“We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not,” Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) observed in her timeless meditation on the value of keeping a notebook. For the past half-century, the beloved author has been keeping American society on nodding terms with itself, despite the themes of cultural collapse and moral chaos that permeate Didion’s novels and her literary nonfiction.
A champion of the New Journalism movement, Didion has brought her exquisite amalgamation of narrative storytelling and nonfiction to such diverse subjects as mourning, museums, music, second-wave feminism, and the American political process. She lists Hemingway and Henry James among her handful of influences, but women writers like the Brontë sisters and George Eliot she sees as “models for a life, not for a style.”
Despite devastating personal tragedy — the sudden loss of her husband of nearly forty years, followed closely by the death of her daughter — Didion has continued to find in writing, above all, access to her own mind, in turn inviting the reader to access greater truths about what it means to be human in modern culture, implicitly asking, as she often does in her nonfiction, “Do you get the point?”