A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (Black Dog & Leventhal)

The original edition of this book, published to acclaim in 1965, provided a detailed peek inside the Kennedy Administration, which at that time was still enigmatic, still Camelot. Today, in an abridged and lavishly illustrated edition, this classic work -- which won the Pulitzer Prize -- comes alive once more, chronicling as it does those legendary 1000 days, when America had the kind of national hope that seems all too rare these days. Schlesinger's text, though tightened and shortened, still retains all its cogent magic, covering the key Kennedy White House moments: the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the President's meetings with DeGaulle and Khrushchev, the Berlin Wall, the assassination and much more. Where in the original there was only text -- which drew its own stunning pictures in readers' minds -- now there are hundreds of historic photographs culled from the collections of Look magazine, the JFK Library, the Associated Press and the Library of Congress. Forty years ago, Time magazine called A Thousand Days the best of the Kennedy books. Clearly, this new edition will show a new generation what the nation's presidency can do with honesty, vision and the values of greatness. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (Little, Brown and Company)

The Beatles: The Biography could not have been written 25 years ago, but this is more than a simple tell-all tale. But as the recent spate of new books indicates, "the legend ... has only just begun." Author spitz divides Beatles history into three broad eras: the early days as struggling individuals, heading towards the inevitable collaboration; the golden years, when they became a phenomenon and "raised the bar of rock and roll" and the painful decline, as their star sputtered and ultimately flamed out. Spitz devotes the bulk of the narrative to Lennon, the ringleader, visionary and angry young man, but Paul, George and Ringo still get plenty of ink as he dives deeply into the evolution of Beatles songs, the competition (primarily between John and Paul), and the rewards and price of glory. This Herculean effort, weighing in at almost 1000 pages, is a Beatlemaniac's dream, covering every aspect, public and private, of the group's life and artistic death. -- Ron Kaplan

The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life by Tim Haines and Paul Chambers (Firefly Books)

This is it: the book on dinosaurs everyone has been waiting for. And by "everyone" I really mean anyone who is a preadolescent boy or ever was one. This is the book that every kid with a passion for dinosaurs wished existed when they first got the bug. Understand, though: The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life is not geared at kids. It's just that, given the subject matter, it's pretty much guaranteed that young males will be especially touched by this book. (With young girls its horses; with boys its dinosaurs. Don't ask me why, but that's mostly how it is.) The authors didn't come to this project without considerable credentials. Both were involved with the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs, a groundbreaking series that was arguably the first to blend the very best Hollywood-type special effects and CGI technology with -- wait for it -- educational material. The result was breathtaking. A series that seemed to bring dinosaurs to life in a way that had never been done before. We saw the ancient and ultimately doomed beasts walk and fight and mate as though crews of talented filmmakers had been right there with their cameras. It was amazing. Though The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life is not a companion to that television series, it brings the same sort of magic. Encyclopedic in nature, each alphabetized entry offers information on individual types of dinosaur as well as rich and beautiful full color "photos" of the dinosaurs under discussion in various types of dinosauric activity. This is an amazing book, filled with magic and knowledge, a truly winning combination. -- Lincoln Cho

DisneyWar by James R. Stewart (Simon & Schuster)

It strikes me that, in 2005's version of the war of the business books, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James B. Stewart's DisneyWar comes out about as far ahead as can be imagined. Like the man said, DisneyWar has it all. The compelling prose of an author who knows what he's doing and has done his research and his homework, combined with a topic that fascinates even readers of non-business books. The world Stewart writes about is not nuanced by the cartoon colors most of us think of when we hear the name Disney. It's a world of familial battles and corporate manipulations as cold as any to be found on Wall Street. With access to many key players in the story -- including family members, current and former executives and even the often unavailable key players Michael Eisner and Roy Disney -- Stewart draws us closer than we've ever been -- perhaps closer than we ever wanted to be -- to the not so happy behind-the-scenes story of the happiest place on Earth. DisneyWar is epic in both scope and actual weight. At 572 pages, this is not a book to curl up with in bed. Stewart, a former page one editor of The Wall Street Journal and the author of seven books including Den of Thieves -- about 1980s insider trading -- and Bloodsport -- arguably the book on the whole Clinton Whitewater business -- is a strong storyteller as well as a first rate journalist. Only the latter is necessary to write a comprehensive non-fiction book. Stewart, however, knows how to arrange his facts in order to compel his reader. He understands the importance of pacing and of structure. Despite the high profile of DisneyWar's topic and the entertaining nature of Disney's enterprise, Stewart's book is, at its core, a hard and intimate look at what really happened to fuel all of those headlines. -- Aaron Blanton

