#13 – The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

“Given that grief remained the most general of afflictions its literature seemed remarkably spare. … There were, in classical ballets, the moments when one or another abandoned lover tries to find and resurrect one or another loved one, the blued light, the white tutus, the pas de deux with the loved one that foreshadows the final return to the dead: la danse des ombres, the dance of the shades.”

The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion’s pas de deux with her dead husband in a sense. This book’s energy comes from the tension between Didion’s desire to be a “cool customer,” the elegant, detached observer who narrates her nonfiction, and her very real need to mourn her husband.

I cried a lot reading this book, even though is basically the opposite of sentimental. Maybe because of that. I started to think about how it will when I lose someone close to me. Hasn’t happened yet, for which I am grateful every day. When it does I might reach for this book.

Extra credit:

Where I Was From is also excellent. That Didion’s account of California — and the idea of California — attempts to make sense of both Thomas Kinkade and the prison guard lobby is pretty amazing. A thought-provoking, beautiful book I want to read again.


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#21 – Blankets by Craig Thompson

It’s really only the last few years I’ve been getting in to reading graphic novels — especially memoir variety (it’s weird to me that they’re not called graphic memoirs. Oh well). Persepolis was the first I’d ever read, not counting lots of comic strips as a kid, plus Tintin.

Blankets takes the prize for the most amazing art of any I’ve read. The story is simple: boy who isn’t sure what he believes meets girl who isn’t sure she’s all that into him at Christian camp. And the plot…that’s about it, really.

But the the interaction between text and images — and even the white space — really transforms a simple story into something more.

It’s hard to describe, but graphic novels are definitely changing the way I think about the printed page.

Extra Credit

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Also a stunning graphic memoir.

#25 – St. Augustine’s Confessions

Now we venture into “classic” territory.

I first read Augustine’s Confessions as a college freshman. But I’ve found myself returning to it multiple times over the years. This year, it was after listening to an intriguing lecture on how Augustine understood memory in relationship to the public spaces of the cities in which he lived his life. I’ve gone back to it as an imperfect Christian. And mostly, I’ve gone back to it as a writer of personal essays, many times, because this is the original text of someone writing about his own life in order to seek a deeper understanding of it and the world around him. Otherwise, why bother writing about yourself?

If you are interested in any of the following topics, I recommend this book:

1. Time

2. Memory

3. Pears

4. Heresy

5. Autobiography

6. Not being nice to your concubine

7. God

8. Gardens in Milan

9. Gladiators

10. Regret

Are the "pears" a metaphor for "something else?" (I find this interpretation annoying.)

#30 – Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I begin the book countdown with a must-read: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s account of growing up in Iran — and elsewhere — during the Islamic revolution.

Did this book give me a complete understanding of the intricacies of Iranian politics? No.

But one image from this book will always stay with me: little Marjane in her headscarf and homemade “Punk is not ded” jacket.

Punk Is Not Ded!
Maybe I had this jacket.