Self has been reading In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays, by Katie Roiphe, for the past three days. She must say, she finds the book fascinating.
Here’s Roiphe on the Didion style:
Didion seems at first glance to be revealing so much about herself because of her mental fragility. Certain temperamental qualities of hers — her paranoia, her morbid sense of impending disaster, and her distrust of all stated realities — were particularly suited to the 1960s and ’70s. Take the moment in The White Album when she writes about the “attack of nausea and vertigo” that led her to a psychiatric clinic. On the surface, this might seem like an intimate revelation about her inner life. And yet she ends the passage with “such an attack does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1998.” This is typical Didion. It’s as if her body were a finely tuned instrument for channeling the jittery mood of the country in flux. Her sense of doom, of highly calibrated alarm, is always in the service of some larger point; her stunned disbelief is always a commentary, on the times, on a murder, on the water supply, on Hawaii, on the bewildering state of California. It is never simply emotion for the sake of emotion. There is no pleasure in frankly exhibitionistic exposure; there is none of the blinkered narcissism of some of our more recent personal writing.
Exhibit A and Exhibit B:
Her crying in Chinese laundries becomes “what it’s like to be young in New York.” New York becomes “an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. In the end, for all the spare, vivid details about her walking down the street peering into the windows of brownstones, about drinking gazpacho when she is hungover, the essay is about moving to New York and about being young — not about Joan Didion moving to New York and being young.”
* * *
Completely unrelated: A Selective List of Authors Whose Acquaintance Self Made for the First Time in 2012:
- John Burnham Schwarz, novelist
- Owen Sheers, novelist
- Adrian Goldsworthy, historian of classical antiquity
- Jerome Groopman, M.D., medical writer
- Colin Harrison, mystery writer
- Jesse Kellerman, mystery writer
- Barack Obama
- Rhoda Janzen, memoirist
- Jeanette Walls, memoirist
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.