The End of Time by David Horowitz (Encounter Books)

In an age dominated by self-promoting opportunists, careerists, "theorists," popular gurus and disingenuous social do-gooders -- these are often interchangeable -- it is always an intellectual event to find that rare bird: honest writing that springs from sincere thought. David Horowitz's The End of Time is a trek through his disenchantment with Marxist radicalism in the 1960s and 70s, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and his diagnosis and subsequent triumph over prostate cancer. But what makes this such a remarkable book is that Horowitz convincingly ties in all of these events, as he demonstrates that at the center of it all is the lust for life, its absence or negation. Horowitz demonstrates that the broader psychological implications of ideological radicalism have to do with a profound discontent for life and the human condition -- as these actually exist -- not as a projection of hate-posturing ideologies. "The evil of this world is not caused by ignorance of the good or failure to appreciate the holiness of human life. It is caused by the black hole that lies at the bottom of every human soul," he writes. The author warns that man's true and universal adversary is the passage of time and the dust that it creates out of our loved ones and our memories. Suppression of this truth in the guise of ideology, he tells us, and is the greatest sin perpetrated against man by the aforementioned modish clan. -- Pedro Blaz Gonzalez

Eudora Welty: A Biography by Suzanne Marrs (Harcourt)

Eudora Welty, of Jackson, Mississippi, wrote with such verve about her corner of the world (and elsewhere) that many readers thought they had this most private of authors pegged as a person straight out of her fiction: an old-fashioned, stay-at-home Southern lady, if not a wallflower; a provincial personality, hemmed in by regional custom. But this posthumous biography, written by a serious scholar who was also a friend of Welty's, sets the record straight. Welty, it turns out, roamed far and wide of Mississippi: to New York, where she attended university and worked for The New York Times Book Review; and to Europe, where she befriended such cosmopolitan authors as Elizabeth Bowen and Henry Green. And though Welty never married, she had intense and loving (if apparently platonic) relationships with two men, the second being detective novelist Ross Macdonald (real name, Kenneth Millar), whose 1971 bestseller, Sleeping Beauty, was dedicated to Welty. Suzanne Marrs is thorough and scrupulous, respectful and revelatory, in chronicling her subject's life. The result is a formidable biography that supplements and amplifies Eudora Welty's written work in ways that even that most circumspect of authors would surely admire. -- Tom Nolan

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (William Morrow)

In a year filled with important books commenting relevantly on the turbulent times in which we live, few seemed to hit things from as spectacularly out of left field as Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, even while they hit their targets precisely on the mark. The book created by the collaboration between "rogue economist" Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner is succinct and stunning, a neat trick for any book, let alone one co-authored by an economist. But Freakonomics isn't just about economics, any more than Harry Potter is just about a kid whose parents have died. I mean, both things are true, but in both cases, there's a whole lot more, as well. And things, of course, are seldom what they seem. "Prepare to be dazzled," Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, warns us in his cover blurb for Freakonomics. While that sounds theatrical, we are dazzled. We're dazzled by Levitt's thoughts and Dubner's presentation as well as by a whole bunch of ideas smooshed together in ways we never thought possible. In ways we never thought of at all. Freakonomics is a delight. Sharply written and interestingly organized, the authors manage to cram in an amazing amount of stuff you probably would never have had cause to think of on your own. Will any of it change your life? Probably not. But that isn't really the point. The authors hope you "might become more skeptical of conventional wisdom; you may begin looking for hints as to how things aren't quite what they seem; perhaps you will seek out some trove of data and sift through it, balancing your intelligence and your intuition to arrive at a glimmering new idea." -- Linda L. Richards

