Sunday Book Review Plus – Bonus Documentary Recap on Joan Didion – The Year of Magical Thinking

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review with an added bonus. Today I’m going to review Joan Didion’s book – The Year of Magical Thinking. But before I share my book review, I’m going to share an overview of the 2017 Documentary currently on Netflix – Joan Didion – The Center Will Not Hold, where 86 year old, literary icon, Joan, reflects on her intimate stories from her writing career and struggles, and her forty year marriage to author John Gregory Dunne, brother to author Dominick Dunne. The documentary was directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne.

 

My 5 Star Review Documentary Review:

 

Joan Didion was born December 5, 1934 in Sacremento, California. She’s an American novelist and essayist and screenwriter. Joan is known for her incisive depictions of social unrest. Joan says she began writing at the age of five and was a shy ‘bookish’ girl. She never considered herself a real writer until her first published book. Joan struggled with social anxiety and took up acting and public speaking to help ease her anxieties. As a young teen, she spent much of her time typing out books by Ernest Hemingway so she could learn how sentence structure worked. Joan had a sordid childhood as her dad was in the army during WWII, with moving a lot she didn’t attend school regularly until returning back to Sacremento in 1944.

 

After watching the documentary and learning about the demises of both her husband and her daughter Quintana, my heart went out to Joan and I was compelled to read her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, because she wrote it after John’s death. It was first published in 2005. In the documentary, Joan’s publicist talks about how he urged Joan to write her novel published in 2012 – Blue Nights, for both, John and Quintana.

 

John and Joan met in New York City when Joan won a poetry contest at her senior year in Berkeley for her essay, Prix de Paris, and the prize landed her a job as research assistant at Vogue. John wrote for Time Magazine at the time.

 

They bounced ideas off one another, each wrote their own books and essays, but they collaborated on screenplays together – Needle Park (1971 with Al Pacino) and A Star is Born (1976 Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Joan’s logline for Needle Park – “Romeo and Juliette as junkies.

 

In this documentary, we get a deep inside look at this author from her beginnings as a journalist writing hard stories, Joan would say that she writes about disorder because she’d then find the situation”less scary”. She wasn’t happy with the way some of her books were portrayed for movies, such as, Book of Common Prayer, complaining her characters were totally different than what she’d written.

 

Joan admits that much of what she writes contained pieces of her. Her interests in writing were mostly about stories of humanity and the bad things going on in the world. Her visit to El Salvador prompted her to write political stories and essays, and an eventual book called El Salvador. She talks about the lie of the Central Park 7 – propaganda spurred falsely in the accusation of the rape of a jogger in Central Park, N.Y. and on VP Dick Cheney, “Bully of the Bush war,” “He took the lemons, made lemonade, spilled, and made someone else cleanup.”

 

John and Joan kept a low profile in the celeb world. They adopted their daughter Quintana at birth. When Quintana was asked what kind of mom Joan was, she replied, “Okay, mostly remote.” Joan began questioning how parents are sometimes on auto-pilot and don’t realize child neglect.

 

In 2003, Quintana took ill and was rushed to hospital when she went into septic shock resulting from pneumonia, which turned worse and ultimately left her in a coma at the time of John’s death. John and Joan had just come home from visiting Quintana in hospital on December 30, 2003, and they were sick with worry about their daughter. Joan made dinner, the two sat down to eat when John had a massive, fatal heart attack. Later, looking in her husband’s closet with a friend to pack up his clothes, Joan said, “What if he comes back?” That was clearly a grief statement because I could so identify with not wanting to let go. After she wrote The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan said it was the hardest book to write, but had to write it to get through. I totally get that. She told herself that after writing the book she would learn to let go. This woman lost the love of her life while their daughter lay in a coma.

 

Months after Quintana’s recovery, she fell and hit her head, suffering a massive hematoma and resulting in six hours of brain surgery. As Quintana was recovering her major illnesses in 2004, she came down with Pancreatitis in 2005, and ultimately died from it in August 2005 at age 39. Didion wrote Blue Nights in 2011 for Quintana. That woman was broken.

 

Joan was/is a tiny woman, and after losing her family, her wonderful friends stepped up to take care of her and made sure she ate at her already weight of 75 pounds. Joan then wrote the play for the book The Year of Magical Thinking, which starred Vanessa Redgrave, in the nonfictional soliloquy.

