something really personal


“Writers,” Joan Didion observed in 1968, “are always selling somebody out.” It’s one of those classic Didion statements, epigrammatic yet personal, a line that unpacks itself the more we consider what it implies. Didion may have been referring to journalism when she wrote that in the preface to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” but she was also, as directly as can be imagined, addressing herself. “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does,” she acknowledged earlier in the same paragraph, and it is this clarity, this edge of laser-sharp engagement, that sets her apart. For nearly 50 years now, her work has been defined by what she calls “triangulation,” which is a way of explaining how she asserts herself in a piece of writing — to tell a reader where she is. This question of presence, of triangulation, has come up on a Thursday afternoon in Didion’s comfortably cluttered Upper East Side living room because she is discussing her new book, “Blue Nights” (Alfred A. Knopf: 188 pp., $25), which, she is saying, she almost didn’t write. “There came a time,” she recalls, her voice a low murmur, “when I decided I would simply repay the money I had gotten from Knopf. I told Lynn Nesbit that this was my plan, that I was going to tell Sonny I couldn’t do it, and we would repay him. And Lynn said, ‘Why don’t you wait on that awhile?'”

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.