I first happened upon Joan Didion because of my love for Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming. One of the first poems to really knock the wind out of me as a teenager. When I came across the orange spine that read “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” years later, and pulled it off the shelf to see this woman’s face, I thought, we must be of the same kind.
I now prefer The White Album, which so unflinchingly investigates the inner workings of her own mind alongside the era unfolding (and undoing everything) around her. I also think it’s important to contextualize these works (as all works ought to be) both in and of their own time, and for their intended purpose—as long form journalistic pieces and only forbears of what we now know as the personal essay—as maps of an era.
I am under-read in Didion, but everything I have read I admire, and even more so, the woman behind the words—that razor sharp writer’s mind, so fine tuned to the minutia of life that it’s almost uncomfortable. The piece I find most inspiring is her essay, “On Keeping a Notebook.” In fact, her writing, and speaking about writing, is the material of hers I find most compelling.
The essays Why I Write and On Keeping a Notebook are a pretty damn good place to start if you are new to the singular universe of JD. In addition, here is an excellent, and rather famous, interview with Didion, from the New York Times in 1977, on her approach to the art of writing.
If you are really feeling inquisitive, here are two great, contemporary articles published on Brain Pickings by Maria Popov addressing the above works: “Why I Write: Joan Didion on Ego, Grammar, and the Creative Impulse” and “Joan Didion on Keeping a Notebook”
After watching the recent documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, which focused on her relationship with her deceased husband and adopted daughter, I ache to read The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, which I’ve yet to do. I think these far more personal musings hold what many feel is missing when reading the more journalistic essays in Slouching & The White Album.
Who else here is team Didion? Which is your favorite work of hers?