 

Joan wrote Blue Nights after the play, about Quintana – a book she said she didn’t want to write. On her life when asked if she had regrets about things, she said, “The failure to plan for misfortune,” her guilt of failing as a mother.

 

In 2005 Didion won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and became a finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award.  She won a Pulitzer Prize for her book, The Magical Year of Thinking. In 2015, President Obama awarded Joan with the Mastery of Style in Writing Award for exploring the culture around us and exposing the depths of sorrow and for her ‘startling honesty’.

 

 

Poignant Quotes:

 

“Everyone has moved on except the one left grieving.”

 

“See enough and write it down.”

 

“A journal – a forgotten account paid with interest.”

 

“Remember what it is to be me, that’s always the point.”

 

 

 

 

I recently finished reading Joan’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking. After seeing the documentary and having only read one other of Joan’s books, I felt compelled to read.

 

 

 

 

Blurb:

 

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion that 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 a husband or wife or child.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

 

My 5 Star Review:

 

An accounting of love and loss. In this often, heartwrenching book, Joan Didion champions her once simple writing life alone, without her husband, best friend and consultant on all her writing. Joan reminisces on her life and writing with her husband John, always with her – writing, walking, traveling, filming – they did everything together, despite them both being individual writers, with the exception of a few collaborations.

 

Joan takes us through her life in vignettes as she shares memories of incidence on vacations the family took together, the circles of people they traveled with, their routines, when they adopted Quintana, motherhood, and mistakes. But most poignantly, Joan focuses on the time of John’s death, the surreal moments, the most insignificant things becoming big things, the most minutest details overlooked while she was living numb are being realized in this story. She begins her story with the the eve her and John went to visit Quintana in hospital, while she was in an induced coma. They were both worried sick about their daughter. Joan makes dinner, they sit down to eat and John has a fatal heart attack right in front of her on December 30, 2003. Her details are precise. She talks about her different kinds of grief, comparing the variation in grief between losing her parents, to how different her grief felt when John died. Joan shares what it was like waking up the next morning alone. She’ll take you right into her realizations. So identifiable for anyone who has ever deeply loved and lost. I know much of what Joan speaks, like not even remembering if we ate or not, mostly not. It’s a numbness that takes over to break the impact of the shock.

 

Joan bares herself with raw honesty on what grief leaves on someone, the stages of steps involved until reaching acceptance, but I wonder how many ever get there. Joan shares how she came to decisions about giving her loved one’s clothes away, as Joan in her denial stage held hope he may come back. Joan discusses her concern of having to break the news to Quintana about her father’s death, after she awakes from a long coma. Joan shares her fears about her daughter getting sick again overshadowing her grief – “Until now, I had been able only to grieve, not mourn. Grief was passive. Grief happened, Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention.”

 

Imagine trying to stay sane!

 

Joan Didion is an iconic writer. As a journalist, she followed stories of humanity, out in the field. She said it was easier to deal with war if she could see it. She’s a tiny frail woman who can barely move her hands now at age 86, but that doesn’t stop her from still using them to articulate what she speaks. She’s lived through hell and back TWICE, first losing the love of her life, then her daughter. I can only imagine the amount of courage it took to write about such pain. It’s not surprising this Warrior Woman has won so many awards. I was drawn to this book after watching a documentary about her, The Center Will Not Hold on Netflix after my own husband’s passing, and I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those who have loved and lost.

 

 

Poignant Quotes that resonate:

 

“Life changes fast.

 

Life changes in the instant.

 

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

 

The question of self-pity.”

 

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

 

“I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death.”

 

“Marriage is memory, marriage is time.”

 

“For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age. This year for the first time since I was twenty-nine I saw myself through the eyes of others.”

 

“I have trouble thinking of myself as a widow. I remember hesitating the first time I had to check that box on the ‘marital status’ part of a form.”

 

“I realized that for the time being I could not trust myself to present a coherent face to the world.”

 

“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.”

 

“I realize as I write this that I do not want to finish this account.”

