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A little more than a month after going on sale, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is earning its place as a classic, booksellers say.
Bob Wietrak, Barnes & Noble marketing vice president, already is calling it a "literary masterpiece."
The book tells of the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, from a heart attack on Dec. 30, 2003, and the critical illness of her only child, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael.
The Year of Magical Thinking is an account of her grief that first year. Tributes in the form of reviews -- and sales -- are pouring in. It is nominated for a National Book Award, to be announced Wednesday night.
It's No. 38 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list; in Amazon's Top 10; No. 2 on The New York Times hardcover non-fiction list; and No. 1 hardcover non-fiction on Book Sense, the independent booksellers' list.
Wietrak thinks he knows why.
"She (Didion) just knows how to put everything into words. It's so heart-wrenching," he says. "You're crying and reading it because ultimately it is a love story."
At Borders Group, orders were stepped up "after we saw how well it was doing right out of the gate and seeing all the positive reviews and media attention it was getting," says public relations manager Beth Bingham.
And at The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, where Didion spoke last week, the store's buyer, Margaret Maupin, was in awe. "I really loved this book, and I really love to talk about it."
Didion, on tour until Dec. 4, recently appeared at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C., where, like most such events, the room was filled. It has been "standing room only" at all the places where she is speaking, says Paul Bogaards of Knopf, her publisher.
The first printing was 50,000 copies, and the publisher has gone back to press 10 times. There are now 350,000 copies in print.
"We felt strongly about (it) from day one and took a big position. I think booksellers were a little surprised at the immediate rate of sale," Bogaards says.
According to Didion's literary agent, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, her book has been published in the U.K., and Didion has approved agreements for Sweden and Brazil. More foreign rights are on the way "with offers for Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark," says Cecile Barendsma of Janklow & Nesbit. On the table: Spain, Italy, France and Asia.
Didion, 70, wrote The Year of Magical Thinking between October and December 2004, completing most of it by the first anniversary of her husband's death at age 71.
"I really hated to finish this book because as long as I was working on it, which was a very short time, we were in some way still connected."
But she wanted to begin writing as soon as she could.
A lot of the books about grief are "written so long after the fact, when someone has pulled themselves together, that it is very hard to transmit that immediate sense of what it does to you," she explains.
"I mean, it doesn't tell you the crazy part."
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