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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Didion’

What We’re Loving: Twain, Gilbert, Visconti

December 13, 2013 | by

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Late at night for the last few weeks I’ve been rereading The Innocents Abroad. I think Mark Twain will always be my favorite writer, or at least the one I enjoy most easily, even when he’s not being great. The Innocents Abroad—his magazine account of a tour through Europe and the Holy Land—is not great Twain. He knows nothing about art. (Mainly he hates it.) He’s bigoted toward Muslims and Catholics, in his grumpy unserious way. He spends most of the trip tired, skeptical, and bored, at times you can almost see him counting the words in a sunset, but for me this is all part of his charm. Twain wears his shtick so easily; a book like The Innocents Abroad reminds you that he was not only our first great allegorist of race, or our first great master of dialect, or the one who first understood American prose as such, or the perpetrator of several extremely weird book-length satires—he also happened to be the David Sedaris of his time. Which is to say, a humorist, an easy writer, who speaks to what is ordinary and irredeemably podunk in us all. —Lorin Stein

I was lucky enough to catch the new print of Sandra at New York’s Film Forum last week, but it is well worth seeking out on your own: Luchino Visconti’s lush 1965 retelling of the Electra myth is gorgeous, campy, and lurid beyond measure. Claudia Cardinale and Jean Sorel are undressed for absolutely no reason far more often than they need to be; there’s Italian palazzos, stunning scenery, and just a pinch of “Blood of the Walsungs”-style incest. Need I say more? —Sadie O. Stein

Following the sage advice of my Paris Review Facebook feed, I read Jack Gilbert’s Art of Poetry interview from issue 175. Two things, in particular, felt essential to his work: his romantic distain for “clever” poetry—i.e., poems that are “extraordinarily deft” when it comes to technique, but hollow at their core; and his unabashed admission that of course his poems are taken directly from experience—“why would I invent them?” One need only pick up his collection The Great Fires. In “Finding Something,” we see Gilbert caring for his wife Michiko as she is dying of cancer. He describes a scene both unbearably sad and totally mundane: she has become so weak that she cannot go to the bathroom without leaning against her husband’s legs. There’s nothing even remotely clever about the final lines:

How strange and fine to get so near to it.
The arches of her feet are like voices
of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,
where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.

—Fritz Huber

Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays is only 214 quick pages, yet in these eighty-four brief chapters she to leave us with a nightmare that we can neither explain nor get enough of. It’s a relatively sparse novel, but still a hypnotizing, morbid story of a wounded woman incarcerated by the misfortunes of her own making. Every word is laden with Maria’s torment, heavy with cafard; yet there’s a peculiar pleasure derived from Didion’s control over language. “All day she was faint with vertigo, sunk in a world where great power grids converged, throbbing lines plunged finally into the shallow canyon below the dam’s face, elevators like coffins dropped into the bowels of the earth itself.” —Caitlin Youngquist

This morning, Lorin, Edan Lepucki of the Millions, and Square Books’ Richard Howarth discussed their favorite titles of 2013. Check out the audio here. —S.O.S.

 

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Dream Weaver

December 5, 2013 | by

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INTERVIEWER

You have said that writing is a hostile act; I have always wanted to ask you why.

JOAN DIDION

It’s hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

—Joan Didion, the Art of Fiction No. 71

 

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Airbrushed Austen, and Other News

November 5, 2013 | by

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  • Jane Austen scholar Paula Byrne calls the author’s likeness on the new banknote “a nineteenth-century airbrushed makeover.” The image is based on the famous portrait by Austen’s sister Cassandra. Says Byrne, “It makes me quite angry as it’s been prettied up for the Victorian era when Jane Austen was very much a woman of Georgian character. The costume is wrong and the image creates a myth Austen was a demure spinster and not a deep-thinking author.”
  • Zola Books is offering several previously unavailable Joan Didion works in digital form.
  • Speaking of new paradigms, Douglas Coupland will be serializing a new work, Temp, in the giveaway paper Metro.
  • A new book showcases the art of the pizza box, and it’s kind of wonderful.
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    Girls Moping in Hotels

    September 23, 2013 | by

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    Film still courtesy of Focus Features.

