Monday, March 5, 2012

Books Journalists Should Read, Yes

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

So I'll make a confession: This is the first Joan Didion book I've read. Ever.

I know, I know. Hard to believe for someone who teaches journalism courses, but there it is. I've said it.

Now on to more important things. Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is a literary memoir following Didion for the year after her husband's death. As a good journalist, she copes with the grief by searching for knowledge and then writing about that knowledge and analyzing what happens.

This book plumbs the depths of grief and mourning. In this case, the grief and mourning for a spouse of many years, 40 to be exact. You see the true partnership through Didion's eyes, and how great love and great friendship can cause the greatest pain when a partner dies.

As Didion goes through the year researching grief and mourning, she also lives it, giving this book the raw emotion and insightful deductions that oftentimes clarify and confuse as you see things through Didion's confused mind. But through the year, the clarity with which Didion illuminates the acts of death and grief touches anyone who has experienced the death of someone close.

An example of some of Didion's magical thinking:
"We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind...we do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes."

While the book provides a thorough investigation of the literature on grief and death, it also explores the more personal nature of the subject, coming to some startling, yet inevitable conclusions:

"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it."

And in the final chapter and final pages of the book:
"I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead."

As a must read book for journalists, this book tackles a difficult subject, uses beautiful language and style, clear description, strong reporting, and insightful analysis that demonstrates the kind of critical thinking we all want our students to understand and practice. For this, The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award.

As a must read book overall, I'd recommend this book for it's thoughtful, brutal, sensitive and frank portrayal of grief and mourning. 

We may not truly know grief until we get there on our own, but The Year of Magical Thinking can certainly help us understand the passage a little bit better and not feel so alone as we take the journey.

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