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Blue Nights [Hardcover]

Joan Didion
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2011
From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old.
 
Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood—in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. “How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?” Finally, perhaps we all remain unknown to each other. Seamlessly woven in are incidents Didion sees as underscoring her own age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.
 
Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty, haunting and profoundly moving.

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Review

“A haunting memoir . . . Didion is, to my mind, the best living essayist in America . . . What appears on the surface to be an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written story of the loss of a beloved child is actually an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written glimpse into the abyss, a book that forces us to understand, to admit, that there can be no preparation for tragedy, no protection from it, and so, finally, no consolation . . . The book has . . . an incantatory quality: it is a beautiful, soaring, polyphonic eulogy, a beseeching prayer the is sung even as one knows the answer to one’s plea, and that answer is: No.”
—Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books
 
Blue Nights, though as elegantly written as one would expect, is rawer than its predecessor, the ‘impenetrable polish’ of former, better days now chipped and scratched. The author as she presents herself here, aging and baffled, is defenseless against the pain of loss, not only the loss of loved ones but the loss that is yet to come: the loss, that is, of selfhood. The book will be another huge success . . . Certainly as a testament of suffering nobly borne, which is what it will be generally taken for, it is exemplary. However, it is most profound, and most provocative, at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life’s worst onslaughts nothing avails, not even art; especially not art.”
—John Banville, The New York Times Book Review
 
"The marvel of Blue Nights is that its 76-year-old, matchstick-frail author has found the strength to articulate her deepest fears—which are fears we can all relate to."
—Heller McAlpin, The Wasthington Post

The Week magazine's 5 Best Non-Fiction Books of 2011

“The master of American prose turns her sharp eye on her own family once again in this breathtaking follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking. With harrowing honesty and mesmerizing style, Didion chronicles the tragic death of her daughter, Quintana, interwoven with memories of their happier days together and Didion’s own meditations on aging.”
—Malcolm Jones and Lucas Wittmann, Newsweek
 
“A searing memoir”
People
 
“Darkly riveting . . . The cumulative effect of watching her finger her recollections like beads on a rosary is unexpectedly instructive. None of us can escape death, but Blue Nights shows how Didion has, with the devastating force of her penetrating mind, learned to simply abide.”
—Louisa Kamps, Elle

“A scalpel-sharp memoir of motherhood and loss . . . Now coping with not only grief and regret but also illness and age, Didion is courageous in both her candor and artistry, ensuring that this infinitely sad yet beguiling book of distilled reflections and remembrance is graceful and illuminating in its blue musings.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Brilliant...Nothing Didion has written since Play It As It Lays seems to me as right and true as Blue Nights. Nothing she has written seems as purposeful and urgent to be told."
—Joe Woodward, Huffington Post

“[Didion] often finds captivating, unparalleled grooves. Her expansive thinking…is particularly striking.”
            —The A. V. Club

“The reader only senses how intimately she understands her instrument. Her sentences are unquestionably taut, rhythmic and precise.”
                —Time Out NY

"A searing, incisive look at grief and loss by one of the most celebrated memoirists of our time."
—Relevant Magazine

"Both Fascinating and heartbreaking."
—Marie Claire

About the Author

Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California, and now lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and eight previous books of nonfiction. Her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, was published by Everyman's Library in 2006.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult book to rate... Nov. 1 2011
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Joan Didion's slim memoir "Blue Nights" is mostly about the life and death of her daughter Quintana Roo in 2005, at the age of 39. Quintana's death came after a year and a half of failing health and was preceded by the death of Joan's husband and Quintana's father, John Gregory Dunne, in late 2003. Didion wrote a previous memoir, "The Year of Magical Thinking" about Dunne's sudden death.

As a mother myself, I cannot think of anything worse than a child's death. Nothing. So when writing my review of Joan Didion's book about her adoption, raising, and death of her child, I want to be gentle. The truth as I see it is that perhaps Didion and Dunne ought not have adopted a child. Not all people should be parents; it is one of the toughest thing you can do in life and your thoughts and considerations have to naturally be towards the welfare of the child. Didion mentions that modern parents seem to "helicopter" their children, i.e. micro-manage their lives as the grow up and I wonder if she writes that because she and Dunne seemed to do the opposite and Quintana was fit into their lives as writers and celebrities. There is, of course, a happy medium between "helicoptering" and being fairly lax in child-raising, and I think most of us do try to stay to that medium.

Quintana was adopted at birth in 1966 and given the name of "Quintana Roo", after the area of Mexico that Joan and John loved. That name, that ridiculous name, was probably the worst thing that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne did to their child. She accompanied them as they lived their lives and they loved her. They didn't always seem to understand her; she was a child, after all, and they gave her what they could of themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... Jan. 1 2012
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Blue Nights" both begins and ends in colour, when the days shorten and 'twilights turn long and blue.' Such blue light becomes Joan Didion's vehicle to articulate the intense beauty and pain that accompany awareness of imminent loss.

This slim memoir deals with the unimaginable: the death of one's child. Didion speaks with devastating accuracy here and beautifully intertwines shards of the past. She addresses grief by continually circling back to the time before its advent, spiralling through memory trying to salvage what remains. But Didion finds no coherence among her memories; instead, she heartbreakingly offers an integrity that resists resolution.

Rather unfortunately, though, "Blue Nights" has a jumbled quality, with memories of Quintana giving way to those of film shoots, room service and news reports about abduction. In this way, the structure mirrors Didion's secondary and almost intrusive theme: the disorienting effects of aging. As the narrative develops, the author becomes increasingly explicit about the fact that the blue light, which warns of "the dying of the brightness," is signalling to her. She worries about "[her] new inability to summon the right word, the apt thought, the connection that enables the words to make sense, the rhythm, the music itself."

She needn't worry yet. Cognitive frailty may befall her someday but, for now, she remains an extraordinarily talented wordsmith, "sketching in a rhythm and letting that rhythm tell [her] what it was [she] was saying."
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5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not blue... Jan. 22 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent read. The book was very captivating and intriguing. One of my new favorites from this author and style of writing. Recommend it to anyone who is a fan or newcomer to this author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Joan didion Blue Nights Sept. 5 2012
By Melanie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very good book. I couldn't set the book down, because it was very interesting. I would recommend this book. It was the first book I read from this author. I just bought another book from her. The service was very good from the seller as well.
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1.0 out of 5 stars worst read in 2011...maybe ever Jan. 6 2012
Format:Hardcover
I tried to give this book zero stars. I am an avid reader with a broad range of interests. i truly enjoyed Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking." The best phrase I can use for Blue Nights is "pure dribble." Page after page of meandering details and thoughts about who she knows and where she goes. Who cares Joan.

Ms. Didion has truly lived through tragedy. And she is still living her life... and writing. Admirable. I hoped from such tragedy would come many insights and observations that may help others in similar circumstances. It didn't.

I looked forward to giving Blue Nights to my mother-in-law for Christmas. We would then discuss it. I couldn't lend my name to such a book. So I gave it to the local library.
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