For me, books can be like hard candy. You get a bag of Jolly Ranchers, you rip it open and maybe you immediately eat one of your favorite flavors first, as a sort of opening-the-bag celebration. But, then if you’re like me, you start eating all your least favorite flavors, so that what’s left in the bag – eventually – is a big pile of watermelon and sour apple. Heaven.
That’s how I’ve been treating the work of Joan Didion. I’ve loved Didion since a newspaper editor gave me The White Album as part of a newsroom Secret Santa gift exchange. I was 23, loved my job, and Didion’s essays sang to me. I’d never read prose like that before. I spent months on that book. I pored over each essay, reading each word twice, but I was stingy with myself, squirreling the essays away like sour apple Jolly Ranchers, and savoring that wonderful first-read feeling.
I have not read Slouching Toward Bethlehem yet. I know I will love it, so I am saving it for later.
Joan D. is a two-edged sword, however. On the one hand, her work is heartbreakingly beautiful. On the other hand, it’s also just heartbreaking. I read Play it As it Lays this past spring and emerged from the novel feeling like I’d gotten drunk and then had a three-hour phone conversation with a friend who makes bad choices.
Below the page break is the craft essay I wrote about point of view in that novel.