Joan Didion Documentary: The Center Will Not Hold
Joan Didion has reached such heights in the literary canon I knew of her before I cracking open one of her books. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is always included on listicles for Best Books for Women or Young Adults under 25. Read this during your Quarter Life Crisis and be in awe and a bit jealous you cannot recreate the past or try to improve on these works. It is constantly prescribed for people, majority female, who are feeling aimless. This book danced on the periphery of my attention for years, never grabbing hold, until eventually found at my local library.
The title intrigues and a viable description of the book is never given in these articles so I assumed it was fiction. I wasn't expecting non fiction with a title like this. I wasn't sure what to expect. This book hidden within a volume of her other work making the reading look impossible with such a tome. I was only going to read a sliver but able to jump around and read other bits if I had the time and inclination.
I was drawn into the stories some of which had a tinge of fiction. This can be attributed to the times being written about and reported on. “The horror of disorder” and the “paranoia of the times” is how two participants in the recent documentary describe the gone but not forgotten 60's. I find her style of writing unique and haven't anything similar before or since. It's a style that's hard to replicate or duplicate without significant effort. I think it stems from having an investigative, curious eye and an unrelenting drive. Writing and observation seem to be her singular pursuits.
Her words jump from detailed descriptions to universal truths so quickly I would read passages again to rediscover these truths. I would let the magnificent significance of these words sink in and feed my soul. I did the same during the documentary remembering some words and discovering new ones from her other works. For immensely powerful words I would pause and rewind until I captured the words completely and correctly.
I read the article Cheney: The Fatal Touch and learned more about the man than I cared to. This passage from The New York Review of Books story, “he would continue to both court failure and overcome it, take the lemons he seemed determined to pick for himself and make the lemonade, then spill it, let someone else clean up.” seems to perfectly capture how most politicians operate today. Hoping we don't notice when they leave a mess behind for others to clean up and forget their mistakes.
So far I've only read a selection of Joan Didion's non fiction works. My reading list expands every day. Her observations and conclusions are timeless and relevant even when rooted in a specific time period. Her writing is also filled with compassion even when she wants to remain detached and unbiased. It feels redundant and unoriginal to call her work and career prolific and inspiring but I would like to join the chorus. Her work will continue to inspire anyone who dares to reach out and grab it off the shelf.
One reason her writing and story resonates so deeply is her ability to look unflinchingly at pain and sorrow. There is little room for romantic ignorance or letting it blind you. But the realism is not cruel. She is not impervious to the pain of living but refuses to run and cower. “If I examine something it's less scary.” she says.
I could exhaustively write and preach to anyone who hasn't read her work to please do and for anyone even slightly interested in her work and life to watch the documentary, The Center Will Not Hold, because it is so obviously created with love and appreciation for her. I may need to write another post soon of all my favorite quotes and meaningful passages because the list keeps growing. To end this post I will end with one of her quotes that resonates deeply with me and makes me feel understood on some level.
“You're getting a woman who for some time now, has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people.”