Joan Didion has inspired writers and readers for decades. Her journalism, her memoirs and her cultural and political commentaries have made her a unique columnist of twentieth-century culture.
Here are 23 quotes that sum up his writing:
Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs. – Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. – Why I Write (essay originally published in the New York Times Book Review in 1976)
Freeing ourselves from the expectations of others, surrendering to ourselves, this is the great and unique power of self-respect. – Self-respect: its source, its power (essay originally published in Vogue in 1961)
The idea that extraterrestrial life is by definition of a higher order than ours is one that appeases all children and many writers. – The white album (1979)
[O]One of the mixed blessings of being twenty-twenty-one and even twenty-three is the belief that nothing like this, despite all the evidence to the contrary, has ever happened to anyone before. – Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
I didn’t always think he was right and he didn’t always think I was right, but we were each the person the other trusted. – The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
In case of loss
Life is changing fast. Life changes instantly. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. – The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), which explores mourning following the death of her husband
We forget too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget loves like betrayals, we forget what we whisper and what we shout, we forget who we were. – On Keeping a Notebook, from Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
I know what the fear is. Fear is not for what is lost. What is lost is already in the wall. What is lost is already behind the locked door. Fear is for what is yet to be lost. – Blue nights (2011)
There is no real way to deal with all that we lose. – Where I’m from (2003)
We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of this mortality even as we push it aside, stranded by our very complication, so hard-wired that when we mourn our losses, we cry too, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we never will be at all. – The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
On literature and writing
In times of trouble, I had been trained from childhood to read, learn, work, go to literature. Information was control. – The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
I am always attached to the idea that the ability to think for oneself depends on the mastery of the language. – Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
I think we are wise to continue to greet the people we were, whether or not we find them an attractive company. Otherwise they arrive unexpectedly and surprise us, come knocking on the door of the spirit at 4 o’clock in the morning of a bad night and ask to know who abandoned them, who betrayed them, who is going to redeem themselves. – Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
You feel like it’s possible to just go through life noticing things and writing them down and that’s OK, worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really important, meaningful, and telling us something. – The Paris Review interview (2006).
Los Angeles weather is the time of disaster, of apocalypse, and just as New England’s long and harsh winters determine the way life is lived there, the violence and unpredictability of Santa Ana affect the whole quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close we are to the edge. – Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
New York was not a simple city. Rather, it was an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious bond of all love, money and power, the brilliant and perishable dream itself. – Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
A place belongs forever to the one who claims it the hardest, remembers it the most obsessively, tears it away from himself, shapes it, gives it back, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image. – The white album (1979)
I’m not telling you to make the world a better place, because I don’t think progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to endure it, not just to go through it, but to live in it. To watch it. To try to get the picture. Live recklessly. To take risks. Do your own job and be proud of it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother doing this, I could tell you the grave is a beautiful private place, but I don’t think any of them are kissing there. Neither do they sing, write, argue, see the tidal wave on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what to do and get it while you can and good luck. – Opening address of UC Riverside (1975).
What are your favorite Didion quotes or books? How has his work inspired you? Share your opinion in the comments below.