carbon copy of what I’m going through. 5 days ago last year he… 4days..3days. The re-living, the what if’s, the self-pity and the missing him so much. I still have his cell phone..I still leave him messages. He died from a brain hemmorage at 58. That morning, I said goodbye (why didn’t I say I love you!) and went to work. After trying to call him, we talked several times a day, my sister went to the house and found him on the garage floor. I left work and never returned. In some way I think maybe they were to blame. If I weren’t at work, maybe I could have saved him or at least be with him in his last moments. We had just celebrated our 20th. Why didn’t I get him that swival chair he wanted instead of the chaise I wanted? We spent a weekend in Napa with my sister and her husband the weekend before and had a trip to Italy & Greece planned for September, my bithday in Rome.I think you captured it perfectly when you said the road ahead was now a cul de sac. That wonderful life is gone and so it the person I was.
    Thank you for sharing your life.

  12. Stasia De Michele says:


  13. Kay Waller says:

    Dear Joan,
    First of all, please accept my condolences.

    Thank you for your novel, “The Year Of Magical Thinking”. Your raw accounting of grief is so right-on. Isn’t it amazing that grief, however individual, is so encompassing to us all. I lost a child 4 years ago. So much of what you wrote tells my story, too. I am also a funeral director. I am making a list of past families that I will be calling and recommending your book to. It always helps to know someone else is experiencing the same emotions. It helps to know that insanity, however temporary, is a normal grief response. I also wrote and published a book on the first year of grief after losing a child. It has helped some of my families as well.
    Kay Waller

  14. Dear Joan,

    “The Year of Magical Thinking:” how it speaks to me. After two losses this summer in a 1.5-month span, grief is in the driver’s seat. It’s hard to talk to anyone, but “talking” to you through your book has given me solace. Thank you.

    I was at Barnard at the same time as Quintana. I did not know her, but we wrote for the Columbia Spectator at the same time, and I remember well her unusual byline. I heard about her death when it happened, and was stunned: it can happen to us, not just “other people.”

    May you be comforted and loved always. Your book(s) touch so many, and “Magical” clears the fog off the glasses, so that we see our blessings in sharp relief… gratitude truly is the greatest gift.

    Esther Rosenfeld

  15. Marcela says:

    Querida Joan:
    Su libro finalmente llego a Chile este verano. Lo lei avidamente en 2 dias, yendo y viniendo en el metro, y me ayudo mucho para comprender la inesperada partida de mi mentora (soy profesora, egresada de Literatura Latinoamericana y Clasica), una doctora siciliana en Lenguas Clasicas que se vino a Chile despues de la guerra. Juntas (y en compañia de colegas y alumnos) viajamos a congresos dentro y fuera de Chile. El 11 de octubre de 2009 estabamos en la Patagonia, de vuelta de ver los glaciares, y en 2 horas la perdimos por un ataque cardiaco. Todo el grupo de la Sociedad de Estudios Clasicos quedo huerfana. Yo quede suspendida en el tiempo, con dolores fisicos y animicos que han ido cediendo, pero que no se iran del todo. Esta bien asi, pues no quiero olvidarla (/Addio Principessa, Principessa di bontà hai finito di soffrire/nella tua vita torna il sereno el il sorriso perpetuo tra gli angeli/). Lamento mucho su perdida, Joan: somos viajeros hacia donde no hay miedo, donde hay siempre luz, siempre flores, siempre verde, siempre mar… donde estan los seres luminosos que amamos.
    Si alguna vez viene a Chile, aviseme: sera un honor ser su guia en mi pais.
    Marcela (

  16. LZL says:

    I just relocated and discovered that the laundry room in my building has a bookshelf.
    I wandered over with one thought in mind…I asked that the “perfect’ book come into my hands.
    The book I grabbed off the shelf was “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Before I knew what the book was about the first chapter sunk me like anchor in my recent past. Over and over Didion repeated “… It was an ordinary day–everything was normal…how could this happen?” I must have asked myself that question 100 times during my family trauma. Didion’s process so aptly describes the emotions behind the experience of slowly awakening to devastating loss and the realization that nothing will ever be the same again. Ever.


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  1. […] of KGNU radio in Boulder which also broadcast the event. For more, please listen to the entire Joan Didion podcast, which includes an interview with author, friend and radio host, Sara Davidson.    Best […]

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