While usually I am assigned five books for any given month's What Should Kester Read?, this month I was assigned four books and then one author whose work I was free to choose from. That author was Joan Didion. Having never read Didion, I opted for non-fiction and eventually narrowed my choices down to The White Album or The Year of Magical Thinking. Unable to choose between the two, I decided that I would begin both and then finish one. In the end, I finished both. And so, this review is of both books and their one author.
First of all, based upon these two books alone, I would count myself a fan of Joan Didion's work. Didion is critical in the classic sense of reporting; offering an involved analysis of a subject and not in the new news sense of simply naysaying louder than the competition. Whether she is focused on politics or religion or the more personal story of the loss of her husband, her eye is keen and her insights are sharp. The White Album is neither an apologetic for the 1960s nor a condemnation, it is an honest look and the ups and downs and ins and outs of a turbulent and conflicted decade. The Year of Magical Thinking isn't simply heartfelt, but also heady; approaching the topic of death and loss as both reporter and subject. Her willingness to place herself within her assigned essays of The White Album never undermine her work as subjective reporting often can. When she takes on her own loss as the reporter she is, it is never so objective as to leave the reader cold. The stories Didion tells, in either case, are enhanced and deepened by her being part of them and yet also by her ability to stand outside of them. It's a fine line to walk for any writer and Didion handles it deftly. She is a gifted writer, to be sure, and I would be curious to get her take on almost any topic. I am certainly excited to begin reading more.