 

 

©DGKaye2021

 

Sunday Movie Review -The Glorias – #Feminism – #Docu-Drama – Gloria Steinem

Welcome to my special edition of Sunday Movie Reviews. I try to have a book read a week so I can share my reviews and introduce you to books you may be interested in – plus reviews are always a great thing to do for fellow authors. But as life isn’t always predictable and doesn’t permit my finishing on time, I like to share Movie Reviews in lieu of. I only post movies that draw me in and captivate – good subject matter plus good acting. This week’s movie I’m sharing is a well-done biographic movie, tastefully done as a biopic docudrama including some live footage – The Glorias – the life of Gloria Steinem and the beginnings of her rise to infamous feminist, excellently portrayed by actress Julienne Moore as the older Gloria and three other actresses portraying her younger years.

 

 

My review is for the movie, but I’m sharing the book here – My Life on the Road for those interested in reading some Steinem. I think I will get this book too.

If you click on the ‘buy’ link, you can scroll down  to the author bio and click ‘read more’. There is a copyrighted ‘excerpt’ of the book which plays out very close to how the movie was depicted, how the movie began with Gloria and her poor family, her love for her father and the sadness about her mother.

 

About the Author

Gloria Marie Steinem, born March 25th, 1934, is a writer, lecturer, editor, feminist, and political activist. In 1972, she co-founded Ms. magazine, and she remained one of its editors for fifteen years. In 1968, she helped found New York magazine, where she was a political columnist and wrote feature articles. Her books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, Marilyn: Norma Jeane, and As if Women Matter (published in India). Steinem has received the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award, the Front Page and Clarion awards, the National Magazine Award, the Women’s Sports Journalism Award, the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations, the James Weldon Johnson Award for Journalism, and many others. In 2013, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
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Blurb:

Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and inspiring leader—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of her life as a traveler, a listener, and a catalyst for change. Includes “Secrets,” a new chapter!

When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.

Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.

My Life on the Road is the moving, funny, and profound story of Gloria’s growth and also the growth of a revolutionary movement for equality—and the story of how surprising encounters on the road shaped both. From her first experience of social activism among women in India to her work as a journalist in the 1960s; from the whirlwind of political campaigns to the founding of Ms. magazine; from the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference to her travels through Indian Country—a lifetime spent on the road allowed Gloria to listen and connect deeply with people, to understand that context is everything, and to become part of a movement that would change the world.

In prose that is revealing and rich, Gloria reminds us that living in an open, observant, and “on the road” state of mind can make a difference in how we learn, what we do, and how we understand each other.

Praise for My Life on the Road

“Like Steinem herself, [My Life on the Road] is thoughtful and astonishingly humble. It is also filled with a sense of the momentous while offering deeply personal insights into what shaped her.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“A lyrical meditation on restlessness and the quest for equity . . . Part of the appeal of My Life is how Steinem, with evocative, melodic prose, conveys the air of discovery and wonder she felt during so many of her journeys. . . . The lessons imparted in Life on the Road offer more than a reminiscence. They are a beacon of hope for the future.”USA Today

“A warmly companionable look back at nearly five decades as itinerant feminist organizer and standard-bearer. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to sit down with Ms. Steinem for a casual dinner, this disarmingly intimate book gives a pretty good idea, mixing hard-won pragmatic lessons with more inspirational insights.”The New York Times

“Steinem rocks. My Life on the Road abounds with fresh insights and is as populist as can be.”The Boston Globe

“In person and in her writing, Steinem exudes a rare combination of calm, humility and honesty about her weaknesses that explains all she has accomplished.”Jezebel

 

My 5 Star Movie Review:

Four actresses played the gradual years of Gloria Steinem. Julienne Moore plays Steinem at her height of fame in the 70s and beyond. A journalist in the making in a male dominant world – almost Madmenesque in comparison is what  Gloria is faced with when she comes back from India in her early twenties and wants to publish the stories she wrote of the suffering, abuse and oppression of women of India, but a male dominant world isn’t interested in women’s opinions, much less allowing them to publish back in the 1950s. This is the story about how she became an organizer and a rising star for the Women’s Liberation Movement. She was a crusader, culminated from her many experiences of interviewing women, inspiring her to stand up against a culture so dominated by the male perspective.

Gloria educated women about themselves and their worth. She grew up questioning why a woman’s mind wasn’t as important as a man’s. And although her aim was to fight for women’s equality and rights, we learn about her stagefright and the women who cheered her on and taught her to use her voice publicly.

