Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Oh, Joan Didion. I just love you.

Is there really more I can say?

Okay, okay. I'll say more. But only because you really twisted my arm.

I'm grouping these two memoirs together because they're similar in style and content and I read them at almost the same time, so I don't have much different to say about each one. The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir about her husband's death, and her subsequent attempt to understand that experience. Blue Nights is about her daughter's death, which occurred not long after her husband's.

I did find Blue Nights a little more chaotic--in a good way. It seems like Didion really let herself go in that one and just explored everything she wanted to explore--not just her daughter's death, but her own experience aging, her experience with the success of The Year of Magical Thinking, and just her life--without apology.

Joan Didion has mastered the ability to write incredibly deeply without being dense. She doesn't ask us to come too far from what we know, or to stretch our minds too much. She doesn't lose us by trying to be poetic. Yet she follows her subject matter into real depth, and her writing style is magnificent. Her books have a place in the classroom, but they also make good rainy-day reading. She just tells it like it is without trying to explain it or make up for it. She's brave enough to ask questions she doesn't know the answers to. And I couldn't help but see myself in her--despite the fact that she's much older than me and has had many more years of much more difficult experience.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Is it our duty to finish books?

Have you seen the article going around these days about how it's so important to finish books? What do you think of it?

I had mixed feelings about it. Obviously I don't finish every book I start. As an English major, that's nigh unto impossible (although I don't think that's the situation the author was talking about). I do see what the author's saying, though. It can be really valuable to finish books, for all the reasons she's talking about.

But I think it's a bad idea, at least for me, to lock myself into a finish-every-single-book rule, for a few reasons:

1. One of the reasons the writer of the article gives for finishing books is that we ought to show respect for the author. Yes, there are some authors who deserve respect even if I don't get their writing (that's why I pushed my way through The Sound and the Fury). If you're reading an author who's widely respected as an important/classic author, then it's a good idea not to discount their work.

But I don't think every author deserves equal respect. The authors of trashy romance novels don't deserve as much respect as, say, Shakespeare. And the divide isn't always that obvious. Sometimes I might have heard good things about an author only to find that they consider some things appropriate that I don't. Or that they just aren't at the level of writing as people said they were. And if I discover that I actually don't respect them as a writer, I think it's better for me to put the book down than to keep resenting the author.