Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.
As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her 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 profound.
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|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Didion’s first volume of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968, and her second, The White Album, was published in 1979. Her nonfiction works include Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), After Henry (1992), Political Fictions (2001), Where I Was From (2003), We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live (2006), Blue Nights (2011), South and West (2017) and Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021). Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005.
In 2005, Didion was awarded the American Academy of Arts & Letters Gold Medal in Criticism and Belles Letters. In 2007, she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. A portion of National Book Foundation citation read: "An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, Didion’s distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of generations of writers and journalists.” In 2013, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama, and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Didion said of her writing: "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” She died in December 2021.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:December 5, 1934
Date of Death:December 23, 2021
Place of Birth:Sacramento, California
Education:B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956
Read an Excerpt
In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue. This period of the blue nights does not occur in subtropical California, where I lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun, but it does occur in New York, where I now live. You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming—in fact not at all a warming—yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise. You pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximates finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of the Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors. The French called this time of day “l’heure bleue.” To the English it was “the gloaming.” The very word “gloaming” reverberates, echoes— the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour—carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows. During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone. 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 the fading, the dying of the brightness.
Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.
What People are Saying About This
“Incantatory.... A beautiful condolence note to humanity about some of the painful realities of the human condition.” —The Washington Post
“Heartbreaking.... A searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy mediation on mortality and time.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Joan Didion is a brilliant observer, a powerful thinker, a writer whose work has been central to the times in which she has lived. Blue Nights continues her legacy.” —The Boston Globe
“Exemplary...provocative.... [Didion] 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
“A beautiful, soaring, polyphonic eulogy.... 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 New York Review of Books
“Profoundly moving.... This is first and last a meditation on mortality.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Ms. Didion has translated the sad hum of her thoughts into a profound meditation on mortality. The result aches with a wisdom that feels dreadfully earned.” —The Economist
“For the great many of us who cherish Joan Didion, who can never get enough of her voice and her brilliant, fragile, endearing, pitiless persona, [Blue Nights] is a gift.” —Newsday
“Exquisite.... She applies the same rigorous standards of research and meticulous observation to her own life that she expects from herself in journalism. And to get down to the art of what she does, her sense of form is as sharp as a glass-cutter’s, and her sentences fold back on themselves and come out singing in a way that other writers can only wonder at and envy.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Ms. Didion has created something luminous amid her self-recrimination and sorrow. It’s her final gift to her daughter—one that only she could give.” —Wall Street Journal
“Didion’s bravest work. It is a bittersweet look back at what she’s lost, and an unflinching assessment of what she has left.” —BookPage
“Yes, this is a book about aging and about loss. Mostly, though, it is about what one parent and child shared—and what all parents and children share, the intimacy of what bring you closer and what splits you apart.” —Oprah.com
“Haunting.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Breathtaking.... 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.” —Newsweek
“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.” —Elle
“In this supremely tender work of memory, Didion is paradoxically insistent that as long as one person is condemned to remember, there can still be pain and loss and anguish.” —Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair
“Didion’s latest memoir unflinchingly reflects on old age and the tragedy of her daughter’s death.”
—Best New Paperbacks, Entertainment Weekly
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance and inform your group’s discussion of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, a heart-wrenching book about the death of her daughter Quintana Roo.
1. Blue Nights is a deeply elegiac, heartrending book. What are some of its most emotionally powerful moments? What makes these moments so moving?
2. Didion’s style in Blue Nights is clipped, austere, emotionally restrained. What is the effect of the short sentences, short chapters, and paragraphs that often consist of a single sentence? In what ways is Didion’s tone and style appropriate to her subject?
3. A number of italicized statements recur throughout Blue Nights, consisting most often of things that Quintana said—“Let me just be in the ground”; “Like when someone dies, don’t dwell on it”; “After I became five, I never ever dreamed about him.” What is the emotional effect of these repetitions? Why would Didion keep repeating these lines?
4. Didion writes: “My cognitive confidence seems to have vanished altogether. Even the correct stance for telling you this, the ways to describe what is happening to me, the attitude, the tone, the very words, now elude my grasp. The tone needs to be direct. I need to talk to you directly, I need to address the subject as it were, but something stops me.... Am I no longer able to talk directly?” [p. 116]. Is the tone of Blue Nights direct or indirect? Why might Didion find it difficult to be as direct as she wants to be about her subject?
5. Didion quotes Euripides: “What greater grief can there be for mortals than to see their children dead” [p. 13]. In what ways does Blue Nights bear out this truth? Of all the griefs that humans might be forced to endure why is this the most painful?
6. What kind of child was Quintana? What was most remarkable about her and most painful about her loss?
7. Thinking back to Quintana’s wedding, Didion writes: “I still see from that wedding day at St. John the Divine: the bright red soles on her shoes. She was wearing Christian Louboutin shoes, pale satin with bright red soles. You saw the red soles when she kneeled at the altar” [p. 69]. What is the effect, on Didion and on the reader, of these minute but vividly remembered details? What other details seem especially poignant?
8. Didion says she knows very few people who think of themselves as having succeeded as parents, that most parents instead “recite rosaries of failures, our neglects, our derelictions and delinquencies” [p. 93]. What does Didion most regret about her relationship with Quintana? What does she see as her failures?
9. Why might Quintana have seen her mother as “frail,” as needing her care, rather than the reverse? [p. 101].
10. Didion says that she had initially wanted to write a book about children but that after she started it became clear her true subject was “the failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death” [p. 54]. What does the book say about these essential human themes? Does Didion fail to confront them?
11. Blue Nights is filled with digressions—about movie shoots, changes in parenting styles over the past fifty years, her own work in the theatre, Sophia Loren, etc.—but keeps circling back to the death of her daughter and to her own illness and aging. Why might Didion have chosen this kind of structure, rather than a more straightforward chronological approach?
12. Didion describes her own illnesses and medical emergencies in a remarkably matter-of-fact way. Why is this understated approach more powerful than a more dramatic rendering might be?
13. What is so powerful about Didion’s quandary over who to list as an emergency contact on a medical form? What reveries does this question lead to?
14. Why does Didion end the book with a series of single, short sentences? Does she achieve here the kind of emotional directness she earlier felt was beyond her?