The movie begins in Steinem’s childhood years where her father was a poor traveling antique salesman with a wild imagination that encapsulated Gloria’s imagination. Her mother was a depressed woman, and as the movie doesn’t go into many details, Gloria learns her mother was a writer in her earlier life, of course under a penned name because women writers weren’t published under their own names in those times. As Gloria grows through the movie and thinks back on pivotal moments in her life, the movie has scenes where two Glorias at different ages are seen conversing with each other. These scenes, as well as some beautiful dramatized ‘dream’ sequences also take us right into her life.

At twenty, Steinem went to India to study, which opened her curiosity and the doors that led her to journalism and her rise to an icon as a leader for women’s rights. Despite her stagefright, Steinem was a woman who asked questions – why can’t women do that? Why do only men get to become journalists, as she got herself in her first journalist reporting job in a man’s world. She asks why only men were editors. She wasnt brash, just natural and honest.

Steinem faced a lot of male dominated pushback. She got her first articles published at the New York Times, where she was hired to write for the ladies column, which of course was a stepping stone for her, but writing ‘Susie Homemaker’ articles wasn’t her interest. She went undercover as a Playboy bunny to get a real feel for how woman were treated like objects, then took the verbal tauntings and sexual harassment at the Times, by powerful men journalists who were womanizers, expecting her to jump up from her writing to serve them coffee,  and subjected to sexual harassment. She’d had enough and left as we get a glimpse of the backroom politics of the era.

Steinem was a calm voice of reason in the midst of rising hatred and extremists. Her followers came from of all communities and walks of life – globally – all women of every race, creed and color looked to her as an icon of the times. Women’s equal rights movements were reborn again and this time millions of women around the world heard the call.

In the 1970s  Steinem co-founded Ms. Magazine, she was responsible for initiating the beginning of the acceptance of Ms. to become a legal salutation.

Gloria Steinem came from humble beginnings and remains humble to this day. Gloria was and is one of the most inspiring, influential, bold and legendary women of modern history.

 

*This movie is available free if you have Amazon Prime.

 

One poignant line caught my attention and had me nodding in affirmation:

“Writers and dancers have fear of public speaking they are used to speaking through the written word or their art.”

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Quotes that resonated from the movie – These quotes are taken from a recent speech Steinem gave at the Women’s March in 2018, footage shown at the end of the movie:

 

“Thank you for understanding that sometimes, we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes, pressing send is not enough.”

“We are here and around the world for a deep democracry that says, we will not be quiet, we will not be controled.”

“God may be in the details, but the goddess is in  connections”

“We are linked, we are not ranked. We are the people.”

“We have people power and we will use it. This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of energy and a true democracy like I have never seen in my very long life. It is wise with age, it is deep in diversity. And remember the constitution does not begin with ‘I the president’, it begins with we the people.”

 

If you’d like to read more about Gloria Steinem

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_Steinem

 

©DGKaye2020

bitmo live laugh love

 

The Important Role for Writers to Help Preserve Democracy

I came across this article at the Times, written by Jennifer Egan – Pulizter prize winning author on “Why we need writers more than ever, our democracy depends on it.”

 

If it weren’t for the press, who would keep us abreast in a world fuel injected with fake news and social media propaganda? It’s the press who keeps check on issues and people who are making the news for reasons both bad and good. It’s the reporters and journalists who speak out on what’s wrong, calling out leaders who aren’t doing their jobs, calling out propaganda in the mainstream social media used to sway and spin and stir up shit. Propaganda was Hitler’s initial method for instigating his extermination plan. Now we have social media to assist as a huge method to capture headlines – both fake and real.

Egan states in her article, “A mediasphere designed for spectacle can’t be expected to fix the oversimplification it creates. We need writers for that, and we need them badly. Literature, like democracy, is built of a plurality of ideas.” She continues to speak on how every form of literacy creates a perception for the reader, which helps to instill empathy and explains how writers throughout the ages have had the ability to help overthrow repressive regimes.

 

“Literature is an antidote to the blunt distortions—good vs. evil, us vs. them—that are so easily exploited by those who would manipulate us.”

