Friday, June 6, 2014

I've been thinking about Joan Didion.

Book on Table at 2:15 pm, 2014

I cannot read two Joan Didion books in a row. She's intense, often dark, and just really reaches in and grabs hold of me. I know I'll surrender and let her take me wherever she wants me to go. It's an endeavor that requires preparation.

After some random wandering in Browser Books on May 24th I bought Play It as It Lays. On May 28th Sarah brought the Literary Mothers project to my attention. This is where I found a short essay by Ashley Farmer that confirmed it was time to get started. Still, I waited. I wasn't ready. 

I woke up today, June 6th, knowing I wasn't going to finish the current book I was reading. I started Play It as It Lays with my morning cappuccino. Damn she's good.

I'm only on page 26. I skipped the introduction because it is something I decided to do a while ago, with all art and writing. If possible (sometimes you learn of a work through another person's description), I don't read or listen to what anyone else thinks of whatever work I'm about to see until I form my own opinion. After I view the paintings, sculptures, photographs, or finish the book, I might look at what's been written about the work. I might not ever look. This is what works for me.

On pages 1-25 I've been introduced to Maria (Mar-eye-a) and a few other characters, but it is clear, it is Maria she really wants me to know. I'll share a bit of evidence:

From my mother I inherited my looks and a tendency to migraine. From my father I inherited an optimism which did not leave me until recently. page 5

So that she would not have to stop for food she kept a hard-boiled egg on the passenger seat of the Corvette. She could shell and eat a hard-boiled egg at seventy miles an hour (crack it on the steering wheel, never mind salt, salt bloats, no matter what happened she remembered her body) and she drank Coca-Cola in Union 76 stations, Standard stations, Flying A's. pages 17-18

The reception room was full of glossy plants in chinoiserie pots and Maria had an abrupt conviction that the plants were consuming the oxygen she needed to breathe. page 22

See what I mean? Okay, I'll say no more. I'll share no more. You might want to read this novel yourself, without first knowing too much of what anyone else thinks of it.

29 comments:

  1. She's one of my literary idols. I read her essays again and again. Oddly enough I've never read any of her fiction. You've inspired me to.

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  2. amelia from z tasty lifeJune 6, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    you captured my curiosity now. I ha, ve not read her, yet. Hard boiled eggs cracked at 70 mph and a tendency to optimism and migraines...
    also, totally with you on prefaces and introductions: best kept for after forming one's opinion.

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    1. I love that part with the egg on the seat of the Corvette.

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  3. I haven't read her yet either, and every time someone quotes something she's written, I really want to. (PS I feel the same way about introductions!)

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    1. Maybe reading your first Joan Didion book is just around the corner.

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  4. She and Richard Brautigan are my California touchstones.

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    1. Oh, Richard Brautigan. I love his creation of the library of unpublished manuscripts in his novel, The Abortion. I believe it's based on the Presidio branch of SFPL.

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    2. I just poked around a little bit to confirm my memory about the Presidio library and found this little article http://newfillmore.com/2009/02/02/a-library-of-unpublished-manuscripts/. Especially interesting is the second comment, from Mary Haddad. I love stories like that...

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  5. So glad that Literary Mothers inspired your next read. And you've inspired me to leave Didion's essays & move on to her fiction! (I'm sure I remember Zadie Smith talking with huge enthusiasm about reading Joan Didion's fiction a few years ago...)

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    1. Would love to know how you feel about her fiction, Sarah.

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  6. in winter i put a had boiled egg in my coat pocket to keep my hand warm and alternate pockets, then later I eat it. This book I would like to read

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  7. Thanks, Denise. I think it might be time for me to reread Joan Didion. I agree that reading two in a row would be quite intense. It's time to hit the second hand book store as i had to let go of many books when we moved.

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    1. I feel sad about you having to let go of your books, but it must also me somewhat exciting to replenish your collection. I have a favorite second hand shop here by the bay. Happy browsing!

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  8. Joan Didion is in intense--so I get that no back to back policy of yours. (I've been putting off Blue Nights ever since my daughter was born.) So funny--I stopped reading the introduction to books a while ago too. I felt like most of them were such wind up that I lost interest by the time I got to the story!

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    1. I have not read Blue Nights yet. My plan was to read it after The Year of Magical Thinking, but I just couldn't. I will get to it. I completely understand how preparation for Blue Nights becomes more challenging when you are the mother of a sweet little girl. It seems so much of the best writing requires dark sunglasses...

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  9. Love Joan Didion! The Year of Magical Thinking broke my heart.

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  10. Thanks to introducing a new writer. I'll look for her novels. pleasure of reading

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  11. Yes, Didion needs preparation, and it needs you to be in a certain frame of mind. The Joan Didion frame of mind. I wasn't prepared to read 'A year of magical thinking' when it came to me. I read the first chapter, and kept it away. But 'Slouching towards Bethlehem', yes, stunning. Will have to read Play it...

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    1. "The Joan Didion frame of mind." Yes, you nailed it, Pia.

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  12. Another introduction to an author I am unfamiliar with. Among other things, I love that about your space. These excerpts, they've drawn me in. however, I do have my own reading rules...and there are books that can be read in the field, books that cannot (intense, dark, requiring lots of attention to absorb the beauty). This does not sound like a field book so I will make a note to add it to my winter reading list. thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Thank you, Rachel. I agree with you, Joan Didion is not a field book. I wonder what you do read in the field. I can imagine Tove Jansson's The Summer Book feeling right. I hope you have some good book company with you.

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  13. I am with you on the not reading introductions. I always fear they will ruin it for me.

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    1. Even the backs of books can be confusing, the descriptions often so far from how I end up feeling about the book. But what can one do? How will we choose our books without at least a little information. Perhaps recommendations from those we trust.

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  14. Oh I'm intrigued - I especially like the excerpt from page 22 'the plants were consuming the oxygen she needed to breathe'. Yes I like that very much indeed. And I am thoroughly enjoying reading through your posts after my too long absence from blog reading.
    Have a wonderful day. Annie x

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