    In Lost in Translation, sad-eyed Charlotte spends much of the film curled up on the windowsill high above Tokyo in a sleek Japanese hotel, gazing balefully over the city, acknowledging her loneliness. Played with winsome melancholy by Scarlett Johansson, Charlotte doesn’t verbalize her isolation, but director Sofia Coppola’s gently circumnavigating camera makes it evident. Charlotte plods the halls like baleful Eloise. She quietly considers her loneliness while curled up in hotel sheets, or judging the patrons at the hotel bar, or diving into the beautifully designed hotel pool.

    An unlikely literary analog can be found in a passage from D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. When the protagonist is left by her sister in a hotel room, Gudrun

    immediately felt her own existence had become stark and elemental. She went and crouched alone in her bedroom, looking out of the window at the big, flashing stars. In front was the faint shadow of the mountain-knot. That was the pivot. She felt strange and inevitable, as if she were centered upon the pivot of all existence, there was no further reality.

    Gudrun, like Charlotte, is hoisted in isolation, in a sort of heavenly limbo.

    Lost in Translation, which celebrated its tenth birthday this summer, is the consummate contemporary example of a young woman who finds herself in beautiful accommodations, in a fascinating foreign city, unable to do much but sulk and consider ordering room service. The hotel is, of course, an ideal place for cerebral brooding; hotels are, by their nature, in between. It is where you sleep, but it is not your home. You are a guest without a host, surrounded by scores of strangers hanging up their clothes in the room next door, as close as family.

    Is it a certain kind of woman who broods in hotels, who peers out over the vista and ponders her existence? Read More »

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    New Salinger, and Other News

    August 26, 2013 | by

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  • We like this slideshow of images from the Hargeisa International Book Fair, but are somewhat confused by the headline “Somaliland goes crazy for books.”
  • According to the upcoming Salinger documentary, the famous recluse instructed his estate to publish at least five posthumous books, starting in 2015.
  • When he was a carpenter, Harrison Ford worked on Joan Didion’s beach house. Says she, “I was happy with his work—and even happier with his presence in the house because he was a great moral force.” He’ll present her with a lifetime achievement award at the PEN Center USA dinner in October.
  • Here are all of Elmore Leonard’s opening lines.
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    The California Room

    July 23, 2013 | by

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    The jury visits a gas station in February 1965 to examine a car similar to the one in which Gordon “Cork” Miller burned to death. Lucille Miller, with sheriff’s deputy Ken Kutch, stands at left. John Malmin for the Los Angeles Times.

    Upstairs in the Norman Feldheym Library in San Bernardino County, California, there is a quiet room dedicated to local history. The California Room is large with a low ceiling and lavender-gray walls. It contains local history books, genealogy tomes, and metal shelves filed with black binders, each brimming with photocopies of old newspaper articles.

    Among the black binders sleeps the story of Lucille Miller, tenderly filed by a squad of dedicated retirees. Her binder is so full that it barely closes. Papers stretch plastic side pockets, and crumpled white spills over the once clean, black edges. Some pages miss beginnings or endings, and often the print is so small and muddled that the words are almost impossible to read. Between the worn state of the photocopies and the old-style font, it is strange to think that these articles once spread through the local press with jittery contagion for almost five months.

    Lucille Miller’s story is one of death, a love affair, and a pregnant woman on trial. Joan Didion dubbed it the quintessential “tabloid monument.” Didion was perhaps the first to discover the story, to filter through the newspapers’ fragmentary sensationalism and find the overarching meaning. But in its narrative precision, how perfectly the events align and the characters fit their roles, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” creates a mirror where the tight world of words reflects an unraveled reality. And within this strange symmetry, there’s an awareness of two entities, a woman who lived and a character that served a story.

    The tension between these women led me to San Bernardino and the California Room. It led me to green-tinged microfilm of the Sun-Telegram and finally to the Miller binder, probably the most complete paper rendering of Lucille Miller’s life and crime. I’m fascinated by that gray area where we translate a person into words, and I wanted to know what remained of Lucille. She came to represent a forgetful and forward-looking culture, but what happened to the woman and her paper life when the main story passed? Read More »

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