Happy Housewives by Darla Shine (Regan Books/HarperCollins)

"To everything there is a season," including social mores. Former television producer Darla Shine wrote Happy Housewives because she was tired of hearing stay-at-home moms complain about "how hard they have it and how much more they want." Shine readily admits that she was once a desperate housewife herself. She had just signed a 3-year, six-figure contract for a morning talk show when she learned she was pregnant. Although she realized the best thing for her baby would be to provide him with a full-time mommy, she resented having to make that decision. She grudgingly gave up her career to take on her new role, merely going through the motions until a non-cancerous tumor in her breast served as her wake-up call, compelling her to stop feeling sorry for herself and appreciate just how lucky she was. Now she wants other women to know that they, too, can be happy housewives. Based on the jacket, I expected the book to be a humorous, tongue-in-cheek response to TV's Desperate Housewives. When that turned out not to be the case, I was disappointed. I don't disagree with Shine's contention that nurturing our families is important, but as a mother whose children were born in the 70s, I take offense to some of her premises. Shine contends that Gloria Steinem and other "misguided feminists" sold women a bill of goods by encouraging them to seek careers instead of being content to create a home for their husbands and children. She promotes a return to the good old days, noting that "... our grandmothers were happier than we are .... They knew their place was in the home and they took pride in that." (She conveniently neglects to mention that our grandmothers didn't have much choice, given the lack of career opportunities -- enter Gloria Steinem -- for women at the time.) And I have to believe most husbands would be offended by Shine's statement that "Men are sooo easy ... if he's happy, you'll be happy ... you'll get everything you want." However, based on the response to my review from moms who have chosen to stay home with their children, Shine is right on target. They want validation for their decision, and Shine does that. It appears we have come full-circle. -- Mary Ward Menke

In the Beginning ... There Were No Diapers: Laughing and Learning in the First Years of Fatherhood by Tim Bete (Sorin Books)

If you are a parent, plan to be a parent, or know anyone who is or does, you have to read In the Beginning ...There Were No Diapers: Laughing and Learning in the First Years of Fatherhood. Look in any library or bookstore and you're bound to find myriad parenting books -- many serious, some humorous, fewer still a combination. Tim Bete succeeds where others have failed by infusing his descriptions of common experiences with subtle spiritual references. The chapter about the Ten Commandments alone makes the book worth reading: "Like most scripture, the Ten Commandments need to be interpreted for our time. That's why I've expanded 'Honor your father and your mother' a little by adding 672 clarifying sub-rules .... First there is the greatest commandment for children: 'Stop that.' All other commandments are derived from 'Stop that ..." Bete even compares feeding children to a religious experience. In the chapter titled, "Five Loaves, Two Fish -- What, No Tartar Sauce? (Or, My Son Ate a Vegetable -- It's a Miracle!)," he gives his own interpretation of the story of Jesus multiplying the five loaves and two fish to feed more than 5,000: "There must have been a thousand children present. By my calculation, immediately after the miracle, 400 kids would have said they 'didn't like fish.' Three hundred and fifty children would have complained that their 'bread was touching their fish,' and therefore they couldn't eat it. One hundred and fifty kids would have whined that the fish was 'inedible without tartar sauce.' Seventy-five would have asked for 'fish sticks instead of the whole fish.' Finally, twenty-five children must have dropped their fish on the ground and cried because it was dirty, even though they never would have eaten it in the first place." Don't let the biblical references deter you. You don't have to be a member of a particular religion or have specific religious beliefs to enjoy In the Beginning...There Were No Diapers. All you need are a sense of humor...and a belief in miracles. -- Mary Ward Menke

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan (Random House)

