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Happy Birthday, Joan Didion!

December 5, 2011

You’ve read something by Joan Didion, right??

The first thing of hers I ever read was her essay “Goodbye to All That” from her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Until then, she fell into the category of writers I’d heard about and somehow respected on a subconscious level despite never having read them. I knew she was highly regarded, and I figured I’d like her… but I just never got around to reading her. And then I did. And I understood. She can identify a feeling and sum it up in the best, most concise, most accurate way. She cuts right to it. She makes you feel things.

In the 1960s she made a name for herself as a novelist and as a literary journalist, writing for magazines like Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New York Review of Books. Today, at 77 years old, she is still writing. Her most recent book, Blue Nights, is a follow-up of sorts to her previous memoir The Year of Magical Thinking.

It helps that “Goodbye to All That” came into my life at exactly the right time. I was young, living in New York City, wondering if I really could stay there forever but suspecting that I probably wouldn’t. Here’s an excerpt from that essay. Happy birthday, Joan.

“That first night I opened my window on the bus into town and watched for the skyline, but all I could see were the wastes of Queens and big signs that said MIDTOWN TUNNEL THIS LANE and then a flood of summer rain (even that seemed remarkable and exotic, for I had come out of the West where there was no summer rain), and for the next three days I sat wrapped in blankets in a hotel room air conditioned to 35 degrees and tried to get over a cold and a high fever. It did not occur to me to call a doctor, because I knew none, and although it did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was. All I could do during those years was talk long-distance to the boy I already knew I would never marry in the spring. I would stay in New York, I told him, just six months, and I could see the Brooklyn Bridge from my window. As it turned out the bridge was the Triborough, and I stayed eight years.” –from “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion

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