I was planning to let Joan Didion’s demise pass without comment. Then… As I close out the year with my annual ritual of finishing some of the many books I’m reading, I found passages in Ralph Keyes’ book, The Courage to Write, assessing and praising Joan Didion’s writing. These passages feel now like an homage. I’m moved to write as well.
Keyes’s indirectly quoted Didion as stating that “one reason she writes is to identify her fears to come to terms with them.” He lauded her lively prose that spins off an aura of “controlled panic.”
My late father adored the now late Joan Didion’s writing, too. For years, he’d praise her writing and beg me to read it. He’d ask me a some variation of whether I’d read his copy the The White Album he’d loaned me or if I could return it or if I knew where it was.
After my father died, I read My Year of Magical Thinking and found comfort in Didion’s life being more sad than mine. Then, I finally read my father’s copy of The White Album (pictured here).
Her image with controlled panic I best remember is her description of the cathedral in the salt mine near Bogotá and that the project was launched funded by a Banco de la Republicá in 1954. It’s a detail that no doubt Didion got right but that has disappeared from online memories. In this, but not in every way, we are synchronized. I think it’s a significant image, too.
Joan Didion, like me, had problems in interviews. She stammered, hesitated, shifted in her seat or wrung her hands, and looked exceedingly uncomfortable in front of an interrogator. Yet it is widely acknowledged that she writes like an eternal being. I always found encouragement by the respect and deference TV people showed her even though she was not particularly well spoken.
My father loved her essay “James Pike, American.” I’m rather fond of her playful assessment of urban planning “On the Mall.”
The skeptics become the seers.