Maureen Corrigan has introduced readers and listeners to scores of books (including one edited by this writer) over the last several years, as a reviewer for publications including The Washington Post and as a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" series. Now, Corrigan has written a memorable book of her own: an engaging, stimulating work, part essay and part memoir, which has everything to do with her lifelong passion for the printed page. "It's not that I don't like people," her text begins. "It's just that when I'm in the company of others -- even my nearest and dearest -- there always comes a moment when I'd rather be reading a book." From childhood through grad school, from marriage through (adoptive) motherhood, reading helped Corrigan make sense of and enlarge her world. And writing about reading made Corrigan find her own voice as a critic, "roaming from the popular to the canonical and making connections between the two." Some of the most stimulating connections she makes have to do with detective fiction, a form she discusses with special knowledge and enthusiasm: finding similarities between hard-boiled masters Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Victorian sages such as Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin ("Sure, their dialect and diction were neighborhoods apart, but their criticisms of society frequently were eerily similar"); and turning to private-eye novels in the wake of September 11, for help comprehending "a world gone wrong." Certain wonderful mixed-métier narratives (such as Stephen King's On Writing) defy categorization. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, which blends literary explication with personal revelation, seems to me such a work: a little miracle of a book. -- Tom Nolan

Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald (NewSage Press)

What's so heartrending but satisfying about Mary Matsuda Gruenewald's life story is how very long it took her to tell it: more than half a century. During that time, she guarded her family and friends from the pains she had known, depending on her personal determination and a strength inherited from her mother to keep her settled, focused, when the memories of all she had undergone so long ago threatened to destroy her later contentment. Not until she wrote Looking Like the Enemy was she able to reveal what had become of her, her family and the world she had known so many decades before. As she explains, she was a "carefree" high-school student living on Vashon Island, in northwestern Washington's Puget Sound, when Japanese bombers launched a surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941. That incident finally drew the United States into World War II and convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt that, for national-security reasons, thousands of Japanese-American families should be evacuated from the West Coast to internment camps in the country's interior. In May 1942, Mary and her family -- her parents, Heisuke and Mitsuno Matsuda (who had lived in the States since 1898 and 1922, respectively), and her elder brother, Yoneichi -- were sent south by train to Pinedale Assembly Center, a hastily constructed facility outside of Fresno, California, and then transferred a month and a half later to the "permanent" Tule Lake Internment Camp, near Klamath Falls, Oregon. For then 17-year-old Mary, this dislocation was harrowing -- but so was the betrayal she felt at being imprisoned as a potential "threat" in the only land she'd ever known as home. "Am I Japanese? Or am I American? ... From my earliest memories," she writes in her memoir, "I had been both. I grew up playing hopscotch and jacks, learning kendo and ikebana. I studied U.S. history at school and Japanese on Saturday. For breakfast I ate scrambled eggs and mochi. Dinner could include fried chicken and sushi. I always felt that I was Japanese-American and I belonged in America, that I was part of the group. Before December 7, 1941, it never occurred to me that I was not." It wasn't until the fall of 1945 -- after her brother was drafted into the U.S. Army, after the atomic-bomb destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after she had endured the corrosive effects of racism and moves to two more relocation camps, and after the war's celebrated end -- that Mary and her family were allowed to return to their berry farm on Vashon Island. Yet so painful were the wounds of her internment, delivered at such a vulnerable point in her young life, that Mary Matsuda (later to become Mary Matsuda Gruenewald) was unable to speak of her experiences. Not even her three children, growing up, knew much about the time she had spent in the camps, where she had had to depend upon her father's consistent strength, her mother's enduring warmth and Yoneichi's companionship to get her through. Only at age 80, and with the encouragement of a writers' group, was this Seattle-dwelling Nisei and retired nurse able to break her silence with the publication of her first book. Over this 60th-anniversary year of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, a myriad media articles and books (including Strawberry Days, by David A. Neiwert, one of January's gift-book selections for 2005) have been released, bringing those of us who weren't around in those days closer to the fear and anguish they represented. But I haven't seen another book that strikes the remarkable balance of honesty, courage and emotional power that Gruenewald's does. As Americans today find themselves questioning once more whether their government is treating a minority population (this time, Muslims) fairly, Looking Like the Enemy proves timely. Let's hope that nobody, six decades from now, will write a similar story of racial discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of Uncle Sam. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America by Roger Phillips (Firefly Books)

