Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yet More Re-reading of Joan Didion: “The White Album”

I have been re-reading some of Joan Didion’s work (see my post of 1/9/13 and earlier posts mentioned in that one) and, having now re-read “The White Album” (Simon and Schuster, 1979), continue to be astounded by the freshness, the immediacy of her writing. The settings of these essays range from California and New York and other mainland U.S. sites to Honolulu and to Colombia, South America. Topics include shopping-center theory, the Black Panthers, the Hoover Dam, migraine, Bishop James Pike, Doris Lessing, Georgia O’Keeffe, and the Women’s Movement. Didion’s wide-ranging interests and subjects are impressive, but more impressive is how she draws readers in, so that before we know it, we are actually fascinated by, for example, shopping-center theory. No matter how unpromising the topic seems, or how outside the reader's usual interests, Didion makes it come alive and makes us care about it. The more I read Didion’s recent work (her memoirs about her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness and death), and re-read her earlier work (especially her essays), the more I am convinced she is one of our greatest living writers.

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