Wednesday, 19 September 2018

South and West

Finished September 11
South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion, read by Kimberly Farr, with a foreword written and read by Nathaniel Rich

This is a never-before-released glimpse into Joan Didion's famous notebooks. The sections on the South are from June 1970 when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, took a road trip through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The include detailed looks at the people she saw around here, the conversations or fragments of conversation that she overheard, the images of small towns and cities that she passed through. She also had a few interviews with people from the south, prominent locally. The topics of race, class, tradition, and history seem to show how little has changed in the nearly fifty years since this trip was made.
She noticed the Confederate flags on everything from towels to clothing, the race divide that did not differentiate between wealth and poverty, and the class divide that did. She noticed how people talked of the past as something they had to hang on to, how people expected their lives to go on unchanged, despite larger change in the world. It was an incredibly engaging piece of writing.
The section on the West is much shorter and deals only with California. It dates from 1976, and the notes were taken for a piece she was to write for Rolling Stone magazine, a piece that was never written. Topics here included Patty Hearst (her trial was on at the time), images of San Francisco, and a visit to Sacramento that brought her back to her own younger days in that city when she was growing up.
Both show her focus, her powers of observation and memory, and her ability to internally stand back and observe even while being involved physically. These are a seldom seen door into the behind-the-scenes life of a writer. In this case, a writer of great skill.

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