I was first introduced to the glory of Joan Didion’s writing as an irreverent 18 year old, sitting at the back (always the back) of my college creative writing class in Petaling Jaya. The piece, On Self Respect, was from her seminal collection of essays and oddities, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
Our lecturer thought it would inform us. And how! Consider this short excerpt from On Self Respect: There is a common superstition that ‘self-respect’ is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unlighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation.
It thrills me to no end that Joan is the new face for Céline. What an utterly inspired choice! And there’s no better accessory for your Céline Luggage than any of these four books:
1) Slouching Towards Bethlehem
This collection of essays makes for a great primer on Joan’s writing. Smart and incisive, Joan draws from her time in California and explores its politics and mores, sometimes outside looking in, sometimes inside looking out.
2) The White Album
Joan’s essays always struck me more than her fiction but it’s all good–here, more observations from the West Coast dwelling on everything from Sharon Tate’s murder to the goings on during a Doors recording.
Joan channels her signature reportage writing style into a work of fiction that has been hailed as her best novel to date. A wary look at America during its final withdrawal in Vietnam, its protagonists include Joan Didion herself.
4) The Year Of Magical Thinking
Joan’s elegy to her husband, the novelist John Gregory Dunne, and her heart-rending account of her daughter Quintana’s comatose state that occurred just days before his death. Raw and brutally honest, the book was eventually made into a play starring Vanessa Redgrave as Joan.