Remembering Joan Didion

By Caroline O'Connor | January 7 2022 | AdultsGeneralAllblog

Didion was one of the country’s most trenchant writers and astute observers. Her bestselling works of fiction, commentary, and memoir have received numerous honors and are considered modern classics. 

Didion was born in Sacramento in 1934 and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956. After graduation, Didion moved to New York and began working for Vogue, which led to her career as a journalist and writer. Didion published her first novel, Run River, in 1963.

It was in New York that Didion met John Gregory Dunne. The two married in 1964 and moved to California. They adopted a daughter, Quintana Roo, in 1967.

Working as full-time writers, each acting as the other’s first reader, Didion and Dunne were frequent literary collaborators. The two worked together on screenplays for, The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Play It As It Lays (1972), which was Didion’s second novel, A Star Is Born (1976), and Up Close and Personal (1996).

Didion’s other novels include A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984), and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996).

Didion’s first volume of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968, and her second, The White Album, was published in 1979. Her nonfiction works include Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), After Henry (1992), Political Fictions (2001), Where I Was From (2003), We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live (2006), South and West (2017), and Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021). Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, written in the immediate wake of Dunne’s death, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005.

Less than two years after Dunne’s death, their daughter Quintana Roo died of acute pancreatitis. Didion wrote about Quintana’s death in her 2011 memoir Blue Nights.

In 2005, Didion was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in Belles Letters and Criticism. In 2007, she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. A portion of the National Book Foundation citation read: “An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, Didion’s distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of generations of writers and journalists.” In 2013, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama, as well as the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Shelley Wanger, her editor at Knopf, said, “Joan was a brilliant observer and listener, a wise and subtle teller of truths about our present and future. She was fierce and fearless in her reporting. Her writing is timeless and powerful, and her prose has influenced millions.

“She was a close and longtime friend, loved by many, including those of us who worked with her at Knopf. We will mourn her death but celebrate her life, knowing that her work will inspire generations of readers and writers to come.”

….

“We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.” —Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking


 

Joan Didion: The 1980s & 90s (LOA #341)
Salvador / Democracy / Miami / After Henry / The Last Thing He Wanted
978-1-59853-683-6
Library of America continues its definitive edition of one of the most electric writers of our time with a volume gathering her iconic reporting and novels from mid-career
$40.00 US
Apr 20, 2021
4-7/8 x 7-7/8
Hardcover
838 Pages
Library of America

Joan Didion: The 1960s & 70s (LOA #325)
Run River / Slouching Towards Bethlehem / Play It As It Lays / A Book of Common Prayer / The White Album
978-1-59853-645-4
Library of America launches a definitive collected edition of one of the most original and electric writers of our time with a volume gathering her five iconic books of the 1960s & 70s
$39.95 US
Nov 12, 2019
4-7/8 x 7-7/8
Hardcover
980 Pages
Library of America

Let Me Tell You What I Mean
978-0-593-31219-3
A New York Times Bestseller From one of our most iconic and influential writers: a timeless collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Joan Didion's subjects, including the press, politics, California robber barons, women, and her own self-doubt.
$16.00 US
Jan 25, 2022
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
192 Pages
Vintage

South and West
From a Notebook
978-0-525-43419-1
The bestseller from the National Book Award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking: two notebook excerpts that document two corners of America--the South and the West--during the 1970s, illuminating the cultural divide that led to our current political moment.
$15.00 US
Jan 02, 2018
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
160 Pages
Vintage

Blue Nights
978-0-307-38738-7
Following the acclaimed and bestselling The Year of Magical Thinking, Blue Nights is Joan Didion's intensely personal and moving account of the death of her daughter, Quintana, and her thoughts, fears, and doubts about motherhood, illness, and aging.
$17.00 US
May 29, 2012
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
208 Pages
Vintage

The Year of Magical Thinking
A Play by Joan Didion Based on Her Memoir
978-0-307-38641-0
In this dramatic adaptation of her award-winning, bestselling memoir, Joan Didion transforms the story of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and their only daughter into a stunning and powerful one-woman play.“This happened on December 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago but it won’t when it happens to you . . .” Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times called the memoir that was the basis for the play, “an indelible portrait of loss and grief . . . a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage."The first theatrical production of The Year of Magical Thinking opened at the Booth Theatre on March 29, 2007, starring Vanessa Redgrave and directed by David Hare.
$13.95 US
May 15, 2007
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
80 Pages
Vintage