Most books are one time affairs. They are written then published and sent off to market, where the world votes with its feet. If enough people vote, there might be another printing but, in most cases, the book will never look starkly different from its original publication. Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America isn't like that. Originally published in 1991 but much more complete now, you get a sense while reading that here is book as life work. Not this author's only work -- Phillips has had his hand in over 30 books on various natural history topics -- but this, I hazard, will be the one he's remembered for. In any case, it's the book amateur mycologists have been waiting for. In a field well populated by various types of guides, Phillips' book is little short of incredible. Each species -- and hundreds have been included -- is illustrated photographically. And unlike many guides, that just show the mature plant or some other individual specimen, we are shown an immature specimen, generally a couple of mature ones, a cross-section where important and a good shot of the bottom of the cap. This alone makes the book incomparable for identification, but there's more. Every photograph is apples to apples: that is, the specimens have all been shot against a blue background (except in the case of bluish mushrooms which have been shot against a white or off-white background). This seemingly small thing is a stroke of genius as it makes it possible to really understand the details of what you're seeing with an eye, once again, to species identification. Each photo is carefully cutlined -- and it's amazing how many mushroom books are not -- and offers both the Latin and common name of the species photographed as well as (and here's another simple thing mostly overlooked in other books) the scale of the reproduction in relation to life size. There's more than photos, of course. Concise descriptions of each species including all the detail bits you need for identification: the nature of the flesh, the odor, the type of gills and whether or not the species under discussion is edible. Other sections are equally good, but brief. The photos and descriptions are the thing here, and these are truly incomparable. Over 1000 photos have been included in the book. One can imagine that Phillips created many more images as the book moved towards completion, discarding earlier images as better collections of species examples were found. I can't even contemplate what an undertaking this must have been. OK: clearly, this is not a book for everyone. But I've looked at a lot of mushrooms books and own many other titles. If you have even the slightest interest in identifying North American mushrooms, this is -- quite simply -- the book on the topic, bar none. -- Linda L. Richards

No Applause -- Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous by Trav S.D. (Faber and Faber)

America has a short memory, especially about its popular art. That's why we need lively and passionate popular-historians such as Trav S.D. to help us remember and appreciate the pleasures and glories of our never-so-distant past. In No Applause -- Just Throw Money, Mr. S.D. (aka Travis Stewart, a critic-journalist, playwright and theater director) recounts in learned detail the amazing true-life story of vaudeville, an American entertainment form (circa 1881-1932) that grew out of (and away from) the minstrel-show and other variety-arts; and whose biggest "modern" stars (Bob Hope, Jack Benny, W.C. Fields, Burns and Allen) went on to (even) greater fame in radio, the movies and television. The good thing about our country's cultural amnesia is that everything old can be new again. Sure enough, S.D. writes, vaudeville is making a comeback, "with scores, perhaps hundreds, of new variety venues popping up at alternative theaters and nightclubs throughout the nation." The author tells this newer part of vaudeville's story, too. In fact, we learn, Trav S.D. is himself involved as emcee of a present-day vaudeville. It seems almost inevitable that someone so gifted at celebrating this prototypical fount of American show business would want to put on his very own show. I bet it's a good one. -- Tom Nolan

The Novels of Ross Macdonald by Michael Kreyling (University of South Carolina Press)

Professor and author Michael Kreyling is unequivocal in his assessment of the fiction of Ross Macdonald (1915-1983). "As a body of work," he states near the start of this highly readable study, Macdonald's 18 books about Southern California private investigator Lew Archer "stand as one of the most illustrious achievements in American novel writing." In eight illuminating essay-chapters, the critic makes his case with logic and passion. Kreyling (whose previous works include Inventing Southern Literature and Understanding Eudora Welty) dazzles with his audacious insights -- as when he compares the rhythms and words of a passage from Dashiell Hammett ("If he was high-tailing, it was catch him now or not at all") with a stanza from Hamlet ("if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all"). The connections he makes between Macdonald's California saga and other cultural documents of the Golden State (from David Belasco's to Joan Didion's to the Beach Boys') are brilliant. A study as serious as this necessarily reveals plot points ("spoilers") to be avoided perhaps by those who've not yet read the Archer novels. In any event, anyone keen to see what literary heights the mystery novel can reach -- and has reached -- should be thrilled by Michael Kreyling's inspired book. -- Tom Nolan

