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Blue Nights Hardcover – November 1, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 244 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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”
“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307267679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307267672
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Federico (Fred) Moramarco VINE VOICE on November 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been reading Joan Didion's work for nearly half a century--I got hooked by her early collection, Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and have read every thing she's written since. For years I began my Contemporary American Literature class at San Diego State University with the famous first sentence from her collection, The White Album: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." I used that as a keynote to the course because I wanted students to understand that stories are not merely entertainment (although they can be that) but life essentials. Without them life as we know it would be impossible. Ask anyone a basic question: "Where are you from?" "What school did you go to? What do you do for a living? And so on, and he or she will tell you a story. We use stories to link together the disconnected moments of our lives, or as Didion so cogently puts it in "The White Album," "We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the `ideas' with which se have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience." "Shifting phantasmagoria"--that's how we perceive our lives-- just one thing after another. And sometimes those kaleidoscopic images can shift from bright dazzling colors to dark opaque hues with just a single twist of the lens.

This is of course what happened to Didion. As everyone knows, in the last several years she has suffered mightily. Her stunning, heartbreaking book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which told the story of her husband John Gregory Dunne's sudden, unexpected death, haunts the memory and takes us inside a deep, unsettling grief that turned her life upside down.
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Format: Hardcover
I have always loved Joan Didion, to the point that I thought she could do no wrong. I would await each new book with absolutely no hesitation that I might not enjoy it. The same happened when I received "Blue Nights" and I launched right into it with the comfortable knowledge that I would surely love it.

About halfway through, I realized the biggest reaction I was having to the book was annoyance. Ms. Didion, while clearly distraught by her daughter's untimely death, seems to be too self-conscious of how she herself comes across in the book, making sure to share more n enough detail about how fabulous and successful her life has been. Quintana Roo, as I fear might be the case in real life, seems to be an afterthought, someone who provides some funny quips for her mother to use in her writing. Quintana Roo seems to me like a little girl desperately wanting her parents to love her and include her, apparent in such stories like her daughter's "sundries" or her "cancer diagnosis" (chicken pox). I think theone part that confirmed for me that DIdion is no longer accessible to her readers is when she oh-so-delightfully explains how on all the trips they would take Quintana Roo on, her daughter didn't understand what it meant to be "on expenses" and "not on expenses." How dare a little girl not realize that when a big studio is picking up the tab, you can order caviar, but when your parents have to actually spend their own money, you can't spoil yourself with othe people's money? What an adorable tale to relay to the everyman reader!

Didion has lost me at this point. As another reviewer noted, I would love to know more about Quintana Roo, but maybe it's someone else's job to tell us about her, someone who won't be so self-aware of her own portrayal in the story as is clearly the case with this author.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It can't be easy to be Joan Didion and it certainly wasn't easy to be her adopted daughter. As most readers know, Ms. Didion had to endure the cruelest kind of one-two punch: the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne followed by the death of Quintana Roo at age 39.

And now, years after writing The Year of Magical Thinking, she revisits this dark year in Blue Nights: "This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning."

I quoted this prologue at length because the book is less about Quintana than it is about her mother, the author. Ms. Didion eventually states, "The actual subject was not children after all...the actual subject...was this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death." Or, in other words, "it's now about me."

The author eschews the word "privilege" ("Privilege remains an area to which - when I think of what she endured, when I consider what came later - I will not easily cop.") But it is hard for the reader to NOT think of Quintana Roo as privileged, at least from a material sense. Joan Didion asked for - and received - a beautiful baby girl from St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica (the girl HAD to be "beautiful"), purchased miniature wooden hangers and expensive dresses. Quintana, at the age of five, had stayed at the St. Regis and the Regency, The Dorchester in London, and so on.

We learn that Quintana was not a happy child or adult who was terrified of an imaginary "Broken Man" and lived with a fear of abandonment.
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