The Year of Magical Thinking
978-1-4000-7843-1
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion that explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage—and a life, in good times and bad—that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later—the night before New Year’s Eve—the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.This powerful book is Didion’ s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness ... about marriage and children and memory ... about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.
$17.00 US
Feb 13, 2007
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
240 Pages
Vintage

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live
Collected Nonfiction; Introduction by John Leonard
978-0-307-26487-9
From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean, this collection includes seven books in one volume: the full texts of Slouching Towards Bethlehem; The White Album; Salvador; Miami; After Henry; Political Fictions; and Where I Was From. As featured in the Netflix documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold.Joan Didion’s incomparable and distinctive essays and journalism are admired for their acute, incisive observations and their spare, elegant style. Now the seven books of nonfiction that appeared between 1968 and 2003 have been brought together into one thrilling collection.Slouching Towards Bethlehem captures the counterculture of the sixties, its mood and lifestyle, as symbolized by California, Joan Baez, Haight-Ashbury. The White Album covers the revolutionary politics and the “contemporary wasteland” of the late sixties and early seventies, in pieces on the Manson family, the Black Panthers, and Hollywood. Salvador is a riveting look at the social and political landscape of civil war. Miami exposes the secret role this largely Latin city played in the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs through Watergate. In After Henry Didion reports on the Reagans, Patty Hearst, and the Central Park jogger case. The eight essays in Political Fictions–on censorship in the media, Gingrich, Clinton, Starr, and “compassionate conservatism,” among others–show us how we got to the political scene of today. And in Where I Was From Didion shows that California was never the land of the golden dream.
$35.00 US
Oct 17, 2006
5 x 8
Hardcover
1160 Pages
Everyman's Library

Where I Was From
978-0-679-75286-8
From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking: In this "arresting amalgam of memoir and historical timeline” (The Baltimore Sun), Didion—a native Californian—reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history, and ours.Didion applies her scalpel-like intelligence to California's ethic of ruthless self-sufficiency in order to examine that ethic’s often tenuous relationship to reality. Combining history and reportage, memoir and literary criticism, Where I Was From explores California’s romances with land and water; its unacknowledged debts to railroads, aerospace, and big government; the disjunction between its code of individualism and its fetish for prisons.Whether she is writing about her pioneer ancestors or privileged sexual predators, robber barons or writers (not excluding herself), Didion is an unparalleled observer, and this book is at once intellectually provocative and deeply personal.
$17.00 US
Sep 14, 2004
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
240 Pages
Vintage

Political Fictions
978-0-375-71890-8
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In these coolly observant essays, the iconic bestselling writer looks at the American political process and at "that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life." Through the deconstruction of the sound bites and photo ops of three presidential campaigns, one presidential impeachment, and an unforgettable sex scandal, Didion reveals the mechanics of American politics. She tells us the uncomfortable truth about the way we vote, the candidates we vote for, and the people who tell us to vote for them. These pieces build, one on the other, into a disturbing portrait of the American political landscape, providing essential reading on our democracy.
$17.00 US
Aug 27, 2002
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
352 Pages
Vintage

Miami
978-0-679-78180-6
Miami is not just a portrait of a city, but a masterly study of immigration and exile, passion, hypocrisy, and political violence, from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean.It is where Fidel Castro raised money to overthrow Batista and where two generations of Castro's enemies have raised armies to overthrow him, so far without success. It is where the bitter opera of Cuban exile intersects with the cynicism of U.S. foreign policy. It is a city whose skyrocketing murder rate is fueled by the cocaine trade, racial discontent, and an undeclared war on the island ninety miles to the south.As Didion follows Miami's drift into a Third World capital, she also locates its position in the secret history of the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs to the Reagan doctrine and from the Kennedy assassination to the Watergate break-in. 
$17.00 US
Sep 29, 1998
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
240 Pages
Vintage