Splendor in the Short Grass: The Grover Lewis Reader edited by Jan Reid and W.K. Stratton (University of Texas Press)

Grover Lewis, the New Journalism pioneer-veteran who died at 60 in Santa Monica, California, in 1995, never became a household-name like his old colleague Hunter S. Thompson. On the other hand, in 2005 Thompson killed himself -- and Grover Lewis brought out a great new book. Splendor in the Short Grass is a splendid posthumous anthology, edited with care by two knowledgeable writers from Texas (Lewis' home state). It gathers some of his best magazine pieces, including location stories about the making of the movies Fat City, The Getaway and The Last Picture Show (in which Lewis himself appeared briefly); some extraordinary poems, a fragment of an unfinished novel and chapters of the heart-piercing memoir Lewis was working on when he died. He had much to draw on: His parents shot each other to death in San Antonio when he was 8 years old. Raised by relatives, he made his way through college (where his best friend was future novelist Larry McMurtry), and in the 1960s he broke through in San Francisco as one of the original writers and editors at Rolling Stone magazine. He produced many wonderful, memorable articles and essays over the years, before beginning at last, in the 1990s, to mine the materials of his own bleak past. This unforgettable volume contains much, but by no means all, of his best work. The brilliant Splendor in the Short Grass warrants at least one sequel. Who knows: Maybe the late Grover Lewis will be the author of one of next year's best books, too. -- Tom Nolan


Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Leonard Sax (Doubleday)

Are men smarter than women? In Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, Dr. Leonard Sax says it's not a question of aptitude but of learning styles predicated by innate, hard-wired differences in male and female brains. By adhering to the dogma of "social constructionism," the belief that the differences between boys and girls are derived from social expectations, not biology, parents have been encouraged to foster nurturing in boys by letting them play with dolls, and to allow girls to play with erector sets to improve their spatial relations skills. Education abides by similar gender-blind guidelines: boys and girls should be taught the same lessons at the same time in the same manner. It is a question of nature vs. nurture, or so we've been told. A family practitioner and psychologist, Sax is convinced that this gender-blind philosophy of child-rearing and education has been less than successful, citing such evidence as the dramatic drop in male academic performance and the increase in female alcohol abuse over the past 20 years. Instead of pretending sex differences don't exist, he says we should take advantage of them. Single-sex education is a major step in the right direction. Why Gender Matters is substantiated by a 45-page bibliography of documented scientific research, which points to gender differences in hearing ability (females hear better than males) and eye anatomy, suggesting that "girls are born prewired to be interested in faces while boys are prewired to be more interested in moving objects." Other research shows that different areas of the brain develop in a different sequence in boys and girls. For example, a two-year old boy is three times more likely than a girl to be able to build a bridge out of blocks, while a three-and-a-half year old girl can interpret facial expressions better than a five-year-old boy. All differences are larger and more important in childhood than in adulthood, Sax concludes. Because of the hard-wired differences, Sax believes gender-blind education does more harm than good. Single-sex education is more likely to break down gender stereotypes: "There is now very strong evidence that girls are more likely to take courses such as computer science and physics in girls-only schools ... boys in single sex schools are more than twice as likely to study art, music, foreign languages, and literature..." Sax presents a reader-friendly, persuasive argument, challenging many basic assumptions by interspersing hard data with numerous case studies. In the end, Why Gender Matters is confirmation of what many already knew: There really is a difference.-- Mary Ward Menke


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Knopf)

Though the raw pain in Joan Didion's amazing memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking is sometimes almost unendurable, there is much joy here, as well. And more. All of the signs, I think, of a life well-spent and love well-invested, not to mention a talent fully realized. Though she moved us mightily in earlier works like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Play It As It Lays, here Didion has reached entirely inside herself and her own life, contemplating, well, everything, after the death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, of a sudden heart attack. When, several months after I read the book, I heard about the death of Didion's daughter, Quintana, I cried as though the loss had been mine, as well. And in a sense, I guess, it was. Such is Didion's gift. The Year of Magical Thinking is not an easy book to either read or put aside. -- Sienna Powers

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