Monday, March 12, 2012

What does it mean that, after reading Caitlin Flanagan's Atlantic Monthly essay "The Autumn of Joan Didion," wherein she writes: "to really love Joan Didion--to have been blown over by thing like the smell of jasmine and the packing list she kept by her suitcase--you have to be female," I headed straight to the library to check out Slouching Towards Bethlehem?

Either A) I'm a girl or B) Flanagan is full of it with her gender essentialism. I'm leaning towards B.

But now I've read the book and, yes, it blew me over. Full-of-it-ness aside, Flanagan's essay nails the appeal (and the flaws) of reading Didion. The key to Slouching Towards Bethlehem is the short essay "On Keeping a Notebook," which contains the awesome line "I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." Didion is asking why she records strange details about strange people--the kinds of details that fill all the essays in the book--and she decides:
I imagine, in other words, that the notebook is about other people. But of course it is not. I have no real business with what one stranger said to another at the hat-check counter in Pavillon; in fact I suspect the line "That's my old football number" touched not my own imagination at all, but merely some memory of something once read, probably "The Eighty-Yard Run." Nor is my concern with a woman in a dirty crepe-de-Chine wrapper in a Wilmington bar. My stake is always, of course, in the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress. Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.
And I guess it's the point of keeping a blog, too.

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