Tag Archives: classic books

30 Before 30: Read “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

23 Dec


In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

I read this book in the span of a day. It’s not a long book, and the prose is quick and simple. It’s also a story that pulls the reader in. It documents the year of her life after her husband John died. He had a heart attack in front of her, and, as she puts it, in an ordinary moment her life changed.

I’m still processing how I feel about the book. It’s different from most anything I’ve ever read. Death and loss are not new topics. I think the difference with Didion is that she doesn’t try to pull at your heartstrings. She doesn’t conjure up lost memories of her husband and her at their happiest. Their first kiss. Sweet things he did for her. None of that is there. It is simply the story of her mind coping with the grief.

Reading her analyze her mind and notice her thought patterns in the year after she lost her husband pulls the reader closer to understanding how it feels to lose a life partner. At one point, I took a break from reading it and looked at the simple layout of the cover. Only four letters in a different color than the rest. My eyes scanned from the J to the O to the H to the N. John. Her ex-husband. I give that cover designer enormous credit for putting together such an understated cover that describes the essence of the book. The shadow Didion’s husband cast over her life, especially in the year after he died, was unavoidable and seeped into her mind in curious ways.

Her writing is so straight-forward and without embellishment that I was surprised by how much her love for him resonated. In interviews, she has said that she thought the book turned into a love story instead of a story about grief. And I agree. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Your heart will break alongside hers. But it is beautiful, and it is important, and I learned so much from it.

“We are not idealized wild things.

We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. And as we will one day not be at all.”



27 Before 27: Read Moby Dick

2 Dec

In my 27th year of life, I’m attempting to do 27 new things. Full list here.

Before I read “Moby Dick,” I read “Anna Karenina.” A friend and I decided to read it together, taking on a part a week and discussing it with each other. We were both inspired to read it because of the Keira Knightley movie version that is coming out. I typically enjoy the classics. I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Twain. I was that nerd in high school English that loved every last book we read. But for some reason, I really didn’t like “Anna Karenina.” I tried to. But I just didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and the huge chunks about Russian agrarian society was somewhat tedious.

This is when I started reading “Moby Dick.” When I would finish a part in “Anna Karenina” before my scheduled meeting with my friend, I would start in on “Moby Dick.” And I loved it. It was such a necessary change of pace. Herman Melville’s language is so full of images and smells and sounds. It puts you directly in the Nantucket whaling community. And Queequeg! The tattooed foreigner that Ishmael quickly befriends? Loved him. The scene where they are spooning the morning after they meet, adorable. I found myself rushing through “Anna Karenina” so I could get back to “Moby Dick.”

So at last I finished the Tolstoy torture and could fully dedicate myself to “Moby Dick.” This, of course, coincided with reading the part in the book where Melville goes on and on and on and on about whale anatomy and references to whales in literature. It was long-winded, and I honestly didn’t really read all of it. I skimmed over most of it. I mean there were pages of different scientific names for breeds of whales. Really?

All in all, it’s an amazing book, if you cut out the lists and the explanations. If you did that, it would probably be more of a novella. But it made me laugh, it pulled me in. I missed my subway stop while I was reading the end. So dramatic and exciting. Will I ever read it again, though? Nope. Probably not.

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure….. Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle , and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?”