Man, whenever I wanna feel like a total hack as a writer all I have to do is read a little Joan Didion. Seriously, Didion’s non-fiction writing just about kills me. She makes it all seem so effortless and easy, and then, when you’re lulled into submission by the beauty of her words, she hits you with a sudden, painful truth, and a depth of feeling that just totally takes your breath away.
My first encounter with Didion’s work was “The Year of Magical Thinking”, which I read after my sister Brittany died in 2004. Actually, I think the whole family read it that year. We shared everything in that first, strange year or two after her death, books, magazine articles, movies, anything to help make sense of what happened. But “Magical Thinking” in particular — which deals with the sudden, unexpected death of Didion’s husband, author/screenwriter John Gregory Dunne — really got me through some of the tougher times. Our grief wasn’t the same obviously, but, it was extremely healing to read about someone else’s experience with death and from that moment on, I’ve been one of Didion’s biggest fan.
In New York this summer I started reading “Slouching towards Bethlehem” which is beautiful, and I am just about halfway through “The White Album” which makes me yearn to live, just one day, in Didion’s breezy, rarefied Los Angeles of old. Man, that would be the shit. So cool…
So, you can imagine how excited I was to actually attend a Didion booksigning and discussion last week with my sister-in-law, and fellow Didion fan, Laura. My wife worked the event — Mrs. Yeti has a very cool job working for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles if I haven’t mentioned that before — so, she was there too, and Greta, not much of a Didion fan (yet!), went to see “Puss in Boots” with my brother. So, everybody was happy.
Didion read from her new book — “Blue Nights”, a chronicle of her adult daughter’s illness and eventual death, which, tragically, took place just a year or so after the death of her husband — spoke for a bit onstage and then signed books for the crowd. She might have looked frail, but, when she spoke she was just as clear-headed and direct as her finest essays.
They passed a mic around for questions from the crowd, but, I decided to wait till she was signing my book to ask her what her favorite screenplay was — she wrote and co-wrote several scripts with her late husband — and without missing a beat, she replied: “The Third Man”. Ha! A tight, lean, classically great script…of course she’d pick that. How perfect!
Afterwards, we lingered a bit to help Mrs. Yeti and her co-workers close up shop — the event was held at the absolutely gorgeous St. Vibiana’s Church in downtown Los Angeles — and then headed home, eager to dive into “Blue Nights” and hear what the wee one thought of “Puss in Boots”.
I’m happy to report that both the book (which I’m almost done with) and movie are excellent.