Joan Didion (b. 1934)
From Joan Didion: The 1960s & 70s
This week marks the publication of the first volume of the Library of America edition of Joan Didion’s collected works, presenting the five landmark books she wrote in the 1960s and ’70s.
“I had better tell you where I am, and why,” wrote Joan Didion in the 1979 essay collection The White Album. “You are getting a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people.”
Similar confessional elements pervade both her fiction and her journalism, as well as (more recently) her memoirs—all of which, in a sense, have proved her wrong. For five decades, in one acclaimed best-seller after another, she has presented stories and ideas that have more than proved to be of interest to other people.
Yet perhaps it was only through her writing that Didion felt she could overcome being an outcast and connect with others. In 1977 she told an interviewer about feeling overwhelmed by the neighbors who came to their Malibu home for a party. “I began to feel scattered, upset, not myself. I could have gone and sat in the bathroom for a while by myself. I could have gone for a walk on the beach. Instead, I went to my office and just sat in front of my typewriter, and it was okay. I got control. I calmed down. I’m only myself in front of my typewriter.”
The essays she wrote while she was living in Malibu were included in The White Album, and its closing selection is a fond and fascinating remembrance of the fire-haunted beach community she and her family were preparing to leave, as seen through her profiles of the lifeguards on the beach and the manager of a local orchid farm. We present “Quiet Days in Malibu” in full as our Story of the Week selection.