Reviews | Migraines, marriage, mourning: Joan Didion showed us how to lay it all bare


This essay appears in “The White Album”, a collection which was published in 1979. Another collection, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, was published in 1968, and in the preface she described the characteristics which made it unsuitable for use. journalism. She was “bad at interviewing people,” she wrote. She didn’t like making phone calls.

“My only advantage as a journalist,” she continued, “is that I am so small physically, so discreet in temperament and so nervous inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence is against me. in their best interests. And it still is. This is one last thing to remember: Writers are always selling someone.

She informed her readers of this and, in other essays, her reluctance to find role models where she was supposed to and her alienation from the idealism and protests of the very decade she was most famous for having. covered. “If I could believe that going to a barricade would affect the fate of man in the slightest way, I would go to that barricade, and many times I wish I could, but it would be less than honest to say that I expect there to be such a barricade. a happy ending, ”she wrote in the essay“ On the Morning After the Sixties, ”which appears in“ The White Album. ”She said she was an imperfect witness. made a perfect.

Just hours before I learned of Didion’s death, I had typed his name into my laptop. I was building the curriculum for a first-person writing class that I will be teaching at Duke University this spring, so I was compiling some reading material for my students. Two of Didion’s essays from “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” – “Goodbye to All This” and “On Self-Respect” – were my first and second items on this list.

That’s because they’re gorgeous, with phrases and flourishes that represent the highest level of prose. This is because they show how a writer can universalize the staff, twist a collective morality out of individual experience.

But it’s also because of the way she laughs – and even gapes – at herself, encouraging readers less to follow her lead than to marvel at how she can get lost. It’s a clever invitation. Didion understood something essential not only in journalism, but also in life: the most trustworthy and sympathetic guides are those who sometimes ask others for directions.


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