Tag Archive for Joan Didion

Joan Didion . . . Thank You!


We lost one of our greatest writers today. She was in life, and remains in death, a treasure. Just a remarkable woman.

Regarding that quote up above, it is one of the reasons why I am often paralyzed by the idea of outlines. More and more, publishers require them. A box to be checked. I used to balk at that, because — of course! — how would I know what’s going to happen until I start writing? But I’ve learned that they don’t expect writers to doggedly follow the outline. Editors want a general idea — and, yes, managing editors certainly like to check off that box. A way to keep things moving along the conveyer belt. 

When writing, I always have a plan. At least for that day, that scene, that chapter. An idea of what I want to accomplish, the ground I need to cover. And I always have a more general idea of where I hope to end up.

A metaphor: I’m in a sailboat, I’m aiming for an island in the distance, but the currents are strong and the wind is kicking up. I might get blown off course. And even in the best circumstances, I’ll have to tack back and forth; I won’t get there in a straight line.

Just today, in fact, I was finally ready to begin outlining the final chapters of a book that’s two-thirds finished. So rather than blasting out a lot of words, I spent the day plotting in detail that final sequence of events. It took that long for me to reach that level of clarity, far different from anything I might have imagined, or “outlined” to my editors, three months ago.

I noticed how much of the original outline didn’t make the final draft. Some ideas (and characters) got crowded by other (hopefully) better ideas.

Writing as discovery. A way to find out. A path into the deep, dark woods. For me, it’s impossible to plan in advance what exactly I might find there. 

If you have not read The Year of Magical Thinking, that’s a terrific way to meet Joan Didion. But there are many avenues of entry. You can’t go wrong. Just pick up something/anything that she’s written . . . and start reading.

Mark Twain’s Library & Other Pleasures

I won’t make you wait for it. My apologies for the spillover into the sidebar, but it would require actual skill to adjust the size of the photo. So, like, that’s not happening!

This is Mark Twain’s first-floor library in his Hartford, Connecticut, home. How cool is that?

You can thank Emily Temple of Flavorwire for that shot, since she recently compiled a hot batch of photographs featuring the libraries of famous writers, inspired, in part, by the recent publication of Leah Price’s new book, Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books.

Below, a few more of my favorites . . .

Joan Didion, John Dunne, daughter Quintana Roo, and dog.

William Faulkner collected old books, apparently. Oh, wait.

Anne Sexton’s shelves look so . . . normal.

Norman Mailer lived in Brooklyn Heights, not far from my brother. But Norman had more books, and a better apartment. He also liked lamps.

This Rolling Stone gathers no moss, but collects books, obviously. If you are really in a Keith mood, go here for my ultimate “Keef Sings” mix.

I’d Follow Joan Didion’s Mind Whatever It Roams

I just read Joan Didion’s new book, Blue Nights.

She’s just an amazing writer, so precise. I’d follow her mind anywhere. And this book is particularly remarkable, not only for the content, but for the style — the texture of the thought as much as the thoughts themselves, if the two can separated. Brief and fractured, at times clear and direct and yet elusive, slippery, the book takes on the qualities of a prose poem.

It struck me that Didion in this book writes as an elderly woman in her late 70’s, from that specific place, the way her thoughts (and sentences) keep circling back, almost forgetful, picking up dropped threads, weaving them into loose patterns, drifting back again, and plunging forward as if reluctantly, yet determined to arrive . . . at something. There’s a frailty here, the uncertainty of any old brittle-boned body, picking a cautious path down the sidewalk, fearful of losing her balance, falling. Reading it, I thought of my own mother, age 85 or 6, who knows anymore, and the new palpable fear she experiences stepping off a curb, walking to the mailbox, wondering when gravity will be her undoing. And yet out into this perilous world she bravely steps.

Two things:

First, look at this photograph, the peculiar pose, that thin right arm, hand rested on her right shoulder, and that clear-eyed gaze. What an intimate photograph by Anthony Dunne.

Second, let us now marvel, and reread over and again as we gape with admiration and open-jawed awe at the punctuation, pace, and mastery of writer Joan Didion (pp. 140-141, Blue Nights):

—–And yet:

—–And still:

—–Despite all evidence:

—–Despite recognizing that my skin and my hair and even my cognition are all reliant on the estrogen I no longer have:

—–Despite recognizing that I will not again wear the red suede sandals with the four-inch heels and despite recognizing that the gold hoop earrings and the black cashmere leggings and the enameled beads no longer exactly apply:

—–Despite recognizing that for a woman my age even to note such details of appearance will be contrued by many as a manifestation of misplaced vanity:

—–Despite all that:


—–That being seventy-five could present as a significantly altered situation, an altogether different “it,” did not until recently occur to me.

Here’s an earlier photo, similarly shielded, creating an interesting echo. Which brings me to the third thing: I’d love to have lunch with this woman, just sit at the same table, talk. Hey, a guy can dream.