joan didion: one bookish babe


Today is Joan Didion’s 80th birthday.  And while I can’t say I fancy myself a huge fan of her writing — I haven’t read enough of it to wager an opinion — I will admit to having a ginormous girl crush on her anyway.  Take one look at her in these photographs and you, too, will aspire to making her your literary doppelgänger.  Who cares what she’s written!


JOAN DIDIONWhat has Joan Didion written that I’ve actually read?  There are some recently published sad memoirs, the critically acclaimed Year of Magical Thinking (2005), for exampleA captivating title I know I’ve seen in the bookstore but never so much as read the back cover.  I must’ve read something. Wasn’t there that essay about frogs I used to teach way back when?  What was it called, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”?  That was her, right?


Annie Dillard.

didion5Well then, just who is this Joan Didion, really?  She’s got this iconic literary name and thanks to Google, a gallery of gorgeous vintage noir photos, but what has she actually written and furthermore, how come I can’t remember ever reading her or teaching her?

[S]elf-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation—which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something that people with courage can do without.

didioncoverDidion graduated from UC Berkeley in 1956, and her first major essay “Self-Respect: Its Source, Its Power,” was published in Vogue in 1961.  This seminal piece (which I just read about five minutes ago thank you very much) was later anthologized in her 1968 essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which I gather from the title is a bit of a downer.  Didion continued to publish several magazine pieces, novels and essay collections throughout the 1970s (Play It As It Lays, The White Album, The Book of Common Prayer), but of course I never read any of these works, either, because I was too busy cruising around the block on my Huffy girls motocross bike with two packs of watermelon Bubblicious in my mouth.  Reading?  Didion?  More like sprawled out on the shag carpet in front of the Trinitron, watching Love Boat or Charlie’s Angels or better still, playing Atari with my brothers and sipping Pepsi from a Super Friends glass we got at the walk-up Taco Bell, the kind of Taco Bell built like a California Mission where you could only order from the window and then sit around red plastic picnic tables outside.  That explains it.  I never read Joan Didion because I was too busy eating tacos.

Even after all these years of academic study, professional writing and teaching and pleasure reading, there’s still a gaping Didion gap in my repertoire.  I should know her.  Such a glamorous bookish babe demands to be read.

15 Great Essays by Joan Didion over at The Electric Typewriter.

[dot_recommends]    Email This Post

Leave a Reply