The headline writer for the 2015 article “From literary heavyweight to lifestyle brand: exploring the cult of Joan Didion” added the following subhead: “The pioneer of New Journalism is used to sell biker jackets and clutch bags. What a pity she’s quoted more than she’s read.”
I hope the subhead for her December 23rd obituary in The Guardian more accurately describes how she will be remembered: “Detached observer of American society and political life through her collections of journalism, novels and screenwriting.”
Yet, the fact that the proponent of the New Jounalism wrote more “I-was-there” nonfiction than fiction may be the reason I seldom saw any gushing statements on the social media from her fans about reading her latest article or book, or breathlessly waiting for her next one.
Even those who simply scanned her work and then quoted from it thought her prose–and the no-nonsence focus behind it–was the best in the business.
If you have neither read her nor quoted her, I hardly know where to start in recommending a place to start learning who she was. Perhaps, the novel A Book of Common Prayer and perhaps the collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
If you truly get this quote from A Book of Common Prayer, then you understand (a fraction, perhaps) of herself and her focus: “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.”
But then I’m biased. I’ve followed her work from the day she started. If a cult surrounds her, I’m a member. And when I think of prose and want to show others examples of what prose can do, I turn to her books before all others.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four-book Florida Folk Magic Series, available in one Kindle, money-saving volume. It’s about the place I don’t walk away from.