Play it as it Lays

I’m really enjoying what I am calling the “post-graduation vacation.” Two weeks off of work, reading, Netflix, and just relaxing. I desperately needed this.

I finished Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion this morning while I drank coffee, had the Christmas tree plugged in, and watched the snow lightly fall. It’s been a lovely morning.

This is my second book by Didion – I first read The Year of Magical Thinking this summer. It was the first book I tackled on my books to read in your 20s list. As you can tell by my comments, I really enjoyed that book. I still think about it, especially the concept of turning to the literature when you do not have an answer for something.

This is my first piece of Didion’s fiction. First of all, I loved the short chapters. Some are as short as a paragraph, and the longest were maybe three to four pages. It’s obvious that Didion chooses her words carefully. She lets a lot of dialogue tell the story of Maria and her breakdown. I think that the most emotional and heartbreaking moments of this book are when Maria speaks about her daughter, Kate, who has been committed. In both Didion’s works that I have read, she is wonderful about writing as a mother.

While I liked a few things about this book, it will not be on my favorites list. It was difficult to connect with the characters. When Maria is on her own, I liked the book. When the other characters were involved, it was too much to me. The book is set in LA in the 60’s, and people are constantly on movie sets and having parties in Las Vegas – it just was not something that I could very well connect with. However, those moments when Maria is driving in the desert or along the coast, trying to sort out what is in her head, those moments make this book.

I’m certainly not giving up on Didion, but I don’t know that I will be recommending this book anytime soon.



The Year of Magical Thinking

After submitting all of the final paperwork for my internship I rewarded myself with a glass of wine and reading time. I was able to finish Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. This was my first book by Didion, and it completely destroyed me.

This book is heart-wrenching. Didion writes about the year after she lost her husband. In the same time period her daughter is incredibly ill. Didion writes about how she “goes to the literature” to sort out what is happening with these situations. She is reading medical books to sort out the situation with her daughter, and C.S. Lewis to sort out the grief surrounding her husband.

I will admit that I look at reviews on Goodreads when I am reading a new writer. There were comments about Didion name-dropping, bragging about her financial status, and whining about her situation. There were many mentions of famous friends, which at times felt as though she was name-dropping, but these people are in her life and had an impact on her while she was grieving. The wealth piece didn’t bother me, it did not come across as bragging. I also did not think she was whining. She just lost her husband and has no idea how to react! Toward the end of the book, Didion discusses how you do not know how you will react to grief. You anticipate grief to be a process where you are working on recovering from the loss of this person, but that’s not how it works. She explains these intimate moments where she would walk into the house, anxious to tell her husband about something that happened, only to find he was not there. When her daughter required a tracheotomy, she did not know how to make that decision on her own. The void she experiences is both tangible and awful.

The part of this book that hit me the hardest is the inscription inside the cover. I picked this book up at a used book sale and found the following:


I would recommend this book. As I was reading I had to think about why this was on the books-to-read-in-your-20s list. I’m 27, thinking about losing a partner is not regularly on my mind. I had read somewhere that you are curious about death at two points in your life – when you’re older and know that it will happen, and when you’re young and do not think it will ever happen. This book helps to provide some perspective.