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November 3, 2011


Filed under: joan didion — Tags: — jherzlinger @ 2:24 pm

Today’s post is on a great writer, tough on herself, and brutally honest.  It is not often that I introduce writers to you, but Didion has written some amazing books.  The one she just finished, is a heart break from a mother’s pain,

but so beautifully written that it makes you take stock and accountability.

You may have seen her play, The Year of Magical Thinking, with Vanessa Redgrave, stunning! Her books on her politics are very interesting. If you have a chance, grab a novel, her writing is amazing.

Excerpts from Why I write-JOAN DIDION

Of course I stole the title from this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. Its an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and

qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasionswith the whole manner

of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than statingbut theres no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writers sensibility on the readers most private space.

I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front.

I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology,

but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it. I am not a scholar. I am not in the least an intellectual, which is not to say that when I hear the word “intellectual” I reach for my gun, but only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years when I

was an undergraduate at Berkeley, I tried, with a kind of hopeless

late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with abstract.

Just as a foreign correspondent sets out to understand everything about a new country once he is posted there, Joan Didion embarked in 2004 on a mission to record all the contours of the grief she experienced after witnessing the death of John Gregory Dunne, her husband of nearly

40 years. Her report, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” became a best seller and later a Broadway play. The book was something of a surprise: This novelist and essayist known for her cool, unsentimental style had powerfully and intimately described the permutations of mourning—how

the mind shifts and dodges, recasting events and diving into the past as it tries to process the loss of a loved one.

In “Blue Nights,” Ms. Didion can revisit the same emotional territory because 20 months after Dunne suffered a fatal heart attack, Quintana, their 39-year-old daughter and only child, died from pancreatitis. But this book is unlikely to resonate as “The Year of Magical Thinking” did—the story

it tells is less focused and less universal. Many people have lost a spouse (or can contemplate such a loss), but far fewer need to cope with the death of a child or the questions about one’s own mortality that such an agonizing event provokes. Ms. Didion also delves into the special circumstances

of Quintana’s birth and upbringing, making the account even more narrowly focused. Still, the potency of her prose remains in place as Ms. Didion, determined to avoid pat conclusions or easy salves for the anguish she feels, confronts the passing of her daughter and her own aging. The book

that results is raw and unsettling, a meandering mediation rather than a polished version of events. Few will find comfort here.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction  to Joan Didion.




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