The Last Thing He Wanted
978-0-679-75285-1
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • "Didion at her finest" —USA Today • An intricate, fast-paced novel about trying to create a context for democracy and getting hands a little dirty in the process, complete with conspiracies, arms dealing, and assassinations. From the author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I MeanThe narrator introduces Elena McMahon, estranged from a life of celebrity fundraisers and from her powerful West Coast husband, Wynn Janklow, whom she has left, taking Catherine, her daughter, to become a reporter for The Washington Post. She finds herself boarding a plane for Florida to see her father. She becomes embroiled in her his business even though "she had trained herself since childhood not to have any interest in what he was doing." It is from this moment that she is caught up in something much larger than she could have imagined. Didion makes connections among Dallas, Iran-Contra, and Castro, and points out how "spectral companies with high-concept names tended to interlock." As this book builds to its terrifying finish, we see the underpinnings of a dark historical underbelly. 
$13.95 US
Sep 02, 1997
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
240 Pages
Vintage

Democracy
978-0-679-75485-5
From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean—a gorgeously written, bitterly funny look at the relationship between politics and personal life. Moving deftly between romance, farce, and tragedy, from 1970s America to Vietnam to Jakarta, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. 
$17.00 US
Apr 25, 1995
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
240 Pages
Vintage

A Book of Common Prayer
978-0-679-75486-2
A shimmering novel of innocence and evil: the gripping story of two American women in a failing Central American nation, from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean"[Didion's] most ambitious project in fiction, and her most successful ... glows with a golden aura of well-wrought classical tragedy.”  —Los Angeles Times Book ReviewGrace Strasser-Mendana controls much of Boca Grande's wealth and knows virtually all of its secrets; Charlotte Douglas knows far too little. "Immaculate of history, innocent of politics," Charlotte has come to Boca Grande vaguely and vainly hoping to be reunited with her fugitive daughter. As imagined by Didion, her fate is at once utterly particular and fearfully emblematic of an age of conscienceless authority and unfathomable violence. A Book of Common Prayer is written with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made Didion one of our most distinguished journalists.
$17.00 US
Apr 11, 1995
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
272 Pages
Vintage

Salvador
978-0-679-75183-0
"Terror is the given of the place." The place is El Salvador in 1982, at the ghastly height of its civil war. Didion "brings the country to life" (The New York Times), delivering an anatomy of a particular brand of political terror—its mechanisms, rationales, and intimate relation to United States foreign policy.As ash travels from battlefields to body dumps, Didion interviews a puppet president, and considers the distinctly Salvadoran grammar of the verb "to disappear." Here, the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean gives us a book that is germane to any country in which bloodshed has become a standard tool of politics. 
$16.00 US
Apr 26, 1994
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
112 Pages
Vintage

Run River
978-0-679-75250-9
The iconic writer's electrifying first novel is a story of marriage, murder and betrayal that only she could tell with such nuance, sympathy, and suspense—from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean.Everett McClellan and his wife, Lily, are the great-grandchildren of pioneers, and what happens to them is a tragic epilogue to the pioneer experience—a haunting portrait of a marriage whose wrong turns and betrayals are at once absolutely idiosyncratic and a razor-sharp commentary on the history of California.
$17.00 US
Apr 26, 1994
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
272 Pages
Vintage

After Henry
978-0-679-74539-6
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Didion's "reportorial pieces afford the pleasures of literature....  She is an expert geographer of the landscape of American public culture" (The New York Times Book Review).Here, the National Book Award–winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking covers ground from Washington to Los Angeles, from a TV producer's gargantuan "manor" to the racial battlefields of New York's criminal courts.At each stop she uncovers the mythic narratives that elude other observers: Didion tells us about the fantasies the media construct around crime victims and presidential candidates; she gives us new interpretations of the stories of Nancy Reagan and Patty Hearst; she charts America's rollercoaster ride through evanescent booms and hard times that won't go away. A bracing amalgam of skepticism and sympathy, After Henry is further proof of Joan Didion's infallible radar for the true spirit of our age.
$17.00 US
Apr 27, 1993
5-3/16 x 8
Paperback
320 Pages
Vintage