How many times have we seen on the news journalists around the globe risking their lives to report on some of the atrocities going on around the world and getting jailed or even killed for reporting a truth? And the reason for these crimes against journalists is merely because those authoritarian governments or people holding power feel threatened when publicly exposed. Writers, reporters, journalists write to keep the wrongs in the forefront for the public to watch and listen to, giving the public the chance to judge for themselves so as not to be lured and eluded by untruths.

scales of justice

 

Writers need to be writing to exploit injustices and to preserve democracy. When free speech is compromised, so is democracy. When did a party difference of right or left begin to replace right and wrong? Why does a simple tweet of calling something a hoax make it so just because a leader thinks he can cancel out facts by standing on the highest soapbox and shouting out the loudest. This does not make it so. And this does not negate all the fact finding the journalists and their inside sources who put their lives on the line for every day do to educate the public.

Lobbying

 

From my vantage point, as one who follows world politics closely, it appears like the world is in a battle with mankind. Greed is the number one reason for much of the state of the world. Big money corporations taking over for much of the world’s political climate because of the kickbacks they receive in return, a system of money going to money, the rich getting richer and the little guys paying for most of their sins through their own pockets. Who is there left to defend us middle class and low income earners? It’s the writers and reporters who keep us abreast of these issues, among many others. No, they can’t solve the world’s problems, but they certainly can shine lights on these issues to give us fair and truthful information, leaving us the readers, to discern on our own the reported discoveries.

The old adage, “You can lead a horse to water . . .” often occurs when facts are offered up but many sheeples prefer to follow the masses, not doing their own homework on the state of their environments, societies and even their countries. If you’re on social media a lot like I am, you can read all the messaging from good vs. evil. There are people calling out injustices and others pushing them. And if we aren’t well informed on truthful facts, it’s so easy to get caught up in the world of fakes news and ill intentions. The era we are living in now globally is an era of uncertain times for sure. And uncovering the truth for every situation being exploited into the mediaverse are the gifts we receive from journalists around the world who are often sacrificing their own safety while getting to the heart of each matter.

Personally, I feel as though God is shaking his head at what man has done to his world. He watches with salty tears, but doesn’t interfere in our choices because we all have free will. But all the greed, anger, and propaganda floating around and shoved done our throats now seems to be at the breaking point of the proverbial camel’s back. I can’t help but think God has done it before; he’s wiped out the earth and started over with Noah’s Ark, only this time I don’t believe there’s an Ark to save us. By abusing mankind, our brethren, and our planet, it feels as though the Ark isn’t coming and if we don’t change course on these issues of injustice, we’ll be left behind to swim that creek with no paddles.

In the era in which we’re now living, changes happen swiftly – and most are not for the better. It’s too easy to fall prey to fake news because it’s manipulated to do just that. Those who may not have time to watch TV news, pick up an old fashioned newspaper, subscribe to an online factual newspaper, and those who listen strictly to propaganda news stations with distorted facts to sooth the wrong-doers, social media paid and sponsored ads created to target the uneducated are all rampant and attract those who easily fall prey to fake news. It’s up to each of us to pay a little more attention to what is going on in the world around us. It’s easy to take for granted the freedoms we’ve come to enjoy and expect. But when red flags are presented we should all be caring about reinforcing everything good that seems to be vanishing in our world like, courtesy, kindness, and compassion, and the very core of our freedoms.

Writers should be writing, and that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to write about world politics if that’s not our strong point. But writing books, articles, essays, and short stories are a great way to create empathy for the reader. Words that make people feel something, words that invigorate people to open up their emotions, words to invoke compassion, can all create new discoveries for a reader – no matter the subject content. Reading is education in a host of realms. It’s us as writers who can contribute to educating others, whether it’s to keep people factually informed, or to create an atmosphere with story to invoke thought or awaken hearts with compassion.

 

Times Source: https://time.com/5475490/writers-truth-democracy-jennifer-egan/?fbclid=IwAR3qWxKTWB9rW8s0QQeacT5WpjKkks8zVLXJAA320th_nHzFziUt75TbsRA

 

This short video is part of the Times article where journalists speak up for freedom of the press, and tributes to those journalists jailed and killed for speaking the truth. They are resilient and relentless to continue to report the truth.

 

 

 

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